A Hallmark card for God

iStock 000000366096XSmalla A Hallmark card for GodIt was Yaya‘s birthday a couple of weeks ago, and when the time came to write up a card, I froze. How could I possibly express my appreciation for all that she does for us? This was when I was bad-busy, when I’d gotten myself in over my head with so many commitments that I considered the day a success if I remembered to feed the kids lunch. So finding the right words to tell her what I wanted her to know for her birthday seemed impossible.

I went down to the store, and headed for the greeting card section. I felt immediate relief as I looked at all the options. There was such a variety of sentiments inscribed in the insides of these cards, I knew I’d be able to find one that said what I was trying to say.

I finally found one that fit the tone and ideas I wanted to get across, and when I brought it home, I underlined key phrases to indicate my personal signoff on the pre-printed message. I then added a brief, hand-written note at the bottom that echoed the sentiments written in the card, and signed my name. As I slid it into the envelope, I was so grateful that I’d found a card that conveyed what I could not. I’m sure Yaya would have been blessed by a basic “Happy birthday! Love ya!” message in an it’s-the-thought-that-counts way, but it was a blessing to her and to me to have the fullness of what I was bumbling around to express articulated so clearly.

I keep thinking of this example whenever I sit down to pray.

My prayer life hasn’t been great lately, and I realized that part of the issue was that I was drawing a blank every time I’d sit down to share some dedicated moments with God. I found myself uncharacteristically tongue-tied, starting my prayers with statements like, “God, you are good. So, so good. Yup…pretty good — err, umm, really good!” (Technically there’s the option of simply being still, and communing with God without words, but I’m not yet at a level of spiritual maturity where I can hook that up on any kind of regular basis. It always degenerates into this ridiculous split personality thing, where I’ll have a thought, then one part of my brain says, Shhhh! It’s silent meditation time!, then the other responds, Then why are you talking? YOU shhh! Yeah. It’s absurd.) Anyway, I know that all of my attempts at prayer were pleasing to God, even if they sounded to me like something out of an insipid haikus contest. And I realize that prayer is not all about me. But, per the advice of my spiritual director, I also needed to be realistic about where I am in my spiritual life, and admit that if this kept feeling so wrong, I was probably not going to continue setting aside time for prayer on a regular basis.

And so, rather than banging my head against the wall trying to express everything that was on my heart, I turned to the prayers of the Church. I had forgotten how many options there are! I could get back into the Liturgy of the Hours, or simply pray a daily Rosary. There are all the great litanies and novenas, not to mention the basics like the Our Father and the Glory Be.

The first thing I was drawn to was the Litany of Humility, and as I read it, my mouth formed the words I’d been trying to say all along:

From the desire of being preferred to others…Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted…Deliver me, Jesus.
From the desire of being approved…Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated…Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being despised…Deliver me, Jesus.

Then, one day after receiving the Eucharist, I remembered that I had a card with the words to the Anima Christi in my purse. I almost got teary-eyed as I moved my lips silently to say:

Soul of Christ, sanctify me,
Body of Christ, save me,
Blood of Christ, inebriate me,
Water from Christ’s side, wash me,
Passion of Christ, strengthen me

Later, the prescribed meditations of the Rosary forced me to stop thinking about myself and meditate on the Lord; I started a novena to the Holy Spirit, and it instilled me with a new awareness of our great Advocate; and the Our Father, of course, helped me say to God everything that needed to be said.

This process reminded me of the card I’d picked out for Yaya. Just as I’d underlined phrases and added a hand-written note in the card I gave to her, with my prayers I closed my eyes and poured passion into the words that most perfectly articulated what I’d been trying to say, and then at the end I added my thoughts (though they were often about as articulate as “Yeah. That. Amen.”) For times like now when I can’t quite seem to find the words to express what I need and want to say to God, I’m so thankful that the Church offers me these “Hallmark cards” that I can send instead.

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36 Responses to “A Hallmark card for God”
  1. YES! This is a reason why I love the classic Catholic prayers- and why I always ‘personalize’ them as you do.

  2. Amy R. says:

    Hallmark cards to God…what an amazing way to put it! I love it and will share this notion with my non-Catholic friends who do not understand our use of this prayer form.

  3. Emily says:

    Thank you for this.

  4. RosieB says:

    I have realized that I am just like you in the prayer department. Down to the little distracting thoughts when I’m trying to silently quite my mind for prayer! I am so thankful for all the prayers the Catholic church gives us!
    Awesome post!
    -RosieB

  5. Rosemary says:

    Wonderful post. Wish I had a Hallmark card to send YOU!

