“Secret Garden of Prayer”

Maria Niechwiadowicz


I had the privilege of being invited to a Women’s Retreat through another teaching organization last weekend. Our weekend was focused around the idea of the “Secret Garden” in light of prayer practices. It was a wonderful time of reflection, worship, and connecting with other women within Ningxia. 

I can’t say I that I have ever thought of my prayer life as a “secret garden.”

To me, “secret” implies something you don’t want others to see or be a part of. And if you do reveal a secret, say to a friend, you confirm that this friend will keep their lips sealed.

Since moving to China, many times I feel like I am living out a “secret” faith. This has given me a negative taste simply because I feel like much of my faith journey has been about learning to vocalize my faith and appropriately have conversations about it, not suppress it.

Yet Matthew 6:6 proclaims, “But you, when you pray, go to your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly.”

Throughout the Psalms we find more images of this “secret place” of the Lord, which promises protection and refuge (Ps. 27:5, Ps. 31:19-20, Ps. 81:7).

So here is my dilemma, due to the religious dynamics in China, my prayer is always within my home in “secret” and my opportunities for communal prayer, very limited. This has led to my “secret garden of prayer” to become stifling, isolating even. As Christians we are instructed to avoid flaunting our faith, to enter our “secret garden” daily to prune. Yet, aren’t we also called to share the beauty of our garden with others as well? Surely there are visiting hours and times when we visit others’ prayer gardens!

In reflecting on my current “prayer garden,” like most people, mine has signs of decay, overgrowth, and neglect. No matter how much pruning and pulling I do, there is always more work to be done it seems. And, if you plant something that isn’t suitable to the soil or climate, your cultivation fails.

During the retreat we visited a “garden” in Yinchuan. The word, “garden” has multiple meanings or images and yet the place we went did not meet any of those images in my mind. We came to a lake, surrounded by brown trees, brown trails, and brown dirt. There were no flowers or organized planting. The only color came from the slight green emerging from the trees, and long rows of yellow-flowering bushes. In my slight disappointment, it suddenly occurred to me that maybe I was trying to cultivate the wrong foliage. I have been trying to keep my American daffodils alive, when I should have been planting new cherry blossoms or something.

In other terms, prayer practices that worked for me a year ago, don’t work the same here. So the uprooting begins! Its time to plant some new bulbs, establish new practices, and adapt my prayer garden environment to be more open and less stifling.

I would love to hear your thoughts as I am in a period of replanting! Feel free to write a “Comment” on your current prayer practices and what works for you!