We’ve all heard it a million times – every conference, training, and Diocesan gathering. We say it to other youth minters, our Core Teams, and our teens. We know it in our heads, but often we fail to practice it in our hearts. “Prayer needs to be the center of our life as Catholic Christians and especially as Youth Ministers.” The trouble is, I am a sinner, and I fail at this a lot of the time. Consequently I often rationalize my half-hearted prayer. Here are my three most common prayer hazards:
I take great joy in the process of prayer, but that means I take joy in my prayer, not in my God. Consequently I only pray when it is enjoyable, easy, and convenient. I pray about as often as my other leisure activities like taking a walk or reading (but not as much as watching TV or playing Angry Birds). When I pray recreationally, I do it for the way it makes me feel.
I know that if I don’t pray, youth ministry at my parish will fail or worse, so if I have a big retreat coming up, I pray like crazy. It’s a lot like flossing the morning of a trip to the dentist office. Also, I get just enough exposure to God Almighty during youth ministry activities with the teens; I don’t feel the need for prayer outside of work. When I pray occupationally, I do it because I know I am supposed to.
I have woven prayer into the very fabric of my day, which is good. As I am inspired to do so, I pray. But because I do this, I rationalize that I don’t need dedicated prayer time. I pray all day, so I don’t need to put myself before God in “extra” prayer time. When I pray inspirationally, I do it because it is easy.
When I get into one of rationalization hazards, merely willing myself back into prayer isn’t enough. Luckily there are four habits that help get me back into prayer. Any one of these or a combination usually gets me back on track with my prayer life.
When I fall into one of my rationalized prayer traps it usually comes in the middle of a dry period of prayer (few consolations). When I finally figure out that this is occurring, I know I just need to do it. No matter how good or poor the prayer, pray it. Even if I just race through a rosary or Liturgy of the Hours, I do it, no matter what.
Make a place (not at my desk)
One of my biggest Occupational Prayer pitfalls is saying I am going to pray when I get to work. When I try to pray at my desk, my attention is stolen by email, Facebook, twitter, the stack of retreat forms, and the red light on my phone. If I am going to make my prayer more than just what I do for my job, I have to do it at home (in my family’s prayer niche), or in our Adoration Chapel or church.
Praying throughout the course of the day is great, but when I rationalize that I don’t need prayer time because I pray all day, my prayer life can dry out pretty quickly. I have a friend who writes down prayer intentions all day long so when he goes to pray at night, he has a ready made list and it adds to, instead of taking away from his dedicated prayer time in the evening. Further, when I’m having trouble focusing in prayer I will often just jot down when is coming to my mind and then get back to prayer. Half the time I end up with our next retreat theme!
When all else fails, I quit trying to pray the right words, and start listening. Scripture is pretty clear, from Zachariah 2:13 “Be still before the Lord, all mankind, because he has roused himself from his holy dwelling,” to Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth,” and Matthew 17:5 “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well please. Listen to him!” Nothing brings me back into relationship with God and reconnects me to prayer like spending time in prayer listening.
We all know what it is like to totally and completely surrender in prayer. The process of returning to that experience of surrender is as much a blessing as the experience itself because God is present throughout. Bishop Robert Herman once said in a homily (and I paraphrase), “Our biggest shortcomings can be our biggest blessings, because they can, more than anything else in our lives, bring us closer to Christ.”