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Prayer and solitude

As I’m reading through the Gospel of Luke during Lent, I’m noticing how often Jesus prays. It seems that every few chapters he is pulling away from the crowds and going off to a deserted place to pray. His life and ministry seemed to have this rhythm: work and prayer, crowds and solitude, being present and pulling away. Clearly, if Jesus needed this rhythm of life, so do we. If Jesus needed to pull away and spend time alone with God, how much more do we need to?

It probably goes without saying that we all want to pray more. We want to pray more often and more deeply. I doubt any one of us feels that she or he is good at prayer. I have studied prayer, read about prayer, taught classes on prayer and practiced prayer for a long time, and I still feel totally inadequate.

For several years, before my children started school, I didn’t have a very regular rhythm of prayer. I prayed on the run. Of course, we can pray at all times while doing just about anything, but I’m talking about the set-aside, quiet, listening with God that I had come to love in earlier years. At that stage of life, though, it was extremely difficult to find that time, and I took time when I could get it—while the kids were napping, after they were in bed or while I was at work. Wonderful people along the way urged me not to feel guilty but to see all of the diaper-changing and midnight feeding as an offering of love to God. That helped.

Now, though, I actually have a more established practice of prayer and solitude. On most days I can spend twenty or thirty minutes reading Scripture and praying after everyone else is off to work and school. I am so grateful for this time, not because I think it makes me more pleasing to God or because I’m earning extra points on the holiness scale. I’m grateful because it feeds me. It grounds me. And on those days when I “don’t feel anything,” it keeps me humble.

Still, I want to pray more. I want to pray more deeply. I want to know more of God and offer more of myself to God. If you long to pray more, if you struggle with feeling inadequate or disappointed in your own practice of prayer, then maybe you’ll find these words of Edward J. Farrell encouraging and liberating. They have been that for me:

“The awareness of a desire to pray again is already prayer. As the desert fathers so often said, ‘If you want to pray, you are already praying.’… What a beautiful grace to want to pray. Prayer is a gift, yet it is the work of a lifetime…. Prayer is always a lost and found phenomenon. Prayer, like each human life, has many stages of growth and development, decline and loss. Prayer, like love, is not something one achieves once and for all. It is a special kind of consciousness, awareness, attention, presence.”

We are all learning to pray. God does not judge us by how often or how eloquently we pray. A heart that yearns for God is already pleasing to God. A heart that humbly recognizes its inadequacy is fertile soil for God’s love. Just as no child can give a bad drawing to his or her parent, no one can offer a bad prayer to God. So let’s stop judging ourselves and our prayers and simply rest in God’s love. After all,
I think that’s what prayer really is—a communion of love.