I have been avoiding writing this post for hours. I keep finding excuses to get up and walk away from the keyboard. It’s the combination of feeling like I have nothing to say and yet, so much on my mind. And my heart? Well, it’s just a confused mess. I keep thinking that the Lord is going to show up and help me carefully construct a deep, well-written blog post, backed up by Scripture and inspiring stories. And He did show up. Oh, He showed up alright. But He didn’t clear things up for me. Instead, He challenged me. “Speak from the mess. Preach from the confusion.”
And so here we go.
I have been praying the 54-Day Novena for a loved one. If you’re not familiar with the 54-Day Novena, it is a beautiful devotion that consists of saying the Rosary for 54 days in a row. The first 27 days are said in petition—asking Mary for her prayers for a particular intention. The remaining three novenas, said over the last 27 days, are in thanksgiving—whether or not you received what you brought to prayer. This is my second time praying the 54-Day Novena for the same intention. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that part of me feels like the first go at it “didn’t work.”
Last Sunday, on day 27 of my novena, I received a call at 2:00 AM. If you’ve ever received a call at 2:00 AM, you know that rarely is it ever good news. And do you want to know what the very first thing was that came to mind? “It is day 27. The asking is over.”
Just a few hours later, I slipped out of my bed, lit a bright fire, and on bended knees, began the second portion of my novena—the thanksgiving. There in the glow of red and orange flames, I thanked God for answering my prayer, despite the fact that the phone call tempted me to believe quite the opposite. And yet, in that moment, this was not difficult to do. I am a firm believer that some things need to get worse before they get better; that the breakdown always precedes the breakthrough. This was just more breaking down. I fully believed that my prayer was being answered. That it had been answered. It just didn’t look like it from where I was sitting. And so I clung onto hope and resisted the doubt, choosing to walk by faith and not by sight.
Only God sees the bigger picture, after all. With my head bowed in humility, I accepted my sliver of the story and continued whispers of thanksgiving.
But today? Today, thanksgiving feels hard. Today feels like nothing is happening. And if something is happening, well, it feels like moving backwards, away from the prayer. And if you know me at all, you know that I actually prefer being in chaos to feeling like nothing is happening. Chaos allows me to feel like I can still control things. But nothing? You know what nothing does? Nothing ushers me into the waiting room, asks me to take a seat, maybe offers me a cup of coffee, and then...it leaves me there. And oh, how I try to fill nothing with something.
I know! I will listen to a podcast!
I know! I’ll get out my essential oils and make rollers to give away!
I know! I’ll make a phone call!
I know! I’ll get myself a bowl of almonds!
I know! I’ll make a pot of coffee!
I literally did all of these things, practically at the same exact time, because hello lack of focus, so nice of you to join me in my state of nothingness. Have a seat and feel free to confuse me even more! But praise be to God, for He truly can work with anything! Today, it was through the voice on the other end of the phone.
“Have you been silent before the Lord?” she asked. And then she continued, “So often I think that I am praying, but what I am actually doing is repeating my worries over and over to the Lord. Telling Him, ‘I don’t want this’ or ‘I can’t do that’...minimizing all that He can do.” (And yes, I grabbed a pen and paper and made her repeat that because it is GOLD.)
Honestly, friends? No. I have not been silent before the Lord. I am praying my novena and reading my Bible, but silence? As in, just sitting? Not speaking? Not asking for something? No. I have not done that. I have been repeating my worries and calling it prayer.
Forgive me, Jesus.
Perhaps the nothingness I feel today is actually God’s invitation into the silence. It is so hard for me to slow down. I am addicted to projects and filling the space, because it gives me the feeling of being in control while taking my mind off what I have zero control over. And when I do this, I so easily forget that my prayer—that one thing that I repeat over and over again, as if the Lord has forgotten...as if He forgets...as if He isn’t on it—is a battle that belongs to the Lord. And no matter how much I keep trying to convince God that He really needs my help with this, He hands me a day of nothingness instead of promoting me to the fourth person in the Trinity. He reminds me of my nothingness. And He invites me to be silent so that He can speak.
Do you have trouble sitting in the silence before the Lord?
Is waiting on the Lord not at the top of your “fun things to do today” list?
Do you prefer chaos to nothingness?
Are you repeating your worries over and over again and calling it prayer?
If you answered yes to any of these, you are not alone. And while I am no expert at waiting in the silence, I do want to share with you what my friend and I have chosen to do in case you’d like to follow along. For the next 30 days, we will be setting aside 20 minutes a day for nothing but silence. Yes. I said 20 minutes. I know...it’s not going to be easy. But nothing worthwhile ever is. And we have kept the plan super simple.
Will distractions creep in? You bet. That is why I will dump everything out into my guided prayer journal before I begin.
From the time that I sat down to write until now, a steady snowfall has begun. Birds of gray, red, and white are flocking to the feeder, storing up seeds before the storm. And me? Well, I am going to pour another cup of coffee and marvel at the quiet that is literally falling from the sky, blanketing the earth in perfect silence. And it is right here in the nothingness that I will wait; wait and listen for the Lord.
Speak Lord. Your servant, at long last, is listening.
