The Man Who Taught Me To Pray


“For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.” -St. Theresa of Avila 

This is Bill.

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He wears green in front of green things.

Bill was my youth minister for Life Teen all through High School. Bill is the stepfather of one of my best friends. Bill is the husband of the lovely lady who makes the best macaroni and cheese in creation. Bill drives a big truck, he can’t really sing (though he tries) and he always commands absolute respect by his mere presence in a room, though he never acts pompous or mean about his role as leader. He’s well-loved by just about everyone in the entire world. He’s a pretty awesome guy.

But the best thing about Bill is that Bill is also the person who taught me how to pray, without ever even meaning to.

I already knew what to pray, of course. I knew the basics, how to say a Hail Mary, how to ask God for what I wanted as my family sat together during morning and night prayers. To me, that was prayer- the scheduled, formalized, and phrases that I oft-repeated until they became almost meaningless, sure that that was how one talked to God. At Life Teen, all prayers followed a pretty regular outline of Hail Marys and St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle-s. Sometimes, someone would ask for a particular intention, and everyone would nod and say “amen,” and maybe shake the person’s hand afterward and promise their continued prayers. In that comfortable state of spiritual complacency, I felt that my prayer life was solid and didn’t need to improve any more at all.

Then came the Virtuous Reality Life Teen in March of 2012. I wrote an overview of it then, but the whole learning to pray bit was at the very end of the retreat, in the last two hours, so I really didn’t mention it. When we left the retreat center, I ended up in the truck with Bill and a few others. Since retreats are exhausting, the other teens pretty quickly fell asleep in the back. I had my headphones in and was dozing in the front seat when, in the space between two songs, I heard Bill quietly talking. I turned down the music, and heard him having a conversation. He spoke chattily, like he was just talking with an old friend. It was only when I heard him thanking the person for a green light that I realized he was praying- but praying like I had never heard anyone pray before. He spoke to God like he knew Him; not with bored familiarity, but with joy and security in the presence of the Other. He thanked God for even the tiny things around him, like the view, and for the success of the retreat. He was talking like there was nobody in the world besides Bill and God.

St. Alphonsus Liguori once said that:

Your God is ever beside you—indeed, He is even within you. “In Him we live, and move, and are.” (Acts 17:28). Not only is there no need of an intermediary through whom He would want you to speak to Him, but He finds His delight in having you treat with Him personally and in all confidence. Speak to Him often of your business, your plans, your troubles, your fears—of everything that concerns you. But above all, converse with Him confidently and frankly; for God is not wont to speak to a soul that does not speak to Him.”

Since that day, that quote has always reminded me of Bill, and every time I read it (and, since it’s one of my favorite quotes from one of my patron saints, I read it a lot) I say a quick thank you to God for blessing me with this incredible role model. I pray like he does, now, too, and gosh does it ever make a difference in life to not feel like you have to say thees and thous in order to make God hear you. God loves us and is interested in us, and so it should be the most natural thing in the world to just talk to Him like a friend. I can talk to God in the good times and the bad times and the bored in-between times, and He’s always as new and interesting and involved as the very first time we talked. That’s the cool thing about having an infinite God. He’s infinitely interesting and eternally available.

Bill had to move to another parish recently, and so I probably won’t be seeing him very often at all. But, on the off chance he ever reads this, I thought he and the world should know that he completely revolutionized my prayer life, and I’m incredibly grateful to him. Also, I owe him some peanut butter cookies, so there’s that.

Love to all!

-Tani

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