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 | By Fr. Bill Ashbaugh

In a Chat Room With God

Prayer is Our “Instant Message” With Jesus

I remember the first time I experienced IM (For those who may be computer illiterate, that stands for “instant messaging”). It was strange to know that a friend on another computer far away was communicating with me through the Internet in real time. I would type something, then a minute or so later, a response would show up on the screen. Not so long ago, I witnessed the first marriage of two people who met over the Internet in a Christian chat room. They fell in love. It led to a face-to-face meeting and then to a lifelong commitment before God.

It is wonderful to see relationships grow. Love deepens. People begin to connect emotionally and spiritually. We can feel very close to another person. God wants this for all of us, for where there is true love, there is the kingdom and there is God! Even more wonderful is that God wants this close connection to happen between us and God. Jesus said “Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” (John 14:23) One of the great mysteries of our faith is that God dwells within us. Deep within us is the ideal “chat room” where we meet God. Modern technology can connect us with people all around the world, but it cannot connect us to God.

Fortunately, God has ‘wired us’ for God.

Our relationship with God is the most important relationship of our lives, for it is the one that saves us. Many people have struggles as they build this relationship – hang in there! God is pursuing us and meets us where we are. There is a great saint I have grown to admire who had lots of trouble forming his own relationship with God. His name is St Augustine.

Augustine grew up in North Africa and had a lot of freedom as a teenager. When he was 16, he met a girl and fell in love. Within two years, he had a child with her out of wedlock. He knew he had acted badly, but continued to struggle with all the temptations and freedom of his culture. Later, he would see this “freedom” to indulge in sensuality and pleasure as true slavery. St Augustine tried to talk to God during this time, but he couldn’t connect – God seemed very distant. Augustine realized that his own immoral behavior was creating the block. He would pray, “Lord give me chastity and temperance, but not yet.” It was kind of a joke, but also a real expression of his inner struggle. He was in deep pain and yearned for the love only God could give. One day, he was with his young son and some friends and was experiencing sadness and frustration over his inner struggle. He sat down underneath a fig tree and was crying to God over his trouble. Then he heard a voice of a young child sing, “Tolle, lege,” which means, “Take up and read.”

The voice captured him – he knew it was God. Augustine took up the Sacred Scriptures that were right beside him and there, from St Paul’s letter to the Romans, he read, “Let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.”

Augustine’s life changed dramatically at this point, and so did his prayer life! He learned to talk to God. Here is one of the many beautiful passages that St Augustine wrote about his experience in his book, The Confessions:

Late have I loved you, Beauty ever ancient and ever new! Late have I loved you! ... You shone upon me; your radiance enveloped me; you put my blindness to flight. You shed your fragrance about me; I drew breath and now I gasp for your sweet odor. I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst for you. You touched me, and I am inflamed with love of your peace. (Book X, 27)

Augustine learned how to have a deep, lasting, rich, fruitful prayer life with God. So can we.

Our spiritual exercise this month is to spend time in the God chat room!

1 All relationships need an investment of time. Just like there is an investment of time in Internet chatting, make an investment of time to talk to God. I suggest at least 15 minutes a day or more to begin.

2 Find the place where you can pray to God. For the sake of this analogy, I will call this place the “God chat room.” This is very important. The God chat room is a quiet place where you can be alone with just you and God. It should be a place where you can be yourself without any worries.

OK, once you have found a place to pray, the exciting part begins!

3 Consider who you are talking to. Some people get nervous at this stage because they are not sure what to do next. Questions arise: How can I speak to God? What do I say?

It is OK to have these worries. Put them aside for now. Think instead about who you are and who you are about to talk to. You are God’s child. God loves you. God does not change his mind about that. God is not fickle, one day loving you and the next not.

4 Begin your prayer “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit ... ” I would suggest praying the Our Father. When the Apostles saw Jesus praying one time, they wanted to learn how to pray too, so Jesus gave them the prayer we call the Our Father. It has everything in it we need.

• It starts with us thinking of God – Our Father who art in heaven.

• We praise God – hallowed be thy name.

• We ask for the gift that contains all others – thy kingdom come.

• We ask for the grace to surrender ourselves – thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

• We ask for what we need each day – give us today our daily bread.

• We ask for mercy – forgive us our trespasses (sins).

• We ask to be merciful – as we forgive those who trespass against us.

• We acknowledge our tendencies to sin – lead us not into temptation.

• We ask that evil be vanquished – deliver us from evil.

• We end by affirming our faith in all that we just said – Amen! (“I believe” “Let it be so!”)

Pray slowly. Don’t worry about rushing to get through. Your goal is to meet God, not see how fast you can say the words. Listen. If you get stuck, you can tell God so, “Dear God I am stuck. Help me!” I would encourage you to read a Scripture passage sometime during your prayer for it is God’s word to us. Reflect on what you have read. End by thanking God for your time of prayer and pray for the grace to pray again tomorrow. Keep the dialogue going. Some people have found it helpful to keep a prayer journal and record what occurs during prayer.

Prayer, like all relationships, takes time. Don’t give up. The reward is a life- long, life-changing, life-sustaining, life-saving relationship with God.