persons, places and things: Prayer is meant to change us


By Barb Arland-Fye

On the wall in my office is a visual reminder to pray the Prayer of St. Francis on a daily basis. Even though I know the prayer by heart, I read the words in hopes of truly living out what I am reciting.

Some days I do better than others. The most challenging lines of this prayer for me are these:

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console, to be understood as to understand, to be loved as to love.”

I failed that challenge last night. My older son, Colin, 23, who has autism, is trying to cope with some changes in his life and that escalates his anxiety. As a result, a small trigger — a golf game delaying the 6 o’clock news — caused him to vent his anger in an unhealthy way at his apartment. When I learned what he had done, I reacted in anger. Colin, always remorseful, had tears in his eyes and asked me to look at him. He said, “We had fun last night, didn’t we?”


He was correct; we did have fun as a family the previous night. But in the midst of my own anger and anxiety over the consequences of his behavior, I couldn’t see my way toward being understanding. He truly regretted what he had done, but I was too angry to console him. Still, the grief-stricken look on his face reached beyond the layers of frustration I was feeling; I was able to tell him that I loved him very much. That is how God reaches me when I am angry, frustrated or despairing. God causes me to see — whether it’s a visual image, like the expression on Colin’s face, or an abstract reminder of how I ought to be responding.

I brooded over this particular incident, wondering why I repeat mistakes in parenting even though I’ve prayed faithfully and daily for resolutions to specific challenges. A friend reminded me of a response columnist Father John Dietzen gave to a grieving mother whose 26-year-old daughter had died of cancer, despite family, friends, parishioners and strangers storming heaven with prayers. While I am not in the same situation as this hurting mother, Fr. Dietzen’s answer to her plaintive question answers mine:

“… God’s ways are not our ways; there is an infinite chasm between God’s perspective and our own. Ours is embarrassingly limited in time and experience, yet we judge, especially on occasions that are terribly hurtful, that our view of what ‘ought to be’ must be right.”

Fr. Dietzen’s compassionate response ended with this pearl of wisdom, which I believe God intended me to read and highlight in neon yellow: “This is one reason prayers are always essential and effective, not to change God or the physical forces in our bodies, but to change ourselves, to enlarge our hearts, to enable us better to see, or at least accept realities as God sees them.”

Another prayer I recite regularly is one to the Holy Spirit. “Dear Holy Spirit: Let everything begin with your inspiration, continue with your help, and reach perfection under your guidance.” But I can’t simply say the words; I have to trust in the Spirit and that’s an exercise of faith I continue to work on.

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