Chelle Summer

The Desert of Prayer

Michelle Rusk

I hadn't seen Fr. Gene, the priest with whom I do spiritual direction at the Norbertine Monastery here, since my surgery two months ago. When I met with him Friday, after talking about how the surgery had gone, he asked me if I had felt God with me. The answer was no but not for reasons that might be obvious.

The day before my surgery, Fr. Marc at our church had given me the anointing of the sick and it was the last piece to my pre-surgery puzzle. Not everyone knew I was having surgery, I mostly told the people in my immediate circle and those whom I knew would not just say they would pray for me but would actually do it. 

The morning of the surgery I went through my usual prayer routine and then I let it go. I knew that I had what I needed and I had to let the fly away. By the time we arrived at the hospital still in the early hours of the day, I was distracted but not in a bad way. I had done all I was supposed to. That was a good thing. There was no hurried, "Help me!" 

Yet when the surgery was over, and all had gone well, there was an emptiness regarding my spiritual life that would stay with me for several weeks. You could attribute it to the anesthesia and chemicals run through my body for the surgery and the fact that I didn't feel like myself for some time. I went to church several times, mostly to light candles, and felt distanced from the spiritual piece of me even though I returned to my prayer life. My prayers felt empty, God felt far away. It wasn't that I didn't feel God, it just felt like he and I were on different planets.

At some point in July, things started to slowly shift. I returned to writing and sewing even when I didn't feel that great. By the time I saw Fr. Gene on Friday I could explain that while I felt I had changed in more than a physical way since my surgery, the other pieces were still unfolding in my life and I wasn't sure how they would completely play out.

It was then that he explained to me that I had just traveled through the desert of prayer, not unusual for any time or point in one's life. We continue to pray even though we don't feel anything– and I have finally come to understand that often my prayers aren't answered when I ask for what I need but at different points, often when I least expect anything. 

Life is an ebb and flow of so much that doesn't make sense as we travel through it but– if we are open– there is much opened to us if we choose to keep the door cracked. Personally, I keep them wide open because I don't want to miss a thing. I might not get to go though them when I want to, yet suddenly something happens and I realize it's because that door has been left opened, that prayer given away, and there's the response right there in front of me.