Broken Prayers

imageA couple months ago, I finally broke down and replaced my Nana’s Rosary, which I had lost somewhere over the summer. I had been putting it off because I didn’t want to admit that I couldn’t find it and that it wasn’t coming back. I said a prayer that whoever has it is using it well and gaining graces (it was, after all, blessed by Pope Benedict XVI), and went to our parish bookstore to find a new Rosary that was fitting to me and yet not too expensive. I found a pretty dark red, rose-scented set and bought it.

When I took it out to pray the first time, I was dismayed to find one of the links had come undone. I discovered that I could fix it by reconnecting the links, then bending the loose link a little bit tighter. This keeps the Rosary together, and I no longer worry about losing part of it. I had my priest bless it, then I went to Adoration and started to pray.

While I was praying I discovered something else: there’s one Pater bead that was bored out a bit too much, so the bead slips out of its usual place between decades and goes to join the Hail Mary beads in the next decade sometimes. I considered exchanging the Rosary, but realized that someone else would just wind up with this one, anyway, so I kept it, and I use it when praying a Rosary at home. (I have a second one in my purse.) Besides I think there’s a lesson to be learned from my Rosary, and it’s not “you get what you pay for,” either.

The Rosary is imperfect, which is exactly what my typical prayers are like. I have good intentions, just like these little Rosary beads, but sometimes things go awry. I begin my prayers, and I try to meditate on the mysteries, using visual cues that are nearby to help me along. But inevitably I wind up realizing that my mind has been wandering. I start out thinking about the Annunciation, and how I ought to say “yes” to God more often, and before I what’s happening, I’m thinking about laundry or geometry lessons or whether or not I remembered to pay a bill. I snap my attention back to the Scripture stories about the mystery that I’m supposed to be meditating on, but it’s almost certain that before the Rosary is over, I’ll be off-topic again, contemplating the kitchen floor and how I ought to wash it rather than the mystery of the Presentation.

My little Rosary, with it’s slipping beads and inexact links, is the perfect Rosary for someone like me whose mind slips into daily worries instead of mysteries and is inexact in meditation. 

But does that mean that my prayers aren’t good enough for God? Certainly not! If I were content to leave my meditations as patchy and inconsistent, that would be one thing, but since I am trying to improve, trying to be more consistent, truly striving to offer a holy prayer, then I believe that God is pleased with this effort. I believe that, much like we earthly parents are pleased when our children try to do something for us, and yet do it imperfectly, God is pleased when we try to please Him.

When my children were young and still loved to draw pictures for me, I would hang their artwork on the walls and cover my fridge with their masterpieces. Did it matter that the picture of me was a circle with lines coming out, that my knees were drawn in as circles, or that I had seven fingers on one hand? No! This was the very best my child could give me, and I knew that my daughter had slaved over every detail of the portrait she had given me. (I was always tickled at the knees, to be honest. I felt like it was this amazing detail!) When they painted a Christmas ornament, I would lovingly hang it in a place of pride, even if it was a little salt dough ornament with all sorts of colors splashed all over it, with no regard for what was being painted. This was a carefully created piece of artwork! It’s precious to me, to this day, and still hangs on the tree.

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I can’t help but believe that our prayers, as imperfect as they are, are as precious to God. If we are trying our best to please Him, doing the best we can to offer prayers and petitions, I can’t imagine that He would look at our little splotchy salt dough ornament and say, “Nope, sorry. That’s not nearly good enough. I deserve better!” What I believe happens is that we bring him that little ornament and He looks at it with wonder and love, as if it’s the best thing He’s ever seen. He hugs us tight, walks over to the Christmas tree, and hangs it in an honored place so everyone can see.

God won’t reject our sincere prayers if we are trying our best, even if our best isn’t “good enough.” Besides, it’s not God who says they aren’t good enough — it’s the Devil. The Devil doesn’t want you to talk to God, or to take your little salt dough ornament to Him. The Devil is the one who mocks our best attempts to pray and tells us it’s not good enough. He’s the one who says, “Why bother? All you’re doing during this Rosary is thinkng about your car’s brakes! Just skip it, because this isn’t good enough.”

imageBut our Heavenly Father is there, trying to get us to look to Him instead of listening to the Devil, telling us that our prayers are beautiful to Him. “Keep trying. You’re getting better!” He tells us. “Never mind Old Scratch — he’s jealous. Tell me what’s on your mind.” When we keep praying, keep bringing ourselves back to the prayer when we’ve been distracted (again), our prayers improve. It’s like we keep on trying to paint that ornament, and it keeps getting better-looking every time we try.

Don’t give up if your prayers seem imperfect. Like the Rosary I use, they will still do the job. And the more we practice, the better we get. This Advent, make a commitment to pray more — daily, even if it’s a short prayer of thanks at the end of the day  — and give God the best we can do right now. I promise you that He won’t reject your gift of prayer.