In thinking about the many different ways that we can bring God into our home, my thoughts always gravitate first and foremost towards prayer. I mentioned in the last post how important it is to allow God to enter into our homes and to make it a priority for our homes to reflect our faith, but if we don’t “clean house” within ourselves and allow God into our hearts, opening the doors to Him in our physical dwelling is going to be a lot more difficult. I can see in my own family that there are many things that we could be doing together to strengthen our bond with God, but it’s hard to make leaps as a group when we forget to work on ourselves.
If we want to invite God into our homes and respond in faith and love to His call (especially as a family), we have to open up our own selves to Him in prayer. I mentioned before that I have been trying to strengthen my prayer life, and as a result, I have been forced to call to mind the ways that I have failed in the past, and the reasons why I have failed.
One of the main reasons I end up abandoning my prayer life is that I get discouraged. I am learning that I end up dealing with my prayer life very similarly to another important aspect in my life: exercise. I grew up a fairly athletic person and quick to catch on when I begin exercising, and I love working out and eating healthily. I love pushing my body and learning that I am capable or pushing it, and I really do like it when I am focusing my attention on eating better, rather than ordering a pizza and calling it dinner. Despite that, when I begin to get passionate about diet and exercise, the passion dies out after about a week.
Why does this happen when I so desire to better myself?
It’s because I want quick results. With exercise, I get extremely frustrated when my (unrealistic) expectations aren’t met. If I don’t see results fast…I quit. It’s not a despair thing…it’s more that my endurance, patience, and perseverance aren’t there. I don’t have the patience to work and wait for results, but rather give up and settle into complacency. I don’t have the endurance to push myself until I actually see results, but fall back into my normal routine of rarely exercising. I don’t persevere, but rather think to myself, “Well my body isn’t that bad anyways. I’m fine where I am at!” Then I neglect diet and exercise altogether, and quickly lose all the excitement I built up to get fit and get healthy.
I see that the similarities are uncanny with regards to my prayer life. I feel God calling me close to him, and I get excited and passionate about responding to that and about strengthening my relationship with Him. However, this spark merely fans into a small flame and then dies out. I always tend to fall back into my regular routine of praying on the go, or really–not praying at all. I am realizing now, (and have often been too prideful to admit), that the reason my prayer life fizzles out over and over again is because I get really frustrated when I don’t feel God talking back to me and moving me. I get anxious when I don’t feel like I am changing for the better, or don’t feel like I am becoming saintly–holy. I want results, and I want them fast. I want my “spiritual flabbiness” to transform overnight.
I can’t help but laugh at myself at these unrealistic, and really, self-centered expectations. Much like exercise, prayer takes training. We don’t become holy overnight; we don’t transform into saints in a day. I love what Peter Kreft says about this. He says, “Spiritual life, like physical life, grows gradually, like a plant. It cannot be made, or constructed, all at once, like a building. We cannot go ‘faster than grace’.” I love that: “We cannot go faster than grace.” Just like I want to outrun diet and exercise and get straight to the six pack abs and Jennifer Anniston-like arms, I want to skip the daily training in prayer and get straight to the shining face and Mother-Teresa like effect. Kreeft then goes on to suggest ways to fix this attitude. He says to remember: “Patience concerns time. It does not demand an instant gratification, [and] patience concerns failures. It expects and deals with failures.” So, if you are struggling with something similar to this, remember to be mindful of time, and don’t get discouraged with your failure. Be patient–God wants to transform you, but He does all things on His time, not ours.
Another reason I feel like I fail in my prayer life, is because I fail to make it a priority. If we have something important going on in our lives—something so vital that to we really want to remember it—we write it down. We schedule our times around that important thing, and we make time for it. I know it sounds like a funny concept, but I am learning that actually making an “appointment” for prayer is extremely beneficial in the fight to sustaining a prayer life. Write down your time, and maybe even write down what you desire to pray about.
Also, something helpful in beginning to pray is to remember 4 main ways to pray: 1) Praise and thanksgiving. Starting prayer with praise and thanksgiving to God is a great way to begin you prayer time. It puts your mind in the right place by calling you to truth: God is so good and SO good to us. Be thankful to Him for your lives and all that He has blessed you with, and it will bring you peace. 2) Sorrow for our sins. Calling to mind our sins is vital for prayer, too. When we come to God with an honest heart and desire His forgiveness for the ways in which we have failed, He will respond in love, kindness, and mercy. We could all use those three things in our lives—most especially from our most Good and Loving Father. 3) Petitions. Becoming a mother really opened up my eyes to what it feels like for someone to truly be dependent on me. When my son needs something and asks for it (or rather squeaks for it), it is my biggest happiness to provide for him and to give him what he needs. How much more will God do that for us? We rely wholly and completely on God, whether we know and acknowledge it or not, and He desires to gives us all that we need. That’s not to say that He will give us everything we want–just as I don’t let my son have the things that are harmful to him–but He wants more than anything for us to be happy and have peace. Though we can find pieces of happiness apart from God, we will never find true happiness if we don’t rest our hopes and desires in His hands. Lastly, 4) Adoration. Spending time worshiping and adoring God is of the highest kind of prayer. It is an acknowledgement of His power, and it is resting in awe of His goodness. Practicing adoration is the most beautiful prayer because it removes the “me” from the equation, and focuses solely on the “I AM.” A great way to remember these 4 things is to write them down. Have a prayer written out and add to it as you see fit. I’ve found that it is extremely helpful in strengthening prayer life.
Remember what Saint Josemaria Escriva says:
I hope that this might be helpful, because it has surely helped me. I get lost sometimes and discouraged in my prayer life when I fail to devote time to God, and I am trying to work on my endurance and perseverance (all with the help of God’s grace). May we all respond God’s call to grow close to Him through prayer!