DEAR FATHER: I was reading a spiritual book about personal prayer, and in the book it talks about how to get into a meditative state and just talk to God. I have a wandering mind and find it very difficult to get into a meditative state of mind. Throughout my day, when I am alone, I talk to myself, both in my mind and sometimes aloud. I talk about issues in my life, how I feel about things going on, why I am the way I am, why I struggle with things going on in my life, future events and plans … etc. When I do this, am I talking to God? Could this be a “conversation with Christ”? —DESIRING A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD
DEAR DESIRING A RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD: When the disciples asked Jesus to teach them how to pray, he taught them the Our Father. Jesus sees prayer as a raising of our minds and hearts to God in a loving and trusting way. In prayer, as in all good things, God always makes the first move. He inspires in us the desire to pray, whether it is in the secret of our room, in a church, or outside. We respond to God’s initiative by praying. That’s why we should always begin with an act of thanksgiving to God for inviting us to come into in his presence.
Just like a runner who does warm-up exercises before he begins to jog, you too must prepare yourself to pray. If you knew the pope was going to visit your home, you’d get everything ready for his coming: cleaning, dusting, straightening the pictures on the walls, etc. You might even plan what you’re going to say to him. Well, in prayer it’s not the pope who is coming to visit but your loving and merciful Father. How much more thorough should your preparation be!
You should first find a quiet or sacred space at home, in the church, or outside. God, of course, is everywhere and can be worshipped anywhere. You’re not everywhere, however, and you need some special location in which to converse with God.
We humans are easily distracted, so you have to eliminate all exterior noises as much as possible. You then face the more difficult task of getting rid of the noises within you: issues at work or home, anger, laziness, pride, greed, lust, and so on. If you neglect this aspect of the preparation, you leave yourself open to many distractions.
Next decide how much time you want to dedicate to prayer, and also at what time of the day you plan to pray (morning, afternoon, or night). In order to create a habit, you should strive to pray at the same time every day. You can control only the amount of time you’ll spend; God dictates everything else that happens in prayer. You should strive to make yourself more attentive and available to God. Just be ready to be surprised at times, for you are God’s beloved son or daughter.
As you can see, developing a prayer life requires perseverance, patience, and trust that God will be there for you, even if nothing seems to be happening. It sounds complicated when I try to explain it, but the reality is simple once you start the process.
Your letter makes it clear that you have a desire for God, who is inviting you to draw closer to him. All the questions you ask about yourself should be directed to God, who is interested in all that happens to you. You’ll find God in the details, because he cares for you. He created you with all that you need in order to respond to his love. He will give you the strength to overcome your faults and failures. He’s taken care of you up to now, so you can be certain that he will continue to do so tomorrow.
Since prayer is “a conversation with Christ,” you also have to learn to listen to what he is telling you. Without moments of silence in your prayers, you’ll be on a different wavelength and unable to receive his messages. Your daily prayer will teach you that silence is the vessel that God uses to fill you with his love. Without these quiet moments you’ll only be entertaining your own thoughts and desires. You have to empty yourself so that he can fill in the void with himself.
Aside from having a sacred space and time, I would suggest that you get into the habit of saying short aspirations throughout the day. These are short prayers which can be said anytime, out loud or quietly—for example, “Jesus, I love you” or “Holy Spirit, guide me” or “Holy Mother of God, pray for me.” You can make up your own aspirations according to your circumstances. All these will maintain your awareness of God’s presence and love for you.
You mention in your letter that God wants to have a relationship with you. That’s true. God knows you already. As he reveals himself to you in prayer, you’ll get to know yourself better. You’ll see more clearly your qualities and faults, and you’ll also be awed by the beauty and power of the God who loves you and forgives you. You’ll be more aware of your dependence on God for everything. One day you’ll be able to say, like St. John XXIII: “God is all; I am nothing.”