“For me prayer is a surge of the heart, it is a simple look towards Heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy” – St. Therese of Lisieux
My first assignment was at St. Philip’s parish in Greenville, RI. St. Philip’s is a vibrant parish comprised of about 3000 families with a large school to boot. It was a wonderful place for a new priest.
One of the great blessings was ministering to the many youth in the parish. I remember one email exchange I had with a high school student who was very involved in our youth group. She took her faith seriously and she wanted to grow in her relationship with the Lord. Her email to me was simple: I want to spend more time in prayer and deepen my relationship with God, but I’m not quite sure how to pray. Can you give me advice?
Maybe you find yourself in the same position as that girl—now a wonderful young woman whose wedding I’ll be doing in May. You want to grow in your relationship with the Lord, but your not sure how to enter into deeper prayer. When you go to pray your mind is filled with distractions. So you sit there and fidget.
Your questions may be similar to hers: How can I have an intimate relationship with God? How should I pray? What should I say?
I’d like to suggest how you should begin your prayer, for the way you begin your prayer sets the tone for how the rest of your prayer will unfold. The one mistake that many of us make when we pray is that we begin by focusing on ourselves: my intentions, my needs, my feelings. If we really want to enter into a deeper friendship with the Lord then we must begin by focusing on Him. The starting point of prayer is becoming deeply aware of God’s personal love, plain and simple.
So here’s a good way to begin your prayer:
* Find a quiet place where you won’t be distracted
* Sit in a relaxed posture (although not so relaxed that you’ll fall asleep) and close your eyes
* Take a few deep breaths and then breath normally
* Let these first moments be focused on becoming aware of God’s loving presence, nothing else: picture the loving eyes of Jesus gazing upon you. Take as long as you need to become of aware of His loving presence.
* Once you are aware of God’s loving presence, speak to Him about His love. Here’s what I was moved to write. Feel free to use it for your own prayer, but eventually you should speak to the Lord in your own words:
"Lord, I know that You are here with me. I know that You have called me here. I wouldn’t even have the desire to pray if You didn’t put it on my heart. You have drawn me to this sacred moment because you desire that I be close to You. You have spoken to my heart, and now I come to listen.
"As I begin this time of prayer, help me to know how much You love me. I know that Your heart and Your arms are open, ready to embrace me. You don’t look at my sins and failings. You don’t look upon me in judgment. You look upon me with love: infinite, unconditional love. You want me to be very close to You.
"Lord, sometimes it’s hard for me to admit, but You really do love me. In fact, the more deeply I become aware of Your love for me, the more I see that I am truly lovable. You desire to be in an intimate friendship with me. How amazing!
"Please let this time of prayer simply be a time of letting myself be loved by You. That’s the deepest desire of my heart, Lord, just to know Your personal love for me. Nothing else matters at this moment. Clear my mind and heart of all distractions and fill my heart with Your love.
"Thank you so much for loving me, Lord. My past is gone; my future is not here. We simply have this moment together, and so I give myself entirely to You in this moment. I sit in silence Lord. Now I will just let myself be loved by You, and I will listen to You speak to my heart."
Once you have begun your prayer in this way, it’s a matter of sitting with the Lord and letting Him love you. So now go do it. He’s waiting for you!