I am quite sure that I sometimes look miserable when I’m praying. My worries and troubles, not to mention rampant societal ills, can invade my thoughts, and twist my prayer time into drudgery and pain.
This is not true prayer.
Many fall into this trap and miss the joy, release, reassurance, and love that prayer can give to us. We dodge the rays of light, which God wishes to shine into our soul, because we focus on ourselves: our lives, worries, problems, and woes. When we focus on self, God gets cast aside. When self comes first in prayer, and God follows behind, our hearts actually close to God’s grace, and His light comes up against a barrier. Have you ever gone to Mass and come away feeling worse than when it began? When this happens, we might ask ourselves, “How was I praying?” or “Was I praying at all?”
Sometimes we think we have been praying extensively and deeply, when in fact, we’ve just been worrying extensively and deeply. The most repeated message in all of Holy Scripture is, “Do not fear” . . . “Do not worry.” God wishes these words, His words, to resound throughout our being, reaching the very marrow of our bones, the tissue of our muscles, the air sacs of our lungs, the neurotransmitters of our brain, and most importantly, the seat of our soul. We can certainly ask God for what we need and want, but then we’re called to release the desire into His hands–with trust, not worry. Praying Philippians 4:6-7, perhaps even memorizing this pericope, can help drive this message into our hearts: “Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God. Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”
When we focus on God in prayer, when we look past ourselves and the world, and focus on Him, that’s when our very souls open up and an abundance of grace enters us, deep within. Look to Jesus, look to the Father, look to the Holy Spirit. Place yourself within or beside God. Turn your heart towards His presence. See Him there next to you. Call out to the Holy Spirit, who will always guide you deep into prayer of the heart. “. . . the Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings (Romans 8:26).
Begin your prayer, by asking the Holy Spirit to come to your aid. You might say, “Holy Spirit, I find it difficult to pray. I feel distracted/disinterested/weak/exhausted/frustrated . . . and I need your help. Only with your grace, can I come into contact with You, otherwise I fall easily into thoughts about myself/my family/relationships/the world . . . Help me to pray properly, and focus on You/the Father/the Son/the Trinity, so I might receive all the graces You wish to give me.”
Once we seek the Spirit’s help in prayer, God’s joy can fill us, and we will experience prayer, as it really is–a gift of unparalleled love. If prayer feels like a burden, a duty, or a chore to check off on a to do list, then our prayer is self-centered and not God-centered. So, I encourage you, as I encourage myself, to look beyond this earth-bound existence, beyond the limits human understanding and human love, and reach up to heaven in your prayer. Engage your heart. Tell God you love Him and that you want His love. Prayer is meant to be a joyful gift. If it is never that way, look inward and see. Are you thinking of God in your prayers, or thinking of yourself?
Copyright 2012 Christine Watkins