When I was a teenager, I thought prayer was only private. When I prayed in private, it was a personal prayer between myself and God and saints. I sometimes wrestled with my prayers because I did not understand God’s love for me and felt uncomfortable accepting my weakness. Yet I often felt God was right. I learned that I am ambitious, angry, and narcissistic.
As a Jesuit, I have grown into a deeper understanding of prayer. I have started to learn that prayer can be universal like when I pray with others in the community at Mass and group prayers. When we pray the Our Father prayer, we all begin with “Our Father who art in heaven…” God is not called the Lord or Master. Instead, we begin our prayer with the word “Our Father” and recognize God’s relatedness to all of us. My relationship with God has something to do with your relationship with God. So you and I form a “We” together before God. There is no Asian Father, white Father, or Hispanic Father in God’s prayer, but just “Our Father” who loves and cares for all of us: The Unity of Humanity. This revelation was a wake-up call for me see God’s love in a new way.
My most difficult lesson from prayer came in 2020 when I needed both private and universal prayers to help me feel at peace. During the summer of the COVID pandemic year of 2020, the garage attached to my parents’ house caught on fire and the smoke spread over the house. The electricity was out, and the firefighters wanted them to leave the house. My parents and siblings felt anxious about their future and health because my family lived on their monthly paycheck. Seeing them suffering, I also felt worried for their well-being, and I could not sleep for some time. As the oldest child in a Vietnamese family, I felt it was my duty to aid them. Mainly, I was ambitious to use my Architectural skills to help them during this tragic moment and asked my superior to leave the lockdown in our community to be with family. My superior suggested that I should stay in Chicago to protect us from the pandemic like everyone else in my community.
Though I agreed with my superior, I sometimes felt confused and upset with God about my family’s tragedy and was too desolate to pray. I tried to be available and responsible for my regular duties and community activities. In my lonely moments, my heart desired some comfort. Then I remembered that God had given me the Eucharist. In my prayers with the Eucharist, I was in tears shouting, “Dear God, I’m upset that my family is suffering right now, and I can’t be with them, but I want to love you fully as you have loved me. Please give me your love and grace so I can be free to serve you for the greater good. If not, I am about to lose my mind and my cool, up in this chapel here.” (Sometimes, I draw inspiration for my prayers from DMX.)
The Eucharist reminded me that anger over the mystery of God’s plan was unreasonable. There were things in this world that I did not labor and raise such as the sun, water, air, and so on. During this sacred moment with God, He also showed me that my Jesuit brothers and family could be a shoulder for me to lean on. So after the prayer, I shared my desolated feelings with them: my family showed me that loving means surrendering oneself. my Jesuit brothers showed me to laugh at all things, even at things “I don’t understand,” and reminded me to keep exercising my prayers like an elite athlete training his body. Finally, the Eucharist reminded me that God had given me a healthy lifestyle. Reflecting on my life experiences, I have learned nothing in this material world is worthy of my ambition, anger, and narcissism.
Yet, I was not fully at peace with myself, so I took many walks along the lake. I noticed that while the waves on the water were strong, many ducks looked peaceful as they were floating on top of the waves and did not drown in the water. I realized they were relaxing their bodies as they floated on top of the choppy water.. Later, when I prayed the Our Father in Mass with others, we all began with “Our Father who art in heaven…” I started to realize that God always loves and cares for His creation including myself, my family, and others. Based on this knowledge of God’s mercy, I felt consoled in my body because I heard the inner voice telling me that I was not alone in this life, not even when I was in the midst of darkness. If God cares for these ducks in the strong waves, He will care for my family and me even more. I desire to be like these ducks and go with the flow.
Reflecting on the peace of going with the flow, I learned to calm my body, spirit, and soul. I decided to help my family as much as possible and surrender the rest to God. I soon saw signs of God’s grace and love for my family. For instance, my family received support from an insurance company to rebuild their house and find them a hotel. My family’s parish also helped with food. Ultimately, I felt overjoyed by God’s work. I had learned to allow God to free me from my ambition, anger, and narcissism. Finally, I learned to surrender all my desires and sufferings to God’s will and my superior’s decisions.
God showed me to be like these ducks and go with the flow. I have experienced that God is close to you. He is more important to me than any friend and any lover. Feeling tossed around in a crisis? Be like the ducks.
Photo by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash.