The Words of the Saunders Family
Father Moon has affirmed that the family is "the school of love." (The founder of Protestantism, Martin Luther, coined the term.) The family is the place where we learn about love, parents no less than children. It is where we learn to school ourselves in patience when we see the effect of our impatient responses on loved ones. It is where we learn not only to sacrifice heartily but to sacrifice with a good heart. It is a place where parents consult with one another, learning as they go, on how to handle the trials of raising children, for -- don't tell the children -- we often do not know what we are doing and must desperately fathom uncharted waters for hidden rocks that could sink the family ship.
A Buddhist master once said that good family life required every bit as much discipline and sacrifice as life in a monastery. Such a rigorous school of love requires prayer. The family needs prayer as much as a car needs gas to run.
At the same time, as Unificationists, we may feel a bit self-conscious about praying for our families. We don't want to pray from weakness; nor do we want to "bother" God with our own small family situations.
When I first joined, a helpful elder sister gave us each a typed piece of yellow paper with instructions on it for prayer. It was a list of priorities for prayer, with a short explanation of each priority. God and True Parents were at the top, then came the regions of the world, the nation, and our community. Last on the list were one's family and one's self.
The effect this list had on me, who was exhausted by the end of a fund raising or witnessing day, was that I never got down to praying for my family or myself at all. I hoped and believed that God would take care of those lesser levels if I were aiming to help on the larger ones. This is a core tenet of our faith, and I believe and know He did.
Nevertheless, there are times when specific family situations require the aid of prayer. The wife of one prominent Korean leader assured a congregation that she reports her life in great detail, daily, to God in prayer, and finds it helpful. These details include the rearing of her children and her family life, since that is such a large part of a woman's life. From this and from my own experiences, I believe that we do indeed need to make time to pray for and about our families, even if it sometimes means putting them closer to the top of the list, rather than so near the bottom.
Sometimes praying for our families can help us shoot through the layers of the list all the way up to the top, to praying "for God." We have all heard loving Japanese sisters exhorting us to pray "for God" as the top priority in prayer. I was never quite sure what this meant. Praying for God to God doesn't make sense in English. I'm assuming it means to pray, as Jesus instructed us, for God's will to be done and His kingdom to come. Yet, interestingly, I had an experience praying "for God" one day while praying for my family.
A few years back, our family changed geographical locations from a rural to a semi-urban setting. We had gone from a sparsely populated natural area to one of the most populous in the United States. It was a big adjustment, and it had involved many sacrifices for us and for our children. We left an almost paradisiacal lifestyle for one with considerably more stress.
Over time, I began to wonder if the move had actually even been necessary. Had we been able to see ahead a little further at the time, perhaps we could have arranged things so that we might not have had to move.
As I prayed about it and repented for any wrong turns we had taken and the ill effects those decisions might have had, I suddenly realized that if one is talking to God about losing a paradisiacal situation, one is talking to the expert of experts. Concern for my family's situation catapulted me into a sense of sorrow for God, who had lost so much more of paradise than I had. My prayers leaped from family concern into weeping into the heart of the Almighty and comforting Him. I realized that I was praying "for God." The effect was a one-on-one touching of hearts with the Almighty.
Praying out of family feeling is ultimately the way to overcome all "enemy" situations as well, fulfilling the bottom line dictum to achieve world peace: "Love your enemy." Father has counseled us to remember that even our worst enemies had mothers and fathers to whom they were precious and by whom they were loved. Thinking about their loved ones can soften our hearts toward our enemies and humanize them in our eyes, opening up the possibility of reconciliation.
Once I prayed from family feeling about the then frequent suicide bombings in Jerusalem. I read about them in the newspaper each day with horror. I could not understand how anyone could consent to blow up babies, children, grandmothers -- any random human being who happened to be in the public place chosen as a target. One day I prayed from the perspective of family. I prayed that a suicide bomber would begin thinking of the Jews as people with families -- grandmothers, babies, aunts and uncles -- and turn back from the deadly mission.
A day or two afterward, a young Palestinian woman made international news by abandoning her planned suicide mission in Jerusalem and turning herself in to Jewish authorities. She said, "I started thinking of those people as people who had families -- grandmothers, babies -- and I thought how I would feel if someone did that to my family."
Family feeling inspired me to pray on the international level. Family feeling from within stopped a young woman from killing others and adding to the international anguish. I am not saying my prayer alone changed her. Yet I believe that coupled with the many other people in the world praying for world peace it had an effect. God could stimulate the woman's sense of family feeling to lessen her animosity toward her enemies.
During True Mother's and Hyun-jin nim's recent tour, our region did a prayer condition. I found it hard to pray for another speaking tour, hard to grasp the special significance of this one as opposed to other ones. However, when I began to pray for True Mother from the perspective of being a mother and a wife and someone responsible for a family's household, I broke through to the point where she appeared to me. How hard to be taken away from the comforts of home and hearth to have to face strangers day and evening! Surveys say the fear of public speaking is second only to the fear of death in the majority of people's minds. Yet she was speaking once or even twice each day in big hotels, in public settings, away from family and home.
I could well imagine that, for Mother, as a mother and grandmother, it might be tiring to have to appear in public every day with every hair in place, in a nice outfit, spotless. Many mothers and grandmothers find it more comfortable to be home wearing clothes they are not afraid to get stained instead of having to appear perfectly groomed in the scrutiny of the public spotlight. Did she, perhaps, feel the same? Speculating about it all from the perspective of family, I began to relate more to the scope of the sacrifices she was making. It wasn't just words with crocodile tears "Oh, True Parents are sacrificing so much." I could relate to it. I could pray from my heart that she would have the strength to get through it, and that the rewards of her sacrifices would be victory. When we pray from a family perspective, we are often able to achieve a sincerity of heart we would not otherwise be able to achieve. This connects us to God, for as Father says, "Utmost sincerity moves heaven."
Should we pray about our families, then, or is praying for our families a sign of weakness? We are all well aware of Father's prayers in the communist prison camp -- that he never prayed from weakness, asking for succor and aid. Rather, he comforted God by vowing never to be overwhelmed by his suffering. We would all like to emulate this strength of character.
Yet it certainly cannot be denied that we are at times needy, weak creatures who need the help and grace of God. That is part of our humility. We need to turn to God when our souls feel parched and God's ever-young spirit can enliven us with the freshest of water. We sometimes need the ancient but cogent wisdom of God when He answers our questions with the insight, simplicity, succinctness, and profundity of which only He is capable. We often need support from God, love from God, forgiveness from God, and more love for others from God. In fact, Father Moon has specifically told us we may pray for more love for others and expect ardent help from God. Sometimes those others are the people in our families.
One way to avoid having prayer for our families turn into weakness is to begin prayers with gratitude. Father has said that a life lived attempting to be grateful is a life worth living and a way to grow closer to God. It is True Mother's personal goal to be more grateful each day than the day before, and Father has endorsed her goal. Giving thanks and praise goes into God's heart like a lightning bolt. There is a response. His heart beats a little faster. A shaft of sunlight opens up. We have established a gossamer line to the Almighty. "It is right to give thanks and praise," as Catholics say.
Giving thanks when we start out a prayer puts us in a position of strength rather than weakness. We are giving rather than only expecting to receive. Besides, it is only polite, and this is where the family is once more a school of love. We don't like it when our children come up to us after a long hard day with immediate requests for services or favors. Why would God? We prefer it if they greet us, inquire about our day, express some empathy and gratitude for all that we do, and then put in their requests. Is God, as a Parent, so different from us? Should we abuse Him by treating Him like a big cash dispenser in the sky -- or should we treat him as a Parent, in a family way?
Another way to avoid praying from weakness is to pray with and for other families. A committee of the National ACLC, Women in Ministry, prays every other Monday night by conference call. It is a moving experience to listen and join in with the disembodied voices of women praying for the providence of God. One can really feel their hearts and spirits because the bodies are removed. During the "prayer requests" time, almost every request is for members of the women's families. One finds one's self caring about these total strangers, people one has never met, but whose situations are mentioned in prayer. And, as it happens, praying for other families helps to uplift our own. We become washed in the spirit of prayer and are a little gentler, a little kinder, a little more empathetic toward our own family members because of it.
Even those of us who have fairly active prayer lives must sometimes wonder, "Does prayer really work? Does God hear me? Where are my answers?"
Although we sometimes may doubt it, prayer does work. It is efficacious. It can move mountains. The problem we doubting human beings have with prayer is that it is not always effective in the ways we expect or on the timetable we would prefer. All prayers are answered, but sometimes the answer is "no" or "wait" or "I need more conditions in order to be able to do that" or "I want to help you, but I don't want to help you for the reasons you name."
Christian thinker C. S. Lewis said that we must not think of prayer as a sort of gimmick, or a power that can be turned on and off for our benefit. Prayer is not our personal checking account with Heaven, or the king's answer to the supplications of a "court favorite." One only has to look at the prayers of Jesus in the last hours of his life to see that even the greatest "court favorite" doesn't always get what he requests from the king.
Not all prayers "work" in the sense of bringing us what we want. Yet all prayers serve to bring about what God wants. The answers to our prayers always work ultimately to the good. Prayer does change things because it changes people.
I have mentioned in other articles a series of books by Stormie Omartian, a Christian, who writes about the power of prayer. In relation to family life and prayer, Omartian has written The Power of a Praying Wife and The Power of a Praying Parent. Each chapter in each book explains a concept about aspects of family life, and then provides a substantial sample prayer about it along with Bible verses. The prayers are so thorough and detailed, and the topics so typical of marriage and family life, that they are well suited to be read aloud to God on a daily basis.
These prayers do "work." They are answered. Yet, like all prayers, they are not always answered in the way we might want them to be. Instead of uplifting our families to glorious, ideal life, the prayers may reveal areas that need our attention. Omartian herself was startled when she began the book The Power of a Praying Wife. She said she was shown by God to change her favorite prayer about her husband -- "Change him, O Lord!" to a prayer that she at first found hard to utter -- "Change me, O Lord. Make me a better wife to this man You have given to me."
The movie Shadowlands was about C. S. Lewis's ill-fated marriage (his wife had terminal cancer). In the movie, Lewis spends a great deal of time praying about his wife's health situation. Miraculously, she does go into remission for a time, only to succumb later. Lewis's conclusion about prayer is "it doesn't change God, or my situation. It changes me."
Sometimes that is the answer to our prayers -- an altered self more able to face the vagaries of life with equanimity. We become more tempered, smoother, more able to cope, and more insightful because of prayer. God does not move our mountains, as the spiritual song says. He does, however, give us the strength to climb them.
Unanswered prayers still communicate something from God. They may say, "Stand on your own, my child. You're grown up enough to do so now," or "The decision must be yours. I will support you, though, whatever you decide." Not answering our prayers is sometimes God's way of asking us to grow up and take responsibility.
Sometimes when things get tangled, when family life seems enormously complex, prayer can untangle things marvelously. The adamant teenager suddenly accepts the parental dictum willingly and with good grace. The heart toward the spouse is suddenly flooded with mercy and kindness. The insurmountable odds melt away into the doable. Prayer does work wonders.
Prayer floods us with love, and love is the ultimate answer to every human dilemma. Love is the ultimate answer to every prayer. The only place to get love is from the source -- through contacting God, who is love, through prayer. Let us, then, pray.