By Barbara Bartocci (Readers’ Digest – September,1988)
It was my birthday, that morning in February 1978, and I felt harried as I grabbed my briefcase and headed for a business breakfast. Life had been a good to me overall. My small advertising agency was thriving. Husband and children were well. Yet something seemed to be missing – something that didn’t even a have a name. I felt it only as a small emptiness inside.
At the restaurant I joined Don Campbell, a tall, lantern-jawed man of 60-odd years. He was a successful marketing consultant with an unusual empathy for people. I was always struck by his calm, peaceful manner.
Over poached eggs we discussed an advertising project and then, business behind us, I mentioned my birthday and confessed to my nagging feeling of emptiness.
"Want to fill it?" Don asked.
"Start your day with an hour of prayer."
"I don’t have time for that!" I gasped.
"Exactly what I said twenty years ago. I was president of a Chicago ad agency and running every which way just to keep up.. I couldn’t find time for it. I had the sinking feeling that my life was getting out of control. Then a friend told me I was going about things backward.
" ‘You’re trying to fit God into your life,’ he said. ‘Five minutes here, ten minutes there. You need to fit your life around God, and you do that with a commitment. An hour a day – now that’s commitment.’ The idea is to take a chunk of time big enough to mean something to you and then, give that chunk to God."
Don’s eyes twinkled. "I thought my friend was off his rocker. To find an extra hour for God, I’d have to get up an hour earlier. I’d lose sleep and ruin my health." The twinkle turned into a grin. "But I haven’t been sick in twenty years."
I left the restaurant in turmoil. An hour of prayer? Preposterous! Yet I couldn’t get Don’s idea out of my mind.
Saying nothing to our three teenagers or to my husband, Bill, I set my alarm for 5 a.m. We live in the Midwest and oh, it’s cold and dark at 5 a.m. in February. I wanted to curl back under the blanket, but I forced myself to get up.
The house wrapped around me, dark and gloomy. I tiptoed to the living room, ignoring Burt, our Labrador retriever, and settled on the couch. It was peculiar being alone with God. No church rituals.. Just me. And God. For an hour.
I glanced at my watch and cleared my throat. " Well, God, here I am. Now what?"
I would like to report that God replied immediately, but there was only quiet. As I watched the first tinges of sunrise I tried to pray, but thought instead of my son Andy and the fight we’d had the day before. I thought about a client whose business had hit a rough spot.. I thought of inconsequential things.
Yet gradually my erratic thoughts slowed. My breathing slowed, too, until I sensed a stillness within me. I grew aware of small sounds, the refrigerator hum, Burt’s tail slapping the floor, a frozen branch brushing a window. Then I felt the warm presence of love. I know no other way to describe it. The air, the very place in which I sat, seemed to change, as the ambiance of a house will change when someone you love is home.
I had been sitting for 50 minutes, but only then did I really begin to pray. And I discovered I wasn’t praying with my usual hurried words or my list of "gimmes."
All my life I’d been told God loves me. On that cold February morning I felt his love, and the immensity of it was so overwhelming that I sat in quiet thanksgiving for nearly 15 minutes. Then Andy’s alarm went off and Burt gave a small woof. The ordinary day had begun. But all through the rest of that day, I felt warmed by the memory of that love.
The next day morning the house seemed even darker and colder than before. But, shivering, I did get up. One more day, I thought.
And the next day, One more day.
Day by day, six year passed.
There have been plenty of crises in those years: difficulty with one of our teenagers, marital turbulence, a big financial loss. Through every crisis, I have found a quietness of soul in that hour with God. It gives me time to put things in perspective, to find God in every circumstance.Once I find him, there seems to be no problem that cannot be resolved.
Some mornings, I am quickly filled with the wonder and glory of God. But other mornings, I feel nothing. That’s when I remember something else Don Campbell said: "There will be times when your mind just won’t go into God’s sanctuary. That’s when you spend your hour in God’s waiting room. Still, you’re there, and God appreciates your struggle to stay there. What’s important is the commitment."
Because of it, my life is better. Starting my day with an hour of prayer has filled the empty space to overflowing.