Praying every day can seem an ambitious task to undertake. We think it’s a practice better suited to those who have “time” like sisters, religious, priests… or our grandmothers. However, the Church tells us it’s actually meant for everyone because we are all called to holiness.
Holiness is built on a continuous friendship with God. That’s why saints are most known for their intense prayer life. They have come to know the One whom they desire to resemble most. Dom Chautard, a Trappist monk, once said that in order to sanctify the world, we must first sanctify ourselves. According to him, this begins with personal prayer.
I certainly don’t know everything when it comes to prayer – and I know very little about what it means to be a saint! But I wanted to share with you what’s helped me when it came to personal prayer time. This blog is really just the fruit of many conversations with friends or friendly priests, since we all desire to draw closer to Christ and we have all been met, one day or another, with challenges in prayer.
This probably seems self-explanatory. In order to take time to pray, you sort of have to want it. There must first be a desire to stop what we’re doing, speak to God and listen to Him. The practice is simple and yet it is often the first thing we remove from our busy schedules (mea culpa!) There’s a reason why in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we are told that prayer is a “battle”. In order to win that battle, we can turn to the Holy Spirit for he “helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:26). We can therefore ask him to give us the desire to pray even before we begin to pray.
Know who it is you encounter in prayer
“Mental prayer, in my opinion, is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us” – Saint Teresa of Avila. Prayer should never be laborious. It should be freely given in the same way we freely make time for our friends. Saint Augustine tells us that Christ is the first to “[seek] us and [ask] us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him”.
Choose a time
This is a big one. It’s easy to say “I will pray when I have time” but there are so many times I missed out on my prayer time because I failed to set aside a specific time in the day for it. A million different excuses arose to keep me from praying. Some people choose to pray at the same time every day, which is something I’ve tried to do myself. Waking up to pray each morning helps me prepare for the day even if it is such a struggle to get out of bed when the alarm goes off. That’s what saint Josemaria Escriva called the heroic minute.
“Conquer yourself each day from the very first moment, getting up on the dot, at a fixed time, without yielding a single minute to laziness. If, with God’s help, you conquer yourself, you will be well ahead for the rest of the day… The heroic minute. It is the time fixed for getting up. Without hesitation: a supernatural reflection and… up! The heroic minute: here you have a mortification that strengthens your will and does no harm to your body.”
But let’s be real, some of us are not morning people so praying in the morning might not be for you! Ask yourself, then, if there is a time in the day when you would be the most alert for prayer. Is it in the evening? At lunch time? If you go to Mass regularly, you could arrive a little earlier or stay a little longer to have some alone time with God. If you cannot pray at the same hour every day, you could choose at the beginning of the day when you will do it. I have often been counselled to be consistent with the length of the prayer as well. If it is 10, 15, 30 minutes or more, stay faithful to the hour and the length you have committed to. “Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12). Again, think of it as a meeting set up with a friend!
Choose a place
Finding a good spot to pray is the easy part. Churches and chapels are not the only places where prayer can happen. I have prayed on a bus, on a plane, or even in the middle of the campus cafeteria. Some are lucky enough to find a nice chapel near their place of work or home but we don’t all have this luxury. So we do with what we have, where we are. Perhaps it is sitting on the couch or sitting at your desk in your bedroom or while sipping on a cup of coffee. I’m easily distracted so I try to find the quietest space in my apartment, which isn’t always easy when you live downtown and the windows are wide open in the summertime…
But I know I cannot wait for the perfect conditions before beginning to pray. They will never perfect. Even if there was absolute silence, distractions would surface anyway. What does the time and place you choose for prayer say about your relationship with God? A friend asked me this once and it changed my whole outlook on prayer.
Finding what works for you
And now, where to begin? Here’s a brief “how to”. Sometimes I feel somewhat useless when I first set out to pray. I have to remember that prayer should be simple and that I don’t have to be “useful” in order to have a conversation with God. The only condition required for prayer is to make ourselves available in humility. Even beginning with the Our Father can kickstart the conversation.
“[Jesus] said to them, ‘When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread; and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us; and lead us not into temptation” (Luke 11:2-4).
The Church offers us thousands of ways to draw nearer to God. There are the Liturgy of the Hours, Scripture and the Sacraments (receiving the Eucharist at Mass or adoration of the Blessed Sacrament), the Rosary, Lectio Divina (divine reading of Scripture), or going through a Living with Christ missal. But we have to be careful not to fill up our time with a list of things to do.
Prayer is a conversation in which there is a time to speak, to listen and to remain in silence. There will be times when nothing happens at all, when prayer seems empty and Scripture doesn’t speak to us, as though God had just disappeared. But Saint Paul tells us to persevere. Our willingness to remain there and be available, no matter what we may “feel” or not, is enough.
“The Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for [us] according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27)