5 Ways to Improve Your Prayer Life
Praying everyday can seem an ambitious task to undertake. We think it’s a practice better suited to those who have “time” like religious, priests or our grandmothers. However, the Church tells us it’s actually meant for everyone because all are called to holiness. Holiness is built on a continuous friendship with God. That’s why saints are known for their intense prayer life. They have come to know the One whom they desire to resemble most. As Trappist monk Dom Chautard once said: In order to sanctify the world, we must first sanctify ourselves. This begins with personal prayer. I certainly don’t have all the answers when it comes to prayer – and I know very little about it means to be a saint! But I want to share with you what helps me when it comes to personal prayer.
1. Desire to pray
In order to take time for prayer you have to want it. There must be first 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 must 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.
2. Know who it is we 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. St. 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”.
3. Choose a time (and stick to it!)
This is hugely important. 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 it 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…” 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. Again, think of it as a meeting set up with a friend!
4. Choose a place
Finding a good place to pray is the easy part. Churches and chapels are not the only places where prayer can happen. I have prayed on the 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 by noise, but I know that conditions will never perfect. Even if there was absolute silence, distractions would still come. 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.
5. Figure out what works for you.
And now, where to begin? Here’s a brief “How to.” Sometimes I feel 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 kick start the conversation. The Church offers us thousands of ways to draw closer to God - the Liturgy of the Hours, Scripture and the Sacraments, the Rosary, Lectio Divina or reading from a Living with Christ missal. We have to be careful not to fill up our time with a prayer ‘to-do’ list. 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 St. Paul tells us to persevere. Our willingness to remain there and be available, no matter what we may “feel” or not, is enough.
“Rejoice in your hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer” (Romans 12:12).