Finding yourself unable to pray? Sarah Reinhard feels your pain and has some suggestions.
Surely it’s not just me. In fact, I know it’s not. I’ve read plenty of advice columns — even books — that give me plenty of advice for growing close to God through that elusive and wonderful form known as prayer.
And yet, I find myself, once again, struggling.
Oh, I muddle through my morning Rosary. I lead the prayers on the drive to school. I bow my head before eating.
Even so, I find myself wondering if it “counts.”
I know, I KNOW. It DOES count. Of COURSE it counts. How can I even say that?
But I’ll bet at least one other person has asked themselves the same thing.
If I pray half-heartedly, if I pray without paying attention, if I pray without an ounce of whatever makes it wonderful — does? it? count?
How can it be a conversation when it feels so one-way? Why do I even bother when life marches on regardless?
And so, contemplating this for what feels like the five-millionth time, I came up with a list of ways that I pray when I can’t. There aren’t words. There isn’t motivation. There is just me.
Really, that’s all God asks. He wants me to show up. When I’m fighting, these are my go-to ideas. And, as I was reviewing them, I noticed something: They’re all verbs. They’re action-initiated. When I can’t pray, I find another doing, and I not only show up: I show up. I have comfort in knowing that there’s a whole spiritual universe I can’t see, and I imagine God (and maybe a few saints, and especially Mama Mary) looking on and cheering for me.
Listen to music.
You might think this is where I’m going to tell you that I listen to a certain artist or a certain style, but nope. Beethoven helps me some days, and Audrey Assad shakes me loose on others. Then there’s the time I danced around with a baby to the Jackson Five, but let’s not focus on that. The point here is to queue up some tunes and let them inspire you. And if they don’t inspire you, you can try something different or just embrace the fact that your prayer is going to be what it is.
Sometimes, this also includes the Bible In A Year podcast with Fr. Mike Schmitz (even though it’s going to take me more than a year…).
Take a walk.
Some enterprising people might call this “take a run,” and others may embrace this as a call to exercise. I find that when I step out of where I am physically and head somewhere else — down a sidewalk, through the backyard, up the road, into the field — I can’t help but feel the air, see the sky, observe all that’s around me. And in that change of scenery, I can’t help but turn my mind heavenward.
It can be the dishes or the mountains of laundry. Maybe it’s that bathroom sink that is a different shade of eww. Perhaps you’re going to tackle the inside of your vehicle and come away triumphant. When you see the success—that cleaned-up something—consider it a little love note from God himself, a smile from above.
Confession: This is the hardest one for me. That probably means it’s the most effective. Though I struggle with the tendency to drift off — into to-do lists, into sleep — the being can be a lesson and an invitation. In the midst of all the bustle and busy, just sitting with the Lord can be the best prayer, even if there are no words.
Pet a horse or cuddle a dog (cat, hamster, goat).
Pets and animals can be so therapeutic, and your interactions with them can be a taste of the divine. God made animals, and he put them here for us. Let them take you to that moment with God, the one where you just enjoy and smile and are.
Pick a flower.
Or, in my case, have a resident child who will pick them for you.
In creating, we are touching that part of ourselves that God made so uniquely beautiful. Maybe it’s dinner, or dessert, or a sweater. Maybe you’re sketching or writing or digging in the garden. You could be making a spreadsheet or a clean corner of the garage. Unleash that part of you that may remain largely unnoticed and make something. It will be a prayer you can remember and look at later. (Unless, of course, the child who picked the flower gets ahold of it…)
Read the Psalms.
They’re poetry and prayer, and you don’t have to limit yourself to them, though they’re a great place to start.
Now, go be inspired and put your own “I can’t pray” prayer practices into use. See how you grow closer to God … and maybe get beyond your own hesitations, fears, and doubts.
Copyright 2021 Sarah Reinhard
Images (from top): Header image, Canva Pro. All others copyright 2021 Sarah Reinhard. All rights reserved.
About the Author
When she’s not chasing kids, chugging coffee, or juggling work, Sarah Reinhard’s usually trying to stay up read just one…more…chapter. She writes and works in the midst of rural farm life with little ones underfoot. She is part of the team for the award-winning Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion, as well as the author of a number of books. You can join her for a weekday take on Catholic life by subscribing to Three Shots and follow her writing at Snoring Scholar.