Prayer is a fundamental part of being human. Prayer brings me closer to God and strengthens me. I become a better person through prayer. Prayer is a basic need, much like food, but instead of feeding my body, prayer feeds my soul (or spirit). People without prayerful lives, even Catholics, are never completely satisfied with life. Prayer won’t completely satisfy me–only heaven can do that–but prayer gives me a taste of heaven, and it is oh so sweet.
Ideal 1.1: I should pray to God as if He was my best friend.
I think of the best friend I have ever had. I loved and trusted them so much, I could tell them my deepest, darkest secrets and not worry about what they would say. They might give me criticism, but only out of love, wanting to see me become a better person. This is how I should feel about God. I should be able to tell Him anything on my mind, whether that be my fears or worries, my sadness or anger, or anything else.
At the same time, I should pray to God as if He was just standing there like my best friend. I should speak to God like a person. Prayer should be natural. I don’t need a prepared speech. It’s fine to have prayers I have collected over the years, but I should focus more on the improvised prayer. I should just say what’s on my mind. The most satisfying prayers are off the cuff. Just like talking to a best friend, I should want to pray to God every day. It shouldn’t feel like a chore. I should look forward to prayer.
Ideal 1.2: I should listen to God.
During conversation, one person speaks and the other responds. That is a dialogue. It’s a two-way street. One person doesn’t just listen; they also speak. Prayer is also a dialogue. During prayer, I should always take some time to listen. I am not lucky enough to hear the voice of God, but He speaks in many ways. He can speak directly to my heart, in which case I will get a feeling related to my prayer. He can also speak through other people and even nature itself.
God may not always speak immediately, so I should be patient. It may take several hours, days, weeks, or even years to get an answer. God answers every prayer. I should trust that He will answer my prayers. Sometimes He may answer, and I don’t realize it. Other times it’s not important that I know the answer. The loudness of my day to day life can prevent me from hearing God’s answers. Other times I might not be spiritually able to see an answer. My entire lifetime I am growing closer to God. One day I may able to hear when years before I could not.
Ideal 1.3: I should pray informally throughout the day.
“Informal” prayer is prayer that is not planned in advance but done randomly based on the events in my life. Each of these events is an opportunity for prayer. A popular example is the prayer “God bless you” after a person sneezes. I shouldn’t worry about finding a quiet place. I should simply pray wherever I am at. It can be aloud or quietly in my heart. Maybe I notice someone with a car trouble on the side of the road. I see they already have help. There is no need for me to stop, but I can say a quick prayer for them. It could also be a prayer for myself. Maybe I’m about to give a presentation and really nervous. I can say a quick prayer for confidence.
Ideal 1.4: I should pray formally once a day.
By “formally”, I mean I should have a designated time and place to sit down and pray each day. Informal prayer is great, but in these hectic times, it is easy to become distracted during prayer. With informal prayer I can only briefly connect with God for a few seconds before the outside world barges in. Formal prayer, on the other hand, is planned ahead to give me the best chance of growing in my faith and closeness with God.
Ideal 1.41: My formal prayer should be productive.
When I feel satisfied after a prayer, the prayer was “productive”; when I feel nothing after a prayer, it was unproductive. Satisfaction after prayer is when I feel a sense of closeness to God. For that short moment, I am completely content. I have no worries and no cares. It is a tiny, minute taste of heaven. There are three reasons that may cause prayer to be unproductive: Lack of time, lack of silence, and lack of faith.
I should have a quiet place to pray. This is because God is quiet and peaceful. His words to me are for me alone, so he doesn’t speak loudly that everyone around can hear. If there are too many distractions, I can’t concentrate, I don’t connect with God. If there is no connection, prayer cannot be productive.
I should give myself the time I need for formal prayer to be productive. Some days I have a lot to talk about, other days, very little. When I have a lot to talk about, prayer time will be longer. Plan for those longer times. If I finish early some days, I just got some more leisure time. I should never rush through formal prayer. At the same time, I should schedule a time for my prayer each day. It is too easy to put prayer on the backburner. Before I know it the day is over, it’s bed time, and I never took any time out of my day for prayer. Putting off prayer is the same as putting off God. I should never miss my prayer time. That might mean I have to cut out or reduce some of my leisure activities. God is more important.
Lack of faith is another cause of unproductive prayer. Sometimes I do everything right, but God still feels distant. This is caused by lack of faith. Despite being Catholic for a while, I am still far from God. I sometimes don’t feel much after praying. People closer to God will not have this problem as much. In other words, the farther along a person is on their spiritual journey, the greater the chance that their prayer will be productive. A new Catholic will have a harder time connecting with God through prayer than a veteran Catholic. Some people are simply blessed by God to be capable of productive prayer from the beginning.
Lack of faith is largely out of my control. I need patience and trust in God to pull me closer. I do have control over lack of time and lack of silence though. I should always make my best effort to have time and a quiet place for formal prayer. Also, better late than never: If I happen to forget about my formal prayer time, I must stay up later to finish it.
Ideal 1.42: I should include the Bible in my formal prayer.
Even though it was written thousands of years ago, the Bible is the Living Word. God can speak to me in the present through the Bible as if it was written just for me. Whenever I read the Bible, God is speaking directly to me. I will only hear God if I encourage it though. This means praying to the Holy Spirit as I read the Sacred Scriptures and asking to be enlightened in what God is trying to tell me. Lectio Divina is one way to do this.
Ideal 1.5: I should pray the Rosary once a day during Lent and once a week during the rest of the year.
The Rosary is a brilliant form of meditative prayer. Most people think the Rosary is just repeating a bunch of prayers over and over, but it’s more than that. The repetition keeps me in the right state of mind to meditate on the mysteries. For five to ten minutes I acknowledge one of the mysteries in the Bible, using them to become closer to Jesus and Mary. Try thinking about something for five to ten minutes without any random thoughts intruding on your mind. It’s very hard to do, but the Rosary makes it possible because of that repetition. In the front of my mind, where I internally verbalize words, I repeat the words of the prayers. In the back of my mind, where there are no words but only feelings, I meditate on the mystery. I am basically thinking of two things at the same time.
Lent should be a time of extra prayer. Praying the Rosary is a great way to do that. It can fill up some of the free time from other leisure activities I gave up for Lent. The rest of the year, I should pray the Rosary once a week. Fridays and Sundays are especially good days for this. Every Friday is a memorial of Jesus’s death on the cross. Sundays are a day of rest, so I am likely to have the free time to fit this extra prayer in.
Ideal 1.6: I should spend time each week with the Blessed Sacrament during Lent.
All prayer is about becoming closer to God. The Blessed Sacrament is Jesus, right there, and Jesus is God, so praying before the Blessed Sacrament is one of the best ways to get closer to God. It is hard to fit this in every week, even for only the few months of Lent. However, it doesn’t have to be several hours. My formal prayer followed by a Rosary is around 30 to 60 minutes. That is long enough.
Ideal 1.7: I should go to confession once a month.
I commit sins every day. Hopefully, they are only venial, but they are still sins. Every priest I have talked to or read about recommends confession once a month. Fitting this into the schedule can be hard because I am not always free at the confession times. Most churches only have one time for confession. If it doesn’t fit my schedule I can’t go. However, it is only once a month. I should be able to bend my schedule enough once a month for this.