Monday, July 15, 2019

How should I be praying when I am struggling with prayer? Admitting it is itself prayer.

St Theresa of Avila is known to have written in her journals a very striking yet humble line referring to her prayer life.  She writes “Oh God, I don’t love you, I don’t even want to love you, but I want to want to love you!”  

It delighted me to discover this because it really gives so many of us much hope when it comes to identifying what is challenging to so many of us when it comes to our prayer life.  We often find ourselves unable to articulate that we need help to make the time that we spend in prayer to be fruitful.  Perhaps articulating this is itself a very real prayer, and we may even need to begin our time in prayer by saying this out loud, not so much that God can hear us, but so that we can hear ourselves.

I believe that a lot of our prayer is centered on our lack, and that is why so many start their prayer with their needs, seeking God to hear them and fill the various voids in life.  But way beyond our material and physical needs, there is a need that is far more important to be addressed, and this is our need to increase our love for God.  I truly believe that the world is so full of dissension and discord, and our lives are so messy and turbulent and fear-filled because we have a systemic lack of love for God.  We may be obsessed with ourselves and our needs way more than we are concerned that we not loving God as we should.  St Theresa’s prayer is so radical in that it points this out in a very humble and real way, when she says that she wants to want to love God. The problem with us is that not only do we not love God, but that we don’t even want to want to love him.

It is important to want to love God because our hearts are made to love.  St Augustine’s quote that “our hearts are restless until they rest in God” comes immediately to mind.  Each time I hear a penitent confessing that he or she is struggling to overcome a habitual sin, I always try to point out that just wanting to give up the sin itself is not the key to living life without being plagued by this sin. It’s a bit like telling you, my reader, to not think of a pink elephant right now.  Now be honest – you just thought of a pink elephant, didn’t you? That’s because your mind was filled with the notion of the pink elephant, ridiculous as it may have seemed. If you are going to fill your mind (and probably other areas of your life) with the sin that you are struggling with, you are actually still obsessing over it.  

It is for this reason that I always advise the penitent to put more effort into loving God, especially in prayer.  If the love for God doesn’t occupy a major part of our time spent in prayer, and if that part of our heart that is given over to God doesn’t expand and take over the other areas of our heart that we are keeping for ourselves and our own agenda, we will live largely unconverted lives.  

Who are saints? They are people who have sought to give their lives over in love to God in more and more expansive ways, striving to live the first and most important commandment which is to love the Lord God with all our heart, mind and strength.  Why do we need to strive for sainthood?  Because it makes us what we are made for.  The Church has, I believe, somehow watered down this aim for every Catholic, and the result is seen so glaringly in the many scandals that have plagued the Church as of late.  We need to reclaim this shared objective of sanctity that is given to us at our baptism, and loving God is key to making this a reality.

Of course prayer is difficult, and it is because love in its purest form will always entail effort.  But if we are willing to be honest and admit of what it is that we lack in prayer, and dare to articulate it, it becomes a very sincere prayer, and anything sincere will definitely delight God.

The Prayer of Sincerity
(composed by the author of this blog)

Dear God,
 I want to love you, but my love for you is so lacking in effort.  I admit this lack in my heart for you, and ask for the grace to help me love you more and more, and the grace to love you as I should.  If you deign to answer any one of my petitions and needs, I ask that you increase my love for you most of all, because when I love you as I ought, I will not delight in the things that do not glorify you. 

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