“God, reveal my hidden flaws to me,” I prayed one evening. Nothing happened. No insights surfaced.
“How can I reform my life if I don’t even know my faults?” I thought, remembering St. Catherine of Siena saying that self-knowledge was a form of prayer, because it was critical to relating to God.
I felt sad thinking how blind I was to my own failings. St. Ignatius would name this progression of thoughts a step toward desolation, because I was tempted to beat myself up.
God’s voice doesn’t berate; God speaks lovingly and gently to me. When I’m wrong, God corrects me with steps that don’t reduce my self-esteem or make me feel bad about God’s creation. God reminds me that I am a loved sinner.
The morning after asking God to let me see my unconscious faults, I was praying on a friend’s front porch, where I was taking time for a silent retreat. Distracting thoughts took over when I noticed my friend’s fire truck parked out front; it reminded me of an unfriendly neighbor, who calls animal control every time my friend’s dog barks. I imagined myself telling that neighbor in veiled language to watch out; if his house caught fire, my friend might just let it burn down as payback. I was savoring thoughts of revenge. Suddenly recognizing how I’d become distracted, I stopped short. “Wow. I’m supposed to be praying. And here I am imagining retaliation!”
Something unusual happened in the next second. It was an answer to the previous night’s prayer. My natural reaction to feel ashamed immediately shifted. My gaze turned to the vibrant blue sky and a fresh insight.
God quietly helped me notice that I keep a record of wrongs. I brood over injustices done against me and those I love. I harbor hurts. God gently revealed a sinful progression that ensnares me.
Immediately St. Paul’s words came to mind, that love is not arrogant or rude, seeks not its own interests, nor does it brood over injuries.
All these communications beyond words happened in a burst of a split second. I was drawn to gratitude for the insights. I learned something else. God works on a divine timeline and can use distractions during prayer to speak directly to my heart.
Now I truly understood something a wise spiritual teacher revealed once: God may be using my distractions during prayer to get my attention and to point out an area where I need to grow. It’s not always a digression on my part.
I need not fear distractions during prayer. They may have something to say, something to teach. Silly me thinks that I control my prayer time. It’s actually God wooing me to a relationship on God’s terms, which are always loving and even more gentle than I can imagine.