I once asked a class of college students to rate their spiritual lives on a scale of 1 to 10. Most were very hard on themselves and gave themselves a 5 or less. I then asked "how would you describe your relationship with God?" and again, most were not very positive. These were the ones going to Mass every weekend, trying to grow in their knowledge of God, etc.
There are several reasons most people are hard on themselves when it comes to prayer life, I will highlight only 2 of them:
- We compare ourselves to others - this is not healthy, especially in the spiritual life. Our prayer SHOULDN'T look like another person's prayer! This is a unique relationship with God. Furthermore, we must be patient with ourselves. We are all at different stages in our spiritual walk with God. The first step is being OK that you are terrible at prayer, you are a beginner, and that you might need some help. You didn't wake up one morning and stumble into a great relationship with a new friend. Don't expect prayer to be quick or easy either.
- We don't know what we are doing - welcome to the club. Only the perfected persons in heaven knows how to truly commune with God. The rest of us are amateurs. Distracted, stop-and-start, rank amateurs. This comes with the territory. The point is - we learn by doing.
Once our discussion continued, I discovered most of the comments, from the class, were about difficulties in prayer. Why do we have such difficulties? Simple - we are human. But, before I spell out some tips on how to overcome difficulties, we ought to talk about why we pray.
St. Paul writes:
"With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit." - Ephesians 6:18
Paul doesn't just suggest, but commands us, to pray "in the Spirit" at "every opportunity". If we are to follow this command, it is done out of love, not out of mere obedience. But, how are we to meet this high call?
He writes in another letter:
"The Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings." - Romans 8: 26-27
We can't do it alone. The Holy Spirit does, for us, what we can't do in our prayer. This is vital, because prayer is essential for success. But, by success, I mean success in the eyes of God, which is much different than success by the world's standards. The world says success is money, fame, power, possessions, pleasure, etc. But, God's idea of success is faithful holiness - being the person God intends you to be. In other words, success = fulfilling the vision for your life that God has for you. Prayer is indisposable in attaining success.
In the Gospel of Luke, he writes:
"he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary." -Luke 18:1
We must make prayer the center of our lives. It isn't a choice for us as Christians. But, it requires perseverance and faith to achieve such a prayer life. So, with this in mind, you might ask - why would any Christian let their prayer life slip and what can we do about it?
7 REASONS WE LET OUR PRAYER LIVES SLIP
- Discouragement - Sometimes we don't know what to say, how to pray, what to do. Sometimes we are tired, feeling bad, or we just don't have a desire to pray.
- Doubt - Is God really there? Can He hear me? Does He care, even if He exists? Does prayer really even matter?
- Impatience - Prayers can seem to go on forever with only silence coming from heaven. When will God answer me?
- Temptations - It is easy to pray when you aren't challenged internally through temptation. But, when the temptations enter in, it becomes drudgery.
- Laziness - We sometimes just give up or never establish habits that sustain us in dry times or through the business of modern life.
- Dryness - God seems distant and prayer becomes a chore. This can happen at any time.
- Physical, Mental, or Emotional Problems - When we suffer, it is hard to pray, because we sometimes feel that a loving God would make it stop.
- Frequent the Sacraments - If you can make daily Mass even once a week, you have doubled your access to the greatest gift ever given humanity. Now, go to Confession at least monthly and you are surely going to get a multitude of graces. Put these on a calendar so you don't skip them.
- Establish Good Habits - You should be able to rely on your habits to help you, and not hurt you, in your prayer. A good habit takes 66 days (at least) to establish. So, if you can commit to a routine of prayer for 2 months, you should start to lay the groundwork for healthy prayer habits.
- Accountability Counts - You need someone who is more objective than you are to look at your prayer life and see how you are doing and how the Holy Spirit is working. A spiritual director is invaluable in helping. But, if you don't think you are ready, even have a holy friend to talk to can be good.
- Try Different Types of Prayer - We all have different tastes in prayer, just like most other things in life. So, try out different types of prayer and see which ones work for you. One caveat - don't give up too soon on a type of prayer. It might take a good long time to discover whether it is good for you or not.
- Fast Regularly - There is great power in fasting. We see it in Scripture when Jesus fasts and calls his disciples to do the same. When we have better control over the desires of our bodies, we can pray better.
- Overcome Distractions - The simple way to overcome a distraction is to not give into it. Once you realize you are distracted turn your heart and mind back to your prayer, not to examining the distraction. This simple act is the easiest way to defeat distractions.
- Don't Over-think Prayer - Too often we tend to complicate something that should come naturally to us. We are made for communion with God. Prayer is merely directing your mind and heart in the direction of God. If we over-complicate it, we get caught up in the externals.
- Dryness is Good For Us - Dry prayers are a gift from God. Yes, we all long to have consolations in our prayer, just as a child longs for candy and having those denied is difficult, but healthy for us. It is in dryness that our faith is tested and strengthened.
- Pray for Humility - To the extent we are humble is the extent of the power of God's grace changing our lives. Without humble prayer, God is unable to reach us, because we have no interior need for Him.
- Work on a Proper Understanding of God and Self - I can not emphasize this one enough. Many of us struggle to understand how a perfect God could love us and want a relationship with us. But, this is due, mainly, to our bad perceptions of our own dignity and the way God loves us unconditionally.
- Quiet - Our modern lives are filled with noise. We need to quiet ourselves to hear God - both internally and externally. Find a peaceful and quiet place to pray. Church is helpful in this respect - so if you can stop at a church, even for a short time, I recommend you do so.
- Prioritize Prayer. Schedule it. Bump something else. Get up early. Do whatever you have to do, but don't let a day go by without spending time with the most important person in your life.
- Don't Be Too Hard On Yourself - Struggles in your prayer life do not make you a terrible Christian. They are a universal experience of everyone who prays. So, don't get down on yourself for struggles.
- Don't Wait To Start - procrastination is the enemy of prayer. If you feel called to pray, don't ever put it off.
- Find and Use Good Resources - When you don't know what to do or how to do it, the resources can help. Resources include people, friends, books, websites, sacramentals (e.g. rosaries), Sacred Scripture, etc.
Now it is time I go practice what I preach.
Pray for me and I will pray for all who read this.