I don’t know about you but for me, praying was very difficult. Sure, I’d mutter little prayers now and then during the day; however, rarely did I make prayer something I committed to and never did I volunteer to pray in front of people, heaven forbid!
To tell you the truth, I didn’t really know how to pray. At Mass, we have many prayers and at home we have our prayers before meals, maybe before bedtime, and we might fit in a rosary or an Our Father, here and there, but typically you’d catch me falling asleep before I remembered to pray, or I’d get sidetracked when I intended to say the Rosary. I never really committed to a certain time, place or type of prayer, it was something I knew I should do, I knew it was good for me; yet, I felt like it was a duty and never really got anything out of it. The habit of prayer reminded me of my dental patients who would complain how hard it was to get into the habit of flossing every day. They knew flossing was good for them, it wasn’t hard to do, and they were glad they did it after they finished; however, it was just something that took a little extra effort to get established into their daily routine. Sounds very similar to establishing a pattern of daily prayer.
I learned there are 3 expressions of prayer: Vocal, Meditative and Contemplative. Vocal prayer is anything we express out loud and can be something simple as, “Thank you God for the rain,” to a prayer we recite out loud at Mass. Sometimes, we can be sort of disengaged if we pray a prayer we’ve said numerous times so, it is important to re-focus our minds on what we are saying. Meditative prayer is a wonderful way to place ourselves into the prayer we are reciting or if we are reading the sacred scriptures, writings of the Church Fathers, or other spiritual writings, it is a way we allow the Holy Spirit to bring to life the words that are before us. Finally, contemplative prayer allows us to be silent and let the Holy Spirit work within us and unite ourselves with God. This is a time to be still and just let God come into us so we may be joined more fully to Him.
I’ve heard so many people complain or question if God really hears our prayers and if so, why doesn’t he answer them. I used to have those same questions until one day I either heard or read that God hears and answers all our prayers in one of three ways: yes, not yet, or I have a better plan. I learned that most of the time God had a better plan that I hadn’t even considered (imagine that) and it was far superior to what I was asking for at the time.
God wants us to encounter Him and have a relationship with Him. God is love and if you love, you should seek God through prayer. Prayer is always initiated by God. We need to listen first because God speaks to us through His word. Trying to pray without the word of God is much more difficult because we aren’t listening. Prayer can be hard because we start at the wrong step in the process of praying. When we feel that our praying is boring, tedious, one-sided, it is basically a monologue because we aren’t listening. When we listen, talk, listen again with God, a relationship develops and we have a dynamic dialog within our prayer.
There is an ancient method of praying called Lectio Divina. While this may sound like something only priests and religious do, it is something very simple and profound. Lectio Divina means Divine Reading or Praying with Scripture. Using this method of prayer allows us to begin to have a dialog with God. Saint Augustine said, “When you read the Bible, God speaks to you; when you pray, you speak to God.” We must first listen to the word of God. “The secret of the saints is that they hear the word of God afresh and how they apply it to themselves now. The saints hear the word spoken to them.” Dr Tim Grey
Praying the Lectio Divina method might sound kind of daunting; however, the steps are quite simple. First you read scripture in a particular way, not just zooming over a passage just to finish a verse or chapter. You will read a short passage, think about it, pray about it, meditate on it through out the day and let it penetrate your heart/life. When you are praying about it, you are speaking to God after He has spoken to you through His word. This conversation will help you begin the dialog with him, allow you to meditate on the word and allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you through your silent contemplation.
Now sometimes you may not hear, feel, or sense anything and that is okay; however, as you grow closer to God through this form of prayer, you will get those soft whispers of Gods voice answering you. Sometimes, actually, many times, he uses other people to answer your prayers. God doesn’t just speak words to us, he give us the word in flesh through His son Jesus. We, as Catholics are blessed as, “the wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water; there, Christ comes to meet every human being. It is He who first seeks us and asks us for a drink. Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us.” Catechism of the Catholic Church 2560
I love knowing that Jesus meets us where we are and seeks us out. Like most people, I’ve had my share of hard times and prayers of petition were all I could think to do and other times where prayers of thankfulness just rolled off my tongue. I’ve been ever so aware of the blessings I’ve received by listening first and having to place all my trust in God. At times, I would say I trusted in God, but deep down, if I had any way of having an impact on an outcome, I’d rely on myself. Of course, that is when the outcome of a certain petition was not answered in a way I thought I wanted. When I truly came to trust in God, He answered my prayers in ways that always blew my mind. Now, when I say I trust in God, I had it over to Him, totally. Praying is no longer a chore, or a relief when I can get it out-of-the-way. I find I am building my relationship and working toward a fuller union with God as I listen to His word and incorporate it into my day through meditation and contemplation. God is love and I love seeking Him.