“Please pray for my parents, my job, my daughter, my husband, my car, my mind…”
How often I’ve entrusted the concerns of my heart to our parish’s sagacious women prayer warriors!
I'm grateful for their intercession, because my own life — with a husband, five kids, two work schedules, three school schedules, extracurricular activities, and volunteer obligations — is much too busy for me to move mountains with prayer. (And why bother if someone else can do it for me?)
If prayer is the intense workout classes that meet at my local park, then I’m the well-intentioned member who signs a commitment pledge, shows up every day for a week, sporadically misses class for months — and then possibly, eventually, and unintentionally never shows up again. And I don’t think I’m alone in this.
Much like exercise, prayer just isn’t as effective when it’s skipped and outsourced.
What do you mean it’s not effective? I asked the church ladies to pray for my job, and I got a promotion. Prayer works!
If prayer is just a spiritual tool to fix unfortunate life circumstances, then yes, it’s great when “it works.” Why bother to pray regularly if prayer is largely irrelevant when life is good and can be outsourced — to mom, grandma, or the parish email ministry — when life sucks?
Like the woman Jesus meets drawing water at the well, it’s easy to use God as a gimmick to make our lives easier: “Sir, give me this water, so that I may not be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (Jn 4:15). Or, more often, as in my own words: “Lord, give me this thing! Take away this problem! Fix this person! Make this happen!”
In prayer, we often ask for gifts that will make life increasingly happier and easier until we reach nirvana. However, prayer is much more than a divine life hack to make things go our way. As the Catechism tells us, “The wonder of prayer is revealed beside the well where we come seeking water: there, Christ comes to meet every human being” (CCC 2560).
Prayer is much more than a divine life hack to make things go our way.
When we pray, God doesn’t give arbitrary gifts to make our lives happier or easier in any given moment; God gives us Himself.
This is why the Catechism describes prayer as an immersion in love: It “draws everything into the love by which we are loved in Christ” (CCC 2658). Jesus didn’t give the woman at the well magic water in order to rid her of the daily chore of drawing water. He gave her Himself, a constant presence of love and source of peace.
St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, commonly known as Edith Stein, describes prayer as a necessary source of inner peace and joy for overwhelmed women. Recognizing “the participation of women in the most diverse professional disciplines” as “a blessing for the entire society, private or public,” Edith describes a life of prayer as the solution for women who are overwhelmed by “family duties and professional life” (Essays on Woman 50-57).
We might feel compelled to respond, “It's a nice idea, Edith, but seriously, look at my life. Every hour is scheduled. Someone needs me every second, even overnight. I haven’t slept more than four hours a night in years. Please don’t force me to sign up for yet another obligation, even a spiritual one!”
But what if prayer isn’t an obligatory task that requires us to wake up at 4:00 a.m. or choose between eating lunch and saying a rosary? What if prayer is a practical tool that blends easily into whatever life we’re currently living and will make us better at whatever work we’re supposed to be doing? Why is it surprising to so many of us that this is actually what the Catholic Church believes and teaches a formed life of prayer can be?
If we wait to pray until we have put on our composed church faces, then we’re missing the entire point. The Catechism reassures us that, in true prayer, “[W]e let our masks fall and turn our hearts back to the Lord who loves us” (CCC 2711). For anyone searching for an honest connection to God, prayer is everything. It is always possible (CCC 2743), vitally necessary (CCC 2744), and an inseparable part of the Christian life (CCC 2745).
If we wait to pray until we have put on our composed church faces, then we’re missing the entire point.
Asking myself when there is time to pray in such a chaotic life, I turned to the women of the FemCatholic Forum for advice. It’s a diverse membership with a variety of ages, life seasons, vocations, and occupations. In other words, it’s a great place to crowdsource advice. In part two, I’ll share their words of practical and prayerful wisdom.