By Erin Mone
Prayer is probably the easiest and, at the same time, the most complicated thing. Many saints have expressed that prayer is simply speaking to God. St Thérèse of Lisieux famously said, “For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love.” The YouCat says, “Prayer is turning the heart toward God. When a person prays, he enters into a living relationship with God.” (469) When prayer is explained like this, it seems fairly simple.
Why then can it be so hard for some of us to pray?
If prayer is a “living relationship with God,” it requires a give and take, as all relationships do. We must not only speak and share our hearts. We need to be able to listen and receive the Lord’s heart. In a conversation, we normally listen with our ears to the words being said and also with our eyes for body language. In prayer, we are not able to listen with our physical ears and eyes. We must learn to listen with the “ears” and “eyes” of our hearts, which is where the Lord speaks.
Here are three simple things to help you begin your prayer life:
Set a daily prayer time.
Scheduling a time to pray each day is a game-changer! This helps us actively choose to pray as we move from a nice idea to taking concrete steps to making it happen. I want to travel the world, but until I buy that ticket it remains a nice idea in my head.
Scheduled prayer also helps us remain faithful to prayer. There will always be days when we’re stressed, preoccupied, feel like we don’t have time or just don’t feel like praying. When we have time already set aside for prayer, we are more likely to stick with it when things get busy. Relationships take time to build, and regular daily prayer helps us build that relationship. Mother St. Teresa liked to say, “The Lord doesn’t ask me to be successful, the Lord asks me to be faithful.”
As you decide on how much time you should pray each day, remember not to neglect your duties, like work, school, or family, but also challenge yourself. Begin with something small and work your way to more time. You could begin by praying for 2 minutes for the first week, 5 minutes the second week, and work your way up to your chosen time.
We can easily think that we need to learn the best methods and memorize vocal prayers before we actually start praying. Don’t fall into this trap! Just as we don’t become experts on friendship before we make a friend, we don’t need to be experts on prayer to pray. You will learn as you go, but only if you actually start.
Some of the best advice I received when I began praying was to be aware that God is present. He is a living being here, waiting for you, looking at you, and loving you. When you begin to open your heart to share your joys and fears, remembering that he is present and listening changes how you speak. Just as we don’t always talk when we hang out with friends, simply “being” in the Lord’s presence is a prayer.
Taking a few seconds to be silent when you begin to pray can be like pumping the brakes on our fast-paced daily lives. It can help you enter into prayer and be present to God who is already present to you.
Bodily posture in prayer.
Our bodily attitudes are important and can help us pray. For example, we stand when we praise, kneel when we adore or ask forgiveness, or sit down to listen and to meditate. Our bodies can express our prayer by simple gestures like raised hands to intercede and offer, open hands to ask and to receive, and folded hands to beg or to interiorize something and listen.
The Church helps us enter into the greatest prayer, the Mass, with our bodies. We stand during the Gospel out of respect, we kneel during the consecration to express adoration, and we sit during the homily to listen. Finding a respectful and prayerful posture will help you enter into and express your prayer.
Having a daily prayer life is life-changing and life-giving. I will leave you with a line from St. John Vianney’s “Prayer of Love” to meditate on during your first prayer time: “O my God, if my tongue is not able to say at every opportunity that I love you, at least I want my heart to repeat it to you as many times as I take a breath.”
Erin Mone is the Youth Minister at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Tyler, TX.