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Be Not Afraid: Openness in Prayer



Editor’s Note: Missioner Janice Smullen shares how offering quiet moments up to God showed her a deeper insight into herself as well as her relationships with friends and family.

Moving past a fear of “not being busy” allowed me to open up to prayer.

As a mother with young children, I would roll my eyes and tune out the Scripture reading about Mary and Martha every time it was proclaimed in the lectionary cycle. Yes, of course Mary was doing the “better thing”, but really, these people were going to get hungry at some point and then, wouldn’t they be thankful that Martha had been busy in the kitchen?

Gradually, my heart began to soften.  I taught religious education classes in various parishes.  All of the teacher guides frequently offered ways to teach how to pray:  grace before meals, reconciliation prayers, rote memory prayers, and praying for our heart’s needs.  If I was going to teach this, I had to be practicing it.  Instead of rushing straight into writing my lesson plan, I began to offer a few minutes of quiet to the Holy Spirit.

Years spent moving around with the military and a number of assignments in the southern US brought me into Protestant Bible studies – these were more available than Catholic ones – and opened me up to the practice of spontaneous prayer. Through this spontaneous prayer, I tried  to relate the Scriptures to what was actually happening in my life and conversed with God about my needs and joys.  Developing an exercise habit of walking presented times for me to recite the rosary prayers.  I often would be gazing up at a bright blue sky and envision Mary’s robe, blanketing my world with a mother’s concern and love.

Another step forward took place as I was waiting for a flight in an airport by myself, no children to distract me, and began a train of panicky worries about dying.  The breathing rhythm of the Jesus prayer (“Sweet Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner”) quieted my panic.  

The answer to my worries about leaving my family for two years of mission also came in a quiet moment of reflection: If I was  going away with the conviction that God would take care of ME, would He not also be capable of watching over my family?

I know that much of this conversion of heart came with aging.  Young people have to be busy to get through their days.  But I realized that all the quiet moments added together to soften MY will, and let God’s will be done instead. It was in these quiet moments, when I wasn’t busy, that I was able to see God working in my life.  

Prayer strengthened MY relationship with God, which enabled me to relate better to family and others.  I realized that the parts of Scripture that I am most uncomfortable with are the ones that I need to ponder and pray about!  

At one point in the recent past, while listening to the Lenten reading in John, chapter 11, about Jesus meeting Martha on his way to raise Lazarus, I realized that Martha had arrived at her place of peace also.

Even though still “busy”, and anxious that Jesus hadn’t come quickly enough (she ran out to meet Jesus) she was able to slow down and converse (aka, pray!) with Jesus and then quietly share her faith with her sister, Mary. I realized that, like Martha, I had taken a big step in becoming closer to God!

Reflection Question: Is there a habit in your life that takes away from prayer time?

Janice has been granted the fruits of a family vocation and many community volunteer experiences during the past 40 years. Each experience has helped to build her faith in God's unending and unconditional love. She has been a CCD teacher, doula, ESL instructor, retreat facilitator, and mentor to refugee families. Now, Janice is grateful for the freedom and health and the opportunity to continue service and growth overseas. She lived most recently in Greensboro, NC, and loves to garden, sew, read, hike, and do yoga. Janice has been in Kingston, Jamaica since March 2016.