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Is My Prayer Good Enough?

October 25, 2013 by  
Filed under Carmelite Sisters, Prayer

Dear Sisters, my prayer experiences don’t seem good enough or holy enough, long enough or intense enough. Do you have any suggestions as to how I can pray better?

Dear Friend, yes, I do have a few suggestions. That’s easy…

First of all, I suggest not using the expression “prayer experiences” at all. Hit the delete button on that one. A lot of people tend to speak about their prayer experiences. To me, it’s not the best choice of words. I believe that to use the expression “prayer experience” lessens, or taints my prayer. Prayer isn’t just “an experience.” It is so much more.

I actually went to the dictionary to check out the word “experience” in order to respond to this question and was amazed to see the long list of definitions:

involvement in something over time,
knowledge or skill that is acquired,
the sum total of somebody’s experiences,
something that happens to somebody,
knowledge from observation,
to have personal knowledge of something,
to feel something.

All these definitions are right and good – in their proper place, but not for a description or explanation of prayer. Why?

for post on Is My Prayer Good Enough?To Carmelites, prayer is relationship. It is time spent with Someone you love. It is that coming to know Another in a deeper way – to pray is to speak and then to listen; to communicate on a more personal and profound level and to grow in understanding, respect and appreciation of the other. St. Teresa of Avila puts it this way. “Prayer is nothing else than an intimate friendship, a frequent heart-to-heart conversation with Him, Who we know loves us” (Life, viii).

Not good enough or holy enough? Not long enough or intense enough? It is one way of looking at it, but it makes me think of asking you a question. What does love look like? Does it not have a thousand faces? The face of love can sit quietly in sorrow, sympathy, and compassion. Or it can radiate with joy and laughter and grimace in steadfast, faithful determination. When someone truly falls in love, I don’t think there should be, or are, such questions. They minimize and actually detract from the power of loving. To be with, to share with, to companion the One you love is love. Love is more than an experience. Well, love is love.

This same concept can be applied to prayer. God and I, as impossible as it seems and as unworthy as I see myself, can be in relationship – just as any person to another. It is mind-boggling to think about. It is actually THE relationship for which I was created. The Baltimore Catechism put it this way:

Q. Why did God make you?
A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in the next.

That is a very personal answer, it seems to me. It summarizes the reason for our existence. I am reminded of a phrase in our profession of vows when we make our perpetual profession to God. The entire formula of vows is very beautiful, but the expression that comes to mind right now is the following – “in intimacy with God through prayer.” Yes, that’s it. That says it.

There is a four volume book set, Divine Intimacy by Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, OCD. It is a Carmelite classic on prayer. The original was one thick book and has now been broken down into the four volume set. Note the name. It is the same concept; however Father Gabriel doesn’t say Divine Relationship or Divine Friendship. No, his classic goes straight to the core, the height, the goal, which is intimacy. Just to meditate on this thought is a very fruitful meditation.

So, now to come more directly to your question, you don’t need to feel holy, or good, or have any particular feeling. A dad doesn’t feel good getting up before dawn to get ready to go to work. A mom doesn’t feel good about taking care of her children when she herself is ill and would rather be in bed. A nun doesn’t feel so great, either, getting up before dawn to pray. But, ah! This is love. We do this out of our love, for the one we love, and ah!…that also is prayer.

ZurbaranStJohnoftheCrossI think we could sum up St. John of the Cross by saying that it is our WILL which chooses what we see, what we hear, what we do. Our will is at work when we pray. We can will to pray when we don’t feel like it, just as in the examples above of the dad or mom or nun. We’ve heard the expression “suit up and show up.” We can use it, also, for prayer. And if we “suit up and show up” on a daily basis, on both good days and bad days, I would add, that, then, would be a powerful prayer, indeed – the prayer of a friend, who comes to be with God not looking for any gain or consolation, but is content to be with God.

