Why is it so hard to pray?

March 10, 2008 | Original NSS, prayer

Yesterday I was working on some writing jobs, all of them about God and faith and people who have given their lives to living out the Gospel in fairly radical ways. As I was writing, I was thinking about my own prayer life, how here we are in the fifth week of Lent and my plan to pray more — and more often — has pretty much fallen by the wayside, as usual.

I mean, I do the typical talking to God thing throughout my day, thanking him for good things, asking him for other things, always putting in an extra word for my children. But I just cannot get myself to make that leap to the next level, a place where I just sit still and listen to God instead of asking him to listen to me. I’m drawn to that place, but when I get there, I have such trouble figuring out what I’m supposed to do.

Deep and daily prayer is one of those things I know would change my life. I have absolutely no doubt that if I could find a way to make regular prayer time part of the rhythm of my life, everything else would fall into place. I’m not saying everything would get better, but my acceptance of things and my ability to deal with the circumstances of my life would get better. Sort of like how I know eating healthy and running a few times a week will make me feel physically better. I don’t do that well with that routine either.

Right about now, some of you out there might be saying, “You want prayerful rhythm, then try the Liturgy of the Hours.” Been there, done that, at least in a minimal way. The only time I have ever felt like a stranger in my own church was the time I showed up for Evening Prayer and had no idea what was going on. How was it possible that no one had ever taught me how to say this prayer? There were only two other people at Evening Prayer, so my participation — or lack of it — was pretty obvious. I never went back.

I’ve got two different books on my nightstand to help me figure out the Liturgy of the Hours. The one-volume Christian Prayer: Liturgy of the Hours and Magnificat, which provides Morning, Evening and Night Prayer in easy to follow doses. Even with that, I say it on many nights  but I just don’t get it. It falls flat for me. I see hymns that are meant to be sung and prayers that are meant to be said as a group, and I feel like it’s just not working. I think I need to experience it in a true community setting before it will sink in and I have that Aha!  moment.

So, here I am, in the fifth week of Lent, searching, searching for a way to set my busy life to a spiritual rhythm. Years ago, when I was practicing yoga and learning to meditate, everyone else in my class had chosen a Sanskrit mantra, but I chose to focus on “Be still, and know that I am God.” That has always been one of my favorite lines from Scripture, I think because it is what I long for — to find a way to be still and to remember that God is the one in control.

I’m a long way from that still place, but maybe just being aware of the need for it in my life is half the battle. I cannot always stop at certain hours to pray because my house is not a monastery and my life follows the “rhythm” of three little people who have music lessons and dance classes, who sometimes come home from school sick, who need me to help them with homework or make them dinner.

So my goal for the rest of Lent is to find just one short block of time every day when I can stop everything and sit in prayer, whether it is another attempt at the Liturgy of the Hours or another attempt at contemplation or another attempt at making the Rosary work for me (a story for another day). Lent is not over yet; there is still time to live up to my promises.

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