A young man was in deep trouble. His life had taken a turn where family and health were both not in his favour. Physically, financially and emotionally, he was suffering. He could see no way out of his crisis, so he dropped to his knees in prayer and said, “Lord, I can’t go on. I have too heavy a cross to bear.” The Lord replied, “My son, if you can’t bear its weight, just place your cross down. Then, open that other door and pick out any cross you wish.” The man was filled with relief and said, “Thank you, Lord,” and he did as he was told. Upon entering the room, he saw many crosses; some so large the tops were not visible. Then, he spotted a tiny cross leaning against a far wall. “I’d like that one, Lord,” he whispered. The Lord replied, “My son, that is the cross you just brought in.”
We pray every time we need the Lord’s help. When we go to a temple, we offer a few words to Him. When we are running late and get stuck in traffic, we repeat His name over and over again. When we cut our finger with a knife, we immediately shout His name. When our baby is born, we thank Him with tears of happiness. If our child gets hurt, we grasp our heart and beg Him to protect her. When we see something wrong around us, we urge Him to make everything right once again. When we lose a loved one, we cry and ask Him why. And when life seems to be drowning us in worries and difficulties, we sob and beg Him to help. Like the man in this story, the moment we feel we cannot take a step further to help ourselves, we fall to our knees and pray for His mercy and kindness to reduce our cross, or even carry it for us.
The cross we carry is something we created ourselves from our previous actions. We could have physically or emotionally hurt someone; cheated and lied to family, friends or business associates; or we could have avoided paying our financial debts. We cannot track everything we have done to create this cross, because these karmas have accumulated over many lifetimes. When our past creates problems in the present, and our cross seems to be breaking our back, it becomes natural for a prayer to escape our lips.
However, prayer is something greater than asking for help with words. Prayer is the way for us, as human beings, to unite our souls with the Lord, so we may finally and completely escape from the cycle of birth and death.
Mystics explain that prayer is the essence of spirituality – through it we begin to realize God. By communicating with Him through prayer, we recognize Him as omnipresent. Through prayer, we realize how merciful and loving He really is.
We find that when we pray, our inner stability increases, our fears are reduced and inner purity shines within us. Through prayer we learn the virtues of patience, humility, love, honesty, charity and forgiveness, and every time we pray, our faith in the Lord strengthens. Prayer is also the best relaxation. The soul, mind and body gain blissful rest and happiness, which cannot be obtained by any other means. The greatest purpose of prayer is that we learn to accept and live according to the will of the Lord – this means we learn to submit to our fate, and leave the results of our actions in the Lord’s hands.
True prayer is practised within ourselves because the true temple of God is within us – we don’t need to search anywhere or go far distances to pray to the Lord. We simply need to look for Him at the eye centre – He is closer than our very breath. The highest form of prayer is not in reciting fixed verses or phrases, or pleading for help, but in awakening the Lord within ourselves through meditation.
Maharaj Sawan Singh explains in Philosophy of the Masters, Vol III:
When you pray, enter the closet of the body and shut the outer doors. Do not let the attention wander outside. Open your heart to the Lord within. He will listen to the prayer made in this secret spot.
When our attention is on the Master, our problems and difficulties fade into the background. This opens the way to the Lord and makes us fit for His mercy and grace. In the same way, we must be patient when we put in the effort to listen to the Shabd, the divine melody within. When our practice is perfected, we will feel the peace and bliss within.
Just the thought of this stirs the desire within us to unite with the Lord. This way we rise above the costumes of body and mind, and reach the presence of the Lord from whom all blessings originate.
The famous words of Saint Kabir (as quoted in Kabir, the Weaver of God’s Name) come to mind whenever we speak of prayer and difficulties: “All do simran during the gloom of adversity; in days of sunshine few repeat the Name. If man does simran in happiness, he will not suffer adversity’s pain.”
As we continue to pray in meditation daily, we may one day find ourselves saying the same words that Ole Hallesby said to the Lord (as he wrote in his book Prayer):
There come times, not so seldom with me at least, when I have nothing more to tell God. If I were to continue to pray in words, I would have to repeat what I have already said. At such times, it is wonderful to say to God, “May I be in Thy presence, Lord? I have nothing more to say to Thee, but I do love to be in Thy presence.”