How did you learn to pray? Did it start with a bedtime ritual with your mother or father urging you to say the most basic and innocent of requests to bless everyone you know? Did prayers come easily when asking God to help you pass an exam, score a negative on a pregnancy test, or to get a job that you desperately wanted?

I was arrogant when beginning this reflection a few months ago. I thought I was capable to finish it in one sitting. After deeply reflecting and sitting with it, I found myself with five revisions and acknowledging that my prayer life was not as strong as I wanted it to be. For the past five years, I integrated a daily ritual of praying the rosary on my one and a half hour commute to work. Not only do I begin my day with a beautifully sweet energy, but the repetitiveness of the Hail Mary becomes meditative for me. It helps ground me to face society as coffee is not always conducive for being presentable.

To deepen my prayer life, I also attended a five-week First Spiritual Exercises (FSE) series. It was my third attempt at imaginative prayer. The first week was easy, I was excited and faithful in using my imagination and journaling. I loved it and found myself more creative throughout the day. However, journaling was painful because it required for me to be vulnerable. I can be vulnerable to God because His love for me is agape, but self-love is icky, messy, and hard to do for me. My struggle with self-worth has been elusive in the past 40+ years. My resilience and commitment to loving myself and finding my self-worth would be a losing battle whenever I attempted to engage in it. However, my competitive nature would kick in and make me get back up and try again. FSE was over too quickly, but I vowed to continue journaling and doing imaginative prayer. Currently, as I engage in this, I visualize sitting with Jesus and leaning into Him and a feeling of peace comes over me. This has been new and powerful because there is no agenda to discuss, confess, or converse. We sit in silence. We sit in love. We sit in peace. Truthfully, it is more Him than me. I come to Him in times of anxiety, doubt, and pain. He welcomes me and heals me.

At the Servant Leadership Conference, the concept of greatest desire versus deepest fear captivated my attention. Materialistic and financial abundance have never attracted me. Sure, money is a need, but is it a desire? A lifetime partner is a want, but is it a desire? My fears attached to these two are simple. If I had too much money, I fear being corrupt. If I had a lifetime partner, I fear ennui. My spirit tends to live in the grass is greener on the other side, and I am learning to tend to my own garden. On a simple walk around the grounds of the gorgeous Colby Retreat House, I sensed a profound awareness to ask God to love myself and see myself in the way He sees me. This is my greatest desire. This is the cancellation of my deepest fear of not loving myself or seeing myself as worthy. Something clicked at that moment and things began to fall into place. My understanding of situations and of people became more translucent. I suppose this prayer and desire were a catalyst to shedding parts of my life that no longer serve me and friendships not bearing fruit. I let go a few friends with a loving goodbye and my mindset is not as fixed as they once were.

This journey is lonely and imperfect. I fall back into my old ways often, but it is easier now to be honest with myself and know I am no longer that person anymore. My circle of friends have always been small, but it has since shrunk again. In the midst of my loneliness, I know that the light points me to where I need to be in this phase. I honor myself more and am not quick to second guess my decisions. I embrace my imperfections rather than hide and protect them. I recognize how the masks I wear on a daily basis shield me from others as well as hiding from myself and God. So here I am today, writing this with a courage that I never had: to be translucent to myself and God. I lay at His feet with emotional burdens too great for me to bear alone. I humble myself to Him as I ask for His forgiveness on my transgressions and I love myself enough to forgive myself as well.

Maria Padua