I recently went on a 37,000-mile prayer pilgrimage around the world. I visited monks, danced with rabbis, walked on coals, and revived my prayer life.
I explored a world of prayer traditions across the Judeo-Christian faith family, including some of the weird uncles and crazy cousins — think North Korea and Westboro Baptist Church. No round-the-world pilgrimage would be complete without a visit to Rome, and I wanted to meet the head of the Catholic Church and ask him about prayer.
Long story short, after many months of work and prayer, my wife and I received an invite to the Vatican on our Skype voicemail at 10 p.m. on a Saturday night. We were in the pope’s house at noon the next day, for a short audience with him, followed by lunch with his personal aide.
It was an unforgettable experience, and I learned many things over my few hours inside the world’s smallest nation. Here are five of those life lessons I learned from Pope Francis:
1. Be willing to say yes.
The pope’s personal aide told me that he receives over 40,000 faxes per year. He could have easily said no to my request, but he didn’t. I asked why he said yes, and he explained that he cared about the work I was doing, and that he always tries to stay in touch with “real people” from the outside world.
It reminded me to be always willing to meet new people — to get outside my comfort zone and cultivate real relationships.
2. Check your confidence.
The pope was very friendly, and he maintained steady eye contact. You got the sense that he was both steadfast and comfortable, despite us being strangers who spoke a different language.
But you could tell that his demeanor wasn’t self-confidence — it was an assurance won by decades of placing his confidence in God.
3. Stay humble in your calling.
As a gift, the pope gave me a rosary in a small red box. The lid was stamped with the papal insignia. The motto he picked read, “Lowly but chosen.” It reminded me that I’m not better than anyone else and that I need to stay humble no matter what God calls me to do.
4. Don’t be flashy.
We ate lunch in the cafeteria, and it wasn’t fancy. If anything, it was decidedly 1990s. The food was okay — not bad, not brilliant. It reminded me of the Proverb “give me neither poverty nor riches.”
Even if we do receive wealth in this world, we should see it as an opportunity for stewardship and use it to help others.
5. Recognize your need for help.
Twice during our conversation, the pope asked me to pray for him. It was so inspirational to see the spiritual leader of a billion-person faith realizing his deep need for a power higher than himself.
It reminded me that I, too, need to rely on God instead of myself.
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It’s not every day that you get to meet the pope. It was an exciting, brilliant, humbling experience. The lessons will remain with me for life. What I like about Pope Francis is that, in many ways, he’s trying to be like Jesus. And that, after all, is the whole point of faith.
Lead image courtesy of giulio napolitano / Shutterstock.com.