Too oftentimes, we treat prayers as the last resort when everything else fails, when things fall apart or out of our control, when we need something, or when it is convenient for us. However, prayer is not a luxury or the last option; for it is the very lifeline, the greatest personal and most intimate act that we can do in order to lift up our hearts and unite everything that we have to the One who listens, knows, loves, and cares for us deep from within. Therefore, prayer should not be a secondary matter or something to recourse to when other options failed, it should be our first and foremost desire to give our everything in communication — listening and speaking from the heart — with the God who loves us.
A monk once said, “Until you are convinced that prayer is the best use of your time, you will not find time for prayer.” (Hillary Ottensmeyer, O.S.B., of St. Meinrad Archabbey) I think what he said is so true! Too oftentimes, we do not know how to pray or only treat prayers as some cheap option when nothing else works. We have become too busy with life that we no longer have or willingness to make time to pray; and when we finally come to prayer, we often leave frustrated because we do not get what we want since we only used it as a way to get our ways when other alternatives failed to serve our needs. As Christians, we have lacked the willingness to purify ourselves from attachments, temptations, and lesser goods that blinded and deterred us from truly loving God. We have lacked the needed maturation process to deepen our faith and make personal time to truly understand and love Him. It takes a lot of maturity and willingness to humble ourselves to see who we are and our dependency on Him. If we do not willingly give ourselves to God in transparency, humility, and obedience, we remain immature, childish, and self-centered instead of having that childlike simplicity and trust that is able to help us understand and see reality as it is instead of what it should be for our egocentric understandings.
This is important but very hard to do, because it takes a lot of silence in our hearts, honesty with ourselves, and patience to truly see lives as we are in all humility, genuineness, and transparency in front of God. Reflect on how we choose lesser things, temptations, addictions, agendas, ideologies, goods, or people before Him; how we choose to live our plans, desires, satisfactions, gratifications and needs before loving Him. Sometimes, these sins are easy to see; other times, they are deeply rooted, weaved, and hidden behind many human desires and excuses. Yet, all these sins tend to back to the seven deadly sins that often choke the life of grace and separate us from the One who desires, loves, and wants our hearts. Here are some suggestions from spiritual masters for us to see ourselves:
- Ask God to reveal our patterns of sin.
- Ask God to reveal what attitudes, thoughts, or lies that drive or motivate those patterns.
- Ask God to reveal the root of our attitudes, perhaps a wound, trauma, or hurt that has affected, or changed our attitudes, beliefs, or course of action.
- Ask God to reveal the lies that we have built for ourselves or believed as the result of our attitudes or sinfulness.
- Ask God to reveal the promises or excuses that we have made because of the lies we have made or told ourselves.
- Ask God to reveal us the truth about ourselves and who we are in His eyes.
Many times, we have made up lies about ourselves to cover our insecurities, past hurts, or traumas. Other times, we have made up lies about other people or the current situation in order to make ourselves feel better, more superior, or to transfer the blame to others. Real transparency and genuineness come from humble and grateful hearts that are able to identify the hidden or made-up lies and wounds that could deter us from truly loving God and ourselves as we are in His eyes. While it is easier to put the blame on others or make some excuses for ourselves, being real, humble, and genuine help us to be loved by God in all of our struggles, pains, sufferings, challenges, and human brokenness. By being honest and genuine with ourselves, especially to identify the lies that the evil one could use to deter or turn us against God‘s goodness and His love for us, we are able to live a life full of gratitude and humble self-giving love of Him and for Him who truly cares and loves us deep from within. Perhaps some questions that we can ask ourselves regarding our relationship and prayer sessions with God:
- What am I grateful for as I reflect on the gift of my life and His love for me?
- What are God’s significant personal messages or lessons given to me in recent times?
- How do I feel called to mature or grow in this present moment in time?
Each day, we are called to be honest with ourselves and with God, asking ourselves if we are still on the right track, to see if we are still open to Him, listening and generously responding to Him. The honesty and humility that we bear within ourselves help us to examine and discern the first beginning of a distracted or hardened heart toward the Almighty and our brethren. As we grow in age, we are also called to grow each day remembering concretely the special blessings that stand in our lives — and then thanking Him, begging Him to continue to form our hearts to be like His, listening and allowing Him to lead us to His greater witness, worship, and apostolic service of others.
In our very own prayer, do not be afraid to keep listening, remain open, and be generous to God. When we pray, problems, fears, ideas, lies, and distractions will creep in to deter us from being focused and on track, so too daily events and worldly worries can get us going in the wrong direction. By being honest with ourselves each day and every time we pray, we are able to be more aware of ourselves, where we are and where we are being pulled, and to humbly get back on the path He has given us and we have chosen to follow Him.
Just as prayer times become natural to us in the long run, they do take a lot of personal and spiritual efforts to form habits and discipline ourselves. Sometimes, events, situations, things, or people can powerfully shatter, distract, and deter us from being focused on prayer, too. When this happens, takes a little bit longer time to slow down, rest, and pray with God, opening up our hearts with all our struggles. Do not rush ourselves if we feel restless, perhaps being more mindful that we need more time to open up and rest in Him, as to regain our sense of balance before the Lord and regain our inner, personal, and holistic perspective and vision we have in the scope of eternity and His love for us.
Life is unpredictable and demanding at times. As we feel overwhelmed, burdened, and tired from all the things that are going on, take the time to know when it is important to step back, reflect, and be renewed through a time of recollection, retreat, or just to snap out of the regular habits. If we cannot see ourselves beyond the ruckus or things that are going on all around us, it is important to seek help, counsel, or direction from a spiritual master, someone we can trust, or a person who is wise and prayerful in their walk with God. No matter what, do not give up on prayer times, even if we are weak or tired! Our spiritual disciplines, even at times seem insignificant and not effective, will give us unimaginable and unseen graces coming from the One who knows our hearts.
No matter what, I would like to ask each and every one of us to make prayer an ordinary and daily part of our lives! In the end, we cannot give what we ourselves do not have; therefore, it is important to listen, reflect, discern, and open our hearts up to the loving presence of God. By spending time and focusing on our love for Him, we are able to receive and draw life from His infinite, life-giving, personal, and intimate wellspring of grace. He is always present, even at times when we do not recognize Him, to console, care, and give the necessary strength for us to bear each day’s struggles and all of life’s ups and downs. It will not be easy and nicely packaged as we would have personally hoped or desired, but His outpouring of love reminds us each and every day that we are worth loving because we have been redeemed and saved by the sufferings, death, and resurrection of the Christ our Savior!