When my Prayers of Petition become Obsessive

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"When prayer becomes obsessive" by Mary Lou Rosien (CatholicMom.com)

Via Pixabay (2017), CC0 Public Domain

When something is troubling me, I turn to the Lord. Then, I turn to Him again, and again, and … well, you get the picture. I petition the Lord over and over, as if He didn’t hear me the first time or I need to keep reminding Him how desperate I really am for help.

I asked Gary Zimak, author of From Fear to Faith, for guidance on praying. He replied,

“When should I stop praying for something? The simple answer is when God answers my prayer. Although He can answer by saying ‘Yes,’ ‘No,’ or ‘Not Yet,’ He will answer. The challenging part is being able to recognize His response. That comes from getting to know Him better and relying on the help of the Holy Spirit.” —Gary Zimak, Catholic speaker, author and radio host: FollowingTheTruth.com

I also looked to Sacred Scripture for answers, but Scripture can be confusing. We are encouraged to “Ask and it shall be given to you,” (Luke 11:19) and “Pray without ceasing,” (1 Thes 5:17), but then also told “not to heap empty praises,” (Matt 6:7) and that we should not worry “as your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” (Matt 6:8)

Do I continue to knock until the door is answered or just trust? I feel so ineffective when petitioning God.

Recently, I recognized that I had developed a negative pattern in my prayer life and discovered (what I believe is) the root cause. I was in the car and my thoughts turned (for the hundredth time that day) to a situation with one of my children. I started to toss up a prayer to God and it hit me: He has been hearing from me all day. Don’t I believe that He has this? My repetition was a lack of trust. Prayer can empower us when we feel no control or power, but I was using prayer to try to control the problem. When people struggle with obsessive thoughts or behaviors, their brains misfire and lead them to think that they have done something the wrong way (not the right words, right actions, right order, fervently enough, and so on). I was slipping into obsessive prayer.

I began to practice trust. Every time I felt desperation creeping in, I whispered, “Jesus, I trust in you.” I asked myself hard questions: what does the solution look in my mind — and what if Christ has a better one? What if I wasn’t praying correctly; did I doubt that the one who created me didn’t understand the way I think and process? I spent conscious time recalling times God had answered other prayers and marveled at how His answers were so much better than the way I would have preferred to work things out. I cultivated a childlike knowledge that my wonderful Father in Heaven would always do what was best for me. This was the antidote for my fear and my desperation.


Copyright 2017 Mary Lou Rosien

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About Author

Mary Lou Rosien is a Catholic, wife, mother to seven plus a foster son, RCIA Coordinator and writer/speaker. She is a former columnist for OSV.com and a current contributor to AmazingCatechists.com. In between making Friday cookies and laundry, she has written four books: Managing Stress with the Help of Your Catholic Faith (OSV), Catholic Family Boot Camp (Bezalel Books), The Joy-Filled Broken Heart and The Three Things Divorced Catholics Need to Know (OSV). Visit CatholicFamilyBootCamp.com for more information on suffering, divorce and other subjects.

4 Comments

  1. So beautifully said! I have also found that another root of obsessive prayer is the challenging diagnosis of OCD. I have a family member who struggles deeply with this, and it was not until he was officially diagnosed that he was able to progress in his attempt to defeat obsessive prayer.

    Thank you for shedding light on a topic that is not often addressed!

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