HomeIgnatian PrayerGoing Head-to-Head with Jesus

Going Head-to-Head with Jesus

depressed woman sitting with hand over face - photo by Liza Summer via Pexels

St. Ignatius would direct people in prayer to imagine Jesus was sitting in a chair across the room and to speak to him as one would speak to a trusted friend. But sometimes across the room is too far away, and sometimes there are no words to be said.

I have been fighting cancer for 18 months now, racking up to date 323 appointments at the hospital (not including a total of seven weeks inpatient): clinics, labs, treatments, transfusions. It has been a spiritual slugfest as much as a physical one. But when a PET scan revealed a new spot on my lung, potentially meaning I had made no progress at all in the fight, I ran out of words to pray.

Yes, I had been gifted an extra 284 days to live post-transplant—a gift afforded to less than 30% of people in my situation. I had much for which to be grateful. But still the words would not come. The exhaustion was just too overwhelming. I would try to pray, and the darkness engulfed me. It wasn’t even the darkness of potentially dying. (I had dealt with that plenty already.) It was the darkness of living, of exhaustion, of wanting desperately to get out of the ring. When I tried to imagine Jesus in the chair across the room, the room was too dark, and all I could do was put my head in my hands. A person can’t see across the room with her head in her hands.

In that moment of isolation, I finally got a glimpse of the true power of centering prayer—no words, no spinning the 10,000 anxieties in my head, no analysis. Ignatius was wrong. Jesus isn’t in a chair across the room. Jesus is right next to me, leaning in, forehead to forehead. No words needed. Every time my mind started to whirl, all I heard was, “Shhh. Just be with me.” That was my mantra. And there we sat until I finally had the desire and energy to say, “Thank you.”

I don’t blame God for my disease. I don’t think it is a test from God to prove myself worthy. I still don’t know how the power of prayer works. In as much Ignatian spirit as I can muster, I don’t even pray for health or a long life as much as strength to get through what is and to always grow closer to the service of Love. But I do know, when you can’t get any words out and you can’t see because your head is in your hands, that going head-to-head with Christ, letting yourself just be, and allowing Infinite Love to completely wash over you while you feel unworthy and exhausted, somehow brings a peace that surpasses all understanding. It is more powerful than any pills, radiation, or chemotherapy.

And so, the fight goes on. Cue the bell. Round 10. We die little deaths to our desire for control of our little world and rise to freedom in Infinite Love. But the fight is at least easier when I go head-to-head with Christ in my corner. (Spoiler alert: Infinite Love always wins.)

Photo by Liza Summer via Pexels.

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Lisa Kelly
Lisa Kelly
Lisa Kelly is a wife, mother, and Ignatian Associate living in Omaha, Nebraska. She works to help organizations integrate spirituality into their planning and systems. She and her husband, Tom, completed the 19th Annotation in 2005, just prior to spending two years living in the Dominican Republic with their three young children, supporting the work of the Jesuit Institute for Latin American Concern. Additionally they have lived in El Salvador and Bolivia for extended periods.


  1. Your story is powerful and gripping. You have the gifts of writing well and storytelling. Thank you for sharing your journey and struggle. I pray the Holy Spirit gives you supernatural strength and peace, joy and consolation as you fight this battle. I pray for a complete restoration to vibrant health. I see Jesus head to head with you and cheering you on.

  2. Lisa, after reading your latest post, I knelt down and prayed for you. Your faith in Jesus speaks and you indeed surrender yourself wholly in the hands of Jesus. May God’s grace and peace be with you and your family.

  3. Lisa,
    Thank you for sharing your physical and spiritual journey with us. I, too, value my Ignatian life
    journey and you are an inspiration to me. You will be in my prayers.
    With God given affection.
    Irene Molitor
    Twin Cities Ignation Associate.

  4. Lisa,

    Thanks ever so much for sharing your journey and the trials and tribulations of just trying to make through the day. Your words are powerful. Your message is comforting. You will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  5. As a writer, I marvel at your amazing gift of touching hearts through words. As an Ignatian Associate, I see how your Ignatian practices have brought you close to a loving God, through both consolations and desolations. I know God loves you, Lisa, I pray that God grants you peace and time so you can continue to share your gifts and insights with all of us.

