Contemplative Prayer, prayer, spiritual disciplines, spiritual formation, spiritual transformation

Difficulties in Prayer

Reading and reflecting on “Guided by the Spirit: A Jesuit Perspective on Spiritual Direction” by Frank J. Houdek, SJ


I remember Eugene Peterson once saying that someone wanted to talk to him about their marriage issues.  But before they started, he asked them about their prayer life.  What does prayer have to do with marriage (or any other circumstance we’re facing)?  Everything!  

The ministry of spiritual direction has been life changing for me. Prayer is God’s responsibility and primary effort to be in communion with humanity. God initiates prayer that we might response by receiving such a free gift of consolation and communion; that we might become aware and alert to God’s wooing in our lives.

In “Guided by the Spirit”, Frank Houdek writes about some of the difficulties of prayer within the  spiritual direction (informally, many pastoral interactions) relationship.  Previously, Houdek is saying that prayer is an invitation into a deeper surrender and trust with the Source of Life.  Prayer invites us into a freedom to be our truest self where we experience God’s unconditional love for who we are.

Houdek points out a few difficulties we may experience in prayer:

  • Prayer is difficult because it requires deeper levels of trust that God loves us and is acting on our behalf.
  • Prayer styles and ruts are real. 
    •  It’s easy to get stuck on a style of prayer because that’s all we know.  Yet we’re not experiencing freedom, flow, or authenticity.  
    • We have a limited view of prayer that can diminish our experience instead of expanding God’s love.
  • An exaggerated preoccupation with the self.
    • “Often the source of this difficulty is a long-term sense of personal inadequacy…a lowered self-esteem, a sense of personal deficiency…[causing the person concern about doing prayer the right way].
  • We exert too much effort in making prayer “successful”
    • Houdek says that we may have a “…self-righteous approach to prayer predicated on the understanding that prayer is something one does and that, if one does it intensely enough, then God must respond.”
  • Exaggerated guilt can hinder growth and development in prayer
    • The directee recognizes the gap between proposed ideal behavior and actual performance”
    • What is the working image of God in this experience?  Most likely the demanding and judgmental God-parent.  
  • A pattern of moral disorder or real moral fault.
    • The person is aware that their personal behavior is destructive to oneself or others.  They’re doing life in such a way that is contrary to the love of God in their life.  

Houdek would say that these are very common difficulties that come to the surface in spiritual direction.  

For each difficulty, he offers some insights that are helpful in working through them.  I’ll highlight a few:

  • Find new styles, places, postures, to pray.
    • Prayer must be authentic to who you are.  You can sing, listen to music, meditate, pray in a group, do a prayer walk, charismatic prayer, scripture reading and prayer.
    • If you feel caught in a routine for a lengthy period of time that is not producing inner freedom and helping you to respond to the actions and initiatives of God, try changing up the prayer routine.
  • Discover and accept a clearer realization of God’s unconditional and unqualified love for you.
    • We need personal freedom from the constant and debilitating negative self-preoccupation.  (For some, it might help to pray with a spiritual director or trusted friend to remind them of God’s unmerited love).
  • How does a flower grow?  
    • By receiving sun and rain.  So too is success in prayer.  It’s a gift we received, something God is shining and raining upon us.
  • Practice some form of physical relaxation exercises such as breathing prayer, nature walks, contemplative prayer, art visualization prayer, or religious music to release rigidity towards prayer.  This will help lead a person towards more freedom and liberation from debilitating experiences.  
  • Concentrate on your values rather than ideals.
    • Too often, we can idealize our prayer lives.  “A focus on values and a concentration on commitment to value will gradually liberate the [person] from the tyranny of the ideal.”
  • Recognize the difference between feelings and morality
    • Feelings are morally neutral (and may point to a need to be attended to)
    • “It is how we choose to act that raises the issue of morality.”
    • Too often, we can deal with feelings of guilt in prayer over our “feelings” which are neutral.  Bring the feelings–anger, sexuality, guilt–into God’s healing presence.

Houdek says that “At best, prayer is always a matter of purity of intention by which every aspect and dimension of life is continually and consciously being redirected toward the living God.  It is the normal and ordinary response to the realization of God’s gifts to the person.  As this realization and awareness grows and takes hold of one’s consciousness–that God is gracious and constant in gift-giving– the [person] will pray more maturely and more responsibly, with considerable devotion, personal satisfaction, and spiritual consolation.”

