When Prayer Becomes Dangerous

UNPOLISHED is our monthly article that is featured in our newsletters. They are written by Carolyn Shields, the founder of theYoungCatholicWoman, and are typically, well, unpolished. Unedited. Whatever is on her heart and pours forth. Here’s the article from the October Newsletter.

I do wonder what the heck God thinks of me half the time. I find such incredible joy pillaging the wilds of Philadelphia looking for beautiful weeds to photograph, or I dig not-really-dead-yet flowers out of the trash at work. I wonder if my neighbors watch me walk by and think, "There goes that young woman in the same gray tank-top and yellow hat again." (It's all I ever wear when I'm not at work...literally wearing it now!)

But however ridiculous your joys might look, it's so important to do them. (And seriously, can they get much crazier than mine?) We need to identify and acknowledge the tugs on our heart that lifts our eyes up, especially when we’re tempted to look down.

We need to be in tune with ourselves or acknowledge what we are feeling, and yeah, sometimes it's obvious how we are feeling, whether that's floating on air or crumpled like an October leaf. But taking it a step further, we need to understand what our prayer life is going through too. Is it a healthy one? And the thing is, having what looks to be a robust prayer life on paper doesn't always mean it's healthy.

I'm speaking from what I'm currently going through, because for months here I've been going at prayer hard. Which is great! There's something beautiful that happens when relying on God is your only option. But let's face it, prayer can be exhausting. I began to cling to prayer like an anchor as opposed to something that will help me set flight. Which again, isn’t a bad thing necessarily. An anchor in a storm? Sounds like a good thing. But I began using it to keep me rooted when God was asking me actually to walk on.

So what’s that look like? Well, I built up my own litanies, I demanded answers to questions I knew not to ask from scripture and my spiritual reading, and so on...again, putting everything you have into prayer can be powerful, but extremes are rarely where we find our peace.

A few times I would be on my knees and the sun would look beautiful outside and I knew God was saying, "Carolyn, get out there. Go enjoy it." So I would...and usually come back with a handful of weeds to stage.

But when the Church scandals broke, I wanted to strip my faith to the bone. I wanted to cut away all the nonessential. It became too much. I've put everything I had in the faith--my career, my heart, my history--and I was coming fresh off of months where it was a lifeline. I don't feel comfortable going into it because it's raw, but I felt sick. It was time to not wean but to cut off everything except the sacraments, extended moments of silent prayer, and little else.

It sounded so appealing. I talked God's ear off and I wanted total silence for Him now. But praise God, I saw that by swinging violently from one end to the other I could do just as much harm to my spiritual life. (Jacques Philippe goes into depth about this in many of his writings, how we can make ourselves sick trying to find answers, how we can cease growing when we are paralyzed in trying to discern God’s will, and so on…if you’re struggling with this, I highly recommend reading his work, Interior Freedom.)

This is a long way of saying we need to find that balance. Sometimes I can pump out several articles a month, I can commit to my daily rosary for something like six years running, or whatever...and sometimes I just can't. Sometimes what I think will give God great joy is throwing my hair into a bun, putting on my hat, and go hunting for the most beautiful weeds that Philadelphia has to offer.

What makes your heart joyful, lifting it to the heights? When was the last time you did it? What's been holding you back? And how healthy is your current prayer life? And can prayer be dangerous if not properly understood?