When I think of my first experiences of prayer, I vividly remember praying at specific moments to get out of trouble because I had done something wrong or broken something as a child. As a teen, I remember trying to move from those prayers of a moment in need to praying very devoutly when the feeling suited me. When I was at Bible School as an adult, I remember one of our instructors who pointed out that the most important thing we can do in prayer is to show up, or, as the YouCat says, “prayer thrives on faithfulness” (YouCat 490). It matters greatly to our relationship with God that we carve out a specific space for Him in our day.
From there, we can look to various sources to help inspire our prayer. We can see biblical figures both great and small through whose lives of prayer God was able to do some incredible things. We can see the rich heritage of saints whose insight and experiences of prayer are a testament to how much God can sanctify a willing heart. And we can be grateful for the Holy Spirit who comes to live in our hearts and who teaches us to pray and for the Church who invites us to join in her prayer. But with all these examples and the presence of God Himself in our hearts, prayer still requires us to make a step in God’s direction:
“Someone who prays as a Christian steps at that moment out of himself and enters into an attitude of trusting faith in the one God and Lord; at the same time he places all his hope in God – that HE will hear, understand, and perfect him.” -YouCat 493
This is the beauty of a life of prayer… we show up as we are, with our hopes and our needs; and God shows up meeting us in that moment to give us what we need. We open ourselves up to God and then allow Him, bit by bit, to change our hearts. Soren Kierkegaard explains that this is the result of prayer, that God “…changes the person who prays.“ In many way these changes take place in the same way as our skin gets tanned by any time spent in the summer sun: to pray is to spend time Son-tanning. God uses our initial pleas for help, and those prayers offered for the sake of good feelings as stepping stones to a much deeper life of prayer: one based on an intimate encounter with the God who loves us. In meeting Him we become more and more like Him, making small changes or paradigmatic shifts in our lives as the Holy Spirit prompts us. We discover that “everything that happens, every encounter can become the occasion for prayer. For the more deeply we live in union with God, the deeper we understand the world around us” (YouCat 494). We grow from specific moments of prayer – which we never abandon – to a life of prayer, recognizing the presence of Christ both in others and working in our hearts in every moment of the day. Perhaps Blessed Mother Teresa sums it up the best:
“My secret is quite simple: I pray. And through my prayer I become one with the love of Christ and see that praying is loving him, that praying is living with him, and that means making his words come true… for me, praying means being one with the will of Jesus twenty-four hours a day, living for him, through him, and with him.”
This is what we see in those biblical and saintly examples of prayer. We see people who have so opened themselves up to the action of the Holy Spirit inside them that God is able to do something incredible with their lives. And He wants to do the same in you and in me… so He calls us to pray just as He has called so many other men and women to a deep, rewarding, and life-changing life of prayer.