When I Pray
I fail. I’m distracted. I’m antsy. I check the clock, or, let’s be honest, the time on my smartphone. I’m tempted to rush through the scripture reading. I’m tempted to do all of the talking. I’m tempted to recite the words just to cross them off my list. Because, I tell myself, I’m busy. Yes, God is top priority, but only in the finite way I determine how He best fits in my day, on my time, when I’m ready. What a selfish confession. Well, I continue to rationalize, I know my personality. I’m a doer. A list-making lover. An extravert. I thrive on personal interaction and external affirmation. And although these God-given characteristics are not necessarily something I have to fight against, I have learned the hard way that unless I prioritize prayer over everything else, I will not truly be happy, successful, fulfilled or even closer to God despite the accomplishing all of these other ‘great works.'
My new favorite book, The Soul of the Apostolate, (definitely consider adding to your amazon cart!) advises in detail (as I refrain from quoting its entirety) the essentiality of prioritizing the interior life, especially over any apostolate, or good external works. Oh, what a struggle! The door into this interior life, what is called the life of the soul, St. Theresa of Avila tells us, is prayer & reflection. Therefore, developing my prayer life trumps every one of my goals, to do lists, work efforts, ministry activity etc.
The author explains, “the more closely a man unites first his own soul, and then that of another to God, the more acceptable is his sacrifice…but this intimate union can only be effected by prayer. To apply oneself to a life of prayer, or to lead others to give themselves to it, is, therefore, more pleasing to God than to devote oneself to activity and good works, and lead other to practice these.” Pg. 42
In discussing the danger of neglecting the interior life, “In a life that is almost exclusively active, the soul is excited, worked up, scatters its energies and by that very fact, weakens itself...But for the interior life one thing alone is necessary: union with God. All the rest can only be secondary, something accomplished solely by virtue of this union and in order to strengthen it more and more.” Pg. 51
“A holy, perfect, and virtuous man,” said St. Theresa, “actually does far more good to souls a great many others who are merely better educated or more talented.”
Wow. So what is my end goal? How am I spending my time here on earth, and what is truly the most important way?
I am convinced the priority is prayer. And despite my failed attempts, by the grace of our patient, loving God, I’m continuing to try. My prayer life has looked very different through the years, but here are some tips that I have found successful you may want to try:
My Prayer Tips:
1. Ask God to make it happen.
For the longest time I was putting all of the pressure and accountability on myself. I would say, God, help me to stick to this prayer routine, help me to make the time happen. I continued to fail, forget about the morning offering or the rosary, & definitely no time for contemplation…Finally, a wise priest called me out. “I’m noticing a lot of “I’s” in those statements…(gulp). Alex, God is going to be the one to make this miraculous prayer life happen. Not you. He is going to be the one to clear your schedule, keep the kids sleeping, or give you the energy to wake up earlier. Surrender & trust in Him.” I didn’t really understand how this was so, but almost as immediately as I accepted this prayer, amazing things started to happen. I cannot depend on myself. But I can accept humility, and trust that God will be the one to make this miracle time for prayer happen in my life. “For when I am weak, then I am strong,” 2 Corinthians 12:10.
2. Write down a time, place & prayer time plan.
This can be a major struggle, and sometimes impossible for a season, but I have found it essential to try. Just like we have a time to clock in for our jobs, a place we go to workout, and recipes we follow to cook a meal, we need some sort of game plan for our prayer lives. Otherwise, I have found it either doesn’t happen, or the time put to prayer is not as fruitful as it could be. The mental shift of changing the number one priority of the day to prayer forced me to come up with an action plan. My prayer time became more fruitful when I knew when, where & what I was doing with that time. For now, mornings, in my bedside chair, with a routine of journaling my scattered thoughts to God, Bible reading, and attempt at mental prayer is working. Whatever form of prayer you feel called to, the rosary for example, starting with a consistent 15 minute period is best. Challenging yourself with a 30 day prayer run, much like a 30 day Whole 30 fast, can help. If you need an extra kick in the pants, remember St. Francis de Sales who advised, “Everyone needs half an hour of prayer every day, except when we are busy, then we need an hour.”
3. Get an accountability partner.
I remember reading one of my favorite bloggers posts about a year ago, about how she had a "prayer partner friend" she would text every morning before starting prayer. I loved the idea. I thought of a dear friend, who I knew had a deep spiritual life, and between juggling more than double the amount of kids I had, was consistently giving prayer time to God. I told her I was just beginning to develop a routine & asked if she wouldn’t mind being my accountability prayer partner. For about 2 months she texted me when she was beginning her morning prayer, usually around 530, 6am. It was such a motivation, and just like having a gym buddy, made it seem much more doable and harder to say no.
4. Be persistent, show up.
Think of the athlete. He becomes better by his consistent practice, stronger by his day in and day out efforts. He shows up, expecting to see results. And just as losing weight or toning muscles does not happen overnight, the exercise of prayer takes time to change and develop in our souls. In the beginning of any new form of exercise, we are rusty in the beginning, and only mature through time and practice. We also know in order to build a relationship with someone, we need to consistently spend time with them, talk with them & get to know them. If we want to draw closer to God, we need to put that persistent effort into our relationship with Him, of which prayer is the foundation. When we continue to show up, God sees our efforts, and will not fail to bless them, for “with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26.
Lastly, check out this awesome video with great tips from Father Mike - Tips for Praying
Let’s keep showing up, putting prayer as #1 on our to do lists, and remembering God’s promise in John 16:24 “Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” He won’t let us down!