Just Do It
The first rule of learning to pray: just do it.
You will never pray if you wait until you are ready. You have to dive in and be willing to be uncomfortable or unprepared. There is simply no way to prepare yourself to speak to the King of the Universe, even if He is infinitely kind and merciful.
“Put yourself in the presence of God, and as soon as you have said ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!’ you can be sure you’ve already begun.” St. Josemaria Escriva, The Way.
An easy start to prayer could even be to rant with the knowledge that God is listening. “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7).
When you pray, be honest with God.
Years ago, I came to the uncomfortable conclusion that I did not love God. So I set aside my fakery and told Him.
I was on the journey of falling in love with Him.
During his conversion, Saint Augustine had a similar moment of voicing his real desires to God with his famous prayer, “make me chaste, but not yet.”
Tell Jesus the truth, even if you do not think it’s what He wants to hear.
Decide How Long You're Going to Pray and Stick to It
In our pursuit of a relationship with God, we must be willing to get through the periods of spiritual dryness, which for me, is most of the time. This takes discipline.
Sticking to a set amount of time in prayer is the least popular advice I give, especially when I recommend a timer. I'm not saying this is required (our spiritual forefathers didn't have 'em), but the principle holds.
“When you pray, let this be a firm resolution: Don’t prolong your prayer just because you find consolation in it, nor curtail it because you find it dry.” St. Josemaria Escriva (The Way).
Saints Francis De Sales and Ignatius of Loyola express similar sentiments.
Make It a Habit
I frequently see people return from a conference or a retreat all fired up. They're committed to praying every day.
And then they end up fizzling out after a few days. Their “Jesus High” reduced to a vague and confusing memory.
They had passion, but no discipline. It is through discipline and consistency that we avoid becoming like the seeds in Jesus’s parable that are sown on rocky ground, who sprang up quickly but were scorched under the sun because they had no roots. (Matthew 13:5–6, 20–21)
Don’t get me wrong, I'm not saying that the only time you should pray is that time set aside for prayer. Life will provide no shortage of opportunities for spontaneous prayer.
But be disciplined in the time you set aside. Make it a habit.
Set Aside 15 Minutes at the Same Time Every Day
I normally recommend fifteen minutes a day if you do not already have a habit of daily prayer. If someone holy and close to you recommends something else, then I’d defer to them. But whatever you decide: stay with it . . . no shorter, no longer.
And pick a time of the day. Preferably a set time or daily event (e.g., as soon as you get up, right after breakfast, at lunch, etc.). Morning is generally considered the best time, but that hasn't normally worked for me, due to my irregular work hours, so I don't have a firm recommendation.
I'd recommend you follow Fr. Mike Schmitz's advice: find your best time of the day and give that to prayer.
Find Designated Prayer Spaces
You can pray anywhere, but here are my top five places to pray:
1. Adoration Chapel
3. A quiet place outdoors (preferably with natural beauty)
4. Non-Adoration Chapel
5. A quiet room
Warning: Praying in bed as you fall asleep is not a good prayer strategy. If you've already done your daily prayer somewhere else, this is fine, but otherwise, if you realize that's the only prayer you've done that day, get out of bed, offer up the tiredness, and get to prayer.
There are Many Ways to Pray
The only prayer I'd recommend to every Catholic: the Mass.
Otherwise, do what seems best. Every person is different. Find a method of prayer that you'll actually do. That's the only rule here.
Here is just a short list of the various ways to pray:
· Rosary (great for contemplation and joining with others in prayer)
· Praise and Worship/Hymns (especially great if praising God is awkward for you)
· Journaling (my personal favorite way to pray)
· Speaking out loud (only in appropriate surroundings)
· Silence (needed for listening to God)
· Scripture (the Word of God is alive and He speaks to us through it to this day)
· Lectio Divina (go deep into a single Scriptural passage).
· Bible in a Year podcast (a more manageable way of tackling the entire Bible)
· Liturgy of the Hours (if you wish to join in with all the priests of the world)
· Mental Prayer (if you have the gift of Mental Prayer, then Saint Francis De Sales says you should give it first place over all other forms of prayer you are not bound by duty to do)
· Homilies, sermons, and holy books
· The Jesus Prayer (popular among Eastern Catholics)
There are going to be times of great difficulty and dryness. When we pray, we experience boredom much of the time.
Saint John of the Cross famously wrote about this in his book The Dark Night of the Soul.
Mother Theresa’s journals were found to be full of mourning for her inability to sense God.
Saint Therese of Lisieux wrote, “When I sing of heaven’s happiness of what it is to possess God forever, I feel no joy; I simply sing of what I want to believe."
When your prayer becomes difficult and you even find yourself doubting God, do not be discouraged. It is in these times of dryness that we learn to love our great Gift Giver, and not just the gifts He gives us.
In C.S Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters, the demon, Wormwood, had just boasted that he thinks his human’s “religious phase is dying away.” The more cunning demon, Screwtape, admonishes him saying that their Enemy, God, makes great use out of this dryness.
“Do not be deceived, Wormwood. Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon this universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.” Screwtape
God makes His presence known to us at times for the joy it brings us. But when the last thing someone wants to do is pray, and they answer the call of holiness anyway, that is when we become saints.