Many people can remember the first movie they ever saw in a theatre. I know I can — Star Wars (the original) on May 25, 1977. Now I make sure I see every release of the Star Wars story, including the latest film, Rogue One.
Without giving away the story, one line from the movie stood out for me. It came in a scene in which the Jedi warrior, in prison, replies to his cell mate: “There is more than one sort of prison to be trapped in, and I feel like you carry yours with you.”
Sometimes people come to me and say they feel “trapped” in prayer. The first time I heard that, I was distressed until they unpacked it a bit. It turned out they were faithful to prayer, ardent in prayer, generous in prayer, but felt they were not moving in prayer, that they were stuck in a rut or routine.
So what should one do if they feel that way? For a child of God, moving ahead is the only direction outlined for us in Scripture. While some may choose to maintain the status quo, to go around in circles, or to even turn back to the security of what was, moving ahead with confidence is the only life-giving alternative.
Several years ago I adopted a motto for myself. It comprised words that the legendary Dr. David Livingstone once entered into his diary. Livingstone was the 19th-century Scot who devoted the best years of his life crisscrossing the vast continent of Africa as a Christian missionary doctor, preacher and explorer. He made this entry: “I am prepared to go anywhere, as long as it is forward!”
Moving forward is not always easy. There will be distractions, the road will bend, obstacles may appear and other challenges may arise. Yet, nothing should keep our eyes from the ultimate goal, nothing should ever allow discouragement to paralyze us. Moving ahead is the only way to go.
A follower of Jesus truly can move ahead with confidence in any enterprise, head held high, no matter what and with full assurance of ultimate victory because of the promises and the character of God. This character of God is His unfailing goodness toward us. His promise is that God will go with us where He leads us. So how can we do that in prayer? Here are a couple of ways to keep moving forward:
First, consider journaling. This keeps everything fresh and on task. It also gives us an opportunity to review where we have been. One of my favourite features on my new GPS is that it not only tells me how far I have yet to go, but it tells me how much I have travelled. On a long journey this is such a grace because it keeps me encouraged, focused and even determined to reach my destination. Journaling is a lot like that.
Second, find a good companion. A fine spiritual director is a gift. Since my seminary days I have been blessed with one who has been a rock in my own spiritual life. But sometimes, well, our spiritual directors can be a bit more celestial — the saints. The lives of the saints — St. Teresa of Ávila, St. John of the Cross and St. John Paul II, to name few — are wonderful directors for us. Their lives can be beacons of direction when we wonder if we are moving.
Third, consider taking a retreat. As a child, every once in a while my parents would rearrange my room. I thought it had something to do with wanting to check if I cleaned under my bed or even if I was hiding anything. But in reality my mother, a teacher, knew that a change (even subtle) can provide a new perspective. Sometimes getting “away” for a short bit freshens us for the steps forward.
As we continue to move forward in life, we should never look back, go in circles or even simply maintain the status quo. We should recheck our individual personal histories and be reminded of His faithfulness in years past, being also reassured of what He can do for us now, since Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Indeed, let us trust Him more completely for what He can and will do on behalf of His children as they encounter new challenges. His promises never fail and He remains faithful to the end, for His love for us is everlasting.
Our part is simply, in ardent prayer, to keep moving forward with confidence.
(Fr. Freitas is the pastor at St. Mary of the Visitation Parish in Cambridge, Ont., and the author of More Than Survive, available from Catholic Register Books)