Is Praying For Oneself A Selfish Act?

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I lay in bed yesterday afternoon in the dark with the curtains drawn. I was suffering with one of the worst migraines I’ve had in a long time. In fact, until this year came around I’ve never suffered from migraines in the 36 years of my miserable existence. It was throbbing with such force it almost felt supernatural in nature as the whole experience of a migraine is a novelty for me. In addition to this there was a new born baby next door crying. My walls are paper thin so it wasn’t that distant.

I picked up my 300 knot Jesus prayer rope and began to pray, “Jesus have mercy on me a sinner”. Towards the end of the prayer a strange thing happened. I began to feel a warmth in the breast and the babies cries were soothing to the ear as opposed to irritating the migraine. The cry of the baby had become part of my silence and incorporated into the prayer itself.

When I’d finished praying, and my migraine subsided, I thought about what I’d read in the book, “Way of the pilgrim”. It’s a beautiful Russian Orthodox classic set in the 19th century about a poor peasant pilgrim whose wife dies. He’s only got one functioning hand and he travels Russia praying the Jesus prayer. His goal is to find a Holy Elder who will teach him the art of how to pray ceaselessly and ultimately reach Jerusalem.

In his diary, he comes across a man who tells him that the Jesus prayer is a selfish one. To pray for oneself is sinful altogether according to him. I can’t remember the book exactly as it’s been years since I’ve read it so I don’t recall the pilgrims answer.

Although I’m not exactly the beard of knowledge, I thought about how I’d answer it. I think prayer for oneself depending on what you’re asking is absolutely fine. In fact, praying the Jesus prayer is far from selfish. The reason for this is because it’s a prayer of repentance. By changing ourselves, we change the world. By becoming another Christ through this prayer, we are then useful to the Lord and the world by helping them change also.

Have you ever noticed when you go into a room full of depressed people expressing great joy, most if not all the people in the room suddenly brighten up over time? If we don’t repent and change, the world is less likely to do so. If there’s a piece of trash lying on the street amidst all the other trash, and you pick it up and bin it, you’ve contributed the clean up of the world, right?

It’s the same when praying for oneself. To acknowledge oneself as the utter trash of the world, as a sinner, you want to change that by allowing God to pick you up, place you in his Sacred Heart, and make you free again. By doing this we are cleaning up the world one soul at a time. The effects of this rub off on the next person and so it goes on.

Therefore, depending upon what you’re asking for, prayer for oneself is not always a selfish act. If it gives glory to the Lord, makes you a better Christian who in turn goes out to inspire others come to the feast in the Kingdom, why not? Some prayers are better than others, I agree.

“Lord increase my faith” has a better ring to it than, “Please tell my father to give my inheritance now”. “Lord, grant me the grace of humility” is more soothing to the ear of the Lord than the clamor of such requests as “Let my lotto numbers come up tonight and I promise to become a better Christian.”

Prayer has to be always for the glory of the Lord and according to His will. It is more beneficial to seek his interests over and above our own. By asking for the right things, and with the correct spiritual disposition we are more likely to receive it. Which one of you if your 8 year old son asked for cocaine would give it to him? As a sinner you know already what it is he needs, and so you give him this instead.

It’s the same with the Lord, who knows the secrets of all hearts, that when a soul asks for something, will be able to tell if it’s a selfish request or for His greater glory. He’ll know what, where and when to give it. Pray prayers for oneself that are not selfish and come from a good spirit. These are the prayers that rise like incense and reach heaven.

“Jesus have mercy on me a sinner” is the best prayer anyone could ever pray for oneself, because it benefits everyone in the end. It is a prayer not just for oneself, but for the world as without metanoia you’re more of a nuisance than you are a help to the Lord and world around you.

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