Ah, prayer. Conversation with God, simple as it sounds, can bring with it some major struggles. There seems to be no end to advice out there on how to handle distractions, dry spells, and lack of time for prayer.
There are plenty of us who are working to improve our prayer life during the New Year. That’s why we put together the best advice from modern Catholic authors and classic Catholic saints on how to improve your conversation with God. Here are fifteen of our favorite tips that will calm the anxious feeling that starts when you make that first sign of the cross.
1. Think of Prayer as mental exercise in loving God
In his famed book Time for God, Father Jacques Philippe says: “Mental prayer is basically no more than an exercise in loving God. But there is no true love without fidelity. How could we claim to love God if we failed to keep the appointments we make with him for mental prayer?”
Instead of thinking of prayer, think of it as an opportunity to have a conversation with someone you love. If we pray out of love for God instead of thinking of prayer as a burdensome duty, it won’t seem as much of a burden to set an appointment in our calendar to pray.
2. Dedicate your prayers to Mary
There is no better of example of prayer than the Blessed Virgin Mary. She pondered God’s actions in her heart throughout the Gospels.
Saint Maximilian Kolbe, the founder of the Militia Immaculata wrote: “”Prayer is powerful beyond limits when we turn to the Immaculata who is queen even of God’s heart.”
3. Try praying with others
The Bible tells us that when two or three are gathered in God’s name, there He is in the midst of them. The same can be said with prayer. Although private prayer is essential to the Christian life, try tapping into the beauty of public prayer as well. Maybe this year you can join a Bible study or prayer group.
St. John Vianney wrote: “Private prayer is like straw scattered here and there: If you set it on fire it makes a lot of little flames. But gather these straws into a bundle and light them, and you get a mighty fire, rising like a column into the sky; public prayer is like that.”
4. Realize that not all prayer is verbal
Although we typically associate prayer with spoken or mental words and sentences, this isn’t always the case. Saint Teresa of Avila, the master of the Interior Life said: “Prayer is an act of love; words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love.”
Another way to incorporate non-verbal prayer is to invite God along on your day. If you need to make a run to the grocery store, or mow the lawn, invite God to join you. By dedicating even the seemingly mundane tasks to the service of God, you tap into the practice of praying continuously like St. Paul suggests in 1 Thessalonians 5:17.
5. Realize that God wants to know about the small parts of your day.
If prayer is currently something you only think about as your last resort when life gets hard, remember that God wants to know about every detail of your life, not just the events when we need to lean on him the most.
Christ told Saint Faustina: “My daughter…why do you not tell me about everything that concerns you, even the smallest details? Tell Me about everything, and know that this will give Me great joy.”
6. Whatever you do, don’t forget the beauty of silence
Today’s world is constantly buzzing with distraction. Social media updates ping on our phone, people ask for our attention and our to-do lists tug at us. In the midst of all the noise, we must remember that need for finding God in the silence.
Saint Mother Teresa said: “We need to find God, and he cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature – trees, flowers, grass- grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
7. Commit to a small amount of time in the morning to start out with.
Like any resolution, forming a habit of prayer starts with small steps. Try starting your day out with prayer – even if it is just a morning offering it puts the day’s challenges and joys into perspective.
Saint Peter Julian Eymard said: “In order to succeed in it (prayer), it should be done when we first awaken, when our whole being is calm and recollected. We need to make our meditation before anything else.
8. Keep your thoughts towards Heaven
Ultimately, our goal as Christians is Heaven. Prayer allows us a glimpse into the eternal praise and adoration that eternity will offer. In our time of prayer, don’t forget that we on a journey to Heaven during our time here on earth.
Saint John Vianney, patron saint of priests wrote: “My little children, your hearts, are small, but prayer stretches them and makes them capable of loving God. Through prayer we receive a foretaste of heaven and something of paradise comes down upon us.”
9. Try not to only ask small things of God
When we pray, it is easy to request the human-size answers to our petitions. Instead of asking God to assist us in human ways, fully trust in His supernatural presence and abilities. St. Teresa of Avila said: “You pay God a compliment when by asking great things of Him.” Trust that He will provide with God-sized answers.
10. Remember that short and sweet is okay
While some of us are blessed with the ability to carry on long heart to heart conversations with God and engage in lengthy meditation, some of us struggle to make it through just five minutes of prayer. If length of time for praying is holding you back from talking and listening to God, don’t worry. Saint Benedict said: “Prayer ought to be short and pure, unless it be prolonged by the inspiration of Divine grace.”
11. Work to drive the devil crazy
The one who loves that we shirk away from prayer is the devil. When we are aware of the voice of God, the nudging of the devil is easier to avoid. But when we neglect prayer and scripture, we are more susceptible to the words of the devil. Work so that the devil hates your prayer life.
Saint Anthony Abbot said: “The devil dreads fasting, prayer, humility, and good works: He is not able even to stop my mouth who speak against him. The illusions of the devil soon vanish, especially if a man arms himself with the Sign of the Cross. The devils tremble at the Sign of the Cross of our Lord, by which He triumphed over and disarmed them.”
12. Learn from temptations
We can pray against temptations, but sometimes God doesn’t remove them from our lives. Maybe during prayer, you are tempted to let your mind wander towards a situation from earlier on in the day, or think about what is for dinner. Don’t let the continued temptation hinder your prayer life. Instead, let it transform your prayer life by conterminously offering the temptations themselves to god.
Saint Alphonsus Liguori wrote: “It often happens that we pray God to deliver us from some dangerous temptation, and yet God does not hear us but permits the temptation to continue troubling us. In such a case, let us understand that God permits even this for our greater good. When a soul in temptation recommends itself to God, and by His aid resists, O how it then advances in perfection.
13. Spend time in the prayer of the Mass
As you strive to continue to work on your prayer life, don’t forget about the ultimate Catholic prayer – the Mass. Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque once wrote in a letter: “Are you making no progress in prayer? Then you need only offer God the prayers which the Savior has poured out for us in the sacrament of the altar. Offer God His fervent love in reparation for your sluggishness.”
14. Don’t go into prayer without a spiritual book
If you’re struggling with inspiration for prayer, try bringing a spiritual book into your time with God. Saint Vincent de Paul wrote: “Read some chapter of a devout book….It is very easy and most necessary, for just as you speak to God when at prayer, God speaks to you when you read.”
15. Remember there is no perfect way to pray
As much as we’d like to say after all of our research that we found the perfect answer on how to pray, there isn’t one. Lectio Divina might be easy for someone, while contemplative prayer may be another person’s go-to when it comes time for conversation with God. The most important thing? Keep at it.