I spend a lot of time on the phone. I’m blessed to have a great group of friends from college and graduate school, and now we’re spread throughout the world. Since our friendships are rooted in Christ, we always manage to pick back up where we left off, even if it’s been months or years since we’ve seen each other. We try to keep in touch on the phone, but as time goes on and promotions in work come or families grow, that gets harder and harder. Occasionally, several months will go before my long-distance friends and I are able to connect. Our conversations are still fun and full, but they mostly cover large things—new relationships, career changes, vacation plans, etc. Once the major events are covered, our conversations usually reach a little lull.
On the other hand, I talk to my mom on the phone almost every single day. It’s like clockwork—I get in my car for my commute home and call her. She’s in the middle of making dinner for my dad, and we chat until he comes home from work. (Occasionally we talk longer… leaving my dad a little hungry and dinner a little cold. But he forgives us.)
My conversations with my mom are full of details. A new recipe she’s trying for dinner or a new restaurant I’m planning on visiting, the errands I have to run that night, the latest controversy in the news, or our thoughts about the Pope’s homily that morning. Maybe I need her advice about a laundry stain, or I just want to complain about the bad drivers that plagued my morning commute. She catches me up with the book she just finished reading or we share opinions on the latest episode of Beat Bobby Flay on Food Network.
Since they occur more frequently, there is time in these conversations for details about life, whether they are important or frivolous. It might seem kind of strange to tell my friend I haven’t talked to in five months about the hummingbird that visits my porch or the sunrise that morning that was particularly beautiful. We might eventually get to that, but first and foremost we have bigger things to cover. But with my mom, she gets all of it: the major crises, the little joys, and everything in between.
These are my human relationships. When I look at my relationship with God, I have to ask: which of these conversations is my prayer life most like? After all, prayer is simply our conversation with God.
It’s important to turn to God for the big things in life—when I’m faced with a career change, when relationships are on the rocks, during health crises, or in times of decision. But if I’m only coming to Him occasionally, my conversations are going to be about these big issues… and then what? Even if we’re sincere in our efforts, prayer is going to be a little harder. Just as it is in my phone conversation with my friends, when I get finished covering the big stuff, I’m at a little loss for words. Eventually, when the decisions are made or the crises are solved, my prayer life will probably be in danger of disappearing until the next big thing.
Daily conversations with God, however, can be filled with the details. We can thank him for that particularly beautiful sunrise, or we can ask for His help in dealing patiently with bad drivers. We can simply tell Him about our day. It’s not that He needs to hear about it, but that He wants to hear about it.
When we approach prayer as something we do occasionally in times of need or something memorized we recite out of obligation, we’re losing out on the opportunity to develop a rich prayer life and relationship with God. While there is nothing wrong with memorized prayers, and things like the daily Rosary or Liturgy of the Hours can and should be the cornerstone of our daily routines, it’s important to remember that prayer is a conversation.
Perhaps next time we’re folding laundry or mowing the lawn, instead of listening to music or letting our minds wander, we can tell God about our day instead. We tell Him the details—the little things that made us mad or the big things that worried us. We tell Him about our simple joys and our habitual failings. We thank Him for His gifts and we ask Him for His mercy. We don’t need to use big words or flowery sentiments. We just have a conversation with Him. The more I pray, the more detailed I can be.
Of course, conversations also require listening. That may be the hardest part for us. I had a teenager ask me once how she would know if God was speaking to her. That’s a pretty big question that requires more space to answer than I have here. But the first step is to talk to Him frequently. If we aren’t in daily conversation with Him, it’s going to be hard to recognize His voice. Of course, sometimes He does knock us off our horses like Paul, and we can’t help but recognize it’s Him. But far more often, we’re going to hear from Him in a still small voice (1 Kings 19:11-13) in daily conversations.