OSV News – I gave up "trying" to pray daily many years ago. I discovered that if I did not build praying into my routine, then I routinely replaced it with lesser priorities.
Willpower does not account for my faithfulness. My will is not strong enough to get me to resist a slice of carrot cake let alone to get me on my knees every morning. Only by grace have I been able to persevere. I am convinced that the Lord is so determined to communicate with us that he lovingly woos us till we give in and start praying daily.
Our prayer doesn't always flow freely, because obstacles cross our paths. Among these are distractions, dryness and doubts. I believe God allows these hindrances to give us opportunities to grow in faithfulness. With his grace, dealing with obstacles will mature us as pray-ers and strengthen us as followers of Christ.
Distractions: Distractions used to frustrate me. But with grace and effort, I have learned how to set some distractions aside and to use others to enhance my prayer.
When an idle thought pops up, something like the clever resolution of a mystery I just read, I immediately turn from it and back to the Lord. If a family or business matter demands my attention, I make a note and set it aside. When I believe a thought that distracts me comes from the Holy Spirit, I take time to pray about it. "Lord," I might say, "please heal the cause of Sam's back pain so he can get back to work." I accept such interruptions as little gifts of the Spirit that allow me to pray in accord with God's heart. In these ways, I turn distractions into prayer enhancers.
Dryness: On rare occasions, I enjoy a sense of God's presence that takes my breath away. At other times my prayer goes dry, and I feel disconnected from him. I don't pay much attention to either extreme. I don't pursue the joyous moments, trying to make them last. Nor do I worry about the dry times. I take them in stride and keep on praying. Just as I don't believe in "writer's block," which I regard as an excuse for my not thinking through things, I also don't believe in "pray-er's block." I cherish the faithful example of St. Teresa of Kolkata, who experienced Jesus Christ's loving closeness when he called her to found the Missionaries of Charity, but then was in profound spiritual darkness for virtually the last half-century of her life. Nevertheless, despite her interior dryness she prayed for two hours every day.
So I keep in mind that intimacy with God does not only mean feeling close to God or being attracted to him. If I don't feel like praying, I do it anyway, professing my love and obedience to Jesus as a disciple. The dryness does not magically disappear, but I know that the Lord draws near.
Doubt: A severe case of doubt once stopped me from praying for the better part of a year. I doubted that God listened to my prayers or that he even cared for me, so I cut off communication with him. It took the prayers and interventions of my wife and friends to get me back on track. That dark experience had a bright side. Ever since, the misery it caused me inoculated me against recurrences of doubting God when things have hit bottom. Dealing with doubt involves identifying its cause and applying appropriate antidotes.
Here are some sources of doubt and prescriptions for handling it.
Unanswered prayer: When we have asked God to heal us or resolve some difficulty and nothing seems to happen, we may think that God doesn't listen to prayer or even that he doesn't care. To counteract doubt rooted in unanswered prayer, we must balance our expectations with trust. We must trust that whatever God does or does not do for us will be most loving, merciful and just. We know that he hears our prayers but may delay his answer, just as he heard Christ's plea at Gethsemane, but answered it only after his Passion at the Resurrection.
"Why me?": When bad things happen to us, we are tempted to blame God and react with doubts about his love for us. My friend George Cope at Vision Orlando, says that when we are hurting, we should ask "what?" not "why?" He explains that God does not cause evil things, but he may allow them as occasions of grace. When something bad hits us, we must ask, "What good will God bring out of it?" Expecting the Lord to transform the bad things that happen to us will not eliminate the pain. Staying connected to him in prayer, however, will give us the strength to get through it.
Darkness: St. John of the Cross suggested in his books that God may allow prayers to experience periods of darkness to accomplish something in them that cannot be achieved in any other manner. Some great saints felt abandoned by God for many years and in their agony came to be mirrors of Christ in their character and service. They bore their suffering, knowing that Jesus himself suffered with them and supported them. If darkness engulfs us, we, too, can count on the Lord to accompany us, support us and give us the grace to serve others with love.
I have learned to take some steps to help me stay faithful to daily prayer. I want to be prepared to deal with distractions, dryness or doubts when they come. So I strengthen my heart for fidelity by modeling my prayer on themes that weave through the psalms. As I pray psalms such as Psalm 105, for example, I take time to perform the actions proclaimed. I remember all the wonders the Lord has done for me. I thank him for everything, especially forgiveness. I call on his name and glory in it by meditating on the Sign of the Cross. I do these things at prayer every morning, and I'm convinced they assure my faithfulness.
Bert Ghezzi is the author of many books including "Voices of the Saints" and "The Power of Daily Prayer." He lives near Orlando, Florida.