Samantha Stephenson shares a family activity that shows how getting in touch with our physical sense of thirst can lead us to prayer.
A FAMILY MISTAKE
Have you ever been really thirsty? So parched that all you could think about was water? When we go on family hikes, we bring lots of water in insulated bottles that keep the water cool and refreshing. But it wasn’t always that way. When we first started hiking, I (the mom) packed a single bottle of water for a morning out. I didn’t want to carry more than was necessary. As we climbed hills and the sun chased the cool morning into retreat, I watched the levels of our water stores dwindle with each sip as we passed the bottle between us. We weren’t even halfway through, and it was gone.
We trudged back to the car, faces flushed with heat. The morning had started out as our family exploring nature, listening for different birds sounds, and keeping watch for critters scampering in the bushes together. Once the water ran out, however, it was all we could think about. We couldn’t focus on any of the magic of our journey together because we were missing something so fundamental.
The human body can go for a while without food, but we last only a few days without water. Thirst is an important feeling because it reminds us of something essential for our survival. When we deprive ourselves of what we need, our desire for it can become overwhelming, as it was for our family that day.
THE SPIRITUAL REALITY
The Psalmist says, “My soul is thirsting for you, oh Lord.” Just as water is essential to our bodies, God’s grace is essential to our souls. We become spiritually parched when we are separated from God. Just as our thirst can preoccupy us and become our sole focus, this spiritual thirst for God can grow into an ache within us if we aren’t feeding it regularly through prayer and the Sacraments.
The problem is, while we are fairly attuned to our physical sense of thirst, we often mistake our need for God as a deep hunger for something else. We try to feed it with all kinds of things that just don’t satisfy us. Sometimes these things are even good in and of themselves; the trouble is that they just aren’t meant to satisfy our thirst for God. Nothing can satisfy our desire for God except God Himself.
The Gospel reading urges us to be watchful, to be alert and ready for God. I like to think of this passage as a reminder not to underestimate my need for God, to take frequent sips of grace from the fountain of prayer. The Catechism reminds us about the purpose of this watchfulness: “In Jesus "the Kingdom of God is at hand" (72). He calls His hearers to conversion and faith, but also to watchfulness. In prayer the disciple keeps watch…In communion with their Master, the disciples' prayer is a battle; only by keeping watch in prayer can one avoid falling into temptation” (CCC 2612).
How do we “keep watch in prayer”? If we remember our need for thirst as something ongoing, we understand that prayer similarly keeps us spiritually hydrated. Keeping watch in prayer is like taking sips of water throughout our day; if we stay hydrated, we won’t get to the point where we are so desperate for it that we’ll grasp at anything to fulfill our desires for it. When we stay connected to God in prayer, temptation is less effective. The Devil’s mirages don’t fool us as easily because we aren’t as desperate to believe them.
As we go forward, we can see that God’s invitation to keep watch is not a scare tactic meant to keep us on our toes, but a reminder of our very real needs. Just as our cars won’t continue to run if we let their tanks go empty, so too do we need to pause and refuel our souls.
PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
Think of all the different ways you satisfy your thirst. Do you enjoy slow sips of morning coffee? Sports drinks to fuel your workouts? Something with bubbles to celebrate a new job or promotion? As a family, grab some mugs of cider or hot cocoa and talk about all the different kinds of drinks you like to share. Are there special drinks for special occasions? As you talk, remember that there are different kinds of prayer as well. What kinds of prayer can you name as a family? Which ones have you experienced? Are there any you haven’t tried yet? We can pray silently in Adoration, with singing along to the words of beautiful music. There are meditative prayers like the Rosary or Divine Mercy Chaplet. There are even apps like The Examen or Hallow that can guide you through examining your day in light of God’s grace.
God wants to satisfy our desire for Him, and He has given us so many ways to do that! You might pick one you haven’t tried yet as family and try it out to give yourself a taste of what God has in store for you.
A FAMILY PRAYER
Heavenly Father, we know that You “fill the hungry with good things,” that You gave us the gift of hunger and thirst as reminders of the things we really need. Show us how to fill our need for You in the ways in which You intended. Put us in touch with this ache we have for You, and allow it to lead us to You as You intended. We are sorry for the ways we’ve sought to escape or numb this feeling, for the things we’ve tried to fill it with (pause to offer silently some that are specific to you). We want to surrender those things to You now, Lord, so that our hand will be empty, ready to be filled with the good things You have to offer us. Jesus, we trust in You. Amen.
Copyright 2021 Samantha Stephenson
Image: Vidal Baliello (2018), Pexels
This reflection also appears in Pathways Formation Suite, a new way for parishes and families to collaborate for faith formation and catechesis. Shared here with permission.
About the Author
Samantha Stephenson is a Catholic mom of 3, writer, and host of Brave New Us, a podcast exploring bioethics in the light of faith. She is also the founder of Spoken Women, a community for Catholic women to nourish their creative callings. Connect with her or sign up for her "Mama Prays" newsletter at SNStephenson.com.