Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Holy Spirit, please help this car to start"

An episode the other day made me think that it's important not to "force" missionary moments, nor to think too much about them while they're taking place.

It was about 6:00 PM, dark, and cold, and I was heading out from the department "holiday reception." A colleague asked if I had driven and could give her a ride back to our building. "No problem," I replied.

When we got to the car, a Nissan Cube which is not my car but one that I was borrowing from the dealership which was examining my car, I had trouble getting the car to start. The Cube has a unusual ignition system that merely requires pushing a button while the "key" is in the vicinity. I had successfully followed this procedure earlier in the day. But with "Emily" in the passenger seat nothing seemed to work. I'd push the button once and lights would turn on. I'd push the button again and the radio and heat would turn on. But the car would not start. Again and again, it was the same pattern. I tried buckling my seatbelt. I tried pushing the button harder or faster. I tried getting out of the car, closing the door, and starting all over. Still, there was no progress.

"OK," I thought, "This is a missionary moment." I can say a prayer, then the Lord will intervene with a starting car, and my colleague will start to think more about prayer. It will be a 'victory' for faith."

But what prayer should I pray? Of which saint should I ask intercession? Maybe I should ask my guardian angel for help. Maybe I should ask the Blessed Mother for help. Maybe I should ask St. Rita or St. Jude or St. Joseph for help. Maybe I should ask the Holy Spirit for help. Should I ask Emily to pray with me? Should I pray loud enough to make sure that she hears me?

It was probably a good idea to pray at a time like this. But with my accompanying thinking, there may have been a problem. I was thinking, "OK, praying now is the missionary thing to do." Rather than spontaneously praying with simple faith, I leaned towards, "I must pray now. Even if I wouldn't normally pray out loud, I must pray out loud now. I must take advantage of chances to be vocal with my faith."

Again, sharing the prayer was probably a good idea. But I just was letting these good ideas slide a little out of order. I think that I just needed to pray and not think so much about praying. I need to be faithful but not artificial, to be courageous but not concocted.

Maybe my prayer at that moment wasn't artificial or concocted. But maybe it still wasn't quite what it should have been. In situations like these, how can I best find the right balance?

Epilgoue: As Emily eventually suggested, to start a Cube, you need to have your foot on the brake, while you push the ignition button. We reached this solution after about five minutes of attempts.

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