By Kevin O’Brien, SJ
Our relationship with God in prayer has a certain rhythm. There are moments of great highs and lows but also very ordinary times. Most of life is in fact quite ordinary. In our prayer life, we can be quick to judge these ordinary times. “Nothing is happening,” we may say with frustration, particularly if we feel boredom or dryness when we pray. We can experience a strong temptation to stop praying or to shortchange our prayer time.
When this happens, the first thing to do is resist the temptation. See it for what it is: a temptation to become stingy in your prayer. Remember the generosity with which you began the retreat. Ignatius suggests that we honor the time commitment we made to praying, even staying a few extra minutes when we feel a strong temptation to cut it short (SE 12).
Carefully discern feelings of boredom or dryness. Like all interior movements, they can tell you something. Ask yourself:
- Am I making the necessary preparations for my prayer? These preparations dispose you to receive the graces God wants to give you. Review the suggestions for praying [in Before You Begin An Ignatian Prayer Adventure].
- Am I being honest when I pray? If your prayer is not connected to your real life or your true feelings and thoughts, then boredom and dryness naturally result from this disconnect.
- Am I working too hard when I pray? As a general rule, if you feel as if you are working too hard, then you probably are. Such efforts, though well intentioned, indicate that you may be trying to control your prayer too much.
- Am I being invited to let go of unhelpful images of God or old ways of praying? Consider trying a new way of praying. Ask a spiritual mentor for help.
- Am I too attached or addicted to the highs and lows of praying? Dramatic moments in prayer are very engaging, but they can make ordinary moments of prayer feel like a letdown. Remember, we mostly live in ordinary time. That’s just fine because God is found in the ordinary, in the unexciting, regular details of our lives. Consider a significant human relationship in your life. Some of the most meaningful moments occur when nothing exciting is happening but when you are simply enjoying the other’s company in the daily routines.
- Am I letting my own expectations dictate too much of my prayer? We naturally bring certain desires and expectations to our prayer, as we do to life in general. This is all well and good, but do not let your desires and expectations get in the way of what God wants for you. Expectations may point to your trying to control what happens in prayer. We need to let God take the lead.
Why does God lead us to these ordinary times of praying, which we so quickly label as dry and boring?
- God may be gently tilling the soil of your soul for some future harvest, preparing the ground for a bold insight or a deeper emotional experience to come.
- God may use the times of dryness to heighten your sense of God’s presence, so that you will be aware of that presence later in the day or week.
- God may invite you to ordinary times to kindle deep desires and longings. In this case, restlessness is a good thing.
- God may simply want to give you a rest after an intense experience of prayer. Enjoy the stillness and quiet.
Remember, in ordinary times of praying, we may feel that God is not there or not listening. To the contrary, God is there, but not as we imagine or have experienced in the past. Be faithful. God is always close.
Excerpt from The Ignatian Adventure by Kevin O’Brien, SJ.
Why Do We Pray? by William A. Barry, SJ
Distractions in Prayer by Kevin O’Brien, SJ