Contemplatives in Confinement: Be Careful What You Pray For

Nothing, whether it is good or bad, happens to a person by blind chance. There is a provident God who steers the affairs of the world, and with each one of us there is a Guardian who does not miss anything, and whose watchfulness never relaxes or grows weak. — St. Isaac the Syrian

Possibly my favorite book in C.S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia series is The Silver Chair. In this wonderful quest story, Aslan gives Jill and Scrubb an important task, with four Signs to lead them. But each time they encounter a Sign, it comes in an unexpected form. Is this what they were looking for? Aslan couldn’t have meant for them to follow his leading in this situation, could he?

As they struggle with confusion, the same question haunts them again and again: “Could it be a mere accident?”

In our current season of coronavirus, unexpected circumstances are the new normal. With our activities curtailed and millions of us under government orders to stay at home as much as possible, God is answering prayers in unforeseen—and often uncomfortable—ways.

Sometimes we don’t even formulate our desires as prayers; they are mere wishes, thoughts that flit in and out of our consciousness. Do any of the following statements sound familiar?

“I wish I had more time with my children.”

“I’m tired of running around from one activity to another. Lord, deliver me from this rat race.”

“I wonder what it would be like to have solitude and time for prayer.”

And now, pandemic has brought these prayers of the heart to fruition. But not in ways we expected.

I’m not suggesting that God sent a deadly, global virus to force people to spend quality time at home. I do not mean to be glib in the midst of widespread sickness, death, and financial crisis. What I am saying is: Here we are. How do we respond, personally, in our own corners of the world, to our own unexpected situations? Will we take the opportunity to seek God’s Kingdom, here and now, surrendering our circumstances back to Him as an offering of thanksgiving?

So in every test, let us say, “Thank you, my God, because this was needed for my salvation.”

— St. Paisios the Athonite

 

[Photo by Allen Taylor on Unsplash]

Many of us are spending our days in full houses that suddenly feel crowded. Our children are with us, and they can be a wee bit demanding.

Could it be a mere accident?

 

Many of us lead over-scheduled lives filled with school, work, elderly parents in need, and children’s activities. Now we have quiet and rest.

[Photo by Hamza Abdulilah on Unsplash]

Could it be a mere accident?

Many of us have been laid off, fired, or furloughed, with unscheduled hours suddenly at our disposal. We are lonely, with days of solitude and time to pray.

Could it be a mere accident?

We must thank the Lord for everything, the labor which he imposes on us to teach us patience, which ennobles the soul and is more beneficial for us than comfort. Evidently, this is pleasing to the Lord. Sorrows cannot befall us except through God’s permission—for the sake of our sins. Moreover, these very sorrows protect us from other temptations. — St. Moses of Optina

In their quest, Jill and Scrubb mess up the first two Signs then come upon the third Sign, a clue in the form of huge stone letters that spell out, UNDER ME. After they scramble into an underworld below these words, they discover that the message is simply the remnant of a longer verse. This realization “was like cold water down the back to Scrubb and Jill; for it seemed to them very likely that the words had nothing to do with their quest at all, and that they had been taken in by a mere accident.”

Puddleglum, the Marshwiggle from Narnia whose glass is always half-empty and has a leak, is nonetheless a voice of faith in the midst of despair:

“Don’t you mind,” said Puddleglum. “There are no accidents. Our guide is Aslan; and he was there when the giant king caused the letters to be cut, and he knew already all things that would come of them; including this.”

[Illustration by Daniel C. Fergus]

Perhaps during this Great Lent, the main lesson I am to learn, yet again, is to be thankful in all things. My hubby and I mostly work from home, and thus the coronavirus has not radically altered our daily schedules. Still, in addition to worry, I have more empty time now. More family time. More quiet.

We must not be distressed by anything that happens to us, even if it affects our present weaknesses. For although we don’t know why everything that happens to us is sent by God as a blessing, we should be convinced that everything that happens to us is for our good. — St. Basil the Great

This—my challenge, my difficulty—is not a mere accident.

2 comments:

  1. Through personal experience, I can affirm your title and St. Isaac’s quote at the beginning of this article. Thirty-four years ago, I was a young and zealous born-again Christian, but I felt that my boring life of a day job (actually, the night shift), wife and two children was far too normal for a servant of God. One night I went off on my own and prayed with great fervor: “God, use me or take me home!”

    Within a week or so, I was in the hospital with a broken neck. It was a freak thing, a sledding accident. Perhaps just as freaky was the fact that I survived pretty much unscathed — yes, I spent time in traction and ultimately underwent a bone fusion operation, but I’ve since lived a normal life with little or any after-effects. Also amazing, I’d just signed up for health insurance merely four days before the accident, so most of the medical expenses were covered.

    People at church asked, “What do you think God is telling you through this experience?” I had no clue and for years that question haunted me. Gradually the answer seemed to settle in my mind: “BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU PRAY FOR.”

    Perhaps God was saying to me, “I CAN take you home, you know; are you sure you want that?” I came ‘this close’ to it actually happening. I could have died on that hill, and the doctors were amazed when they saw my x-rays: “You should be paralyzed from the neck down and we don’t know why you’re not.” Perhaps as a mercy to my wife and children, my life was spared of my own brash stupidity. As St. Isaac said, I had a provident God and a watchful Guardian Who kept me through this odd event. Thank God, I’ve been kept ever since.

    As I age, I’m realizing that the time will come where God will seemingly abandon me to death — that day must come. But I pray and hope that I’ll use His grace to cling to Him in trust that He will see me through even that. In the mean time, I need to revisit that Narnia story.

    1. Wow! I am so glad you’re safe and well–and a bit wiser. 🙂 And the Narnia books are great comfort reading during this time. I think I’ll dive back into the series in the evenings.

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