When Praying Is Hard To Do

prayed for messiahThe longer I write the more I realize how much writing is like prayer. Writing is something that connects me with God and allows me to hear His voice. Like prayer, writing is a habit that has to be developed over time and like prayer sometimes it doesn’t come easily. Both actions are disciplines of the spirit and both can help us to grow in holiness. Being holy means being the person God intends you to be. Writing helps me to use a gift He gave me and to use it to glorify Him. Like prayer, writing requires preparation and work. Of course we’re not all called to be writers. Some are given much greater gifts. But all Christians are called to pray. In fact I’d go so far as to say that if you don’t pray you aren’t a follower of Christ.  Prayer has to be at the center of our lives. Our faith is based on our relationship with Jesus and without prayer, we can’t know Him.

So if God made prayer so central to His plan for our salvation, why can it sometimes be so hard to pray?  After all, if He made our hearts in such a way that we yearn to know Him, you’d think prayer would come as naturally to us as breathing. Sometimes it does. Most of us are great at praying when we find ourselves in a jam. Up against the wall. At the end of our ropes. Between a rock and a hard place. Remember the old saying about there being no atheists in foxholes. When life–ours or someone we love–is on the line, we’re filled with the need to pray. Our words and pleas and promises to Him overflow and we talk with Him nonstop. That is, until the crisis passes. When the terror of the moment is over, many of us quickly revert to our non-prayerful ways. Perhaps a few of us will experience that crisis as an invitation to a continuing relationship with God. That brush with whatever terror we experienced (death, divorce, unemployment, war, homelessness, etc.) may have opened our hearts to hear Him and allowed Him to draw us close.  Most of us, however, are drawn to the Lord through the regular, everyday, even unexciting details of our daily lives. The Church, in her wisdom, has made most of our liturgical year into “ordinary” time. And while ordinary time refers to those numbered Sundays outside feast and penance, it’s a reminder to us that we can and should encounter God in the regular rhythms of our daily lives.

Consider a significant relationship in your life. Maybe it’s your spouse or a good friend or a sibling you’re especially close to. I’ll bet some of the most meaningful moments you’ve experienced with them are when you’re just enjoying an ordinary day in their presence. Deep love and intimacy are often revealed most clearly in everyday moments. Sharing a meal. Watching a sunset. Being comfortable and at ease in the silent company of a person you love and who loves you back. If that’s true in our human relationships, we can also see that in our prayer relationship with Jesus. The times we can feel most closely-engaged with Him in prayer can be in spontaneous and simple ways each day. The ordinary-ness of our daily prayers are no less valuable than those dramatic, emotionally-charges prayerful “highs” that are few and far between.

The saints tell us a lot about prayer. After all, being saints, we know that their relationship with Jesus bore great and eternal spiritual fruit. Look at St. Joseph of Cupertino. His prayer life was so extraordinary that he frequently levitated several feet off the floor during prayer. But few of us fly around the room during prayers. St. Francis of Assisi, and in our own century, Padre Pio both bore the stigmata or the wounds of Christ as they prayed. St. Isidore and St. Alphonse’s Liguori often appeared in two distant places at the same time while at prayer. But these are the exceptions.

Most saints were like most of us. Sometimes prayer came easily and made them feel close to God. But at other times prayer was a chore. Many of the saints experienced spiritual deserts where their prayer lives seemed pointless and felt as if God had left them alone. We know that Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta struggled with this. For many years she experienced a “dark night of the soul” in her prayer life. Yet no one doubts her spiritual greatness or the fruits of her vocation. This woman knew Jesus well.

We’re each unique creations. Each one of our journeys with Christ is a unique calling. Some of us may fly in ecstasy to Him but the majority of us won’t. We’ll come to know Him in the daily routines of our ordinary lives, sometimes in joyful exuberance and sometimes in peaceful silence. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you don’t think you’re “doing it right.”  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you pray. And keep at it. Go to Mass and Confession. Fast. And don’t wait to start praying. The only way to get better at it is to pray.

“I pray because I’m helpless.”    —C. S. Lewis

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