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What do we pray for? I fear we have created a Santa Claus personna for God if we pray for something we want as though it were a gift, for our will to be done, to receive something or to have a situation work out a certain way or to know a certain truth.

The story of Spanish mystic John of the Cross illustrates the essential nature of prayer, not as protection or circumstance but instead as Presence. Imprisoned and beaten by priests whom he criticized for their lack of fidelity to prayer, simplicity and poverty, John experienced what he called "the dark night of the soul." Recognizing that although he could not find refuge while he was in his prison cell and that God's love could not take the suffering away, in reality God's love permeated the suffering in every way.

As James Finley says,

"Love protects us from nothing, even as it unexplainably sustains us in all things. Access to this love is not limited by our finite ideas of what it is or what it should be. Rather, this love overwhelms our abilities to comprehend it, as it so unexplainably sustains us and continues to draw us to itself in all that life might send our way."

In the midst of great hardship, pain, trauma and inexplicable confusion, God is sustaining us in ways we do not, or even cannot, understand. Life hurts, but praying for the presence of God in all things will lead us to that peace that surpasses all understanding.

And that is the greatest gift of all.

In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more. Psalm 72.7

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