As a little kid in primary school, I can remember prayer often felt like a wish list at Christmas where you asked for a load of gifts and then waited for some hidden being to magically make them appear.
Prayer was always a one-sided conversation and when it wasn’t asking for stuff, it was a memory test to try and remember all the words to the Our Father, Hail Mary or the prayer we used to say at the start and end of the school day.
As I grew up, this mindset didn’t really change and, as I got nothing from it, I gradually started to give up on prayer and thought it a waste of time.
But things changed, and so here are ten practices I was taught that flipped my understanding of prayer on its head and revolutionised both my prayer and my life.
1. Understand why you’re doing it
Prayer is less about asking and much more about developing a relationship with God.
Saint Augustine once famously said about God, “… our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.” This sums up what it means to be human incredibly well; we are constantly looking for infinite fulfilment but are unable to find it in anything we have on earth as, by their nature, they are ‘finite’, which is to say that they don’t exit forever.
Through prayer, we create within ourselves the stillness of mind and body that allows our soul to be receptive to God and be aware of his presence. From here, our lives begin to be effected as well.
When we are able to be in communion/relationship with God for a few minutes without distraction, we slowly learn how to be in communion with God in more and more areas of our life. This eventually results in us living in a state of constant fulfilling communion with God, even when experiencing huge torment – a feat attested to by the martyrs.
The topic of why we pray is far more expansive then written here and, while I’ve done my best to explain its core function, I massively encourage you to check out the YouCat or our Discover section for more information on this incredible topic.
2. Find a way that works best for you
All people are different and will find that different forms of prayer are more natural or easy for them to build a relationship with God through.
Equally, the opposite can be said.
This isn’t to say that any form of prayer is useless or bad but more that, just like when you go to gym certain activities will bear more fruit when you begin to develop, depending on your pre-existing state.
When picking a prayer to begin with, choose one you can do easily and often and use it as a foundation prayer. With this foundation you can strongly build your spirituality before then going on to tackle other prayer forms you find harder or ‘drier’.
3. Create a sacred space
While not a necessity for prayer, having a certain place which you set aside for prayer can really help your prayer life, as it helps remove distraction and focuses your mind on the task at hand.
Obviously setting a whole room aside for prayer alone would probably be impractical in most homes, but there are some easy ways around this.
Having a set of images, candles or items you can use to change how a room looks can help change even the most normal room into somewhere far more peaceful and reflective, lending an atmosphere more engaging to pray in.
Alternatively, a wall or corner of a room can be decorated and used as a personal shrine, again giving a place purely for prayer.
Ultimately, it is the mindset and not the room layout you’re after, but by having a sacred space you will really see your faith blossom.
4. Create a daily routine
By assigning a time of the day to prayer, you ensure that you are constantly growing your spirituality.
The amount of time you commit does not overly matter as long as it is every day.
In many ways it’s similar to learning another language, as you’ll notice you grow far more from praying for just five minutes every day than doing an hour of prayer only once a week.
Great times to commit to prayer are: when you’ve woken up but before you’ve started getting ready, time going to and from school/work, after a meal time, before going to bed.
While these may be great for you, if not, simply look at your day and identify a time where you can ensure you’ll be undisturbed and don’t have anything pressing to do.
You may also like to put an alarm on your phone as this is a great way of ensuring you don’t miss your set time.
5. Be well rested
Sleep is great and allows us to more passionately complete our tasks.
While you shouldn’t beat yourself up about falling asleep in prayer – Saint Joseph’s most profound moments with God were while he slept! – being tired makes focusing on your prayer much harder.
By ensuring you are well rested, you’ll find your mind wanders less and you can more passionately pray for longer.
6. Start small and slowly push yourself
Using the gym analogy again, if you have no experience lifting weights it makes no sense going straight for the heaviest.
Start by taking your chosen prayer and doing it for as long as you find comfortable. As and when you feel called to expand that time, gradually build it up.
Obviously different prayer forms require you to build them up differently, but in general it’s just doing the chosen prayer for longer.
For certain more complex prayers, like the divine office or rosary, you may find that segmenting it to begin with can be a real help. This allows you to deeply understand each beautiful, but sometimes complex, part of the prayer instead of trying to go full throttle straight away and being left completely perplexed by everything you have to do!
You won’t always feel like praying and when you do, you won’t always feel like you are having a very deep connection with God.
Everyone, including folks like Saint Mother Teresa, will experience times of spiritual dryness, hardship or lack of desire to pray. The key is to keep up the routine of prayer and resist temptation.
Such moments are necessary for the greatest spiritual growth, as they teach us to love without reward and find joy simply in the giving of love.
It can be incredibly hard but, as Mother Teresa’s example shows us, by learning to do this we transform both the world and ourselves so much for the better.
8. Find others you can pray with
Whether friends, family or one of the many prayer groups you can find in our Groups section, having others to journey with is a God-send.
You can share the joys and help each other through the hardships of a life with God and it truly creates some of the closest friends and relations you will ever have.
Having other people counting on you also really helps you to be dedicated to prayer as now it’s not just yourself benefiting from the prayer.
9. Go to Mass regularly
Mass brings us into complete physical communion with Jesus, as when you consume the host you become one physically with God.
When we receive this open-heartedly, and willingly seeking communion with God, it is one of the most potent ways we can develop our prayer life.
10. Embrace the sacrament of reconciliation
Nobody is perfect and everybody has their challenges and temptations they feel they just can’t overcome.
When we give in to these temptations and sin, our communion with God is damaged and prayer becomes harder and can feel less potent.
God understands this and loves us regardless. This is important as this love is too great to leave us trapped by the sins that we fall into.
For this reason, Jesus instituted this sacrament, so that through the grace of it we can be completely renewed and unburdened by what’s holding us back from God – and can continue to build our life without being so crippled by our sins.