I recently spent time with a friend who said this, “I’m just not very good at prayer.” This stuck with me for days and I’ve thought about it ever since. My friend is a devout Catholic. He loves his faith and serves the poor in very public ways.
How could a man who has such a strong faith not have confidence in his own prayer life? This very question haunted me for years. In fact, it provided the impetus for my upcoming book The 5 Habits of Prayerful People. I found myself as a freshman in college and teaching myself how to pray. I was the one asking, “how could I, a Christian for many years, not be comfortable with prayer?”
Can you relate to this? Do you feel inadequate approaching God in prayer?
For Catholics in particular, this question reveals a deep issue. It’s not that Catholics don’t have faith- Lord knows they do! Rather, it’s the living cultivation of a personal relationship with the Lord that is tough sledding for many. Protestants, more versed in the process of encounter with Christ, tend to learn how to pray more than Catholics. While Catholics say a lot of prayers, many fail to go beneath the surface. As a result, the many recited prayers fail to take the believer deeper and lack stickiness.
Pope Francis’ emphasis on encounter is a breath of fresh air and might help more Catholics with their understanding of prayer. In Evangelii Gaudium (2013), he said this, “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.” (For other fantastic quotes, refer to Aleteia’s post.)
That doesn’t mean that a phrase alone (i.e. encounter) will teach someone to pray. What it may do it help us better understand that we need an encounter with Christ in order to form a prayerful relationship with him. That personal encounter with the Lord then moves us to love others with greater compassion and sensitivity.
I was very fortunate as a teenager. Some very good friends, Protestant Christians, took me under their wing and discipled me. The faith-foundation provided by my parents then flourished. These friends brought me on a retreat and gave me the opportunity to come face to face with Christ. I was invited to make a decision- live for myself or live for Him. I chose the latter. Barely knowing the commitment I was making, I made a small gesture towards God. Since then, as you can imagine, everything has changed.
Having had an encounter with Christ, I then learned how to have a daily quiet time. This was like water on a small seed. Things grew from there. Eventually I would learn how to be present to others, especially those on the margins of society. Still, it all began with an invitation to know Christ in a personal way. Not a bunch of rote prayers. Not another decade of the Rosary (although powerful in itself). It was a simple presentation of the Gospel message: God loves us, humankind is sinful, Jesus died for us, choosing Christ as savior. Today, I try to have a quiet time every day and it’s made all the difference. The simplicity of the Gospel unfolds each day for me and needs to be affirmed daily in my quiet times.
I can relate to my friend who expressed that he doesn’t feel confident in prayer. There are times when I don’t feel all that good at it myself. Sometimes, I feel like I’m going through the motions. Other times, I feel like I’m giving God scraps instead of my full attention.
Even still, I press on. This is the work of a Christian. Never having complete confidence in our relationship with Christ, we still understand that prayer is vital to our faith. The key is to keep at it. Talking to God takes both faith and practice. Much of our tradition focuses on the former and neglects the latter.
When you feel as if your prayer life isn’t hitting the mark or is less than perfect, don’t give up hope. God wants your daily quiet time to be consistent and fruitful. When you have your next prayer time, savor the moment. What a gift it is to be in relationship with the living God!
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