Franciscan Spirit Blog

Praying with Purpose

We are not, by choice or ideology, a culture set against solitude, interiority, and prayer. Nor are we, in my opinion, more afraid of interiority than past ages. Where we differ from the past is not so much in badness as in busyness. Most days, we don’t pray simply because we don’t quite get around to it.

Perhaps the best metaphor to describe our hurried and distracted lives is that of a car wash. When you pull up to a car wash, you are instructed to leave your motor running, to take your hands off the steering wheel, and to keep your foot off the brake. The idea is that the machine itself will suck you through.

For most of us, that’s just what our typical day does to us—it sucks us through. We have smartphones and televisions that stimulate us before we are fully awake. Many of us are texting friends, checking Facebook and emails, watching the news, or listening to music before we even shower or eat breakfast. The drive to work follows the same pattern: stimulated and preoccupied, we listen to the radio, talk on our cell phones, and plan the day’s agenda. We return home to preoccupations of all kinds.

Eventually, we go to bed, where perhaps we read or watch TV. Finally, we fall asleep. When, in all of this, did we take time to think, to pray, to wonder, to be restful, and to be grateful for life, for love, for health, for God? The day just sucked us through.

Moreover, prayer is not easy because we are greedy for experience. The spiritual writer Henri Nouwen put this well: “I want to pray,” he once said, “but I also don’t want to miss out on anything—television, movies, socializing with friends, drinking in the world.” Because we don’t want to miss out on any experience, prayer is truly a discipline.

When we sit or kneel in prayer, our natural craving for experience feels starved and begins to protest.

A Quiet Place

Ironically, most of us crave solitude. Our lives grow more pressured as we grow more tired. As we begin to talk more about burnout, we fantasize about solitude. We imagine it as a peaceful, quiet place, where we are walking by a lake, watching a sunset, or smoking a pipe in a rocker by the fireplace. But even here, many times we make solitude yet another activity, something we do.

Solitude, however, is a form of awareness. It’s a way of being present and perceptive within all of life. It’s having a dimension of reflectiveness in our daily lives that brings with it a sense of gratitude, appreciation, peacefulness, enjoyment, and prayer. It’s the sense, within ordinary life, that life is precious, sacred, and enough.

How do we foster solitude? How do we get a handle on life so it doesn’t just suck us through? How do we begin to lay a foundation for prayer in our lives?

The first step is to “put out into the deep,” as the Scriptures say, by remaining quietly in God’s presence in solitude, in silence, and in prayer. If it is your first time doing this, set aside 15 minutes for prayer. In time, you might be able to manage 30 minutes.

Remember: your heart is made to rest in God. You can count on your restlessness to lead you into deeper prayer—the kind of prayer that leads to profound transformation, the kind of prayer that will not leave you empty-handed.

Tips for Getting Started

  • Choose a place where you can sit quietly and comfortably for 15 minutes or more. If it will help you relax, set a timer so you will know when it is time to end your prayer.
  • Read a short passage of Scripture or some other spiritual reading, then put the reading aside.
  • Close your eyes or focus your gaze on a candle flame, a beautiful icon, or a peaceful image. Imagine yourself in the presence of God, a God who yearns to be close to you. Some people find it helpful to silently repeat a simple word or phrase.

If you begin to feel anxious or to worry that you are not “doing it right,” remember the words of a holy peasant who, when asked to share his secret to deep prayer, simply said, “I just look at God, and I let God look at me.” Anyone who has ever been in love will know the power of those words. It is enough to be relaxed and quiet in the presence of God, ready to receive and to return God’s loving glance.

Prayer: Our Deepest Longing | Franciscan Media

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