My sister, a mother to five children, was having a particularly difficult day of parenting. Giving in to the frustration and feelings of powerlessness, she raised her voice at her children, slammed a few doors, and angrily stomped her feet on every step as she made her way down the stairs. And amid her meltdown, she happened to look up. Hanging on the staircase wall was the most peaceful portrait of Mary, the Immaculate Conception. My sister paused, took in a long, deep breath, and exclaimed, “What are you looking at? You had one kid, and He was perfect!”
It can feel this way, can’t it? We can try to make excuses for our sin because Jesus was perfect (and how can we live up to that!), and we could make the same excuse that Mary was also perfect. Surely, if you or I were conceived without the stain of original sin, we would never raise our voices at our children! We would float around the house in a flowy blue dress, hands folded in prayer, wearing a permanent smile while smelling like roses! Unfortunately, Eve messed everything up. My sin is her fault. Not mine. And honestly? Who can relate to Mary, anyway? That’s an impossible standard that leaves me feeling more discouraged and hopeless than I already feel. Obedience to God was easier for Mary.
That’s what I used to think. Until Mary appeared to me.
She didn’t appear in the way that you might think. I didn’t have a vision of Our Lady. She didn’t show up in my laundry room floating on a cloud. And yet, she has been profoundly present. She has been the quiet comfort when pierced with the sword of a life I did not plan. She has been the gentle nudge in the right direction when fear and anxiety tempt me to choose my way. She has been the warm embrace when I find myself staring at another prayer having gone (seemingly) unanswered. She is the presence of something greater to come when life in this world feels weary and bleak. And maybe you are wondering how I can be so sure this is Mary if I have not seen her with my eyes? It’s a good and fair question. And I have a good and fair answer.
Mary, the Immaculate Conception, whose feast we celebrate today, is as Father Peter Cameron writes, “the living, breathing conception of God’s ineffable goodness, truth, beauty, fidelity, compassion, justice, mercy, peace and love.” The closer I grow in relationship with Mary, the closer I grow in relationship with her Son. And this, my friends, is what our faith is all about. Relationship. It is the very thing the serpent went after to destroy in the garden of Eden and what God ingeniously restored through the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The very grace and holiness that God offered to Mary is offered to us as well, and it is through the Immaculate Conception that we are invited back into relationship with God! You might be wondering how. How does one get to this level of grace and holiness? How does one foster a relationship with God the Father and Mary the Blessed Mother? The answer is prayer.
Let me ask. Do you hate that answer? Do you find it unhelpful? Because I used to. I knew I was supposed to be praying, I just wasn’t sure how. Plus, I am a perfectionist and a control freak and wanted some kind of "in my hands" proof that what I was doing was right. And while God doesn’t give prayer receipts to shove in the back of my Bible as evidence, I have discovered something that is even more effective and gratifying than a paper receipt. Prayer journaling. In my closet, I have a stack of over twenty journals filled with the longings, sorrows, joys, and hopes of my heart (give or take a few grocery lists). These empty pages are where I dump it all out—the clutter and the fear and all the things that tempt my mind to wander when I sit down for some quiet time with the Lord. Once I have unraveled my mind, I can be fully present to God, offering Him an open heart, ready to receive. Prayer journaling, which I believe is prompted by the Blessed Mother, has been my guide into a deeper relationship with the Lord.
Why do I say prompted by the Blessed Mother? Because Mary pondered. Mary thought deeply about the circumstances in her life. Mary considered all things and treasured them in her heart. Mary held every situation up against the backdrop of God’s promises, which she knew to be true. This is precisely what happens when I prayer journal! More than a list of wants and needs I hand over to the Lord, journaling allows me to create a sacred space of receptivity. It allows me to sort out the lies in my head, guiding me to the truth of who God is. As Lisa Brenninkmeyer writes, “prayer journaling is how I transition from my perspective to His.” Who lived life from God’s perspective better than Mary?
I had a parenting day similar to the one my sister had just the other day. I was sideswiped by a child in crisis, and those familiar feelings of powerlessness and frustration got the best of me. I can honestly say I was free-falling fast into despair; my worst case scenario thoughts steering me straight into a brick wall. And then Mary appeared to me. No, not in a vision, but as a gift in my mailbox! The new Walking with Purpose guided prayer journal, Praying from the Heart, miraculously arrived at the moment I needed it. (Because moms are like that. They anticipate their children’s needs.) And I wish we could sit face to face over a cup of coffee and pore over the pages of this journal together, because, my friend, it is unlike anything you have ever seen. If Our Lady were to create and use a journal, this would be it! And on this Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception, you can bet that my first entry will start with praise and adoration for a God who loves me so much to give me such a mother as Mary. As Father Cameron so beautifully says, “In Mary the Immaculate Conception we are given a corrected conception of the image of God: The Mother takes all our fear away in the way that only a mother can.”
Thank you, Immaculate Mary, for always looking out for me, taking all my fear away, and guiding me to pray from the heart.
 Father Peter Cameron, Mysteries Of The Virgin Mary: Living Our Lady’s Graces, (Servant Books, 2010), p. 17.
 Lisa Brenninkmeyer, Praying from the Heart: Guided Journal, (Walking With Purpose, 2020), p. 4.
 Father Peter Cameron, Mysteries Of The Virgin Mary: Living Our Lady’s Graces, (Servant Books, 2010), p. 17.