Over time, we can return to a mirror and note physical changes, but we cannot directly observe ourselves aging. Continually standing in front of a mirror, attempting to monitor the process, would be akin to watching a plant grow. It surely happens, but there is not much to see.
Photographs are what truly record the aging process. We look at a new one of ourselves and think, “Gosh, I’m getting older.” Or we look at a picture of our younger selves and sigh, “I’ve really aged!” The very same can be observed in those to whom we are close.
Most revealing of all is being shown a photograph of a senior whom you know that was taken at a very young age when you did not know him or her. At first, you might doubt the connection between photo and friend, but then you begin to pick out the much younger, yet distinctive, features of the older person, the one whom you know now.
Our years and how we have spent them, for better or worse, become imprinted upon our faces. The same is true of our souls.
You are vividly seeing the—woefully fast or mercifully slow—effects of physical aging. And there is something else to take in. You can also see the unfolding of a spiritual presence, which in itself might be something truly beautiful or really rather sad.
Our years and how we have spent them, for better or worse, become imprinted upon our faces. The same is true of our souls. If the face is the window from which we look out on the world, it is also the aperture through which others see into our souls.
The church’s Scriptures speak of prayer, specifically prayers of petition, those times that we turn to God in our need. Let us begin by admitting that the efficacy of intercessory prayer cannot be proven, either for the unbeliever or the believer. Doing so would involve lining up an inconceivably lengthy list of petitions offered and then granted. We cannot do that even for ourselves, much less for the long history of the world.
This is not to say that you cannot know for yourself, as surely as you know anything, that a prayer has truly been answered. You surely can, but you cannot prove this to someone else, not without both of you stepping outside the world and watching God answer the prayers. And this none of us can do.
That is the first effect of a life passed in prayer: We know that we have always been with God.
A few other observations. Many of our prayers are answered without our taking notice. We pray; it happens; and we forget. Or, just as likely: We pray; we forget; and it happens.
Yet there are the unanswered prayers you cannot forget. When they were being offered, all of your earthly happiness seemed to hinge upon God’s response. Sometimes, as the years go by, we can recognize that our prayers were answered in the best way possible or in the manner that simply had to be. Sometimes that realization will elude us until we stand before the face of God. At that moment, we will not need the deity to explain. Seeing God’s truth and God’s love unveiled, no questions will remain.
In the meantime, this is what we know. Belief and unbelief dwell in the breast of each of us, and their balance is not dependent upon arguments. When we truly give ourselves to prayer, we know that we are in the presence of another—not always but rather often without any doubt. That is the first effect of a life passed in prayer: We know that we have always been with God.
The second effect is this. We know that we are who we are because of prayer. We know that we would be someone else entirely if we had not given ourselves over to the silence. However arduous our lives have been, we shudder to imagine living them without prayer.
People can look in mirrors, at pictures and at life itself and perceive very different things. Granted, some just cannot see it, but if you have given yourself over to a life of prayer, you have seen God, and you also have seen the difference this has made in your life.