Prayer is one of those things you know is good for you … but never want to do.
I always feel fantastic when I’m praying regularly. However, it’s often one of the first things I drop when I get busy.
Recently, I gave a talk on the importance of prayer for a parish group. It was meant to be an inspirational talk instead of theological, so I presented some simple concepts with an emotional appeal. I wanted to rouse some hearts and get people praying.
I got 13 positive comments and 1 negative that read, “This is too simple. Everyone knows this stuff.”
Yes, you know it … but do you do it?
You know, but do you KNOW
Confession is another one (also exercise). It feels amazing—once you’ve done it. However, no one ever wants to do it because it fills them with dread.
Once when I was a parish Director of Religious Education, I had a meeting for parents of children making their First Reconciliation. At this meeting, the pastor usually gave a short lesson on why we should regularly go to confession and invited parents to receive the sacrament at the ceremony.
Before it started, one of the moms complained to me about having to attend. “I went to 12 years of Catholic school. Why do I need a lesson on confession? I already know this,” she said.
Later, however, I heard her tell a fellow parent she had not actually been to confession in 20 years. She knew about confession … but did she REALLY KNOW confession?
As someone who knows a lot about Church-stuff (I have a master’s degree in theology), I can honestly say there’s a lot of things I don’t REALLY KNOW. Sometimes in our spiritual walk, the longest journey in the universe is the one from our heads to our hearts.
In the spiritual life, the goal is not to know a lot, but to grow a lot. Knowing theology and doctrine is good, but it’s a means to an end. The goal is growth in holiness. Change. And, change won’t happen without prayer.
So, how do you get yourself wanting to pray? Like any task that’s difficult to do (such as exercise), you have to make prayer a habit. Here are four tips for creating a habit of prayer.
1. Motivate yourself
Do you like to pray? Perhaps you’re bored with the way you’ve been praying and need something new.
Consider reading a book on prayer to gain new insights or learn about new methods. Time for God from Fr. Jacques Philippe is a classic.
2. Develop prayer skills
Do you know how to pray well? That sounds like a stupid question. How hard can it be to pray?
But honestly, effective prayer that can change your heart is not necessarily intuitive. The default mode of prayer for most of us is petitions; we pray for others and for help with our own problems.
But saints like Teresa of Avila say the best prayer is reflective, conversational, meditative prayer.
Again, Fr. Dubay’s book, Prayer Primer, teaches a few different forms of advanced prayer like Christian meditation and Lectio Divina. Learning something new, and proven effective, might pull you out of a slump.
3. Get help
Can you get others to help you? Maybe you could enlist family or friends to encourage and assist you.
Having a hard time carving out time to pray? Ask your husband to take the kids for 30 minutes every day … or even just three times a week. Set some family ground rules for your prayer time like no interruptions and no loud play, then let everyone know when you start.
Perhaps there can be some reward, like a food treat, for the kids if they do a good job and don’t disturb you? That would help them to encourage you to have your prayer time!
4. Get physical
That doesn’t mean jumping up and down. It means using physical things and your physical surroundings to aid your efforts in forming a habit of prayer.
How can physical materials help you pray? I like to journal during prayer so I love having a Moleskine notebook and just the gel ink pen to go with it. It’s actually fun to write with those tools because the ink goes down so smooth on the paper. Seriously, that helps!
Would a subscription to the Magnificat magazine help? Perhaps another type of guided meditation book on the readings of the day would be good? You might be tempted to discount this, but materials matter.
Can you set up a prayer space in your home? Try creating a prayer nook by placing a comfy chair and a lamp in the corner of a spare bedroom.
Maybe a small writing desk with enough room for a journal, a cup of coffee, and a tiny plant? You could put it in that living room you never use. Anything to make it more comfortable and inviting to pray.
If you engineer the space around you to contribute to your goal, it will be a lot easier to see it through.
Prayer is not easy. Don’t be tempted to think you’re alone in having prayer problems, and don’t fall into the trap that it’s because you don’t have any willpower. Willpower is a myth.
Use these four tips to influence your desire to change and you’ll have all the motivation you need.
What about you? Do you have any tips or tricks for praying regularly that keep you on track? Please share them in the comments below.
Copyright 2017 Marc Cardaronella