When I was 17, I had this amazing realization: I am a morning person. I realized this early into my senior year as I began to discern what the Lord’s will was for me post-high school. With the overflowing and overwhelming life of an overinvolved teenager, I quickly discovered that if I wanted to have time for
prayer every day, I had to make that time. Between school, work, volunteering, theatre, choir, and my vibrant social life, this time could only realistically be found in the morning. I started to wake up an hour earlier than usual to spend the first moments of the day with our Lord. It was beautiful, it was fulfilling,
and like so many other endeavors, it lasted about two weeks.
To say I was disheartened is an understatement. It felt as if every step I took forward would inevitably turn into a step backward when I failed to maintain the promise I had made to myself. Shortly into the new year, I stopped trying to take steps forward in the fear that I would fail again. In every aspect of my life the fear of failure tormented me. I lost sleep studying for tests and doing homework, lost my mind bending over backwards to please those around me, and was in the process of losing my faith because I couldn’t figure out how to make my prayer perfect. I could see the end goal so clearly, but something
was preventing me from reaching it.
What a humble experience it was to realize that the only thing that prevented me from achieving my goals of a thriving personal prayer life was myself. The perfectionism that served me well in school was the downfall of my prayer life. I spent so much time trying to make my prayer perfect that I forgot I was speaking to Him that already is. I struggled to realize that my words didn’t have to come from a place of perfection, they only had to come from a place of truth. My failure to properly articulate what I wanted to say in no way impacted God’s ability to understand the desires of my heart.
This realization didn’t come overnight, and I often still battle the lie that my prayers must be perfect to be heard by the Father. My consistent prayer life wouldn’t begin until I was well into my year of mission work with N.E.T. Ministries, and it would continue to struggle through my first year of college. I would be lying if I were to tell you that every morning I wake up with the desire to spend time in prayer. I would be lying if I were to tell you that every day I get some beautiful, life-changing realization out of prayer. Despite this, I wouldn’t trade my prayer time for anything else in the world because in the time I set aside for the Lord, I find a place of lasting silence, joy, and beauty that penetrates deeply into my otherwise-chaotic life.
Not everyone prays the same way, and that’s okay. We’re created differently and loved uniquely for who the Lord created us to be. Below, I’ve included five practical tips for developing (and maintaining) a personal prayer life. These tips have all been learned by trial-and- error, and I continue to remind myself of them as I grow in my prayer.
1. Consistency. I cannot say it enough, consistency is key. To develop and maintain a personal prayer life, you must be consistent. For me, this means waking up at least two hours before I have to leave my house to make sure I have enough time to get ready, pray, eat breakfast, and do whatever else that morning calls for (in that order). Creating a consistent time and place to pray is vital if you’re serious about developing a personal prayer life.
2. Humility. There are going to be days when you reach the time you’ve set aside and decide that prayer isn’t that important. Personally, it never helped me when I was told to persevere through these times. What convicted me was the gentle, butt-kicking reminder that my prayer life isn’t about me – it’s about Him. To develop a prayer life, you must be humble enough to remember that prayer is about Someone vastly more important than yourself; yet He humbles Himself to
be with you whenever you call out His Name.
3. Vulnerability. This one is needlessly difficult. Jesus Christ carried all of my sins, shames, and burdens with Him on the cross, yet I still find it next-to- impossible to honestly share with Him the cries of my heart. Be vulnerable in your prayer, tell the Lord what is going on in your life, and don’t spare Him the hardest details. He will not run away from your hurt, He will always be waiting with arms open wide, ready to embrace you. Will you let Him?
4. Boldness. Discern what you need in your life (stronger faith? deeper courage? greater friends?) and ask the Lord for the graces to achieve what you’ve asked for. Once you’ve developed the boldness to ask, take it a step further and be bold enough to trust He’s already given you these graces. Virtue isn’t learned by sitting back and waiting for it to be gifted to you – virtue is learned by acting on it until it becomes a part of who you are.
5. No such thing as a bad prayer time. I often hear people say that they would pray, but they don’t know how to pray well. I empathize with this struggle of perfectionism, but it serves only as an explanation, not an excuse. The truth is that any time you spend in prayer is time well spent, even if you’re fighting to stay awake or focused, or the baby is crying, or you spill coffee all over your devotional (speaking from experience on this one). Time spent in prayer is time well spent for the simple reality of Whom you are spending time with.
I find journaling helpful in my prayer, both to keep me focused and to help me remember the blessings I’ve received. Every once in a while, I spend time looking through old journals (dating back to when I was 15) and am always amazed by the consistency of the Lord. He has never failed to answer my prayers, even if the answer didn’t come in the way I wanted or expected. I can see the growth I’ve experienced in my faith, which is especially encouraging in times when my prayer seems dry. Your words don’t have to be perfect to be prayerful, they only need to come from a place of truth.
I’m not very good at writing conclusions; I always seem to run out of things to say. My imperfect human nature can be to blame for that, but thankfully for me (and for you), our Lord understands silence. He understands every cry our hearts, and through Him, all things are made perfect. Even our imperfect, and
often incomprehensible, prayer.
Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, RSV)