Sometimes we make assumptions about prayer and the spiritual life that impede our attempts to connect with God. Often, these fallacies take root in the subconscious, and we do not even realize they are operative until a wise and trusted spiritual friend helps us to notice them. Here are nine such perennial pests that St. Ignatius dispelled through word and deed.
1. I don’t know enough to pray. We don’t need to know Latin, the entire Catechism, or have dozens of Bible verses memorized to pray. St. Ignatius had little formal education when he began his spiritual quest to connect with God, and he shared his messages of God’s love with anyone who would turn an ear. A sincere desire to connect with God is the only prerequisite to prayer.
2. I don’t know the words to pray. Some prayer is formal or formulaic, but prayer can also be informal, conversational, and intimate. St. Ignatius encouraged us to imagine Jesus sitting right next us. We converse with him as we would converse with our best friend. Don’t be afraid to start a conversation with Jesus.
3. I’m not holy enough to pray. One need not be a saint to connect with the Creator. Ignatius stressed that God cares about each of us personally. Anytime we reach out to God with an open heart, God hears us and responds.
4. I don’t have time to go to church to pray. Of course, a church is a great place to pray. However, Ignatius saw every moment as an occasion of prayer, because he found God in all things. One of the most powerful spiritual experiences of his life took place on the banks of a river. Stargazing was another powerful spiritual experience for Ignatius—so powerful, in fact, that it would bring him to tears. We can pray anytime and anywhere.
5. I need to pray to God way up in the sky. Since Ignatius found God everywhere, he didn’t limit God to the sky. He also found God as intimately close as his own breath. When we pray, we can pray up, or out, or into the depths of that sacred space in our hearts.
6. I can’t pray, because I end up daydreaming. Ignatius often found himself daydreaming too! Over time, he realized that God was working even during these flights of fancy, so he began to teach others how to use imagination to get closer to God. The imagination can be fertile, holy ground.
7. I need to tuck away my emotions and desires when I pray. St. Ignatius realized that God works through our emotions and desires and spent a lot of time paying attention to them. In his Spiritual Exercises, he wrote extensively about noticing and prayerfully sifting through emotions, desires, and feelings. He realized that our deepest desires, those things that make us feel most alive and deep-down happy, point to God’s dream for us—that place where we will be most fulfilled in life.
8. God doesn’t really do big stuff anymore. That parting-the-Red-Sea stuff was a thing of the past, right? Au contraire! Ignatius taught us that God is working for us all the time; all is gift—our lives and all of creation. We exist and the universe exists because God is breathing life into us and continually creating the whole universe at every moment.
9. My little concerns don’t matter to God. This is also phrased as, “I don’t want to take up God’s time when there are people praying about big matters of life and death.” St. Ignatius posited that God cares about every little detail of our lives. And God has an endless capacity to hear everyone’s prayers and concerns (at the same time!), so there’s no need to ration our “little” concerns. What we pray does matter to God, including the little things. There’s no need to hold back!