The morning had been tough. I was feeling dejected about something in my life, and I was trying hard to find an answer.
The inspiration I'd been seeking so diligently just didn't seem to be there, so as I got ready to go out for the afternoon I decided to take a break and just stop praying.
While I was out, I stopped at a Dunkin' Donuts. In line ahead of me was a woman speaking rather loudly to a man whom she didn't know. She sounded upset, a bit out of sorts. But what stood out to me most was that she seemed as though she really wanted to connect with others.
My heart went out to her. I thought, "I don't want her to feel left out; I want her to feel included; I want her to feel loved."
So with this simple desire, I decided to talk to her.
It was a short conversation, but afterward I felt surprisingly refreshed. The burden I'd been feeling was gone; the mental darkness had vanished. I felt joyful and free.
Then, as I walked back to my car, I heard the direction I needed about what I had been praying about so desperately that morning.
I was deeply grateful for the inspiration but also a little bit puzzled. I hadn't been praying; I hadn't been asking God for an answer. How had this happened?
As I thought more about it, I began to see prayer in a new light. Yes, it was true that I hadn't been praying specifically about the situation I'd been so bothered about. Yet I had been praying - because I had been loving.
Love is really the heart and soul of prayer. Mary Baker Eddy, who discovered Christian Science, wrote: "Self-forgetfulness, purity, and affection are constant prayers" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 15).
God, divine Love, puts this love in our hearts, a love that naturally cares about others even when we may be feeling dark or self-absorbed.
Had I been restricting prayer by thinking that it only happened in a certain way, at a particular time, or when I was in the mood or felt inspired?
This encounter showed me that prayer can't be limited by my own feelings or opinions about what prayer should look like. Because it's not so much about the words that we pray as it is the humility and love that we have in our hearts.
Jesus pointed out that it's humility - the willingness to have God at the center of things rather than ourselves, our own abilities and accomplishments - that is so key in prayer. He told a parable about two men who went to the temple to pray - one was a Pharisee, the other a publican, or tax collector.
The Pharisee prayed "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess."
But the publican approached his prayers very differently. He wouldn't even look up to heaven, but the Bible says "smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner."
Jesus said, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Luke 18:10-14).
Prayer isn't about getting things right by ourselves or trying hard enough. It's really about God and what He is doing in us. And I learned that prayer happens every time we feel that love from God deep inside that turns us away from our own problems and cares about another.
To worship rightly is to love each other;
Each smile a hymn, each kindly deed a prayer.
John Greenleaf Whittier
Christian Science Hymnal,