Prayer takes many forms but sometimes you just need to ask God for what you want. This is actually very Ignatian and incorporates itself in various Ignatian forms of prayer like imaginative prayer or discernment. In the Spiritual Exercises Ignatius tells us that before we even begin to pray we should “Ask God our Lord for what I want and desire.” This is asking God for a grace. While in the Exercises there are specific graces Ignatius suggests before certain contemplations, they really can be anything.
For me this begins in the shower at the beginning of my day. As I’ve mentioned in the past, the bathroom is often a place I find God since it’s a place of seclusion and a space to be alone with my thoughts. Often when I begin my day I notice various tensions within me, hopes for the day to turn out a certain way, feelings I wish to get rid of, events I’m looking forward to. This is a chance to ask myself What do I really need today? What do I really desire? And then you simply and earnestly ask God for that particular grace. Then you just leave it in God’s hands.
The other day I was a bit stressed with my grad school classes as work was piling up as usual. One morning the grace I asked God for went something like this: “God, today I just want to feel joyful and affirmed in my hard work and feel that doing this theology programme is worth it.” That day I got some great news that some previous credits would transfer in, I got an A on a challenging midterm exam I had worried about, and I thoroughly enjoyed my two back-to-back classes. Was this a fulfilment of the grace I had asked for that morning? Yes! But I didn’t really notice that until at the end of the day I recalled the grace I had asked for that morning, and in my reflection I saw these various events and feelings I held that day truly confirm the grace.
Why “grace” and not “prayer”?
This is a kind of prayer, but by using the “grace” language, we acknowledge it only as gift. Grace is always free gift from God and can manifest in many forms. On the surface the fruit of a grace may seem invisible, but upon reflection one may discover that a grace asked for a month ago was somehow fulfilled. It may be fulfilled in a small feeling you felt, in a smile someone gave, in a new insight you received.
Grace—certainly in Ignatius’ terms—are typically things that can be affectively felt. You can’t ask for the “grace of winning the lottery” but you can ask for the grace of feeling rich in love. You can’t ask for the “grace of a job promotion” but you can ask for the grace of a deeper appreciation for your work or vocation. Those kinds of graces can be felt internally. In the Third Week of the Spiritual Exercises in a contemplation on Christ’s Passion Ignatius asks retreatants to pray for the grace of sorrow. Sometimes the gift of feeling grief is necessary, sometimes it’s feeling joy.
Consider tomorrow morning when you are getting ready for the day, What do I really desire today? Ask God for that grace, go about your day, and then before bed take a few minutes to review your day and see if you received it. Keep a journal of graces you ask for and you’ll start seeing how God works in your life, cares for you, and provides to you what you need as free gift.
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Music by Kevin MacLeod