This year, as Advent began, I wasn’t feeling ready. I just couldn’t get into the spirit of Advent.
I talked with my spiritual director about it. We troubleshooted. I had been sidelined by illness for three months straight and unable to attend Mass or gather with my prayer group. I felt isolated. Yet I still felt God’s abiding presence. My spiritual director said not to worry but advised I keep praying.
So, I kept praying.
One evening, I imaginatively asked St. Ignatius in prayer what I should do. Agere contra, or “to act against,” came to mind.
Lord, help me to work against it.
The next day, I got an e-mail from a friend inviting me to a weekday Advent retreat. I had way too much work to do. Yet I felt tugged. I planned to say “no,” but a “yes” rolled off my tongue. I went to the retreat battling that “no” the whole way—so much so that I arrived 15 minutes late.
Lord, help me get into the spirit of Advent.
At the retreat, I imagined Jesus sitting next to me on the couch. The words came tumbling out. There was more there than I had realized, and it was taking up space—space where I wanted to be storing up the good things in my heart. I prayed boldly.
I really want that blanket!
Huh? Had I really just asked Jesus for a blanket? Really?
A little backstory: earlier that week I had entered a raffle for a blanket that a Benedictine Sister had knitted by hand. I really like hand-knit blankets.
I set aside thoughts of blankets and left the retreat feeling nourished. One of the themes of the retreat, “the God of Surprises,” really resonated with me. I had found the Spirit and was ready to enter into Advent.
The next afternoon, as I was dusting my windowsill, I noticed a box on my front step. The return address said, “Benedictine Sisters.”
No. It couldn’t be.
I opened the box, and there was the knitted blanket I had asked for when I was praying. Tears of astonishment welled up in my eyes.
I stood there remembering other times when I have prayed boldly, baring my heart to God in unfiltered prayer. Whenever I have been able to open up, believe, and trust, the God of Surprises has done wonderful things for me, things that I could never accomplish with any amount of planning. I haven’t always received exactly what I’ve asked for, but sometimes I have received more than I could have thought to ask!
In his Gospel, Mark tells us to go one step further in prayer: “So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” (11:24) That sounds like bold prayer to me!
I invite you to pray boldly. Pray your heart; don’t filter it.
And believe expectantly. The God of Surprises does not disappoint.