- - Sunday, November 29, 2015

I grew up in “the troubles” of Northern Ireland. It was a terrible time of bombs exploding and gunbattles raging in our streets. Sirens wailed, soldiers marched, and I will never forget the fear that would come over us when — once again — we had to evacuate our school.

On more than one occasion, we experienced “near misses,” ducking down behind cars on the way home from school. One time, I even found a bullet hole in the hood of a coat I was wearing after I hid behind a tombstone as a gunfight raged around me. I was 11 years old and had been at the cemetery laying flowers on my mother’s grave.

My childhood was a time when no one in Ireland took security for granted. It was a time when we prayed like we meant it because we sometimes felt it was only in God that we could find help in time of trouble.

It was during those turbulent years that I learned to pray, and those prayers have carried me through my life with all its joys and sorrows.

While my father died when I was young — as did my mother before him — he gave me a truly great gift. For he taught me how to pray.

He would huddle us around the dinner table every night, and — without fail — he would pray.

He prayed with thanks for the blessings we received, and he prayed for strength and protection in the challenges we faced. His praying made our home a refuge in the middle of the chaos that surrounded us, and he taught us that we must not take prayer for granted.

Some of the most precious memories of my childhood are of slipping my little hand into his, as we prayed together. He taught me that God was always there, that God is the one person who we can always rely upon, and God is the calm in the storm raging around us. He can grant us “peace that passes all understanding” and we can “cast all our cares upon Him for He cares for us.” When we prayed, we were less afraid. When we prayed, we felt calm.

Ours was a faith tested by war and fear. Thank God that war ended long ago, and the people of Northern Ireland no longer live in fear. My faith is a comfort to me, and I pray today — every day — because my father took the time to teach me to pray. It is part of my daily practice. To create a space for grace to take time to be still and to be with God.

These days, I no longer live in a war zone. Many years ago, I moved to America. I love this country and am grateful for the opportunities I have found here. We live in a time where we are seeing technological and medical progress. A time where almost any impossibility seems within our reach. We live in a world where cars will soon drive themselves, where great and historic diseases seem to face an inevitable demise, and where instantaneous communication makes a planet filled with 7 billion feel smaller than ever before. Social media allows us to share our lives with those we love, and to be inspired by those we’ve never met.

Yet, suddenly — almost from nowhere — we seem also to be living in a time of nearly unprecedented global chaos.

Conflict and pain are inflicting millions, wars wage on every continent, and the worst evil of all time seems to be lurking in the shadows of the places we once thought to be the safest. We feel horror and disbelief as we weep for Paris. We watch with broken hearts as the beauty of the Greek islands is strewn with the clothes of fleeing refugees. Fear seems strangely close.

We turn to prayer.

The truth is that when crisis comes, we do always pray. It’s our knee-jerk reaction.

Once Jesus decided to teach his disciples about prayer, and he began with these four words, “and when you pray .” One of those words really strikes me. It’s the word, “when.” He doesn’t say IF you pray. He says WHEN you pray; for he expects us to be praying.

C.S. Lewis said regarding prayer, “I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.”

Let’s begin there. At least we can pray, at least we should pray, and in our prayer we may find that elusive peace that the world longs for. Let’s pray that we do.

Roma Downey is a celebrated Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated actress and producer best known for “Touched by an Angel” and “The Bible” series. She is executive producer of MGM/Paramount’s epic reimagining of the classic story “Ben Hur,” and is president of LightWorkers Media.

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