  6. Jenn says:

    What a beautiful way to think of the prayers of those who have gone before us. Thank you for this.
    Jenn recently posted..On Head Colds and Kleenex and Grace

  7. @JaredThaddeus says:

    That is perhaps one of the best explanations I have heard, great job! I hope teachers are paying attention.

  8. Christina says:

    “It always degenerates into this ridiculous split personality thing, where I’ll have a thought, then one part of my brain says, Shhhh! It’s silent meditation time!, then the other responds, Then why are you talking? YOU shhh! Yeah. It’s absurd.”

    How did you know what goes on in my head??!

  9. Lisa says:

    This is so true! Especially when I’m having rough days and am on the cusp of breaking down, the words of the Church (Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, Divine Mercy) are my comfort. They allow me to break down my walls so unstructured personal prayer is even possible. Thanks for this great explanation!
    Lisa recently posted..A summary of the events that have transpired

  10. Jamie says:

    The Litany of Humility kicks me in the face every time I pray it. So good!
    Jamie recently posted..7 quick reasons my Friday was AWESOME.

  11. Kimberlie says:

    Thank you for this post! I have been in a prayer slump lately. My prayers seem just so blah. Thank you for reminding me that I don’t have to reinvent the wheel – the Church has already provided me with a treasury of prayers to draw upon.
    Kimberlie recently posted..7 Quick Takes Vol 25

  12. Jamie says:

    I love the anime christi!! I hadn’t heard the Litany of Humility but I now love it and am going to go look to see if there’s a full version! Thanks. :o)

    Jamie
    For Love of Cupcakes
    Jamie recently posted..Make Yourself Monday

  13. Leanne says:

    I rely heavily on liturgical prayers: whether they’re from the Book of Common Prayer (coming clean, I am Episcopalian), or the two Catholic prayer books I am repeatedly drawn to (“Lauds and Vespers” by the New Camaldolese monks (chanting! yay!) or the “Benedictine Daily Prayer” book) I add my own stuff too, mainly intercessions, and I try to sit in silence with him more than once during the week, but that’s been a tough habit to form.

    But I’ll get there because when I do it and I can actually not distract myself, it’s amazing… hopefully, you’ll get there too!

  14. Great post!
    I’m not sure if this song was inspired by the Litany of Humility, but it is definitely very similar. I love it, it’s by Matt Maher:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tk_3WNdG5cA&feature=player_embedded

  15. Catherine says:

    Yep, I’m 9 months pregnant, and I just pray the “Our Father” every time I pray now. (I’m not Catholic). That’s all I can manage. My brain is totally fried.

  16. Michael says:

    Sometimes the simple prayers say so much more. Thank you for sharing these.
    Michael recently posted..Racial Reconciliation as Gospel Truth

  17. I understand about a successful day being one in which you remember to feed the kids lunch. I cannot tell you the number of times I tried to put the kids to bed without supper — but they always reminded me! Bad-busy is right. Glad you found your hallmark cards. I have found that duing those dry times, which happen to all of us, the Catholic church has some pretty good aids to keep us going.

  18. Tricia says:

    I didn’t know about the Litany of Humility. I have been needing and wanting just such a prayer, so perfectly worded.

  19. Denise says:

    Bingo! Great synopsis.

    This reminds me of something our priest has been bringing up as he discusses the upcoming changes to words of the Mass: “lex orandi, lex credendi.” Basically, how we pray shapes how and what we believe. Think of the great minds, the great saints who composed (and prayed) so many of the Church’s prayers! Or, as it says in the front of my favorite prayer book: “How shall our thoughts be elevated, if our words never are?”

    Not that there shouldn’t be important space for spontaneous prayer. But for me, the best prayer times of my life have incorporated both.

  20. Maria says:

    Thank you once again Jennifer! Awesome post…I can relate so much! Another reason why I love my Magnificat prayer book. I love the Morning prayers, Mass readings and the Evening prayers. I too love the Litany of Humility, Anima Christi, the rosary, etc.

  21. Tony Scott says:

    This is truly a great post! I totally agree with you when it comes to the prayers of the Church; it reminds us of the things we really need. In my case, those prayers help me gather my thoughts on everyday experiences.
    Tony Scott recently posted..GHS / OSHA Alignment Tip #1 — Be on the Lookout for New MSDS with GHS Style Formatting

  22. Marie says:

    You’ve said it perfectly. It must be exhausting to come up with all those “spontaneous” prayers. I don’t know how my Protestant friends do it.

  23. Heather says:

    Brilliant analogy. I love this!

