I know there are people out there–lots of them–who show up Sunday morning and call it good for the week. I know there are people who check Catholic on forms but don’t have any kind of a relationship with Christ. I guess I just figured there was a solid core of believers who were in love with Christ–or at least trying to be.
But I’m reading Sherry Weddell’s Forming Intentional Disciples and it’s breaking my heart. Almost half of Catholics, she says, don’t believe God is a personal God. They don’t even believe it’s possible to have a relationship with him. Most of us don’t pray beyond what’s required and when we do it’s not about love so much as a sense of duty. We might be committed to the Church, but we’re not really committed to Christ.
I hope this shocks you as much as it shocked me. I hope you’re living for Christ and seeking him every day in prayer. But if you’re one of those people checking off the boxes, one of those people doing the bare minimum and longing for more, I’m calling you out. Please go deeper. Christ is so much more than you think he is and you can be so much more, too. It’s great that you’re going to Mass, but I know he wants more from you. He wants more for you. He wants you to know him, to love him, to follow him and be fulfilled by him. He wants your prayer to be more than just lip service. He wants you to want him.
Maybe that’s too abstract, so I’m not staying up in my ivory tower on this one. I’m getting practical. You want to know where to start? Here are 50 ways to approach prayer like it’s more than just something to get through so you can get on with your week. Try one, try them all, but try something. You have nothing to lose. You have everything to gain.
- Close your eyes and just repeat the name of Jesus.
- Write a letter to God every night for a month. Promise yourself you won’t let anyone read them so you can forget the fancy language and get real.
- Read the Song of Songs like Christ is the bridegroom and you’re the bride. Because you are.
- When things get crazy, go to adoration at night.1 Don’t try to stay on topic–just talk through all the mess in your life. Talk in circles and get frustrated and pull out your shopping list and process until your mind finally slows down. Work through it all and then just let yourself be. It’s a very loud silence, that.
- Pray the news. Beg mercy for sinners, healing for the infirm, justice and peace and God’s will in all things.
- Go somewhere beautiful (I recommend Montana) and revel in the majesty of God.
- Hold a crucifix while you pray.
- Pick a small but regular sacrifice (no sugar in your coffee, no condiments, no added salt). Thank Jesus for his sacrifice every time you make yours.
- Pray the Our Father slowly. Take ten minutes to pray it once.
- Ask the Blessed Mother to hold your hand and walk you to Jesus.
- Tithe your free time–if you work eight hours a day and sleep eight hours a day, spend 48 minutes in prayer over the course of the day.
- Think of how your small children tell you they love you–over and over, at any opportunity, with deep feeling and deep beauty even when it’s deeply awkward. Talk to God like you’re a little child.
- Sit in a circle with your closest friends and take turns talking out loud to God.
- Pray the Mass like it’s the Last Supper–because it is. Listen to Jesus like it’s your last night with him.
- Pray the Mass like it’s Calvary–because it is. Look at his body stretched out, lifeless for you on the Cross. Receive his body broken for you in the Eucharist. Ask for the grace to live a life that’s worthy of that love.
- Pray the Mass like it’s the heavenly banquet–because it is. Look for what’s true and good and beautiful. Thank God for the gift of the liturgy.
- Go to a church and sit in silence until you just can’t stand it any more. Then sit for another five minutes.
- Listen to an Ignatian Meditation. (More here.)
- “For everything that has been, thanks. To everything that will be, yes.” -Dag Hammarskjold
- When you kneel before the priest in confession, be mindful of the fact that you’re kneeling at the foot of the Cross accusing yourself before the God who hangs dying to save you. Hate your sin but let him love you just the same.
- Memorize a Bible verse first thing in the morning. Make it your theme for the day.
- Every night, write down every sin you committed that day. Do it until you just can’t take the weight of all those sins, then go experience the sweet release of absolution. After your confession, burn the list.
- Pray the Litany of Humility until you mean it. Ouch.
