By Ben Gerigk,
Saint Brendan Catechist &
Aspirant to the Priesthood
Each week, we summarize a specific style, form, or approach to prayer, using the highly-acclaimed book by Robert J. Wicks, Prayer in the Catholic Tradition: A Handbook of Practical Approaches (Franciscan Media 2006). In this article, you’ll learn more about how common it is to struggle in prayer and what you can do about it.
While prayer is essential to happiness, feelings of well-being, and spiritual growth, most of us neglect it more than we should. Common excuses include lack of time, distractions during prayer, general fatigue, and the rather unsettling feeling that we are not being heard. Indeed, the Catechism of the Catholic Church refers to prayer as a “battle” (n. 2725). Fortunately, we can overcome these struggles to some extent by correcting erroneous notions and setting realistic expectations about prayer.
For instance, some people subscribe to the misguided idea that prayer should always be personally rewarding. When they discover that it often is precisely the opposite, they give up. The collective experience of monks and mystics throughout the ages, however, has been that sustaining a life of prayer frequently is dry and unfulfilling. Indeed, prayer is a battle. Sometimes it’s like walking on water, while at other times we may feel that we are sinking like a stone. On some occasions, we experience God’s love and goodness, while on other occasions, we may feel bored or distracted.
It is impossible for anyone to remain alert, attentive, and actively engaged in prayer at all times. Developing a rhythm and ritual can get us through this difficulty. Ritual helps us to keep praying even when we’re too tired to muster up the energy. To the extent we pray faithfully every day, year in and year out, we can expect little excitement, lots of boredom, and regular temptations to look at the clock. Despite this, our connection with God will grow and deepen, as well as our intimacy with the Lord, to the extent we are faithful to a prayer ritual.
A second erroneous understanding of prayer is that we must already be at peace emotionally before we approach the Lord. Not wishing to offend God, we may choose to refrain from prayer under the false belief that we should only pray when we’re not angry, distracted, or preoccupied. Yet, genuine prayer does not try to conceal such feelings. God wants our hearts and minds just as they are. Equally as foolish as cleaning one’s home before the maid arrives is the attempt to heal ourselves of disturbing thoughts and emotions before presenting ourselves to the divine physician. We ought not to pray in the manner we think God expects, but with whatever is inside of us at the time and simply allow God to be present in those moments with us.
Traditionally defined, prayer is “lifting our minds and hearts to God.” More times than not, we will fail to achieve this ideal in prayer. Just keep praying anyway, but do so with realistic expectations. Praying with others also can help. Start or join a Saint Brendan small group today to enrich your prayer experience. For more information, you can explore our website at http://www.stbrendanparish.org/small-groups.html.