By Joyce and Barry Vissell
There is a large billboard sign along the Saw Mill River Parkway north of New York City that reads in big bold letters, “Prayer Works.” There are no other words on the sign. A man named Tom in one of our couple’s retreats on the East Coast told our group that he rode by that sign every single day on his way to work. He did not believe in prayer and he scoffed at the sign each day.
At the time, Tom was dating and in love with a woman named Rose. After a few years, their relationship crumbled. Tom accepted a good job opportunity in Europe and moved away. He was hoping he could forget about Rose, but his feelings for her only grew over the course of several years. Finally one night, in desperation, he thought of the “Prayer Works” sign, and decided to give it a try. He bowed his head in prayer and very humbly asked to either be free of his longing for Rose or else be able to reconnect with her.
At that exact time in New York, Rose had just ended another painful relationship. A dear friend of hers was at her house and asked about Tom. Right then and there, she decided to send him an email and find out how he was doing. They had not been in communication for several years. Well, to make a long love story short, they just gave birth to their second child. Tom admitted to our group that he is now a firm believer in prayer.
We had a lovely experience with prayer recently. Our Assisi retreat this year was very small, with only six participants. We had never done a retreat with so few people, but cancelling it was out of the question. Plus, we really wanted to go as it is a highlight of the year for our own spiritual growth. My dear friend Debbie is a devout Catholic and she told me about a special room at her church that is dedicated to prayer. Our Assisi retreat was drawing close and I felt we needed at least one more person to make the retreat flow better. I also strongly felt that I needed to go to this special room that Debbie had told me about.
Sitting in this room, I felt a little out of place since I was not raised Catholic. But while the others in the room were kneeling, I sat very quietly and prayed. I sincerely asked for one more person to be guided to the retreat. When I left that room, I had a very good feeling that, regardless of the number, the retreat would be just perfect.
At that very time, all the way in Australia, a Catholic nun realized that she had the possibility to be in Assisi from October 11-17. So she typed into google search, “Assisi Retreat October 11-17.” Since those were our exact retreat dates, we were the first search result to pop up. She had never done a retreat that was not Catholic and so she wondered if it was the right thing for her. At the time, she was visiting her childhood home with her eight siblings. As she is so loved in the family, all of her siblings became involved and started reading our many articles on our website. Finally, they concluded that it would be a good fit for her.
She emailed us and asked what we thought. At first, Barry was hesitant as we had never had a Catholic nun in any of our retreats before. He said, “What if she only wants to sing and pray, and wants nothing to do with the personal growth work?” But I felt this was so divinely guided that I assured him it was going to be fine. In a Catholic Church, I had prayed for another person and a nun signed up. I pictured that she would be in long black robes, like the nuns in Assisi. I have to admit, it was hard to picture a nun in our retreat, but I felt that we needed to trust.
Well, this nun showed up in blue jeans and a flannel shirt with a large red heart necklace around her neck. She lives in South Africa and helps run a large home for eighty African children that desperately need help. Sister Sally turned out to be a very great light, and her presence in our small group filled the room with love, courageous personal growth work, and humor. Indeed it was a very great blessing and answer to my prayer. Of the ten Assisi retreats we have done, this one was my favorite and her presence was a large part of that.
These are examples of almost instant answers to prayer, but that is not always the case. Sometimes it can take years to feel an answer to a prayer, but the important thing is to persist. When I was twelve, my father had a very good engineering job which ended when his boss suddenly died. My father was out of work at a time when it was difficult to find a job. On top of that disappointment, his childhood polio returned and he was in great back pain. My mother was barely able to support the family with her church secretary job.
I did not mind the lack of money, but I saw the strain it caused both of my parents and I wanted to help. I took on many babysitting jobs, but that only helped to pay for what I needed for school. Upon asking my mother what more I could do, she replied that I should pray for my dad to find meaningful work that would not cause additional harm to his back. Every single night for four years, I prayed for my father.
Finally, a school official from a local junior college somehow found out about my dad, and called him to ask if he would consider working as an engineering instructor. My dad had never even considered teaching. He went on to teach engineering for twenty-five years, until he retired at the age of seventy-six. He absolutely loved his job, and the students all loved and respected him. My mother and I both felt that the offer of that job, which came so unexpectedly, was an answer to our daily prayers.
Perhaps, like Tom used to, you scoff at the notion of prayer. Or maybe you have tried to pray and nothing happened so you gave up. As the sign says in bold letters, “Prayer Works.” I invite you to try and persist. You will be blessed in ways you cannot even imagine.
Here are a few opportunities to bring more love and growth into your life, at the following longer events led by Barry and Joyce Vissell:
Feb 4-11, 2018 — Hawaii Couples Retreat on the Big Island
Jul 22-27, 2018 — Shared Heart Summer Retreat at Breitenbush Hot Springs, OR
Oct 11-17, 2018 — Assisi Retreat, Italy
About the authors:
Joyce & Barry Vissell, a nurse/therapist and psychiatrist couple since 1964, are counselors near Santa Cruz, CA, who are widely regarded as among the world’s top experts on conscious relationship and personal growth. They are the authors of eight books, including two new books, To Really Love a Woman and To Really Love a Man.
Call 831-684-2299 for further information on counseling sessions by phone or in person, their books, recordings or their schedule of talks and workshops. Visit their web site at SharedHeart.org for their free monthly e-heartletter, their updated schedule, and inspiring past articles on many topics about relationship and living from the heart.