The Ups and Downs of Prayer

Do you ever feel like your prayer life is continually alternating in a series of highs and lows? Sometimes praying is easy — you feel super blessed, and God’s grace is so abundant you can almost feel it in your body, as it fuels your sprint towards heaven and sainthood.

Then maybe a week later, life has become chaotic and the only prayer you can muster feels like an echo in an empty chamber. The numb exhaustion of the race sets in and makes it feel impossible to continue as you come to a standstill, or worse, start losing ground.

This trouble we experience is due to the fact that our journey to heaven is not a sprint, but rather a marathon, on a route with many hills and valleys. These feelings are a normal part of our relationship with God while here on Earth, and all of us will inevitably face times of spiritual dryness between moments of consolation. However, if we want to be faithful, even through the tough times, we need to be practical, so here are ten tips to help pace yourself along the way.

An Uphill Battle

For times of desolation…
Know that you are not alone. If you are in the midst of a spiritual dry spell, know that you’re not the first to feel this way. Everyone who seeks a relationship with Christ experiences these at times, even holy and devout saints. St. Mother Teresa spent 40 years of her life in a state of extreme spiritual desolation, all while serving the poor in the slums of Calcutta. She, among many others, has persevered through dryness and made it to heaven, and you can too. Don’t lose hope, and trust that God is actually closest to you when he feels farthest away.

Reach out to the saints. When you want to be a winner, you look to the example of champions who have gone before you. In this case, the saints are our spiritual champions. They experienced the same things we do; the difference is that they’ve persevered and made it to the finish line. Find a few saint buddies who you connect with and ask for their intercession. If anyone knows what it’s like to experience spiritual desolation, the saints certainly do, and they want nothing more than to see us succeed as well.

Cling to the sacraments. If there’s one thing you can’t have enough of, that’s God’s grace. You need it more than ever when you’re wandering in a spiritual desert. The good news is, God is holding nothing back from you! He instituted the sacraments for this specific purpose: to give grace. In particular, the sacraments of Holy Communion and Reconciliation are extremely valuable in times of dryness. Make a point to receive them often by scheduling regular appointments for Confession and attending daily Mass, if possible.

Have structured prayer. Here’s the truth: prayer isn’t always easy. Sometimes you’re busy, sometimes you’re tired. Honestly, there is no shortage of reasons why we might skip those few crucial minutes of prayer on any given day. That’s why making prayer a part of your daily routine is one way to set yourself up for success, focusing on the specifics of the time and place. Have a bare minimum of prayer for each day (say, 15 minutes or so), and don’t be afraid to start small. Remember, consistency is worth more than elaborate, short-lived efforts.

Foster community on Earth. We can’t always be strong on our own — sometimes we need a shoulder to lean on. Having a community of fellow believers can provide encouragement when you’re going through a low point. It’s very likely you aren’t the only one among your friends who has experienced what you’re going through, and they may have wisdom to share. In addition, your faithfulness in desolation can be an incredible witness to your friends, helping to strengthen their faith too.

On Top of the Hill

For times of consolation…
Be grateful. Sometimes we forget that God doesn’t owe us anything. He has already proven His love for us by sacrificing everything on the cross 2,000 years ago, and any consolations He chooses to bless us with are just icing on the cake. Remember to thank the Lord daily for drawing you closer to Him. Also, keep in mind that there are others who would give anything to feel the consolation that you enjoy, so channel your gratitude into a prayer for them.

Remember that it doesn’t last. Sure, it feels great when we’re riding on a spiritual high, but don’t fool yourself into thinking that those feelings will last forever. Because that’s the nature of feelings — they don’t last. If we truly desire a real relationship with Jesus, we need to be honest with ourselves and begin now to foster habits that will promote consistency when times get tough.

Keep a prayer journal. So, we already established that spiritual dryness is inevitably headed our way? Great, here’s one way to bide your time through dry spells. Using a prayer journal on a regular basis allows us to write down and reflect on the great blessings God has given us and the trials we have overcome. Being able to read through it in moments when God seems distant helps us to remember the good times and see past the trials of the present.

Remember that God is a person, not a feeling. How would you feel if your friends only wanted to spend time with you when it benefitted them? Sometimes I feel like that’s what we do to God when we rely too much on warm, fuzzy feelings. He wants you to seek Him even when it’s not easy, to love Him even when it takes work. Because that’s what real love is. So rather than allowing our “spiritual muscles” to grow weak, challenge yourself to encounter the person of Christ even more intimately.

Practice generosity. “You received without paying, give without pay” (Matthew 10:8). The joy of God’s consolation should not be kept selfishly for our own benefit. What better time to give encouragement, love, and support to people in need all around us? Let those good feelings motivate you to be a gift to others, whether that involves giving your time to a ministry in the church, contributing to the collection at church by forgoing your weekly coffee, or taking the time to listen to someone in need of a good friend.

Hopefully these tips can help you along your path to sainthood. Pick a few that you feel challenged or encouraged by and start there. With the grace of God, we may all meet one day at our final destination: heaven.