Even the greatest saints suffer spiritual dryness from time to time. One of the best examples being St. Teresa of Calcutta, who suffered from a dark night of the soul that lasted for almost 50 years. If someone of Mother Teresa’s holiness had such a prolonged and laborious prayer life, then should it come as any wonder that the rest of us struggle in maintaining our own small prayer routines?
Prayer life is something I struggle with on a continual basis, a struggle I’ve reflected upon here before. There are times, very few and far between, when I feel as though I’m on top of my game; prayer comes easy and I come away feeling as though I would levitate like St. Joseph of Cupertino. Most of the time, however, I feel as though I’m simply ploughing through the routine of prayer, prattling of the words of rote prayers while my mind wanders to the troubles of the day – I’m going through the motions, but I’m really just mailing it in. And then there is the dark night of my soul, usually in the darkest and longest nights of winter, when my prayer train goes completely off the rails, and I will go for days neglecting my prayer life, my Rosary collecting dust just like the treadmill.
It was into this prayer darkness that a good friend Monica McConkey of Equipping Catholic Families recently shone a wonderful light.
Out of the blue I got a message from Monica asking me to check out her new e-book “A Little Way to Pray”, and I was moved by both her honesty with her struggles in the prayer life, and even more so by her determination to persevere in her growth in holiness. As I read Monica’s reflection a line jumped out at me, and I thought that is so me… that line so sums up my prayer struggles:
More often than not, the moments I’m overwhelmed and frustrated and in most need of prayer are the moments I forget to pray and just continue to struggle on my own.
… As I look back on my day, my week, or my month, I can see the wisdom in this one line. Monica shares the every day struggles she encounters when prayer could have (and should have) seen her through – laundry, dishes, meals and homework; and I can see all the times when prayer could have (and should have) seen me through life’s daily challenges – an unmotivated student, a difficult colleague, household chores and little time for myself. In the moments when I most needed to pray, to look to God for help, I pushed ahead on my own, got frustrated, becoming the man that God never intended me to be.
Knowing one has a problem is half the battle. Knowing that one struggles in prayer will only lead one into a deeper prayer life. Knowing that one has to hand over those troubles to God is the first step closer to Him.
In the tradition of Ste. Thérèse de Lisieux, Monica calls these little hiccups of life her Little Way to Pray, using them as prayer prompts in:
- Weakness, and
This is something I’ve thought of before. Struggling with a temper that can erupt under stress, I have sought out Bible verses to recall when I can feel my blood pressure rise. I figured if I just turned to God before I hit my breaking point, then I would become the quiet, docile saint I so long to be.
Unfortunately, like every great intention, things never go according to plan. Monica shares how she did not instantly become the earthly saint she intended (something that takes great courage to admit), and I, myself, will still blow my top, only to immediately resent it, beating myself up for days with lingering resentment.
But we can’t become discouraged, nor does God want us to give up. We are called to persevere in our quest for holiness. We will never achieve sainthood in this life, but this life is to be a time of preparation for when we are ready to enter into God’s Kingdom.
In The Little Way to Pray, Monica has created a tool to help in times of prayer struggle. In the beautiful way as she always does at Equipping Catholic Families, she has created fridge posters and pocket cards of prayer prompts … those little things in life that we can use to help remind us to turn to God in difficult times, both big and small. My favourite being:
Here I am in all my littleness. Please take care of this, because I can’t.