I can’t remember a day in my life when I haven’t prayed, and that includes times when my faith was weak-to-none and when I was facing personal crises. But seldom has prayer been easy.
And though I believe I’ve made progress in my prayer life, it’s still not always easy. I do most of my praying, morning and evening, in an easy chair near the front window of our house, but not facing the window. That would invite distractions. I try to relax, and beforehand focus on placing myself in God’s presence. (Of course, you can pray any time, any place, by just having a talk with God.)
When I pray, I try to minimize distractions, but they seem as inevitable as sneezing when an irritant gets in your nose. What’s that noise outside? What time is it? What do I want to do today? What are my children doing? And then there’s that itch on my forehead or that bit of lint on my left sleeve that need urgent attention.
And those are only the minor distractions. The major ones include doubts about whether God is there, whether he/she hears my prayers, whether praying has any effect whatsoever.
“So why pray?”
Because I believe that faith without prayer is like air without oxygen, especially for people searching for God. You might sustain a spiritual life for a short period, but I don’t believe you can sustain whatever faith you have without prayer. Doubts and distractions are simply part of the human condition.
I try to “pray through them,” like I “work through” distractions and temptations to slow down or quit my daily exercise routine. I believe most pray-ers have to put up with distractions and doubt. And despite distractions, my prayer time has become a treasure, connecting me to the Father and to my spiritual brothers and sisters.
In her book, “Redeemed,” Heather King writes about finding God, and prayer. Though she was “raised a Protestant back in New England,” she hadn’t gone to church since she was a child.
“…For years I’d been against God in general and all churches on principle,” she writes. Then she experienced “…that stab of joy that hints at a world hidden within this one” that resulted in her becoming a committed Catholic. But she goes on to describe her problems with prayer.
“I am not, at first glance, a person in any way cut out for prayer,” she writes. “I’m nervous, jumpy, easily distracted, and my mind tends to run in obsessive ruts – usually on objects that are far removed from prayer.
“I…mull over resentments, descend into sexual reverie, or wonder whether I could buy almond paste at Ralphs or if I would have to go to Vons….”
St. Benedict (d. 547), the founder of western monasticism, had a lot to say about prayer, which is the principle “work” of Benedictine monks. Irish Benedictine Andrew Nugent (d. 2015) wrote about St. Benedict’s views on prayer.
“The emphasis,” he writes, “is never on methods or techniques in prayer, (but) always on sincerity, attentiveness, spontaneity, and quality rather than quantity.”
Teaching His Disciples to Pray
That advice resounds with those familiar with Mathew’s gospel. In teaching his disciples about prayer and before suggesting the “Our Father,” Jesus says:
“…When you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And in praying do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words.”
Finally, we have St. Paul’s assurance that God will help us pray.
“…The spirit helps us in our weakness,” he writes in his letter to the Romans, “for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words.”