What's the Secret to a Great Prayer Life?
It seems like prayer really shouldn't be that hard: Bow your head, close your eyes, talk to God. But a lot of times, it is hard. You might get distracted. You might feel phony and wonder if you're just talking to yourself. You might fear that you're doing it wrong or not doing it enough. Instead of making you feel closer to God, prayer makes you feel uncomfortable and inadequate.
Way back in the 1600s, a French monk named Brother Lawrence devoted his life to walking as close to God as he possibly could. For him, that meant making prayer not just something he did, but something he lived every moment of every day. He shared this way of life with others through conversations, letters and short writings, some of which were collected in the book The Practice of the Presence of God. The following reading was taken from three of his letters.
If you can…devote yourself entirely to praying to God you will have accomplished a great feat. He does not ask much of us, merely a thought of Him from time to time, a little act of adoration, sometimes to ask for His grace, sometimes to offer Him your sufferings, at other times to thank Him for the graces, past and present, He has bestowed on you, in the midst of your troubles to take solace in Him as often as you can. Lift up your heart to Him during your meals and in company; the least little remembrance will always be most pleasing to Him. One need not cry out very loudly; He is nearer to us than we think.
It is not necessary to be always in church to be with God; we can make a private chapel of our heart where we can retire from time to time to commune with Him, peacefully, humbly, lovingly; everyone is capable of these intimate conversations with God, some more, others less; He knows what we can do. Let us begin—perhaps He is only waiting for a single generous resolution from us. …
Become accustomed then little by little to adore Him in this way: demand of Him His grace; offer Him your heart from time to time during the day in the midst of your work, at every moment if you can; do not burden yourself with rules…but act with faith, with love and with humility. …
As for time formally set aside for prayer, it is only a continuation of the same exercise. Sometimes I think of myself as a block of stone before a sculptor, ready to be sculpted into a statue, presenting myself thus to God and I beg Him to form His perfect image in my soul and make me entirely like Himself.
At other times, as soon as I concentrate, and with no trouble or effort on my part, I feel my whole spirit and my whole soul raised up and it remains so as if suspended and firmly fixed in God as its center and place of rest.
If we wish to enjoy the peace of paradise in this life, we must accustom ourselves to an intimate, humble and loving conversation with Him; we must prevent our minds from wandering away from Him on any occasion; we must make our hearts a sanctuary where we adore Him continually; we must ever be on the alert not to do anything, say anything or think anything that might displease Him.