One of the biggest obstacles for me in the early days of my faith journey was the lack of a prayer life. I knew I needed to pray, but I couldn’t ever remember sincerely praying about anything. I was struggling with the typical male challenge of asking for help, especially asking God for help! I rationalized this by thinking, “Who am I to bother Him with my petty problems?”
I went to one of our parish deacons, shared my prayer challenges with him and asked for guidance. He looked at me with a smile and said I was approaching prayer in the wrong way. “Don’t worry about asking for help just yet,” he said. His counsel was to simply go to the Lord with thanks and be grateful for the blessings in my life. The light bulb went on and I finally got it. Eventually, I learned to ask God for help and guidance, but my prayer life really began when I learned to simply offer thanks to God for the blessings in my life. There have been bumps along the way and dry spells, but my prayer life has continued to unfold and grow with each passing day.
Let’s be honest. Praying can be difficult. I don’t pretend to be an expert on prayer, but I know my life has been made exponentially better because I do pray. I have experienced countless challenges as a husband, father, and businessman that I could not have overcome without prayer. I would like to share with you the steps in my prayer journey as a Catholic, lessons I have learned and insights into how I pray in the hope you will find my experiences to be helpful.
Step One of my prayer life was learning to thank God and be grateful. As I learned from that helpful deacon many years ago, going to Him in prayer and reflecting on the blessings in my life every day is how I learned to appreciate and acknowledge God’s role in my life. To this day, I do not begin a prayer without thanking Him.
Step Two was learning to ask for forgiveness. I go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation frequently, but it is still important for me to ask the Lord for His pardon and forgiveness when I commit a sin, which is more frequent than I care to admit. It has become a daily examination of conscience for me to reflect on where I have failed Him, and ask for forgiveness and the grace to avoid committing that sin again.
Step Three was asking for His help and guidance. This is also when I learned to pray for others and their intentions. I think men in general struggle with asking for help and I am certainly no exception. My growing prayer life and deepening faith has given me the humility to realize that I don’t have all the answers and that Jesus absolutely wants to help me. In the early days, I would tentatively ask for help with the big stuff like getting my family into heaven, blessing our priests and deacons, healing a sick friend, and so on. Now, I am very comfortable asking for His help and guidance in every facet of my life.
Step Four was learning to completely unburden myself to the Lord. This has occurred only in the last few years. I am inclined to carry my stress, frustrations, worries, and fears like a hidden weight around my neck. As I got better at going to the Lord for help, I began asking Him to lighten these mental and emotional burdens. I am so grateful that I now can go to Him and give Him my work stress, concerns about my children’s future, or anything else that is weighing me down. Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28–29).
Step Five has been a somewhat recent change as I have learned to pray for acceptance. A few years ago one of our parish priests challenged me and my wife not only to pray for the healing and independent future we desire for our older son who has autism, but to pray for acceptance as well. By only asking for healing, he said we were essentially asking God to take back His creation and make him better. This was a profound realization for us and it has spilled over into other areas of my life. I now pray for acceptance of the challenges and difficult moments in my life and ask to learn from them rather than asking God to “fix” them. This new approach has positively affected every aspect of my life and I am grateful.
Step Six has been my increasing prayers for the intercession of our Blessed Mother and the saints. Seeking the intercession of Mary when I pray my Rosary, or in moments when I desperately need her strength has been an incredible blessing. When I face challenges as a husband or father, I go to St. Joseph and seek his help as the incredible example he should be for all men. St. Michael the Archangel, St. Philomena, and St. Thomas More are also among the saints whose help I frequently seek.
I am hopeful there will be more evolving steps in prayer growth for me if I am humble and committed to deepening my relationship with Christ. St. Teresa of Avila, a doctor of the Church, wrote on the stages of prayer in her book The Interior Castle. I sincerely hope to reach the contemplative and mystical prayer life she describes in her works and pray that Christ will lead me there.
These are some important lessons I have learned (and keep learning!) in my prayer life and would like to share.
- Just Do It! If we don’t schedule prayer time and stick to it, it will not happen. Put your prayer life on your calendar. Ask yourself if you would be willing to spend only thirty minutes a day with your loved ones. Hopefully the answer is a resounding no! Ok, then why do we struggle to give the Lord at least thirty minutes a day in prayer? How we pray is not nearly as important as the act of praying itself.
- Prepare our hearts and minds for prayer. We must have the right attitudes of humility and faith that God can and will help us before we start praying. Reading Scripture, the Magnificat, or books such as In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez (Seven Volume Series) every day before prayer will help prepare our heads and hearts to approach Christ in a more intentional and meaningful way.
- Overcoming the “dry patches.” We all experience dryness in our prayers or have trouble focusing. We may feel that God is not listening. We may fall into the trap of asking God to validate what we want instead of submitting to His will. I am certain that most of us will experience this, but keep at it! Mother Teresa’s book revealed decades of dryness and despair in her prayer life and yet she persevered.
