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The joys of praying with the heart

I was never one who enjoyed structured or formalised prayer. I always preferred casual conversations with God and prayers that were direct and to the point. When I was younger, I’d often say a quick “I need some help here” or “please just this one thing” kind of prayer, but only if I got desperate, or I needed something.

It wasn’t until many years later that consistent, purposeful and devotional prayer entered my life, and I have Our Lady and my own mother to thank for that.

One day out of desperation, I rang my mom, crying and not knowing what to do. No matter how much I tried to talk him around, my husband did not want any more children. Not because he wasn’t necessarily open to it, but out of fear for my safety.

When my second child was born, it nearly cost me my life. Afterwards, I was very unwell for a long time, with many health issues. Given this history, my husband was rightly concerned about placing my life at risk like that again. “Besides,” he’d say, “we already have two beautiful children. Why tempt fate?”

When I rang my mom for advice, she simply said, “You’ll just have to pray about it.”

Now, I was only newly returned to the Faith at this stage, and I’m like, “What? Mom, come on, I’m being serious…believe me, praying is not going to change his mind.”

“Well then” she said, “say the Rosary. Ask Our Lady to intercede that Jesus may change his heart.”

OK fine. By that stage, I was willing to try anything.

I found an old rosary and the companion booklet that my mom had given to me years before, though never used. Each morning, I would get up, say the Rosary and start my day.

I said that Rosary for an entire year.

I started out by begging, “Please, God, please let me have another baby, please.”

When that didn’t work, I changed tactics, “God, please let it be your plan for me to have more children.”

Nothing happened. My husband became even more resolute and ceased to engage whenever I brought up the subject.

Finally, I said, “OK. If it is Your Will that we have another child, then please, God, let it come from my husband. Let it be his idea.”

I was tired of the fighting.

Deep down, I really didn’t want to force or manipulate my husband into doing anything that he didn’t want to do. I was only just learning to grasp the whole “wives submit to your husbands” thing, and I knew that his motivation was to protect me, not to hurt me, even if his objection was based on fear of the unknown.

I stopped bringing up the subject, but continued to pray.

After 12 months of a daily morning Rosary followed by my usual casual chat with God, I started to think, you know what? I don’t actually need to have another child.

All of a sudden, I felt happy. I was content with my life.

My kids were at an age where they were pretty near self-sufficient. On Saturday mornings, they could get their own breakfast, let mommy and daddy sleep in a little bit. Despite this one thing that we didn’t agree on, my husband and I were getting along better than ever. Our kids were happy. Life was good.

If God, in His Wisdom, didn’t think another baby was right for us, then I accepted that. Maybe there was a risk that He foresaw and I didn’t. I became content and grateful for the two beautiful children He had already given to us.

So, I said to God, “It’s ok. I’m ok.” I really was.

The very next morning was a Sunday.

My husband woke up, rolled over in bed and said sheepishly, “You know what I can’t get out of my head lately? I think I want another baby.”

That was the day I learned that God has quite the sense of humor.

The moment I had “let go and let God” and no longer insisted on having things my way, He came through. I became pregnant a short time later.

I continued my morning Rosary in gratitude and thanksgiving for the gift of life. Then, when reality hit me, they became prayers for a safe and healthy delivery.

Each day, my grateful heart drew nearer to Our Mother as my pregnancy progressed through our daily connection of her Holy Rosary.

Then, the strangest, most beautiful thing happened.

I began to cry when contemplating the Mysteries, especially the Joyful and Sorrowful.

My tears during the Joyful Mysteries were largely due to empathy for Our Mother at losing Jesus for three days and then finding Him again in the temple. As the mother of my own adventurous 12-year-old boy at the time, I could relate.

However, it got to such a point that I would dread Tuesday and Friday mornings when it was time to recite the Sorrowful Mysteries and contemplate Jesus’ Passion. I can’t really explain it. It almost felt like a physical aversion to looking too closely at the suffering of Christ.

Despite these hesitations, I would make myself get up in the early hours of the morning before the kids would wake, go into the dining room and kneel before a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe that we had hanging there. Afterall, I felt that I owed Jesus and Our Lady my continued devotion in thanksgiving for having heard and answered my prayers.

One particular morning, I struggled to get comfortable. I must have been about eight or nine months pregnant by then, because kneeling was difficult.

I steadied myself, took a deep breath and began to pray. It didn’t take long until I was in such a meditative state that I no longer heard the words I was praying. I only saw and felt Our Lord in His agony in the garden, being scourged at the pillar, the sting of the thorny crown, falling under the weight of the cross, the torturous suffering endured through crucifixion, and finally, surrendering to the Father’s Will in death.

At some point, I vaguely had the impression of a slight pressure on my back. I didn’t give it much notice and it did not interrupt my deep meditation.

When I finished the words of the Hail Holy Queen and opened my eyes to make the Sign of the Cross, I found myself leaning completely forward with my forehead resting on the floor.

I couldn’t move at first, and was both surprised and confused by my posture. I wasn’t even sure how I managed to lean forward so much with my pregnant belly in the way.

Slowly, I righted myself and sat back on my heels, looking around. Tears were still wet on my face, though I didn’t remember crying.

I then recalled the feeling of pressure on my back, like a gentle hand nudging me slowly, lovingly forward, so that I was as prostrate as a pregnant woman could be before the Lord.

A wave of peace flowed over me.

My heart swelled. It was the most remarkable experience of my life. For the rest of the day, everything around me looked new, as if I was looking at all of Creation for the first time.

As I drove to work, large trees lining the road seemed to come alive. I had the most intense desire to stop the car and hug one of those trees! I probably would have, if I wasn’t already late for work. Instead, I started to sing hymns at the top of my lungs alone in my car as I drove.

This feeling of euphoria, or ecstasy, or whatever you want to call it, only lasted that one day. Although I have come close many times, I have not had such an experience while praying again. I still cry when overcome with empathy and emotion, but no matter how much I want that feeling to return, it eludes me.

Some people refer to it as the joys of praying with the heart.

For me, it was like a gift.

A gift from one Mother to another.


Photo credits: hospital patient, hands with rosary, child eating, pregnant woman, Our Lady of Guadalupe all from pixabay; rosary beads, my own; Jesus and the Cross, illustration by William Luberoff in The Rosary for Children by Sr Karen Cavanaugh; Trees, Kim Selby Photography; Madonna and Child, Giovanni Battista Salvi (il Sassoferrato, 1609-1685).

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