What fosters a powerful and fruitful prayer life? How can we start to pray for the first time–or develop a deeper relationship with Our Lord? We all experience difficulty in prayer at times, so I wanted to share with you my reflections on how we can pray well.
Types of Prayer
First of all, as I mentioned in my previous post on 7 Steps to Make Prayer a Priority, it is important to try some different forms of prayer to find ones that may appeal the most to you. Here are some ideas (if you would like more information on a particular type of prayer, please feel free to ask in the comments or sent me an email through the contact page!):
– Bible Study/Lectio Divina
– Divine Mercy Chaplet
– Novenas (you can find one to just about every saint and for a million different intentions): https://www.praymorenovenas.com/
– Prayer journaling
– Silent Prayer (especially by clearing your mind and asking for a single image, word, or phrase)
– Praise & Worship (whether playing it, worshiping live, or simply listening to it on the radio or YouTube)
– Liturgy of the Hours (this is the universal prayer of the Catholic Church prayed by priests and religious, but lay persons are very much encouraged to participate as well, even if just by doing morning and/or night prayer occasionally)
Finally, I want to note that most of these can be done during Eucharistic adoration (where we are physically closest to the Lord, and also away from the inevitable distractions that occur at home). I will discuss at the end of this article the importance of the Eucharist and the other Sacraments for our prayer lives.
How to Pray
I have noticed that the most powerful moments of prayer for me have often (though not all of them) been during retreats–particularly during reflections alongside eucharistic adoration, praise and worship, prayer teams, and such. Why is that, I asked myself?
First of all, during that time, prayer had my full attention. The distractions of everyday life and work have been removed. Secondly, the talks and the environment encouraged me to be more open and vulnerable with the Lord than I often am otherwise. The times of silence and reflection also encouraged a receptivity to listen to God, whether that be in the prayers and reflections of spiritually wise persons, through the reading of the Word of God, or through God’s “voice” in the silence of the heart. So, really, whenever we pray, I realized that we should do our best to foster these three things: silence, vulnerability, and receptivity.
In order to focus on prayer and be able to hear the whisper of the Lord in our hearts, we need to learn how to sit in silence. Remember the revelation to Elijah in 1 Kings:
The LORD said: Go out and stand on the mountain before the LORD; the LORD will pass by. There was a strong and violent wind rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the LORD—but the LORD was not in the wind; after the wind, an earthquake—but the LORD was not in the earthquake; after the earthquake, fire—but the LORD was not in the fire; after the fire, a light silent sound [in other translations, “a still, small voice”]. When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave.1 Kings 19:11-13
Thus, we must be willing to wait in silence to hear the voice of the Lord. This fostering of silence and freedom from the world’s distractions can be best achieved by actually going to a church, particularly during Eucharistic adoration; but, otherwise, the best we can do is turn off all electronic devices, put aside other tasks and distractions, and kneel down in our room in silence.
But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret.Matthew 6:6
Read the section in Matthew 6 on Christ’s teaching on prayer, which is the origin of the Our Father:
In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name…Matthew 6:7-9
This humble, childlike prayer before God as our Father relates well with my next point:
We have to be willing to be vulnerable with God. We can tell Him whatever is on our minds; whatever we are really thinking and feeling, He wants us to surrender it all to Him, to allow Him into every aspect of our lives and our hearts. So start wherever you’re at and just speak with the Lord. If you don’t know how to pray, then tell Him that. If you’re scared to trust Him, then tell Him that. Ask Him to guide you.
Personally, I would especially recommend prayer journaling to help with this, since it can help you to sort through your thoughts and present them to the Lord in a more tangible way. Don’t worry too much about what exactly to write; just write whatever you’re thinking about and offer that up to the Lord, the good and the bad.