Then, I wouldn’t be surprised if some day, during prayer, you would open your eyes and look at your watch and say, “My God, where did the time go? Can it be that I have been with You so long; it seemed but a few moments.” I can hear St. Teresa of Avila saying, “You are His friend now, His close friend, and He is taking you deeper into Himself in the intimacy with God through prayer. When that happens, the time passes oh so quickly.”

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Art: Shield for the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles, all rights reserved used with permission. Teresa of Avila, Peter Paul Rubens, 1615; St. John of the Cross, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1656; both PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.

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About Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles

PROMOTING A DEEPER SPIRITUAL LIFE THROUGH HEALTHCARE, EDUCATION AND RETREATS. The way of life of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles is rooted in the Gospel, the Church, and the spirituality of Carmel as lived out through the charism of our foundress, Venerable Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament. In His merciful goodness, God has graced our Institute with the Carmelite charism which has its foundation in a long history and living tradition. Our vocation is a grace by which contemplation and action are blended to become an apostolic service of the Church as we promote a deeper spiritual life among God's people through education, healthcare, and spiritual retreats. We are called by God to be a presence inflamed within our world, witnessing to God's love through prayer, joyful witness and loving service. Our mission flows from each sister's profound life of prayer as Mother Luisita, our foundress, wrote, "the soul of each Carmelite raises herself to Christ, Who is her heaven, while her shadow falls in charity upon earth doing good to all people."

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  • http://www.marythedefender.wordpress.com MariaGo

    This is beautiful! Thank you Sister! I remember what Jesus told Saint Faustina. That He saves the best graces for the end of the prayer. And that has happened at times. I struggle at the start, then God gives such wonderful gifts later on. Gifts I could not even imagine at the beginning of my prayer! Not that we pray for such consolations. But God knows how hard it is for us to love Him, to truly love Him. So He encourages us along the way, but not without testing us as well. As my dad always taught me, best for the last! 🙂

  • CatholicKath

    I love that St Theresa says it is a heart to heart conversation. Sometimes as a convert I have wondered if it mattered that I used my words and not a pre-written prayer. As if my words were not good enough. And yet in the depths of me, I knew God was listening to my fumbling attempts to express my love and thankfulness and constant need for Him to be with me. Today’s article really spoke to my heart, so thank you.

  • patricia

    Prayer is indeed a relationship routine prayer which it is like habitual but welcomed for me is a good discipline. Prayer of the heart is the relationship the Holy Spirit in us knows what to pray for. That leaves me saying what ever you want me to be Lord and your will be done. for true happiness is only found in you O Lord. Prayer becomes alive when tested by fire and the storm. It is a deep clinging onto God. In time of temptation trial and tribulation if prayer is a relationship rather than a technique it becomes a instant involuntary action that occurs. The fruit of prayer and adoration in which if prayer is a relationship I can not helped but to believe becomes adoration of God. This is have learned in the lives of the saints and in my own life. Prayer is honest being honest with God and self. Charity is the fruit but not charity as we see it but how God sees it. there are different types of prayer with different movements of the. Holy spirit. We were recently taught that the spirit the soul must pray with the body and the body with the soul. This makes a lot of sene since our disposition of our souls determine if we are open to grace the treasure of prayer. Sometimes in adoration I go with a million of one things on my mind so at this point I know I am before the true presence of God I collapse spiritually and rest and listen to his voice his heart and soul to speak to me. Prayer in our life our life should be one long prayer to God. This is so true.may my life be along prayer to God, in his mercy and love.

  • Charles Griggy

    Your prayers are heard by God and they are without a doubt communicated back to you. Silence is golden, therefore, be aware of what comes your way without thinking of what you want. I pray everyday in my car, at church, at home and even while riding my bicycle. I pray with the angels and God hears all of our prayers. Pray the rosary. She will fill up every void that needs to be filled when she leads you to her Son.

  • http://rcspiritualdirection.com/blog Mary@42

    This old gal not having read all the Great Theologians and Saints this Website quotes so very often, my elementary belief – born of a Cradle Catholic Faith – is that so long as I will myself to remain faithful to my Prayer and Sacramental Rule of Life, all I need to do is let God be God and guide me

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