  6. We have a son who is currently going through the exact type of “treatment” that you describe. I shared your story with him. It struck so many of the stages that he has been through for the past 11 months.

    We pray for you. Are you related to Ron Green?

  7. Thank you Lisa. I am praying for you. What you say is so important. Jesus and Mary are right there beside you-always. You do not need words.

  8. Lisa,
    Blessings to you and yours as you battle this disease. All strength is through Jesus. Prayers for successful treatments and for your team of physicians who care for you.

  9. Lisa please know you are on my prayer list. I know all the Ignatian Associates are praying for you. I really appreciate your reflection as sometimes all we can do is put our head in our hands. Glad you felt the presence of Jesus at that moment. Hang in there Lisa! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Yes, forehead to forehead, sharing heartbeats and breath. No separation- the most beautiful gifts from the most horrible experiences. Wishing you every peace and love…

  11. Lisa

    You’ve shared finding God in pain and illness. Your gift is invaluable and you’ve no idea how many lives your words will impact bringing a measure of comfort and empathy. We draw strength during our personal suffering from those who share their journey. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. God Bless, Lisa

  12. Thank you for your courage to write of your life journey. I have looked forward to and loved each of your reflections. You express beautifully what many cancer patients feel and may hold inside. I am praying for you and your family.

  13. Lisa, this powerful reflection speaks to me so very deeply. I have not suffered from cancer but there was a period in my life where I went through “the darkness of living” after my husband of thirty-seven years left for a parishioner. I identify with that and with the inability to pray with words Jesus was there with me as I sat in my grief and helped me to put one foot in front of the other.
    Thank you for sharing and please know that prayers for you are being offered to our Lord!

    • Lynda, I have experienced a similar situation. Whilst we are not dealing with the devastation health-wise that Lisa is going through we have dealt with loss in another way. Sometimes there simply isn’t enough strength to pray. Sometimes I just sit telling God I have no words, nothing left to say. I then lay my head down on Jesus’ lap as I am seated at his feet and tell him I am his child, please take care of me.
      The recovery from betrayal is a long one. May you find strength and comfort in Jesus’ arms.

  14. “We die little deaths to our desire for control of our little world and rise to freedom in Infinite Love.” – Thank you for sharing your story and for expressing this particular sentiment so beautifully. I am also dealing with cancer – three years of multiple myeloma with a brief remission – and I’ve found that I’ve had to surrender EVERYTHING to God. In fact, I have to surrender on a regular basis. A friend asked me how it felt to do that, and after a short pause I could only reply, “Free.”

  15. This reflection is a gift for many – honest, raw, beautiful! (also there’s a real cloud of witnesses with you, Lisa)

  16. Beautifully written! Thank you so much for sharing your journey so personally. I can relate to it so well, although cancer free at this time, what you shared can be applied in other ways as I travel this pilgrim path! These little “demons”, what I have learned to call the “monkey mind”, can emerge over and over again as we face other challenges in our life. My mind kills me at times! 🙂 However, the words you heard Jesus saying to you “Shhhh. Just be with me.” is the answer to it all! It cures the monkey mind! Your answer is so simple if we can just be quiet enough to hear and see the simplicity of it all. Thank you so much and I wish you the best is you in all ways on your journey.

  17. Thank you for continuing to share your journey. Praying glimmers of light in the darkness for you.
    The song “something bright something shining” recently carried me through some dark days. Will continue to pray…

  18. Your beautiful reflection touched my heart. I recall the many hours of being present with my husband during his treatment for multiple myeloma. Thank you for having the courage to share your journey with honesty. There is freedom in acknowledging that “fighting” cancer is more than enduring treatment. It is an exhausting, lonely journey for the spirit as well. I will lift you in prayer as you begin Round 10 and keep the image of being head to head with Christ in my heart.

  19. May Our Lord’s grace and his infinite mercy and love sustain you. My thoughts and prayers, as well as those of many others, are with you. May you gather solace from this knowledge

  20. Oh my goodness, Lisa. This is so powerful.

    I thought of my brother who would totally identity with your phrase “the darkness of living” and “wanting to get out of the ring”.
    He has PTSD.

    I will pray for you Lisa, you have been an inspiration to so many who are following your journey.
    May Jesus, be forever in your corner.

    Peace xx


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