Anybody can pray—even if you don’t know how

Boy and dog praying by Vasile Tomoiagă [Flickr]
This time of year always reminds me of the little boy who was saying his prayers before bedtime as his mother and grandmother looked over him.

“Dear God,” the boy prayed, “Please bless Mummy and Daddy and all the family and please give me a good night’s sleep.”

Suddenly he looked up and shouted, “And don’t forget to give me a bicycle for Christmas!”

“There is no need to shout like that,” said his mother. “God isn’t deaf.”

“No,” said the little boy, “but Grandma is.”

Sometimes we fall into a pattern of thinking of God as a spiritual Santa Claus. We may not ask for bicycles. But we tend to ask for a lot of other stuff. If God delivers, we’re happy. If God doesn’t deliver, our prayers “weren’t answered.”

For most of my childhood, I thought of prayer pretty much like the little boy in the story. It wasn’t until I was in college that I realized prayer is a conversation. And it’s even more than that. Prayer is everything you do to grow your relationship with God.

Think of someone you love. All your conversations, hugs, arguments, meals, celebrations, surprises, silences, and so on with that person are your “prayer” with them. It is these kinds of things that are also our prayer to God. Prayer is everything we do to keep our relationship with God vital.

It is logical, then, to say that if we do not have a strong relationship with God, we probably don’t have a strong prayer life. And in the reverse, if our prayer life is weak, our relationship with God is weak.

Misconceptions about prayer

Many people think that, in order to pray, you have to pray a certain way or use certain words. That’s how I grew up praying, and it is still natural for me to think that way. To really pray, I have to pray the Lord’s Prayer. Or I have to pray a psalm, like Psalm 23 (The Lord is my Shepherd). That is one way to pray, but we don’t have to pray that way.

A vital relationship
"Great is the mystery of the faith!" The Church professes this mystery in the Apostles' Creed and celebrates it in the sacramental liturgy, so that the life of the faithful may be conformed to Christ in the Holy Spirit to the glory of God the Father. This mystery, then, requires that the faithful believe in it, that they celebrate it, and that they live from it in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer.
—Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2558

Think of your “prayer” with your loved one. Do you have routine things you say to each other all the time? Married people, for example, probably greet each other in the morning in the same way every day. They probably decide what to have for dinner or what to watch on TV with pretty much the same dialogue each time. “Formal” prayer with God is a little bit like that. It is a routine we use with a loved one that is a verbal shortcut for what we want to say. But, of course, our relationships can also have lots of informal, spontaneous interactions as well.

Prayer time

People sometimes think prayer has to happen at certain times of the day and take a really long time. Like, “I should pray for an hour every morning.” Geez, who has time for that? But this is partly true. Usually, most people need a regular “check in” time for their relationships. If you said nothing to your spouse in the morning, how long would your relationship last? If, like me, you are not a morning person, you probably don’t say much. But you don’t say nothing either. “Thanks for the coffee,” might be about all you can muster at 6:00 a.m., but that’s all that’s needed.

But maybe most nights you have dinner together. Or spend time reading or watching TV together. Or spend time getting the kids ready for bed and listening to their night prayers. These things all happen at regular times and some can take quite a bit of time. We can think of praying to God in the same way.

Focus is overrated

The biggest misconception I hear about (and that I have myself) is that I should be “focused” when I pray. If I get distracted, my prayer doesn’t “count.” Well this is sometimes true, but not usually. When you talk with your spouse or a friend, how often are you distracted? And how often are you focused? Most of us are mostly distracted, I think. But if the conversation is about something important or exceptionally interesting, then you are focused. And so my prayer to God is usually distracted. But sometimes it is incredibly focused. It just depends on the conversation.

A simple prayer practice

If you don’t have a regular prayer life, here is a suggestion for you to try. Close your eyes and sit quietly for 5 minutes. Breathe deeply and slowly. Try not to think of anything (but don’t fret about it if you do). Use a timer so you don’t have to worry about how much time you have left. Try to do this for 20 days in a row, at the same time each day. Then come back to this post and write a comment about your experience.

If you do have a regular prayer life, tell us about it so we can learn from your experience.

See also these related articles:



2 to “Anybody can pray—even if you don’t know how”

  1. Pat Thul says:

    Nick: I really this website!!! It’s will be great reading for our candidates. Keep up the good work!
    The only thing I don’t like is that when I tried to print an article, out came 4 pages instead one or two;
    Can anything be done about that? Thanks Nick! Pat Thul, Co-ordinator at Sacred Heart Parish in Eureka.

  2. Nick says:

    Hi Pat. I’m glad you like the website! Please spread the word. I’ll look into the printing issue, but the solution might be beyond my tech ability. All the best.


Leave a Reply to Nick