- Read Psalm 136, which describes everything God has ever done as being done because of his love. Go through your life from the very beginning and list everything that’s happened to you. Follow each event–good or bad– with “for his love endures forever.” Let him show you how he used every single thing for your good.
Meditate on sacred art.
- Talk to a friend about your relationship with Jesus. Sometimes talking about God becomes talking to God.
- Remember: “[God] will give us feelings of love [toward Him] if He pleases. We cannot create them for ourselves, and we must not demand them as a right. But the great thing to remember is that, though our feelings come and go, His love for us does not. It is not wearied by our sins, or our indifference; and, therefore, it is quite relentless in its determination that we shall be cured of those sins, at whatever cost to us, at whatever cost to Him.” -C.S. Lewis2
- Read the day’s readings each day. Write down five things you learn.
- Some time when you’re not tired, lie down in the sun and try to be still with the Lord. You may drift in and out of sleep but you may also surrender your mind and actually manage silence.
- Pray over pictures of starving children. Ache for them as Christ aches for you.
- Do something mindlessly physical while you pray–run or crochet or paint a wall. Engaging your body can make it easier to surrender your mind.
Meditate on the Stations of the Cross. Don’t just read the prayers in some book–ponder the prayers, look at the pictures, put yourself in the scene. Walk the Via Dolorosa with your Lord.
- Make a list of everything you love about the Lord–who he is, what he’s done, how he loves you.
- Pray for an image of your relationship with Christ–lovers, knight and squire, father and child, king and slave, comrades at arms–and learn through that.
- When you can’t take it any more, drive to the middle of nowhere and let God have it. It’s not the nicest prayer, but it’s some of the most real.
- Hit your knees first thing in the morning and thank God for everything that’s coming at you that day. Think through everything you’re expecting to deal with and thank him for the good, the bad and the ugly.
- Offer each day–all prayers and sacrifices and blessings–for a specific person.
- Do 15 minutes of spiritual reading. Spend 15 minutes talking to God about it.
- If you speak another language, try praying in it. It’s harder to daydream in a foreign language.
- Do lectio divina.
- Rock out to some passionate praise music–“Lord I Need You,” “How He Loves,” “Amazed.”
- Pray some intense hymns–“Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent,” “It Is Well,” “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,” “Come Thou Fount.”
- Pray some intense poems–John Donne’s “Sonnet XIV,” Francis Thompson’s “Hound of Heaven,” Bl. John Henry Newman’s “The Pillar of the Cloud.”
- Do a daily examen.
- When you’re suffering, thank God for all he suffered for you. Ask him to use your pain for his glory and the salvation of souls.
- “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Over and over until you mean it.
- Pray a scriptural rosary.
- Treat the Mass like the sacrifice it is. The whole thing is about Jesus giving himself completely for you, so listen to the readings like a challenge to surrender. Then offer your joys to him when the priest offers the bread. Offer your sorrows when he offers the wine. Offer your whole self when Jesus gives himself to you in the Eucharist. Come out changed.
- At the end of the day, talk to Jesus about everything that happened that day. Thank him, beg his forgiveness, ask for strength for tomorrow.
- Go through the motions if it’s the best you can do. It’s better than nothing.
Maybe none of these will fit you. I’m writing as an uber-emotional, academically-oriented woman. If you try these–multiple times–and you’re still not feeling it, try something else. Ask your priest, your best friend, the random lady at Mass who seems so pious. Share your suggestions and struggles below. Part of the problem is that we so often don’t talk about any of this so nobody realizes that nobody has it together. Then we decide that we’re just not one of the lucky few chosen to be saints and we settle for the bare minimum–a handful of obligations with no heart.
Christianity is so much more than a list of rules and pious practices, friends. It’s a relationship, a love like none you’ve ever known before. It’s the meaning of life, the God of the universe made man for you. Please don’t be content with empty prayer and an unabandoned heart. Ask for more. He always answers that prayer.