Don’t Overthink it: the Simplicity of Prayer

It was welling up within me. Like the rumbling of the earth, I could feel it. Boiling deep down somewhere inside of me was an eruption of emotion.

I could hear the rain splashing against my window as I sat in my tiny little blue Mercury, immobile from the weight of my frustration. I felt defeated. For the last month, I had tried to understand what God was asking of me in regards to the status of an important relationship. I had gone to Mass, I had spent time in adoration, but I was struggling to find the perfect words. And, no matter the number of prescribed “Our Fathers” I implored, I just couldn’t find peace. I was struggling to speak with Him in the way I thought I should.

But, this day, something was different. I could feel the restraints breaking, the filter being removed. And, as though I was exhaling for the first time, the words slipped out before I could shove them back down, “God, this is so unfair.”

Oh, I’d tried to suck it up and say the “right” thing, to be the “better person” but this simple, whiney prayer, was the most honest plea I’d sent up to God in years. And man, it felt so good.

“Here’s the deal, I need you. I need you to do something about this. I’m just tired, so tired, and I need a little bit of rest.”

My heart was hurting so bad, but that was the explosion I needed. The hands up in the air, total surrender of my heart, head, and words.

I look back on that moment, years ago, and I smile. I really think that was the turning point in my prayer life. I was always told that prayer was important but whenever I showed up in prayer, I walked away perplexed and frustrated. I knew that I was missing something, but it took that very raw and awkward moment in my life to realize this: I was overthinking prayer – it really was simpler than I thought.

Prayer wasn’t some complicated formula or drawn out process, it was meeting Christ in the moment – freely and authentically.

God Wants to Listen to You

I’m not quite sure exactly how I got to this place, but somewhere in the midst of growing up, I started believing this lie that I had to say the “right thing” in order for my prayers to be heard, and ultimately, answered. But, God isn’t some judge sitting on His throne up high picking apart our every nuance.

He is a loving and understanding Father. He’d rather embrace you while you rambled about every frustration you’ve encountered that day than sit through your unfelt recitation of a Rosary. He desires a relationship with you and the starting point to that relationship is authenticity – a real humble willingness to be straight up real.

Practical takeaway: God doesn’t just care about your words, but the state of the heart behind those words. Every day, when you take a moment to pray, first, take a deep breath and ask yourself, “how am I really feeling right now, what is the state of my heart (happy, sad, angry, blasé…).” Then, before jumping to any other intention in your time of prayer, like you would a good friend, tell the Lord how you’re feeling.

God Will Respond to You (but, not always like you think)

This. Oh, shoot. This is so often the hardest part of prayer for me. There is nothing worse in a relationship than to pour out my heart to someone and then… radio silence.

We love instant gratification. We love it not because we’re conceited or vain, but because we’re so used to it. Thanks to text messages and notification alerts it’s hard to wait on an answer, from anyone, let alone God who operates outside of time and space. But, the beautiful thing is that the more we pray, the better we get to know God, and the better we get to know God, the faster we will be able to recognize His voice in our lives. He speaks to each of us differently, but it takes time and patience to learn how to identify His voice.

Practical takeaway: The most “fool-proof” way we can identify the Lord’s voice in our lives is by asking two simple things: “Is what I’m hearing good, true, and beautiful? Does what I’m hearing bring me peace?” The Word of God is living and present always within Scripture, but some other places we may hear His voice is through the wisdom and consolation of our friends, the lyrics of a song, a homily, the message of a movie… but most commonly, it is in the quiet peace of our hearts.

Extra practical takeaway: Start with the Sunday Readings. Every Saturday, take a look at that next day’s readings (check out Life Teen’s Ascend resource for a great way to begin), pray through the readings not once, but at least twice, and ask yourself, “What in these readings applies to my life? What might God be trying to say to me through them?” Let this spark a conversation with someone else or spend some time journaling in quiet reflection.

Be Patient. A Fruitful Prayer Life is a Slow and Steady Process.

In order for prayer to be a fruitful experience, it takes time and a great deal of nurturing. While I’ve gotten to the place where I’m comfortable and confident enough to be real with the Lord, it still takes great effort for me to grow more deeply in prayer.

I once had a friend explain prayer to me in terms of a spiraling staircase. As we grow, our aim is to get to the top – to Heaven – sometimes we climb higher, sometimes we fall back a few steps, sometimes we don’t move, but all the while we can see the progress. I often ask myself, am I actually climbing this staircase or am I standing still? Am I nurturing my relationship with God? Am I making space in my day to talk to Him, uninterrupted? Am I surrounding myself with friends who, in their actions, will remind me of His goodness? Am I drenching myself in the Word? In the Sacraments? Each of these moments should be an extension of my relationship with Him. Each day should offer another encounter with Love Himself.

Practical takeaway: Take some time and ask yourself three questions:

  1. What has my prayer life looked like in the past?
  2. What does my prayer life look like now?
  3. What do I want my prayer life to look like in the future?

Identify the good things about your prayer life right now and keep doing them, then write down the areas of improvement. Once you’ve identified the areas of improvement, determine a plan to make it happen. For me, I do a really good job talking to the Lord in my every-day moments (when I’m cooking, working, etc.), but I don’t do a good job of setting aside time daily to pray with no distractions. So, my goal is to begin praying every day at 8:00 AM for 10 minutes.

When I hold fast to these truths, and am patient, remembering that my relationship with God is perfectly my own and no one else’s, I am transformed by the simplicity of prayer. It is not about comparing my prayer life to others, although there are many saints and holy people who are inspiring in their pursuit of the Lord. Prayer is about recognizing that our relationship with God a journey, and that each new day is a new opportunity to adventure to even greater heights with the lover of our souls.

So, what is it that you are waiting for? Go to Him. Tell Him all that you need to, and let Him love you in return.

Looking for additional resources to help you pray? Check out Come Pray and Come Adore in the Life Teen Store.