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Prayer for a Restless Heart

You have perhaps seen this well-known prayer written by Eleanor Roosevelt. According to her son Elliott, she used the prayer as part of her evening ritual when, on her knees, she asked for God’s blessing.

Our Father, who has set a restlessness in our hearts and made us all seekers after that which we can never fully find, forbid us to be satisfied with what we make of life. Draw us from base content and set our eyes on far off goals. Keep us at tasks too hard for us that we may be driven to Thee for strength. Deliver us from fretfulness and self-pitying; make us sure of the good we cannot see and of the hidden good in the world. Open our eyes to simple beauty all around us and our hearts to the loveliness men hide from us because we do not try to understand them.

Save us from ourselves and show us a vision of the world made new.

Like all good prayers, this prayer needs neither analysis nor commentary but use. We certainly need not employ her ritual, but invariably we do structure our lives around innumerable practices that give meaning and direction to the daily routine. Set within the place of ultimate honor—namely, on the refrigerator, right next to the shopping list, coupon collection, and favorite pictures—think how this prayer might complement and empower our other daily rituals, the spiritual equivalent of an exercising regimen we follow so as to keep our bodies physically fit.

Jesus addresses this need for structure in the Sermon on the Mount with regard to just three disciplines, giving alms, praying, and fasting (Matt. 6). In each case (the list is hardly exhaustive!), Jesus assumes that, yes, we do in fact practice our faith. His point is not to get us to start something brand new but to show us how to continue a practice that is (?) already second nature. One little word gives it away: when.

Jesus does not say if you give alms, if you pray, and if you fast, as if to suggest that some of us do and other of us might not, but rather when you give alms, when you pray, and when you fast, do so in this manner.

And having prayed for that “restless heart” and “tasks too hard for us,” we will of necessity turn to that other ritual that defines the follower of the Master and tend to the corner of the vineyard given to our care.