In my travels I hear a lot from people who get discouraged regarding silent prayer.
Some folks tell me their minds race too much when they try to pray in silence.
Others tell me they’re so busy, they just can’t seem to find the time to pray.
Still others talk about how they get bored during their silent time, or fidgety, or overwhelmed with a feeling that they’re not making progress.
My friends, it’s easy to get discouraged when embracing a daily discipline of silent prayer. It seems there are so many reasons to give it up, or to lose hope, or to come to the conclusion that “I’m just not cut out” for this kind of spirituality.
If you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions, please hear me out. You are not alone. It is normal for contemplative pray-ers (people who pray) to feel discouraged in these ways, or perhaps other ways as well.
The purpose of today’s post is very simple. It’s just a little “contemplative pep talk.” My goal is simply to offer you encouragement and inspiration.
You can do it! You can start, or restart, or strengthen, your daily silent prayer practice. You can enjoy the adventure of growing closer to God through the simple practice of giving God your attention, body and soul, for a period of silence each and every day.
If you’ve missed a bunch of days, don’t worry. Today is a good day to get back into it. Make a promise to yourself to sit in silence today. If you can’t spare twenty minutes, do it for five or ten. But do it.
And do it again tomorrow. The journey toward a committed contemplative prayer practice happens one day at a time.
Remember that the miracle of growing closer to God through silent prayer typically happens at a level below the threshold of your conscious awareness. In other words, when you sit in silence, you might not “feel” anything special. You will probably not have an “experience” of God (of course, you might! But it’s likely that you won’t). You might very well feel bored or fidgety or restless.
If that happens, then alleluia! Give those bored/fidgety/restless feelings to God, and gently turn your attention back to the silence.
What you pay attention to in your heart and mind will grow in your awareness. This is psychology 101. If you want to overcome the symptoms of depression, it’s important to focus on positive thoughts rather than negative thoughts. As you focus on the positive, your mood can lift and you’ll feel better.
Likewise, in a practice of silent prayer, seek to rest your attention as much as possible in silence. And I mean that: rest in the silence. You don’t have to “do” anything. You don’t have to figure silence out, or suppress your thoughts when they arise (and they will arise), or otherwise make the silence happen.
Silence in prayer is not something you achieve, it’s something you receive. It’s given to you by grace, and it’s already within you.
So allow it, and attend to it. When you get distracted, simply return to it. Hold a gesture of openness and trust in God. And the more you attend to the silence, the more you return to silence when you get distracted, the more your awareness of the silence will grow.
Little by little. Day by day.
So when you get discouraged because your prayer practice seems messy and imperfect, or indisciplined, or doesn’t feel very exciting, please take a deep breath, and another one, and another one. And in the present moment, recall your initial enthusiasm and desire to grow closer to God through silent prayer. And then reaffirm your commitment to it.
Because you’ve got everything you need to be a contemplative, to be a practitioner of silent prayer, right there in your heart and soul. Trust yourself: you were created in the image and likeness of God. Even more important, trust God. God loves you and God seeks intimacy with you.
All you need to do is give God your heart and your mind. And your time. A little bit, every day. In silence.
What are you waiting for? Let’s pray.