Recently, Fr. Anthony wrote a great post on why we don’t or can’t pray very well. Every word written there is true for me. It’s uncanny! Perhaps the same is true for you. I tried recording all the excuses we come up with to not pray… there’s too many… lack of concentration, laziness, I’m tired, no time…and the list goes on and on.
“God knows what I need. He knows my heart and my good intentions.”
“I talk to God all throughout the day. He’s with me everywhere.”
“I’ve had a long day. I deserve some rest. I don’t want to push too hard or else I’ll break.”
“Of course I pray! When I feel God’s Presence and my emotions well up more than ever, that is my prayer. And those are the most heartfelt and fervent prayers of all!”
The results were that my prayers – even if sincere – were spontaneous, unpredictable, and if I’m being honest, way too short.
My life would come crashing down. Work, errands, and all of life’s stresses become too much to handle. Let alone spiritual battles against sin. So I’d start praying again, and a few days later give in to some of these excuses – and on and on it went.
Guilt turned into frustration and soon to helplessness. I can’t remember when or how, but my prayers somehow started to become about prayer itself. This is what I want to share with you in the hopes we find consistency and perseverance should you be struggling with it as I am.
I found out all my efforts in prayer up until then were exactly that – MY EFFORTS. And that was doomed to failure. I was missing something – and it was grace. Back to this in a moment.
I started reading the Agpeya (book of hourly prayers) because I needed the structure of having a daily and nightly prayer rule and I needed it to last longer than 2 minutes! This was unusual for me because for the longest time (God forgive me) I basically hated Agpeya. I felt it was only unemotional and ritualistic prayer. In my mind, God surely preferred MY prayers right?
The idea here is to take the best Agpeya has to offer – structure, length – and combine it with the best of our spontaneous prayers – sincerity, fervency.
Now add for missing ingredient: GRACE!
Grace is the true source of fervent prayer, the true source of consistent prayer, and the true source of victory over lack of concentration, victory over being too tired to pray, victory over laziness, victory over each and every excuse.
Not your effort, God’s grace. Not your willpower, God’s grace. Not your determination, God’s grace.
We often think to ourselves: “If we pray, then God will help” or “If we attend the Liturgy, then God will show mercy.”
When in fact it’s more like: “Unless God helps us, even pray we could not!” and “Had not God shown mercy, we would not be able to have communion!”
In the Agpeya, there is a part that says “have mercy on me O Lord for I am weak…” let that line come from your heart. “Lord help me ignore the very excuses I make not to pray. Have mercy on me for I am weak against waking up early to pray! I am weak in concentration! Help me concentrate, help me focus!”
Or when you read “Open my lips that my mouth shows forth your praise…” let that line mean “Lord let my prayer be true and fervent and zealous. For I cannot offer a true prayer unless You make it so.”
You’ll discover this can be done with so many lines in Agpeya. Let God’s grace in. You’ll be blown away when these excuses actually disappear! When your laziness actually turns into fervor! When your fatigue actually turns into motivation! It’s quite unreal. But nothing short of what you’d expect from our conquering Lord who rose from the dead.
It turns out even the very prayer we offer is a grace from God.
Lastly, I want to mention a few tips for reading the Agpeya that have helped me immensely.
(1) If and when your mind drifts, don’t beat yourself up and don’t go back and reread that part either. Just bulldoze through; pick up the next line and say that one with your heart, with your mind, and with God’s grace.
(2) Ask your father for guidance on how many psalms to read, how many of the other prayers to read, and so on. Keep in mind that since you’re praying for help to pray, you’ll find yourself praying more and more Psalms with time, because God’s grace is working. It’s quite astonishing.
So, if you’re struggling with prayer, the brilliant unfathomable answer is: pray! And don’t forget the grace!