When people think of me, the last thing they think of is someone who is “smooth.” Consider me the anti-James Bond. When I first asked my now-wife out on a date, I said “We should …talk… sometime.” (I used to get really nervous and unsure of what to say around girls I liked.) Thankfully, she said yes, not because I’m smooth, but because she liked me. When I took her out on our first date, I made sure I had showered, triple-applied deodorant, and borrowed my roommates shirt (which is something guys never do.) I was terrified of acting like an idiot whenever I was around her, but as our relationship grew, my life changed. I began to try to find as much time for her as I could. As time progressed from dating through engagement and now into our marriage, we continue to work through the ups and downs of getting along in a healthy relationship.
Prayer is very much a relationship. It is the most relationship any of us will ever have: the relationship we get to share with the living God. The whole mystery we’ve unfolded over the past four months, the mystery of our faith (Jesus’ incarnation, His Passion & Death, His Resurrection and His returning someday) are all focused on building that relationship. He has done His part- giving all He is for our sake, and it is our part to respond to that. Prayer is a big part of that response.
So, how is that relationship going? Most people I ask say that it’s a struggle. A struggle to find words to pray, a struggle to find time to pray, a struggle to build a routine of prayer. I’ve used all the same excuses about prayer. My wife would never accept any of them as a reason not to spend time with her… and interestingly, we all are able to find time to eat, sleep, drink, play, and do many other things. But sometimes, I think we take God – and our life of prayer – for granted, and don’t build it. But prayer is incredibly important- and something we desperately need:
Prayer is my total faith in God as my creator. I am His image, His icon, and without Him I can do nothing. Prayer is my recognition of who I really am: a saved sinner, capable of breaking my friendship with God at any given moment, and even likely to revel in its breaking. -Catherine Doherty
All of us need to pray. And prayer, like any other relationship, takes time to build. I’m going to key in on four steps in this relationship, so that you can grow closer to God.
Step 1: Establish the Relationship
Prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and love, embracing both trial and joy. -St. Therese of Lisieux
I mentioned before the awkwardness I went through in asking my wife out. It was awkward. But it had to happen. If I had never asked her out, there would never have been a relationship to begin with. In the words of Nike, you need to “just do it” in prayer, and show up. Start by saying hello, acknowledging God, and making small talk (say, telling Him about your day, and thanking Him for something He’s given you.) There, just like that: you’ve made a first step in prayer.
Step 2: Make Yourself Presentable
When you go on a date -particularly a first date- you make sure you are presentable. You don’t show up half asleep or looking like a mess. Once you’ve established a relationship of prayer, it’s time to start looking for the best time to pray. When are you at your best? Is it in the morning? After school? In the evening? Before you go to sleep? While it’s better than nothing to give God the last few minutes before I drift off to sleep, I’ve learnt that I’m best to get up a little earlier and to pray then. (Which means, by consequence, I need to go to bed a little earlier.) The idea here is to make your prayer time a priority in your life, presenting yourself alert, getting rid of distractions (don’t bring your cell phone), and showing God that this relationship is, in fact, important to you.
Step 3: A New Routine
Once my (future) wife took up a more important place in my life, I began to make adjustments in other parts of my life to make more room for her. My youth ministry schedule got more organized. I spent less time with other single girls and more time with her. Our conversations and time spent together became much less awkward and a lot more about our futures, the things God might be calling us to, and struggles we had had along the way. The same thing should begin to happen in prayer. As you make prayer a higher priority, it will become more personal, more intimate, and you’ll begin to see the fruits of a deeper prayer life in your heart and your life. Instead of trying to just ‘fit’ prayer in to your life, you’ll start building your life around your prayer. The conversations will go past “Hi. Thanks. See ya.” to actually discussing the areas in your life you’re having a hard time. One of the things I’ve noticed as God has brought my prayer life back into it’s proper focus is that certain areas of sin that had plagued me for years have stopped plaguing me… because what once I tried to fill with sin is now filled with Him. Prayer and sin can’t coexist… you’ll either give up on one or the other.
Step 4: Make the Commitment
At a certain point in our relationship, I new that it was time to either propose to my wife or break up with her. You can likely tell which one I chose. (To ask her to marry me. She said yes.) I made a commitment to her, forsaking every other woman who would ever live. She is hallowed to me. This has resulted in a great deal of sacrifice, change, and growth in both of our lives. Your relationship with God is no different. With God, once you’ve established the relationship, made yourself presentable, and established a new routine… you need to commit to it. Every day. If you miss a day, recommit to it. Every day. If you miss another day, recommit… again and again and again. Prayer needs to be an essential part of our daily lives… and this may turn into a battle you fight for the rest of your life. Pray. Then pray some more. Than pray even more. It is a vital part of our lives- we need it desperately, and God knows we do. Once you do commit to a life of prayer, you’ll see that God will work in your life, not only helping you move beyond sin, but also helping you move closer to Him, to those you love the most, to the vocation He has in mind for you…. it is a dangerous thing, to put yourself into His hands. A danger that is worth every risk and sacrifice you may ever make for it.
Now, get up from this computer and go pray. Don’t know where to start? Check out Deacon Pat Hessel’s guide for daily prayer, When words run out.