Growing in my Catholic Faith - Seven Tips to Building a Daily Prayer Life
Catholic spiritual growth requires a rich prayer life. Prayer is vital to our relationship with God. Most Christians would freely admit that daily prayer would be an important habit to build into their lives. But we often find it very difficult, don't we? How can you overcome the distractions, lack of self-discipline and other hang-ups that keep you from talking to God every day?
Here are seven tips to help you develop this important virtue.
How to Pray - Prayer As Real Relationship
On one hand prayer is not a magical formula to manipulate God into doing what we want or to build up within ourselves a feel-good mystical experience.
On the other hand, like any real human relationship the deep personal connection of prayer needs to be supported with routines and formulae so that we remember to do it!
Make your prayer goal specific and measurable.
Too often when we make this sort of resolution, we keep our goals too ambiguous. This makes it difficult for us to measure our DAILY progress. Even a goal such as "lose 25 pounds" is a bit too vague. It's a good long-term goal, but what we need in addition to this kind of a goal is an action goal that can be met with concrete actions. So make your minimum goal a specific prayer that you will say at a specific time of the day. That way you will know for sure whether you have accomplished your goal every day.
Avoid making your goal too large.
Forming a new habit is a lot like physical training. What is true of the body is often true of the spirit, even if the body is much more tangible. What would happen if you started a new exercise routine - currently being out of shape - with one hour of intense weight lifting every day? Well, first of all your body wouldn't take it, right? Second, you wouldn't keep up with it. It would hurt. You would decide it's too hard. You would quit. The same is true for those of us who are spiritually out of shape who decide to start a spiritual program. Avoid starting out with a goal that describes where you want to eventually be. "I'll pray every part of the Liturgy of the Hours plus one Rosary every day" may be a great long-term goal. But if you start there, you will hurt. You will find it too difficult. You will quit. Instead, take baby steps. Start with one decade of a Rosary every day. You can pray more than that if you feel led to. But one decade is your bare minimum. That's easy to do. Even if you forget until your head hits the pillow, you can squeeze in one decade of a Rosary before you drift off to sleep. Start small. Then build from there.
Great Prayer Resources for the Beginner
This book was a pleasant surprise to me. Father Bertram is a really good teacher. He'll clear up some common misconceptions about prayer and get you on the right track to approaching prayer well.
Father Williams is also an excellent teacher. This book is a general overview of the purpose and path of the spiritual life. Father Williams also offers a lot of practical how-to advice for growing in your relationship with Jesus.
The DVD I mention below -
Enjoy the peace and silence of prayer
The purpose of prayer is not to give us warm fuzzy feelings or internal spiritual experiences. However, the practical habit-forming side of us needs some immediate benefit to keep us motivated. The spiritual masters all warn against becoming addicted to consolations - good feelings and experiences during prayer. But God does given them to us to draw us into prayer. And at first it would be OK to even enjoy the basic experience of prayer. Enjoy the silence. Enjoy getting away from the chaos of everyday life. Many people enjoy special rituals that break the daily grind - why not include prayer as one of these special rituals?
Don't be a pagan!
Do you know what the sin of the Tower of Babel was in Genesis? The Bible says that they tried to make a tower that reaches to the heavens. This is a reference to a ziggurat. A ziggurat was a multi-tiered tower that had a pagan temple on each level. Paganism was at its heart an attempt to control the powers of God. Pagan gods represented the powers of nature that are beyond human control. The temples of the ziggurat were where humans could go to manipulate the gods to do their bidding. Paganism put the relationship that God invites us to have with him on its head. It puts human beings in control and relegates God as a force to be used. We do this to God as well when we treat him as a source of wish fulfillment, or when we expect prayer to give us some sort of internal spiritual experience. So don't be a pagan! Prayer is really about growing in relationship with God - deepening your intimacy with Him.