Standard
pastoral care, prayer

The Work of Prayer and Mindfulness

The work of prayer is to do all the RE’s. I’m also sharing some prayer responses below of I’ve sensed God at work.

  • remember
  • reorient
  • reconcile
  • renew
  • redeem
  • return
  • restore
  • revive
  • replenish

God is in the business of STAYING active in our lives, even when we feel hopeless, tired, spent, hurt, weak, lifeless.

Prayer is asking…”God….
– How are you with me in this moment
– What might you be saying to me
– What do I most need/want

Mondays at work are a great way to start the week with prayer. We can pray for our workplace: tasks, culture, leaders, conflicts. God is with us in all of the work.

We can also, as we get away from family and sit in our workspaces, pray for our families, relationships, hopes, needs, hurts, etc. God cares about the daily material of your life!

Just the other day, I was praying for someone without them knowing, and within two minutes, I received a text message from them. It was a moment of affirmation that God cared.

Another example: I was wrestling with a decision I had made and in the middle of the night, I had a dream with a specific mandate of what to do. I woke up the next morning and addressed the situation. The weight I was feeling fell off and I was reminded of goals I had been praying about.

Standard
prayer, theology of work

Workplace Prayers: Week of November 11-2019

Lord God Almighty, the One who works on our behalf,
Make your face shine on us as we enter into the day’s work.
Satisfy us with your loving-kindness that we might praise you as we attend to our daily tasks.

  • Help us not to forget that you are with us in our cubicles, office, showroom floors, and tech bays.
  • Help us to see how you are working on our behalf as we look through paperwork, warranties, or repair orders.
  • Help us to see how are work is dignified, needed, and that it makes a difference in people’s lives.

We confess that we can become arrogant and stubborn at times.
We use our work knowledge as power over others.
We want to see things done our way because we’ve exaggerated how much we know.

Forgive us when we misuse our power and authority over others,
when we value people in higher positions over less sought after positions.

We confess that we seek to be in control because we think we know what’s best. We use others to our own gain and we ask that you forgive us.

May we turn our face towards you and be a people of hospitality and joy towards our fellow coworkers and customers.
Be gracious and compassionate over us.

Restore us and make your face shine upon our work activities that we may be saved.

Amen

Standard
Homily, lent, pastoral care, prayer

Prayer: God’s Nearness

Reading 1, Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9
Responsorial PsalmPsalms 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20
GospelMatthew 5:17-19

“…God is near us whenever we pray to him…”
[wind has been a sign of the Holy Spirit]

Are you freaking kidding me?!  Read those words again…slower….
let
them
sink
in.

Big themes in the bible again….one of them is us being made in his image and likeness.  We are very impressionable people, influenced by what we read, watch, think about, and who we allow to speak into our lives.  It makes sense to me to create the space to be with the Lord Almighty–who is, who was, and who is to come.  God, the one who saves, redeems, heals, and imparts wisdom through his decrees and word, longs for creation to reflect His image.

So when we pray, we are promised His Presence.

I don’t always “feel” God.
I don’t always “sense” God’s presence.

But time and experience tell me that God is present–directing, guiding, loving, blessing, healing.

I have a friend’s face in mind.  A family member of his was sick.  He asked for prayer.  We wrote down the prayer and he shared it with the family member.  I received a call a few hours later that all the symptoms were gone…miraculously!  His face went from down-trodden to sheer joy and shock.  “Your God listens to you!”

I am also picturing a young man who is experiencing some deep pain from past trauma.  During our times together, we sat in silent prayer, staying present to the pain but all the while staying present to how God was with him in the pain and what God might be saying to him.  Tears.  Relaxed.  Rested.  Hopeful.  Those are the words he uttered after praying.

I’m also aware that there are some prayers that feel like they’re falling on dead ears.  My friend being shot at multiple times (gun violence).  A friend who has cancer and it’s getting worse (health issues).  A friend who didn’t get a career opportunity because he didn’t fit the typical role (systemic racism and injustice:  he’s latino and NOT aggressively charismatic).

We don’t stop praying when we don’t hear the response we’re looking for.  We lean into God’s faithfulness to hear the words, “I’m with you…I’m sorry…Be strong and courageous”.

Standard