- Don’t allow work and our busyness to be an excuse. If we are serious about improving our prayer lives, we will stop making prayer conform to our day and make our day conform to our prayer lives. If we deem it important, it will happen. Also, consider integrating prayer into a workout while running or during your commute to and from work. If you seriously feel as though you don’t have a free minute in your day and that adding prayer would be unduly burdensome, I suggest sitting down and taking an objective inventory of your day to see how and where you are spending your time. The results may be shocking. “Everyone needs thirty minutes of personal prayer time each day, unless they are too busy to pray—in which case, they need an hour!” (St. Francis de Sales).
- Pray more, listen more. I want to listen more in prayer and not ramble on about what I need. I want to let Him speak to me and I need to be still and ready to listen. I need to avoid asking God to validate decisions I have already made. As I learned a few years ago, prayer is every time you turn your thoughts to God and away from yourself.
- Without prayer, our faith will die. We simply will not grow our relationship with Christ unless we do so through prayer. According to the Catechism (2744): “Prayer is a vital necessity. Proof from the contrary is no less convincing: if we do not allow the Spirit to lead us, we fall back into the slavery of sin [cf. Gal 5:16-25].”
Finally, I would like to share some insights into exactly how I pray in the hope that this might offer practical ideas for your own prayer lives:
When I am in a quiet place. . .
Upon waking in the morning before the rest of my family I say a brief prayer of thanks to start the day. After coffee and a little spiritual reading I pray about what I have read and about the challenges facing me that day or the special intentions of a friend or loved one. My family prays together every night and we are trying to introduce a family Rosary. I have also been a Eucharistic Adoration Guardian for over seven years. This is the best hour of my week as I pray before the True Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. I pray in Mass to be worthy to receive the gift of the Eucharist, and I pray a prayer of thanksgiving for this wonderful gift after I receive communion.
When I am engaged in my work day. . .
I try to go to daily Mass at my parish or another parish near my office when I can, but I hope to do a better job of this in the future as my day is always better after receiving Communion. An important part of my daily prayer is the daily examen, developed by the Jesuits. I place this on my iPhone calendar and am reminded five times a day to stop for a few minutes and reflect on the events and people around me and then pray. Each stopping point has a specific purpose and you can learn more about this helpful prayer exercise here. Also, I pray a blessing over my meal and invite my companions to join me.
When I am on the go. . .
I have found replacing radio time with prayer time to and from work has been a huge help to my sanity! I often pray the Morning Offering and the Angelus when I am in my car. This may seem strange, but I prefer to pray my Rosary when I am running the trails near my home or on the treadmill. I love the idea of integrating an important prayer with an important activity. Those on the go may also find Masstimes.org to be very helpful in finding the nearest churches for Mass and visits to the Blessed Sacrament.
Food for thought. . .
Praying more can seem overwhelming if you are busy like me, but if you add up all the praying I just shared, it is well over an hour a day. It helps me to break it down this way, and I can’t stress enough the importance of putting your prayer life on your calendar. As I said before, if it is not scheduled it will not happen. Also, don’t let my encouragement of a prayer routine ever discourage you from spontaneous prayer as situations warrant it.
I certainly don’t have all the answers and I am no expert on prayer. I simply want to share with you as someone who struggles with similar challenges that my prayer life and my faith journey have grown together. I didn’t have any kind of prayer life before 2005 and now I couldn’t imagine living a life without one. To me, prayer is anytime that I turn my attention to God and away from myself. It can be accomplished in a variety of ways and acts. Remember that feeling worthy or inspired is not a great barometer for measuring the value of our prayer life. Praying for the desire for prayer is worthwhile and a good start.
My friends, prayer is the key! If we are faithfully praying each day we are less likely to fall under the world’s spell. It’s not as difficult as we might think. Start the day with prayer. Before we check email or read the morning paper, offer the day and our burdens up to God, thank Him and ask for His forgiveness, help, and blessing. Integrate prayer into our daily commute and exercise time. Pray the daily examen throughout the day. Pray for the courage to resist the temptations and distractions the world offers us each day. Be mindful that we should make our days conform to our prayer lives and not the other way around. Plan it and it will happen.
I always know how much better I feel after I pray. We can’t remain apathetic about Christ and His Church if we are conversing with Him in prayer each day. Many of the spiritually indifferent Catholics I have encountered are struggling in their prayer lives, and yet turning our thoughts to Him in prayer, thanking Him, and asking for His help can be so easy if we will only surrender our pride and acknowledge that we can’t do it alone.
One last thing. If we want to raise children with vibrant prayer lives who will remain faithful to Christ and His Church, they need to see mothers and fathers on their knees in prayer.
Editor’s Note: Would you like to learn more about “regular Catholic heroes” and the joyful witness they give for Christ and the Catholic faith? Randy Hain’s exciting sixth book, Joyful Witness: How to Be an Extraordinary Catholic (Servant Books) is now available through Amazon and all Catholic bookstores!