All of us have difficulties with prayer and this is normal. Prayer is a relationship and one that takes a lot of work to even get to the point of being decent at it. This is the case for those who are trying for the first time or just trying to take prayer to the next level. If you read the Saints on prayer, all of them have struggled, so why would we think we are any different?
In many ways prayer is like any other relationship. Many of us start out basing it, in many ways, on good experiences and emotions. This, as in a romantic relationship, is a good thing, because it helps bring two people closer together. But, real love can only be fostered once we stop relying on emotional highs and great experiences. Once the emotions leave, we must decide to love the other person for their own sake, not what they do for us. Real love is choosing what is best for another regardless of the cost to myself.
This kind of love doesn’t come easy and there are times when you will feel far from God and that your prayer is dry. But, you are not alone and can seek the help of a confessor or someone else you look up to, in order to help you. Also, you need to continue to pray, even though it may not feel good to do so. This is a sign of true love – to choose to pray, even when you may not want to, because you know it is the best thing to do. If you continue to pray, your faith will continue to grow beyond the feelings.
These dry times are a gift from God. They may not feel like a gift, but they truly are. The reason they are a gift is because we have the opportunity to leave behind our feelings and go deeper into a true loving relationship with God. So, don’t waste such an opportunity!
Think of it this way, which would be more pleasing to God – 10 minutes of prayer that came easy and had great emotions or 10 minutes where you struggled, didn’t want to do it, and felt dryness, yet you did it anyway? I would say the second, because you chose to do it even though you didn’t want to, which took more resolve and was a tougher decision.
(for more videos like this - check out Steubenville's #BeADisciple campaign)
Everyone who has spent a substantial amount of time in prayer has encountered difficulties in prayer. Why do we have such difficulties? Simple – we are human. But, before I spell out some tips on how to overcome difficulties, we ought to talk about why we pray.
“With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit.” – Ephesians 6:18
“The Spirit too 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: 26-27
“he told them a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” -Luke 18:1
- Discouragement – Sometimes we don’t know what to say, how to pray, what to do. Sometimes we are tired, feeling bad, or we just don’t have a desire to pray.
- Doubt – Is God really there? Can He hear me? Does He care, even if He exists? Does prayer really even matter?
- Impatience – Prayers can seem to go on forever with only silence coming from heaven. When will God answer me?
- Temptations – It is easy to pray when you aren’t challenged internally through temptation. But, when the temptations enter in, it becomes drudgery.
- Laziness – We sometimes just give up or never establish habits that sustain us in dry times or through the business of modern life.
- Dryness – God seems distant and prayer becomes a chore. This can happen at any time.
- Physical, Mental, or Emotional Problems – When we suffer, it is hard to pray, because we sometimes feel that a loving God would make it stop.
- Frequent the Sacraments – If you can make daily Mass even once a week, you have doubled your access to the greatest gift ever given humanity. Now, go to Confession at least monthly and you are surely going to get a multitude of graces. Put these on a calendar so you don’t skip them.
- Establish Good Habits – You should be able to rely on your habits to help you, and not hurt you, in your prayer. A good habit takes 66 days (at least) to establish. So, if you can commit to a routine of prayer for 2 months, you should start to lay the groundwork for healthy prayer habits.
- Accountability Counts – You need someone who is more objective than you are to look at your prayer life and see how you are doing and how the Holy Spirit is working. If you haven’t been praying daily for at least a year, then you probably aren’t ready for spiritual direction. But, even if you aren’t ready for spiritual direction, having a good friend who prays regularly to talk to can be good.
- Try Different Types of Prayer – We all have different tastes in prayer, just like most other things in life. So, try out different types of prayer and see which ones work for you. One caveat – don’t give up too soon on a type of prayer. It might take a good long time to discover whether it is good for you or not.
- Read and Pray with The Bible – The Bible is a gift to us from God. We can hear him speak to us personally and be continually challenged by it. If you don’t know where to start with praying with Sacred Scripture, then try this.
- Fast Regularly – There is great power in fasting. We see it in Scripture when Jesus fasts and calls his disciples to do the same. When we have better control over the desires of our bodies, we can pray better.
- Overcome Distractions – The simple way to overcome a distraction is to not give into it. Once you realize you are distracted turn your heart and mind back to your prayer, not to examining the distraction. This simple act is the easiest way to defeat distractions.
- Don’t Over-think Prayer – Too often we tend to complicate something that should come naturally to us. We are made for communion with God. Prayer is merely directing your mind and heart in the direction of God. If we over-complicate it, we get caught up in the externals.
- Dryness is Good For Us – Dry prayers are a gift from God. Yes, we all long to have consolations in our prayer, just as a child longs for candy and having those denied is difficult, but healthy for us. It is in dryness that our faith is tested and strengthened.
- Pray for Humility – To the extent we are humble is the extent of the power of God’s grace changing our lives. Without humble prayer, God is unable to reach us, because we have no interior need for Him.
- Work on a Proper Understanding of God and Self – I can not emphasize this one enough. Many of us struggle to understand how a perfect God could love us and want a relationship with us. But, this is due, mainly, to our bad perceptions of our own dignity and the way God loves us unconditionally.
- Quiet – Our modern lives are filled with noise. We need to quiet ourselves to hear God – both internally and externally. Find a peaceful and quiet place to pray. Church is helpful in this respect – so if you can stop at a church, even for a short time, I recommend you do so.
- Prioritize Prayer. Schedule it. Bump something else. Get up early. Do whatever you have to do, but don’t let a day go by without spending time with the most important person in your life.
- Don’t Be Too Hard On Yourself – Struggles in your prayer life do not make you a terrible Christian. They are a universal experience of everyone who prays. So, don’t get down on yourself for struggles.
- Don’t Wait To Start – procrastination is the enemy of prayer. If you feel called to pray, don’t ever put it off.
- Find and Use Good Resources – When you don’t know what to do or how to do it, the resources can help. Resources include people, friends, books, websites, sacramentals (e.g. rosaries), etc.
Marcel is a husband and father of five, serves on the pastoral council at St. Mary’s and is the founder and Executive Director of Catholic Missionary Disciples.