How to Pray: Start Shallow

There’s one piece of advice that I probably give more than any other. In fact, I usually give it as homework when I speak to a group:

Spend fifteen minutes in silence with the Lord every day. No music, no rosary, no Bible, just you and Jesus and the awkwardness of silence.

In my experience, Catholics aren’t often encouraged just to have quiet time with the Lord, although I can’t imagine there are any Saints who didn’t do that on a daily basis. But silence means vulnerability and dealing with our issues and letting God into our mess and listening to him and isn’t it easier just to dash off a half-hearted rosary and call yourself good?

Now the rosary is a beautiful prayer and y’all know I love the Bible and the Mass and every other Catholic devotion. But there is no substitute for silent time with the Lord. It’s easy to use the beautiful prayers of our tradition to keep God at arm’s length. Not so easy when it’s just you and him and a whole lot of nothing else.

So I tell people to make a commitment to silent prayer, which is all well and good but most of us don’t know how to pray. The response I hear most often is, “I don’t know what to say.”

"I was there. I took pictures. Shut up about the playground already!" #parentingfail #youneedanapMax

“I was there. I took pictures. Shut up about the playground already!” #parentingfail #youneedanapMax

Here’s how you start: just talk. God just wants to hear your voice. Tell him about your day. “But he already knows all that!” Yes, but he wants to hear you say it. Just like you enjoy hearing your three-year-old tell you about story time even though you were there with him, God likes listening to you talk. And when you start talking, he starts showing you what was really going on.

One of the most important elements of my prayer life is my nightly chat with the Lord. I start off talking to him about the big things that are weighing on my heart and then go through my day from the very beginning. I don’t take it minute by minute, but I hit the highlights. It gives me a chance to deal with some of my unresolved thoughts about the day. And the more I talk to him (and, especially, the more I’m steeped in Scripture and the liturgy) the more my reflections on the day turn to praise or contrition or thanksgiving or supplication. I start off shallow, but the Spirit starts to move and my lame rundown of the day’s events becomes so much more. Then I end by choosing the best and worst moments of the day and praying over those and then asking a particular grace for the next day.

To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here’s what my prayer looked like tonight. I took out some of the more personal parts and condensed some of the stuff that got long, but this is pretty much what I’m talking about. Enjoy your visit inside my head.

Ooh, it was hard to wake up this morning. Which is probably because I was an idiot last night and stayed up way too late reading. Lord, will you make me more prudent and help me to get some sleep? But I made it through the whole day without coffee, so that was kind of great. Save the good stuff for when I really need it.

Then I went to Mass, which was…I don’t really remember much about it. I know I wasn’t falling asleep. I just wasn’t really paying attention. Because I mostly don’t pay attention at Mass. I guess I forget Mass is prayer and just think of it as something I have to do. I’m not sure really how to fix that. Get there earlier? Just be more present? In any event, help me to pray the Mass instead of just showing up.

John Paul Cecilia selfieI came back and helped get the kids ready. God, I love those kids! Thank you so much that I get to be their aunt and that I get to spend time with them this summer. Help me love them well. And you know what? The car ride wasn’t bad! I mean, Mary Claire was kind of a disaster. But Elizabeth slept, so thanks for that. And Mary Claire mostly wailed quietly. Plus we prayed a Rosary. Well, we said a Rosary. I was pretty wildly distracted, but darling, it’s just the best I can do today. I love that you’re okay with even my feeble attempts. But do make me holy.

And we got to Grandmother’s house and John Paul wasn’t a disaster. I don’t think he broke a single thing! Well, the pool noodle, but all told, it was pretty impressive. Thanks for how he’s growing and figuring out how to interact with people and the world. I’d say he’s getting more normal, but that will never happen–and thank you for that! Just let him be a force for you, love.

Chick Fil-A was awesome. Man, I love that place. Thanks for the Solemnity so I could have chicken nuggets and a milkshake on Friday! Oh, I guess also thanks for the Solemnity because it’s a beautiful celebration. The Sacred Heart–Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest.1 What a grace it is to rest in you, Lord. Thank you for holding me close, for just seeing the mess I am and loving me and wanting me and even using me. I just want to be all yours, love, to give myself for the salvation of sinners and the glory of your name. Yeah, that’s what today was about. But also, thanks for the milkshake.

And that thing Grandmother said–that was so kind of her! Help me to be the person she thinks I am, to deserve such a compliment. Ugh, and help me not to judge people so much. I’m just such a jerk. But you’re teaching me, aren’t you? I’m sorry. Oh, heal me!

Great-Grandmother John Paul CeciliaShe is something else, Grandmother. 94 years old and she suggests that we take a walk down to the river! I mean, I want to die young because I’m lazy, but if I have to live a long life (and I’m sure I do), could I age like that? Healthy and active and lucid? Your will, though. If I need to suffer, let it be done unto me. Just…help me endure it.

But I love watching her with the kids. And they really did such a great job! Even on the car ride home–well, until the end, but that wasn’t so bad, all things considered. And dinner was crazy but not too bad. Thank you that Elizabeth wanted to go to bed early so she wasn’t in the mix when Mary Claire had her disaster. You sure know what we can handle. And thank you that I was here at all! Poor Rosie might have been overcome with all that tonight, and pregnant to boot. Thank you that they’re so open to life and to letting me love their little ones.

