Prayer is as essential to our spiritual life as breathing is to our physical life. It is getting in touch with God, our Creator, and communicating with him. This deepens our relationship with God. We wouldn’t want to arrive at the pearly gates of heaven and have God say to us, “And who are you?” Many of us who know the value of prayer also know that it may be plagued with difficulties. As one woman bemoaned, “I would pray more if I knew how to do it.” Let’s investigate some of the complaints about prayer and possible solutions.
1. “I don’t have time to pray.” In today’s crazy society, this may truly be the #1 problem. We have so many demands on us that the day disappears before we know it and we haven’t given a thought to God. That’s unfortunate because it’s God who has given us those twenty-four hours. The least we can do is thank him for it! A friend of mine observed that we always find time to do the things we really want to do. (like watch a football game or “Downton Abbey”) Some people solve the problem of finding time for prayer by rising a little early and devoting those first minutes to God. A university student confided to me that if he doesn’t pray first thing in the morning, he feels as though his day was wasted. Another idea for wresting time for prayer from our jam-packed days is to make use of downtime for prayer. We can say, “Jesus, I love you” or “God, help Bob get through his surgery successfully” while we are standing in line in a store, waiting for something to download, or being “on hold” on the phone. We can also pray as we drive, walk, run, or exercise.
By the way, someone who doesn’t carve out time for prayer might rationalize, “My work is my prayer.” That’s like a husband reasoning that because he works to support his family he doesn’t have to talk to his wife!
2. “My prayer is filled with distractions.” Talk about multitasking. I can find that I close my Prayer of Christians book and don’t remember a word I said to God, but I know the outline for my next book! Distractions are like pesky mosquitoes. They are unavoidable. There’s a story about a man who was offered a horse if he could say the Our Father without a distraction. The man began, “Our Father, who art in heaven” and then asked, “Do I get the saddle too?” Sometimes distractions can be a blessing, a way that God is telling us something. Also we might be able to work our distractions into our prayer. For example, if we start to think about the latest murder in the news, we can offer a prayer for those who are mourning.
3. “I fall asleep when I pray.” St. Teresa of Avila tells us not to worry about this. She asks, “Does a Father love a child less when the child is sleeping in his arms?” Finding a better time to pray might help, as well as a cup of coffee. When I was in the novitiate, VERY early in the morning we meditated and prayed together in chapel for forty-five minutes before Mass. Coffee, called Lauds coffee, left over from the previous day was available. It kept many a sister from falling off her pew.
4. “I’m bored by prayer.” Change the way you pray. There are as many varieties of prayer as there are cereals in the supermarket, to name a few, guided meditation, prayers written by saints, the rosary, mantras, and lectio divina. Just this week a Sister said that she prays the rosary addressing Mary by a different title for each decade. She said this brought her closer to Our Lady. Now that is creative prayer.
5. “God doesn’t answer my prayers anyway. (He must not like me.)” To hear God, we need to be quiet and listen. Then we will be aware of God speaking in our heart and putting thoughts in our heads. What if God doesn’t answer our requests? Well, sometimes God responds, “No,” or “I’ve got a better idea,” or “Wait awhile,” or (according to Jimmy Carter), “Are you kidding?”
6. “When I pray nothing happens. I don’t feel anything, nor do I hear God speak.” You are in good company. What is called “dryness” in prayer has been experienced by the saints. The test of prayer is whether or not you are a better person.
If you are unhappy with your prayer, take heart. It’s said that most people pray more and better than they think they do!
What is your favorite time and place to pray?