Updated: May 17, 2021
This was a talk given to a teen retreat with slight modifications to make this into a blog post that makes sense.
If you've been following this blog, I think it’s safe to say I am an intense Catholic. But let me tell you about my prayer life. Prayer was never a priority for me. I didn't learn how to pray growing up. After I got confirmed into the Catholic Church at the age of 20, sometimes I would strive to go to an hour of adoration once a week, but it didn’t feel often enough. Sometimes I would try to say a little prayer before Mass, but I would always get distracted by people arriving at Mass or talking in the church. Sometimes I would pray a little bit after waking up, but I was usually too sleepy and I had too many other things to do before work. The few times I showed up for prayer were low in quality. Excuse after excuse. Can anyone else relate?
I knew my prayer life wasn’t what it should be. I knew I was supposed to be doing a little every day, not a lot once a week. I had heard the saying, build your life around prayer, not prayer around your life. But that’s exactly what I wasn’t doing. Every so often during confession the priest would ask me, “How’s your prayer life?” And that good Catholic guilt would resurface. Don’t get me wrong, doing at least something for prayer is ALWAYS infinitely better than doing nothing at all. But if you and I want to become a saint one day, we need to be more than just good. And that’s just it. Either you end up a saint, whether it be acknowledged on earth or not, or you end up going to that other place.
So February 2021, after 25.83 repeating years of my 26 year-old life, I finally kicked myself in the butt to get a prayer plan in order. The Lenten season was coming up, so it was the perfect time for me to commit to something I wanted to change about my life. Developing a consistent prayer life seemed like a no-brainer. I am proud to say as of April 2021, I’ve maintained at least 15 minutes of prayer every single day since mid-February 2021.
Okay so now that you know me a little bit better, let’s dive into a really important question: What is prayer? The way I see it, prayer is about relationship.
What is Prayer? Why Pray?
Let me put it this way, how do you make friends? Do you do that by reading about friendship? Do you do that by staring people down? Do you do it by being in the same class as people but never talk to them? Nope! Friendship is about talking to someone else and making eye contact. The best friendships are the ones that go deep, but many of us are reluctant to be real with one another, even making eye contact. The deeper you enter into a relationship with someone, the more uncomfortable things you reveal to them. Your weird laugh, the fact that you’re a picky eater, the way you struggle with lying, or that you treat your parents poorly. It’s awkward and messy, but let me get you in on a secret: everyone is awkward and messy.
This metaphor absolutely rings true with our relationship with God. We can read about God and talk about God all day long, but eventually if we want a relationship with Him, we’re going to have to do the messy work to get to know Him and allow Him to get to know us. Since God loves us, more often than not he won’t force anything on us. It’s up to us to accept His invitation of relationship.
It’s great to know what prayer is, but we have to continue down our philosophical train of thought: Why pray? Why attempt to maintain a relationship with the being who designed the rules and matter in the universe? Why would such a powerful being bother with you and me? Because our God is the God of love. I mentioned that God invites you and me into a relationship with Him. He wants to love me and you, but not just in a superficial relationship, but a deep, honest, and vulnerable one. If you ever question God’s desire for you, just look at the cross. He doesn’t hold anything back from us. If you were the only person on the planet, He would still have suffered the crucifixion for just you.
Why should we hold back anything from Him?
Okay, so I’ve hopefully convinced you that you should pray. There are a lot of roadblocks and misconceptions when it comes to prayer. The biggest ones tend to be: I’m bad at prayer and I don’t have time for prayer. Let’s look at each one.
I’m bad at prayer.
Let’s take a step back here. That’s a lie from the satan. What does it even mean to be good at prayer? Does it mean kneeling the entire time, not moving an inch? Does it mean having focus of steel and never getting distracted? Or does it mean levitating? Let me tell you another secret: not very many people are good at prayer.
With everything that’s going on in the world and in each of our lives, it’s easy to get distracted. It can also be difficult even knowing what to do in prayer. But like I said before, it doesn’t matter if you’re the pope, me, your parish priest, or your best friend, just consistently showing up for prayer is the only thing we need to get really good at. We set up so many expectations of what prayer needs to be that we don’t even attempt it. Honestly, I probably spend most of my prayer time being distracted. But when I notice I’ve become distracted, I gently redirect myself. With the not knowing what to do in prayer, I’ll talk about that a little later.