And then I went to the library and it was closed, which is really frustrating. But, in retrospect, probably a good thing. Maybe this way I’ll get to bed at a reasonable hour, since I won’t have a book to read. I’ll just have to pretend the internet doesn’t exist. Oh, Buzzfeed. If I were a Saint, I probably wouldn’t care so much about which P.G. Wodehouse character I am or why Fred and George are the best characters in Harry Potter. (28 reasons!) Maybe it’s legitimate leisure. After all, when do I really get to chill during the day? But I should probably balance leisure with sleep….

Man it’s cold in here. But it’s June so maybe I should stop whining and ask you to bless people who can’t afford air conditioning instead. God, help the poor. And show me how you want me to help them. I feel like my heart is so drawn to evangelization that there isn’t anything left for serving the poor, but Pope Francis might not be on board with that.

Oh, and then finally I got my chapel time. And I don’t know what you’re doing, Lord, but I’m in. I’m going to try to keep my heart more open and just be more aware of where you’re leading and we’ll just see where we end up. Thank you that I was totally conscious for the whole meditation. And I think getting back to On the Incarnation after so many years is going to be really good. The Sheed book is starting to drag a little.

Okay, so I need to start sending emails about July and August and tomorrow I’m just going to need you to teach me to be selfless. When I’m on baby duty, time for us doesn’t always happen when I want it to. It’s a grace that I usually get to live on your time, but help me not to be resentful tomorrow.

Best part of today? Honestly, probably sitting with you tonight. But I also just love being with those kids. Oh, no–when Elizabeth saw me this morning and I asked for a kiss and she lit up and ran to me. Help me to love better.

Worst part? Definitely when Mary Claire pooped on Cecilia and then we were cleaning that up and Rosie knocked over my coffee and then when we were cleaning that up Mary Claire peed on the rug. Oy, what a mess! But we were both pretty chill, which was an absolute grace. She’s such a good mom. Make her a saint. And thanks for letting me watch her grow. It’s pretty amazing to see.

Jesus, I love you. Teach me, draw me, forgive me, heal me. Make me holy. Amen.

Shallow in parts, intense in parts. Yours doesn’t have to use any fancy language or Bible verses. It’s often better if you don’t. God doesn’t want poetry, he wants reality. And if your reality is ugly or simple or dull, offer him that. Give him yourself.

I’m going to challenge anyone reading this who doesn’t spend time in silent prayer every day to do this for the next month. Set a timer for 15 minutes if you want.2 Pray in the morning or at lunchtime if bedtime isn’t good for you. But don’t feel like the fact that you don’t know what to say is any excuse. We don’t any of us know what to say, not even St. Paul!3 Just start talking. Every day. It’ll get easier and you’ll get holier and God will start doing marvelous things. Start shallow–with your boring life that the God of the universe somehow finds enthralling–and see where God takes you.

  1. Mt 11:28 []
  2. I just set the time before my phone screen shuts off and then if it’s dark when I feel like I’m done, I’m good. If it’s not, I circle back to something important. []
  3. Rom 8:26 []

About Meg

I'm a Catholic, madly in love with the Lord, His Word, His Bride the Church, and especially His Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity in the Eucharist. I'm committed to the Church not because I was raised this way but because the Lord has drawn my heart and convicted my reason. After 2 degrees in theology and 5 years in the classroom, I quit my 9-5 to follow Christ more literally. Since May of 2012, I've been a hobo for Christ; I live out of my car and travel the country speaking to youth and adults, giving retreats, blogging, and trying to rock the world for Jesus.
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15 Responses to How to Pray: Start Shallow

  1. Jenny says:

    I so need to commit to this. Beautiful.

    And your sister is so lucky to have you!
    Jenny recently posted…Won’t *something* wreck our bodies eventually?My Profile

  2. Jordan says:

    Meg,
    This is exactly what I have been needing! Thank you so much for letting me into your prayer!
    Love, Jordan

  3. Karen says:

    Thank you for bring me back to reality. The Catholic Church is so beautiful and complex. I am riding on the coat tails of some brilliant scholars and can’t believe how little I understand the church’s offerings.

  4. Patty says:

    So encouraging….in the silence of our hearts is where we meet Jesus! So good, but hard at times. Thanks for the reminder and importance…the timing of this is so great because one of the teens in the youth program was just asking me how to start praying! 🙂

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  6. sharoneujones says:

    What a wonderful post I have just read, i am not a Catholic, I have a little book on learning to be a Catholic, I am at a cross roads in my life, thank you for this post, I think you have come into my life for a reason.

    Bless you.

    PS I am gonna give it my best shot at 15 minutes a day. xo

  7. Laura says:

    I love this! It’s a good reminder that religion is more than doctrines and teachings – it’s about a personal relationship with Jesus. Thank you for the practical suggestion! Do you mentally pray, or write it down during this time?

  8. nancyo says:

    Thanks for this – what a wonderfully approachable example, and a reminder of just how approachable He is!
    nancyo recently posted…Quick Takes: Sacred HeartMy Profile

  9. Gina says:

    Wow. This post is great, and just what I needed this week. After my priest had told me to find silence and solitude, now I have a new way of looking at prayer during my silent and alone time.

    Also, I’ll be sharing this in a post on my blog soon!

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  12. Emily says:

    Wow — I really needed that. Thank you so much! 🙂

  13. Thank you for showing us what intimacy with God can look like. God is constantly calling each of us deeper into His Heart…

  14. Great web site. Plenty of useful information here.
    I’m sending it to some buddies ans also sharing in delicious.
    And obviously, thank you in your sweat!
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