Enjoy the peace that comes from putting Christ in the center of your life
This isn't a consolation or even a "perk" of prayer. Rather, it's the joy of a life properly oriented toward Christ. In his series Untold Blessing: Three Paths to Holiness, Father Robert Barron talks about the medieval image of the Wheel of Fortune - the 13th Century version of the "Rat Race." This image shows how each of us at times in our lives "reign" - we are successful, everything seems to go our way. But all too easily we can lose it all. Then we scrape and claw our way back to the top, only to be in danger of losing it all again. Ups and downs are part of every life. If we are too invested in our worldly progress, we ride the Wheel of Fortune, and we get dizzy, maybe even sick. Where does one find peace on a spinning circle? In the center. And at the center of the Wheel of Fortune sits Jesus Christ. If we focus on Jesus and not on the world, we find peace. As St. Paul says,
I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well- fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.— Philippians 4:11-13
Pair your habit of prayer with a habit you already have.
So now comes the question, "How do you establish a habit of prayer?" What's the practical application? Because we all know that establishing any new habit is really difficult. So here is your super-practical how-to tip. Pair the new habit of daily prayer with an activity that you already do habitually. Do you have the habit of taking an afternoon walk? Pray while you walk. Are you a morning coffee drinker? Pray while you drink your coffee. Have a long commute to work? Pray in the car. Pairing a new habit with an established habit takes away a lot of the resistance we feel when we're trying to start from scratch. Instead of adding something completely new to an already jam-packed day, we're simply using our time more purposefully and more fruitfully. Pairing habits also gives you a memory trigger. One of the most difficult things for me is just remembering to do a new activity. But the established habit triggers my memory for the paired new habit. "Oh yea, I'm drinking my coffee and going into brain-neutral. Time to pray!"
Use a prayer formula - such as ACTS - to avoid getting stuck
If you're really having trouble getting a habit of daily prayer established, here's a powerful tip. Start with a prayer formula. Catholics are blessed with many formulae for prayer - the Rosary, the Liturgy of the Hours, the litanies, chaplets, novenas, devotions, etc. In fact, we are often criticized for having so many formulae and not so much relationship with God. Yes, it is true that a formula can become a crutch that keeps someone from extending themselves to Jesus personally. But again I ask you to consider our relationship with God like any other human relationship - at least on our half of the equation. Rituals and formulae in a marital relationship often keep the relationship growing because they remind the couple to take the time for each other. They don't have to get in the way of the relationship, and they can often aid it. But do be careful not to use formula prayer to run from true intimacy with God.
That said, here is a really simple but effective prayer formula. It helps us to integrate four prayer styles together in our prayer time, rather than just asking God for what we need. The formula uses the acronym ACTS. Each letter stands for a style of prayer:
Adoration - start by opening your heart to God's love and expressing your love for Him
Confession - do an examination of conscience and an act of contrition. Feel free to make your own act of contrition spontaneously or to use one you have memorized or written.
Thanksgiving - thank God for all of the blessings he put in your life today, and for the challenges that he saw you through and helped you to grow from. Try to think of one or two things that you usually take for granted. Be sure to thank God for his love and for calling you to be a disciple and a child of God!
Supplication - finally, ask God to provide for yourself and for others. Remember that your request to God is really a response to his invitation to participate in his goodness. Don't ask like a spoiled child. Don't try to manipulate God into doing what you want. Instead, humbly acknowledge good that HE is already brining to your life and to the life of those you love, and pray for what you need as a child seeking to participate in her father's goodness.
This formula will keep you from getting into the "gimme" rut that our prayers all-too-easily fall into. The formula also reduces the difficulty of thinking about what to say. Both of these benefits make it more likely that you will stick with your new habit of prayer.
Discover More About the Habit of Prayer
If you are struggling to establish a daily prayer life, these tips can really help you get on the right track. But the best way to make real change in your life is to have people walk by your side and offer you not just training but also support and accountability.
From the Abbey's online courses offer more than education. They offer discipleship. Jeff will walk by your side, offer you counseling and support. But you will also gain the discipleship of an entire Catholic community helping each other to grow.
- Keys to Spiritual Growth
Get started with a free online video series on the Keys to Spiritual Growth. Building a daily prayer habit is one of five important areas of Catholic spiritual growth that we need to nurture in our lives to deepen our relationship with Jesus. Learn a