Getting to the heart of why we pray

“Pray first” is the advice on the lips of most Christians when asked for help. This guidance rarely falls on ears that haven’t heard the cliché before. Yet, as necessary as the advice is, the reminder from priests and friends to pray daily often feels unsatisfactory and disappointing. Is that really the first step to having a spiritual life? Is that really how we are supposed to solve all of our problems?

The temptation to think of prayer as simply sitting alone and talking to yourself makes it more and more difficult to accomplish. Personally, I find this mindset often arrives when I experience spiritual dryness — when prayer becomes just another item on my to-do list, and when I forget the true purpose of it.

I think it is important for every Catholic to ask themselves the question, “Why do I pray?” We must know the reasons prayer is such a fundamental part of our existence in order to truly make it that way.

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The Bible, the Catechism and the saints have endless reasons to explain why we are called to pray regularly. These considerations include but aren’t limited to: building a relationship with God, overcoming temptation, glorifying him and acknowledging our dependence on him. But there is one answer that is often overlooked.

We pray because it is the one true way to access the life we as Catholics believe is our reality. Only through sitting down in silence and communicating with God can we get in touch with our true and deepest identity as his children.

When I pray, I always want to feel productive, to see results. And when I don’t receive either from my daily attempts at prayer, I grow discouraged. Yet even if I am only doing the bare minimum — sitting with God for five minutes or reading a single Bible verse — I remind myself that prayer is not only good for me, but it is pointing me to something greater. Even when I don’t feel connected to God, the simple act of prayer reminds me that I am made for more than this world.

Without prayer, we will lose our grip on reality. Without a daily remembrance of our goal to go to heaven, our physical goals on earth will overcome our lives. St. Thérèse of Lisieux is known for saying, “the world is thy ship, not thy home.” If I believe I belong in heaven, the only way to focus on my eternal home is to spend regular time with the one who is already there. Even if I don’t receive any consolation, even when I believe my prayers remain unanswered or I feel silly, calling on my Father in heaven reorients me for a moment, and I remember to make choices that will allow me to be with him someday when my body turns to dust.

Starting the day in conversation with God helps me keep this reality at the forefront of my mind. I do my best to bring him everything that is on my heart and lay it before him. For example, when I was struggling with a friendship and didn’t know whether I should continue to fight for the relationship or move forward without my friend, I turned to God in prayer. This simple act of giving him dominion over even the smallest part of my day gave me direction. And through this prayer, I encountered a new perspective with which to see the person I prayed about, and when I faced the choice of whether or not to let the friendship go, I remembered my ultimate goal: heaven. In the end, I made the decision based on whether or not this person was leading me toward eternity with God.

Every tiny choice we make throughout our day is either working for or against that goal, and so God must be present even in the seemingly meaningless moments in order for us to have the grace to choose him every time. With this mindset, I can focus more on prayer as a necessity in order for me to go about my day, not something that interrupts my life.

Even when doing the bare minimum, I can still get a taste of heaven whenever I want, refreshing my soul and leading me closer to the God who made me. But when I give up my daily prayer, the most important thing I lose is my grip on reality. I quickly forget how fleeting this existence is compared to the one that is planned for me in heaven. If I don’t connect with my true identity as a child of God on a daily basis, I fall into the trap of loving this world too much and forgetting that I am made for more.

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