Have a Better Prayer Life Today with These Tips
When faith is new or young, we receive many consolations and spiritual signs from God. He delights us in His sweetness in order to draw us nearer to Him. This springtime builds a habit of prayer, because inevitably, the darkness and desolation of winter will arrive in our lives.
What is dryness in prayer? According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “dryness belongs to contemplative prayer when the heart is separated from God, with no taste for thoughts, memories, and feelings, even spiritual ones. This is the moment of sheer faith clinging faithfully to Jesus in his agony and in his tomb” (2731).
If young faith is full of consolations, we can be certain that a mature faith will involve this spiritual aridity. We may become more distractible in prayer. We may find ourselves wanting to do anything other than pray, because it is so distasteful. But, as the Church so aptly puts it, this dryness is a testament of our faith. It requires perseverance, hope, trust, peace, and ultimately, authentic love.
Practically, let’s explore these five areas in more depth and ascertain ways we can move through periods of spiritual dryness in order that we remain faithful to God and His Church.
PERSEVERE IN PRAYER
“Never give up prayer…and should you find dryness and difficulty, persevere in it for this very reason. God often desires to see what love your soul has, and love is not tried by ease and satisfaction.” ~ St. John of the Cross
Remember the parable of the seeds that fell on the soil? One fell upon rocky ground, another on thorns. But the last fell upon the rich, fertile soil that nurtured the seed so that its roots were strong and steady (see Matthew 13:3-8). Our faith, especially during dry spells, must remain rooted in the One who is the True Vine.
It’s easy to falter in prayer when we don’t feel anything particularly comforting or powerful. If God seems distant, the Tempter often lurks close by to lure a faithful soul away from daily prayer. The key, as St. John of the Cross explains with encouragement, is simply to continue to pray.
Pray through the difficulties, the negative thoughts, the hardships, the distractions. Pray in the midst of temptations and when you feel as if God has abandoned you. In fact, this is God’s invitation for your faith to grow deeper and more sincere; therefore, it must be tried through the refiner’s fire.
HOPE IN WHAT HE HAS DONE, IS DOING, AND WILL DO IN YOUR LIFE
“Pray inwardly, even if you do not enjoy it. It does good though you feel nothing, even though you think you are doing nothing.” ~ St. Julian of Norwich
A major aspect of dryness in prayer is that we don’t see the fruits of our efforts. This is particularly arduous if we have, in the past, been privy to the results of our prayers. God sometimes allows a soul to see the good he has done through prayer, but when the soul is being beckoned to a deeper faith – one rooted in rich, fertile soil – that faith must be tested. Strength does not come to a soul without such trials.
In order to assist you during difficult dryness, recall the good God has done in your life! It is especially powerful to write down everything specific that God has done in the past – all the ways He has answered your prayers in ways both large and small. Then record your current intentions, and as they are answered, write when and how.
As faith begins to waver with doubt during spiritual aridity, you can look back on what you have written as evidence that God has done, is doing, and will do great and merciful things in your life. Have hope in this promise.
TRUST THAT GOD IS NEAR YOU
“Calm the tormenting anxieties of your heart and banish from your imagination all those distressing thoughts and sentiments which are all suggested by Satan in order to make you act badly.” ~ St. Padre Pio
Likely one of the most painful aspects of dryness in prayer is the feeling that God has forsaken you. You cry out to Him, but all you receive is silence. You can no longer hear Him speaking to your heart, feel His presence, or see clearly why you are asked to endure such a seemingly painful separation to Him.
Here, your faith must be what St. John of the Cross calls “obscure faith;” that is, it is not clear but is always certain. Cling to Him in trust. Often, trust is an act of the will we must make on a daily basis, perhaps more than once per day. If you find yourself avoiding prayer or trying to fill the chasm in your heart with other earthly diversions, remember to run to Jesus all the more fervently
You will not “feel” warmth or happiness here. But your choice, your decision to override your emotions will strengthen your faith in unfathomable ways.
BE AT PEACE
“Remain calm in times of dryness.” ~St. Teresa of Avila
She who also said, “Let nothing disturb you” was not foreign to interior anxieties. For many years, St. Teresa of Avila was afflicted with serious illness that caused her incredible discouragement. At one point, her sickness was so strange and mysterious that her loved ones believed her to be dead. So her words of wisdom to remain calm in the face of dry spells in your spiritual journey, to let nothing disturb you, are warranted from personal experience.
How do you remain at peace? Live in the present moment. Don’t ruminate over the mistakes you made yesterday, the embarrassments you have faced from coworkers or friends, and don’t fret about what may come tomorrow. Be present to the here-and-now.
I personally struggle with this on a daily basis. I am an anxious worrier by nature. There are times, then, you will feel you have failed at fidelity to prayer. Pick yourself up and keep moving forward. Start anew any time. But don’t allow the “what ifs” or “if onlys” to dominate your interior space that is reserved for communicating with God. Rest in Him and even in the uncertainty where you are right now.
LOVE HIM FOR THE SAKE OF LOVING HIM
“True love begins when nothing is looked for in return.” ~ St. Therese of Lisieux
Ultimately, dryness in prayer is an invitation from God to love Him for the sake of Who He is, rather than what He does for us. If we pray effortlessly and receive many consolations, signs, and spiritual sweetness, it could be that we pray in order to receive these effects, rather than to express our ardent love for God. But if these are taken away – not that God Himself is absent from the soul, but that He has ceased the indications of His love through emotion – and we continue to be fervent in faith, then our love is solid.
Ask for the grace to love God for no other reason than because He deserves to be loved. Read the Psalms for ideas in prayer on how you can praise God, despite what you may feel. Since the Psalms were intended to be sung, find some of your favorites and sing the verses to Him as part of your prayer routine each day. Then His joy will be in you, that your joy may be complete.