  24. Kat says:

    “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” -Romans 8:26

  25. Megan says:

    Amen! I am so glad to have an arsenal of prayers. When I “free” pray I seem to ramble and forget all the things I wanted to say.
    Great post and reminder on why the Church’s “Hallmark Cards” are such a blessing!
    Megan recently posted..7 Quick Takes Friday (vol. 2)

  26. Allie says:

    As a lover of sending cards, I found your post to resonate with my life, as well as my choice of cards. I am adamantly a “it better be blank inside” person, and I spend a lot of time on Etsy looking for the perfect minimalistic card. Likewise, I spend time in prayer balking sometimes at all the routine. Perhaps the kinds of cards people buy are reflective of their prayer life? I could see this being a “What kind of prayer-er are you?” a la Stuff Christians Like…
    Allie recently posted..Recommendations

  27. cinhosa says:

    I struggled with prayers and then I started using a digital prayer book called iMissal. There are actually some other really nice ones that have 000s of prayers.

    I like iMissal because it also includes the Saint of the Day, and the Lectionary readings. It also groups prayers for morning, evening, night.

    Reading these prayers helps me connect with God and then I’ll follow up with my list of prayer intentions.
    cinhosa recently posted..An unprofitable servant

  28. I must agree that the treasure trove of Catholic prayers are quite beautiful, especially when our life circumstances have reduced us to mumbling, grumbling, or groaning sorts of prayers, which God also hears and answers. In high school, I prayed the Rosary each morning, and at times since that powerful set of prayers continues to amaze and encourage me. My husband and I are doing the Total Consecration by St. Louis de Montfort. It’s my third time doing it and his first. Praying the Rosary is daily is part of the devotion. It’s mind-boggling how such simple prayers can feed our souls on such a profound level.

    When your prayer time seems a bit more shallow than you’d like, remember that it’s a prayer each time you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give drink to the thristy–all of which you do several times a day as a mom. Yes, quiet reflection is important, but so is being able to give each task of our day to the Lord.
    Trisha Niermeyer Potter @ Prints of Grace recently posted..Sons of Cain

  29. AgnesRegina says:

    “Hallmark cards!” Love it! You are a genius, Jen! I take off my hat to you. God bless and keep up the wonderful posts!

  30. MelanieB says:

    I love this, Jen. What a great simile to keep in mind when talking about rote prayer to people who don’t get it or who think it is empty and vain. This is exactly how I approach praying the psalms so many times, finding the words and phrases that express the thoughts and feelings I cannot express.

  31. Elizabeth says:

    I totally agree and am moved by the words of these simple yet profound prayers that give us the words we need. As a recent convert (this February), I’ve been searching for a book/resource that provided a lot of simple prayers such as this. My mommy mind really struggles sometimes to speak to my God and I would love to have some simple prayers I could utter in the little moments when my heart can put forth the words it needs. Would you be able to direct me to a book that I might find a compilation of these prayers??? Thanks!

  32. Thank you for this post! Even though I’m Protestant, I prayed the Liturgy of the Hours in 2010 after reading about your reckless experiment of prayer. I loved it! I prayed more often and more substantially that year. When the annual paper guide to the prayers ran out, I didn’t order the new one, and eventually my prayer book ended up on a shelf. My prayer life has been mostly non-existent outside of daily brief “conversation” and “help!” prayers. After reading this post, I remembered how much I had loved the framework for prayers the LOTH gave me. I love this analogy of a Hallmark card for God! I just went to Amazon and ordered the $2 St. Joseph’s prayer guide for 2012 and then found a site (http://www.liturgyofthehours.org/todays-pages/four-volume) where I could print monthly prayer calendars to get me through the end of 2011. I am kicking myself that I lost nearly a year of structured prayer because I didn’t spend 10 minutes and $2 at the end of last year!

  33. Anita Saunders says:

    I love the Morning prayers, Mass readings and the Evening prayers. When I “free” pray I seem to ramble and forget all the things I wanted to say. This is truly a great post! I am so thankful for all the prayers the Catholic church gives us!
    Anita Saunders recently posted..Cancer Tattoos Tumblr

  34. Aline Blackwell says:

    I love this, Jen. I totally agree and am moved by the words of these simple yet profound prayers that give us the words we need. I have been needing and wanting just such a prayer, so perfectly worded.
    Aline Blackwell recently posted..Swiffer Mops

  35. Number 9 says:

    Love this and just watched an episode of your show I like how you tied the memorized prayers in with hallmark cards because its so true that sometimes even if we don’t feel it we still do it because of love. Typing with one finger on my iPad is annoying but I felt I should comment sometimes rather than simply stalk you.

  36. Alberta Schroeder says:

    That is perhaps one of the best explanations I have heard, great job! I must agree that the treasure trove of Catholic prayers are quite beautiful, especially when our life circumstances have reduced us to mumbling, grumbling, or groaning sorts of prayers, which God also hears and answers.
    Alberta Schroeder recently posted..Top Realtors in Murrieta CA