Something that can help with distractions is setting up a physical space for prayer. Who here has a body? We as humans aren’t just a soul. We’re a body too. As beings with material bodies, we like interacting with material things. That’s why God gave us water for baptism, bread for the eucharist, and oil for confirmation. So we can interact with material things. My little set up at my house is just on my nightstand. It’s all the tools I might use: my Bible, rosary, a few pamphlets and prayer cards, Liturgy of the Hours, and a few other spiritual books. If I had an extra crucifix, I would have that to use as a visual aid too. A quick Google or Pinterest search can give you some other ideas. Do what works for you, but just do it.
I don't have time for prayer
Let’s explore the other excuse I mentioned: I don’t have time for prayer. This is one of the devil’s favorite lies to whisper to you. Everyone has time for prayer. Anyone know who Saint Mother Teresa of Calcutta is? She’s the nun who ran a mission in the middle of a slum in India where the poor, diseased, and dying seemed to be never ending. She started a religious order too. Think she was a little busy and had a few things to do? She sure did. I've heard this story of one of her fellow nuns came to her one day and said, “Mother, there are so many people who need to help! We don’t have time for a holy hour every day!” You know what she said? “You’re right sister. We don’t have time for one holy hour, we have time for two!” And that's just what they did.
Like I mentioned before, the best way to fit prayer into your life is to build your life around prayer, not prayer around your life. Not sure how to fit it in with your current life schedule? Maybe it’s time to change something. Scared to change something? I promise you, as someone who spent 99.3% of her life without a consistent prayer life, changing anything so you can have prayer in it is worth it.
So how to even pick a time? Well, what time are you the most alert? What feels right? Right away in the morning? Right after you get home from work or school? Or the last thing you do before bed? I pray right before I go to bed because I like to do night prayer and the examen prayer. I'll repeat this over and over again: do what works for you, but just do it.
What to do During Prayer Time
Okay, so I’ve talked about the who, why, how, and when, let’s talk about the what. What in the world am I supposed to do during that 10-20 minutes I’m in front of my prayer space at my appointed time? That is an excellent question that I could spend the next hour on because it energizes me so much to talk about it. I could have spent this blog telling you about all the awesome things you can do during prayer, but honestly I thought it would be a better use of our time giving you some good reasons why you should pray. Anyway, here are just three awesome ways you can pray.
Mental prayer is the usual go-to, you know, when you sit there in adoration and just talk to God in your head. But it can be intimidating. As we have talked about before, it’s really easy to get distracted during prayer. The acronym ACTS is a popular way to help you through mental prayer. ACTS stands for adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication. It is what it sounds like. Spend some time adoring God, telling him about how you messed up, thanking Him for your blessings, and asking for His forgiveness.
Next method. I love journaling. Journaling is a time I can dump all my thoughts somewhere. For me personally, it helps me to process things. You can also use a journal to keep you focused by writing down what you want to pray about, then doing mental prayer, and then writing down what comes to mind as you pray or by writing a letter to God. Get distracted? Just look at what you wrote down to pray about. This activity is not exclusively for girls. Guys can do it too. I know Fr. Colin keeps a journal!
Written prayer is a perfectly good way to pray too. Of course the Our Father and rosary, but there are countless other prayers. Let me give you an example we prayed when I was going through Holy Name Crew. The Saint Ignatius prayer of generosity. It goes like this:
Lord, teach me to be generous, to serve as you deserve, to give and not to count the cost, to fight and not to heed the wounds, to toil and not to seek rest, to labor and not to ask for reward, except to know that I am doing your will.
Okay, here’s a bonus method but I won’t explain it. Go look up Hallow in your app store after the retreat. H A L L O W. You’re welcome.
Last tip, not sure if you should speak out loud or keep it all in your head while you pray? Try out both and again, do what works best for you.
For the in-person talk, we handed out worksheets for the teens to complete. You can find the questions below to answer on your own if you're interested. As always, thank you for the read and I hope you liked it! I'd love to know your thoughts. Drop a comment below!
Making a Prayer Plan that Works
Do you want to pray? Why or why not?
What are common excuses or reasons that prevent you from having a consistent prayer life?
How do you think you can overcome them?
When do you think is the best time of day for you to pray? When are you the most alert? When are your non-negotiables (work, school)? Can you move them around?
How long will you pray everyday? (10 minute minimum)
Where are you going to pray?
What kinds of prayer are you drawn to?
How will I hold myself accountable?