It's a divine joke that God has called me to be a Carmelite.
I'm horrible at prayer.
I can't sit still. I fidget. I fret. I daydream. I think about stain removal strategies in my laundry. I hate doing the laundry, so that fact that I would rather clean clothes than sit completely still in one place cleansing my soul with the Creator of the Universe says something.
If I were handing out assignments for Miss Abigail, I would have given myself something epic and noble and flashy, such as feeding Haitian refugees, being a CCD teacher to non-native English speakers, or heck, even embroidering Alter cloths.
Instead, I got something else.
Something hidden. Something humble. Something hard.
My job is to go to Daily Mass when I can, pray the Divine Office, and then sit perfectly still for half and hour each day praying the "prayer of the quiet." Of course, my marriage and children come first. Yet the pattern for most days, as a Secular Carmelite, is to set apart a quiet time to recollect myself and get in touch with the Divine.
My husband has a quiet, introspective and calm temperament. Recollection of the faculties comes easily to him. (His first name matches the most contemplative Evangelist and the prayer giant, "St. John of the Cross" for a reason.)
Every night we pray side by side like two badly matched bookends.
My husband pulls down his Divine Office with joy. His feet are motionless. He calmly flips a practiced finger through the multiple pages of prayer. He looks likes someone made to pray each and every day.
I, meanwhile, become restless and agitated. My feet fall asleep and twitch. My knees hurt. I review a long "to do list." I imagine that I hear a sleeping baby calling "Mama!" During our time for prayer of the quiet, I frequently get up to check the kitchen timer "how much longer???"
Every day, it's still a hard battle to pray.
Thankfully, Saint Teresa of Avila, the founder of the Discalced Carmelite order, had a chatty, restless, sanguine personality like me. She left very explicit instructions on how to pray, precisely because she found it so difficult.
One of her metaphors has given me fortitude in my prayer life.
Saint Teresa writes think of God as a bridegroom who gives his bride many gifts. She has land and clothes and fancy bracelets on her wrists. And in return, the bride gives her groom a small metal band as a wedding ring. The gift isn't valuable in itself, and certainly a pales in comparison to the wealth of riches she's received as wedding gifts from her bridegroom. Yet a wedding ring is still treasured all the same, it serves as a symbol of the bride's faithfulness.
That image of a worthless metal band has helped me fortitude in my prayer life.
My thirty minutes of distracted, restless prayer time can certainly seem worthless from the outside. My prayers, however, are a sign of my faithfulness to God. Good or bad, rich or poor, my daily prayer time is more than a collection individual insights gained. My daily prayer time is an outward sign that I'm "God's girl for life."
It's a teeny, almost worthless act. Yet I know that my daily fight to pray is a gift that is received with great joy.