I know from experience that this vulnerability is not always easy; but something one of my professors once told me is that we shouldn’t be afraid to enter into those dark places, because God always goes with us. I would also add that we must necessarily invite Him to enter into those places with us. Once during a retreat, a fellow student was praying over me, and she told me, “God’s not going to force His way in. He’s a gentleman.” I think of Revelation 3:20:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, [then] I will enter his house and dine with him, and he with me.Revelation 3:20
This door is the door of our hearts, and He is waiting for us to invite Him in. He wants to forgive us, to heal us, and to have an intimate relationship with us. He bore the cross to show how much He loves us, even in our sin–For “God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). It is us who often are too afraid to fully invite Him in to those dark or embarrassing aspects of ourselves, but when we do He is always so gentle and forgiving.
Once we have given Him permission to enter in, though, we also have to be willing to stop talking at some point and just listen–to clear our minds, to sit in silence for a while, and to try to be receptive to whatever the Lord may want to say to us or show us.
Whatever you have just shared with the Lord in prayer–whether it be your sin, your suffering, your hopes, or your joys–offer it up to Him. Only when we let go of what we’ve been holding on to can we then receive what He wants to give us. Ask Our Lord to show you how He has worked in your life, how He still wants to work in your life, in your heart, and in whatever you have just offered up to Him. Ask Him to help you be open to any ways He may be calling you to change, to be freed from sin, or to find healing. Ask Him for His guidance on how He wants you to live your life, to grow in holiness, to grow closer to Him. Above all, ask Him to speak His love to your heart–then sit in silence and listen.
This receptivity takes humilty and patience. It takes humility because we must be willing to admit that God is infinately wiser, more powerful, more loving, and more perfect than us in every way. We must be willing to admit that He knows best and that we can do nothing on our own, but in everything we rely on His grace.
Secondly, it takes patience because it takes time to quiet our minds and open our hearts to the Lord. Furthermore, we also will probably not receive a big revelation every time we pray, but must be willing to just sit with the Lord and be patient with ourselves and with His timing. In the end, Our Lord just wants to be with us, and for us to simply sit in His presence. Isn’t that what one does in any close relationship–just spend time with one another, even if neither speaks? Sometimes we must learn to simply sit and be with the Lord, knowing that He is present with us even if we don’t feel it. In this way, He teaches us to love Him simply for Who He is, rather than only for the consolations He gives us.
Finally, as Catholics, we should recognize that Christ established the Sacraments for a reason. Through Baptism, we have been cleansed of original sin and become a part of the family of God; through Confirmation, we have been empowered by the gifts of the Holy Spirit to live the Christian life more fully. Furthermore, the grace that Christ offers to us in the Sacraments of Reconciliation and the Eucharist are essential to be in full communion with His Church (which is called the mystical Body of Christ), to develop a deep relationship with Him, and to overcome sin and grow in holiness.
In the Sacrament of Reconciliation, God offers us His forgiveness and His grace to help us be healed and to overcome sin. In the Eucharist, Christ gives Himself to us in a way like no other; it is a foretaste of the union God wants with us in Heaven, drawing us intimately to Himself. This Divine Gift also nourishes and strengthens us spiritually so that we may live our whole lives in union with Him and His teachings. Being the fallen, weak, limited human beings that we are, how else are we to truly conform ourselves to the image of Christ but by uniting ourselves to that very image in the Eucharist? This communion with Christ must be our spiritual strength and our ultimate goal; it is described as the very “source and summit of Christian Life” (CCC 1324).
This is why receiving the Eucharist at Holy Mass is essential, and why Eucharistic Adoration is the best place to pray–though Christ is spiritually present everywhere, this is where we are literally nearest to Him. Our Lord offers us such an intimate relationship in this Gift. He offers His whole Self to us–not merely His spiritual presence, but His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. The question is: Are we willing to spend some time in silence to fully recieve and contemplate this gift? Are we willing to be vulnerable and offer Him our whole selves in return? And are we willing to be receptive to however He wants to work in and through us–to trust in His love and respond in humble obedience?
For practical advice on how to make prayer a daily habit, see 7 Steps to Make Prayer a Priority.
God bless you and keep you!
~ Beloved Dreamer ~