I went to Catholic school from Pre-K all the way through my senior year of high school. We prayed every morning before school, before lunch, before the end of school, and had school Mass regularly.
I thought I knew what prayer was. I knew the Hail Mary, the Our Father, and even the Divine Praises by heart. I thought I was rocking the whole prayer thing.
And then I went to college. I attended a public university so I had to do most of my praying on my own. I made my own little prayer space beside my bed in my apartment, and I would kneel in front of my crucifix and recite a few prayers here and there.
But it felt like something was missing in my prayer. I didn’t feel like I was really getting anything out of my time in prayer, and if I wasn’t getting anything out of it, what was the point of doing it? My prayer time became shorter and shorter, until eventually I went days, weeks, and even months without praying.
Now don’t get me wrong, I did want to talk to God, I just had no idea how! I knew all of the formal prayers, but there was still something lacking. My prayers felt so one-sided, like I was doing everything and God wasn’t putting in any effort to answer my prayers.
But come to find out, in order for God to respond to us in prayer, we have to let Him; we have to listen to Him.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church lays this out perfectly saying, “Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him” (CCC 2560). It doesn’t matter who we are, where we are, or what we’ve done: God is there, waiting for us to come before Him in humble surrender, and it’s His desire, His thirst for us, that makes it possible for us to desire Him.
In her book on prayer, Sr. Wendy Beckett, a British art historian and consecrated virgin, states that prayer is “God’s business. You bring yourself in whatever state you are and offer that to God.” I was having trouble with prayer because my prayers were a monologue, not a dialogue. I wasn’t listening to what God was saying to me!
It doesn’t matter if you say the perfect prayer or are in the holiest state. What matters most is giving time to God, simply placing yourself in His presence. He wants to encounter us, and we need to encounter Him authentically if we’re going to survive as Christians.
That being said, I want to give you a few practical tips that have helped me encounter God in my life:
1. Praying with Scripture
“Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.” This saying from St. Jerome gets quoted so often that we might become numb to just how powerful it really is. If we do not know Scripture, we can’t know Christ. The Word of God is God Himself. Reading and praying with Scripture is a beautiful way to come to know your Creator.
When I pray with Scripture, I like to see how the passage relates to where I’m at in life and what I’m dealing with in that moment. I take into account the time the passage was written, who it was written to, and why it was written, and I see how I can apply it to myself, today. The Bible transcends space and time, and is applicable even now so asking God what He might be trying to say to you in His Word is a beautiful prayer.
2. Run to the Sacraments
The sacraments are what set Catholics apart from every other world religion. As Catholics, we don’t have to have a purely spiritual experience to receive and draw near to God. No, in the sacraments, God draws us near to Him. He does most of the work! Again, all we have to do is place ourselves in His presence and be open to receiving Him.
I have heard from countless converts that just hearing the words, “I absolve you from your sins” in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is a remarkable source of solace and calm. This rings true for me, a cradle Catholic, as well.
To prove His love for us, Christ gave us the Eucharist, a gift unlike any other. He gave us His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity to transform us. Frequent reception of the Eucharist and the other sacraments keeps us united to the Lord.
In my life, the further I’ve drifted away from the sacraments, the weaker my faith has become. Run to the sacraments always, and make sure they are the foundation of your faith — not your feelings or another person, but the sacraments.
This is a scary one for me, one that I am still getting used to. In a world with distractions and loud noises at every turn, it can be difficult to welcome silence. We view silence in conversations as awkward. Some people, myself included, can’t go anywhere without headphones. We just don’t like things being too quiet.
But silence doesn’t lie. When we enter into silence, when we can only hear the echo of our thoughts and fears, everything we try so hard to hide comes bubbling up to the surface.
It’s there in that space that we stare our shortcomings in the face, and it’s there that those fears and the wounds can hurt the most.
But it is also in that space where we can give those fears over to God, and allow Him to reign over them; there He can stretch out His sovereign hand and heal us.
4. Pray Through the Dry Spells
Prayer will not always feel fruitful or meaningful. Sometimes it’s going to be dry. Sometimes it’s going to feel like nothing is happening.
But I assure you, prayer always works. It might not feel like it’s working, but thankfully, our faith isn’t based on feelings. Have faith that your prayers are reaching God, even if it doesn’t feel like it.
Sister Wendy has another beautiful quote in her book that says, “God wants you to be the fullness of what you can be. You cannot become this if you do not allow Him to enter into you.”
If we don’t give God the opportunity to enter into us and change us in prayer, our lives will remain the same. He’s ready to work in our lives, but He gave us free will to choose whether we allow Him to or not. It is our choice whether we receive or reject Him.
Today, and every day after this, take some time to place yourself in the presence of God. Just sit, offering Him yourself and your time. Listen to what God is saying to your first, and then your response will come naturally.