“Prayer is being on terms of friendship with God, frequently conversing in secret with Him who, we know, loves us.” Saint Teresa of Avila was a very wise woman, and this has to be one of my favorite quotes from her. Growing up, my view of prayer was very firm and polished. Thanks to the example of my parents and my Catholic school teachers, I knew the Apostles Creed, the Hail Mary, Our Father, Memorare, Glory Be…you name the prayer and I probably knew it. I was well-versed in structured prayer like the rosary, stations of the cross and the mass, but what I had was very safe and did not include or welcome the messiness of life. I filled Adoration with the Rosary, Lectio Divina or Praise and Worship and would quickly end my prayer time with intentions that were on my heart. While all of these methods of prayer are holy and useful, we should always make it a priority to give God the space to respond.
There is no such thing as a perfect prayer, in fact, prayer can and should get messy sometimes. Just like in relationships with humans, conversations can get messy when we are angry or scared or frustrated by a situation or another person. I think many times we try to shy away from these emotions in prayer. We think we must present our best, most perfect selves to our God, but that is not what He desires. God knows our humanity-He created us-so we should never fear that He will turn His back on us when we present our trials and sufferings to Him. God wants us to be honest and vulnerable with Him, just as we are with our closest friends. This means that sometimes we may go into prayer mad at God for something that is going on in our life, lean into that. Yell at God, cry to Him, and be ready to be fully received by Him. It is only when we are truly authentic with God in prayer that we can grow in relationship with Him. That is why we pray-to grow in relationship with our Heavenly Father.
Now, you might be asking yourself what this looks like practically, and I can tell you one thing for sure: prayer looks different for everyone, but ultimately the goal is to enter into God’s heavenly presence. I suggest you set aside time every day for a conversation with God. This might be your 30 minute commute to work, the first ten minutes of your morning, or even the twenty minutes before you go to sleep at night; but make an effort to set this specific time aside for prayer every day. You may be thinking your schedule is too busy to pray every day, but my friend, even Jesus took a break from healing the sick, teaching, preaching, and performing miracles to pray. The best, simplest and most effective way to pray is to be alone with God and to speak to Him from the heart. And I can promise that when you make time for these conversations with God, everything else will fall into place.
My other piece of advice as you take this deeper dive into your relationship with our Lord, is to surrender everything in your life to Him. In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 2611 states: “The prayer of faith consists not only in saying “Lord, Lord,” but in disposing the heart to do the will of the Father. Jesus calls his disciples to bring into their prayer this concern for cooperating with the divine plan.” When we pray, we should present every joy, thanksgiving, trial, suffering, worry and concern, but we should also be ready and willing to surrender those to God and trust that He has a plan for our lives. He will not leave us stranded or wounded forever because He is a good God; we must have faith! If you are struggling with this concept of complete surrender, I would recommend praying the Litany of Trust, the Novena of Surrender to Jesus, or even just reflect on the Jesus, I Trust in You image.
I also want to use this opportunity to reinforce the goodness and necessity of structured prayer in our lives. I am not suggesting you give up your Rosary or Chaplet of Divine Mercy, because these are prayerful tools meant to facilitate our presence into the heavenly realm. I would challenge that these holy tools are not a means to their own end. I encourage you to allow the Holy Spirit to guide your prayer and not permit structured prayer to be our only means of encountering God.
My final piece of advice is to make big asks. There is no desire too big for God, so make your needs known! Just like in any relationship with love at the center, God, as our lover, wants to pour out His graces in abundance to each and every one of us. When you are in prayer, make your needs known! Ask God to fill you with His Spirit! Ask for His direction when picking a college, applying for jobs, or finding your soulmate. Make your desires known to our Lord and wait quietly for His answer, because prayer is always meant to be a conversation between us and God that allows a beautiful friendship to blossom.