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How I learned to go without good feelings in prayer

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Fr. Alex Wyvill - published on 06/30/23

A picnic table at Grandma's house ended up being a test of my faith.

As a born-and-raised Marylander, my childhood was filled with crab feasts. No Sunday was complete without the post-Mass family ritual of “crab picking” at Grandma’s house by the water. It took only four pots, a couple of chicken necks, and a week’s time to score around 50 healthy crustaceans for the whole gang. And without exception, we ate the whole steaming bushel off of Grandma’s old, creaky picnic table.

As the years went by, the crab population declined and the crab feasts with it. We started eating inside, and the old picnic table began to rot and warp. One day, my mother soberly informed me that the table would be broken apart and used for firewood. I was hysterical. “No!” I said. “You can’t get rid of it!” Later that day, I noticed that my dad was breaking the table apart. Crying and angry, I ran, grabbed a single board, and took off sprinting toward the woods. If I couldn’t save the table, at least I would save part of it.

Later in life, that memory still stands out. I had thought that, if I lost the table, I would lose everything that Grandma’s house meant to me: not just the crab feasts, but the feeling of love and belonging those feasts evoked in me. Without our weekly gathering at that table, I didn’t see how I would ever feel that way again.

But by clinging to the picnic table, I did not let the picnic table point me to something bigger than itself: namely, the reality that I was loved and that I belonged.

This same dynamic applies to our relationship with God. Sometimes, God gives us consoling experiences where we feel his love clearly, just as I had felt my family’s love during those crab feasts. But when those consoling experiences pass, we can sometimes cling to the “picnic table” itself — the mere token of the experience — rather than letting the “picnic table” lead us to a faith in something beyond it.

But just as the picnic table was never the point, so too, consoling experiences are not the point of Christianity! God does not give us consoling experiences, graces in prayer, or miraculous healings for us to fixate on them; rather, he gives us these signs — like divine “picnic tables” — to point us beyond themselves, to deeper faith in the reality that we are loved, that we belong, in Christ Jesus.

~

This is part of the series called “The Human Being Fully Alive” found here.

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