A frequent complaint of people who are serious about wanting to pray is they are plagued by distractions. It helps to remember that unless they are deliberately entertained, they are not harmful.  Also it helps to realize we are not expected to go on praying without ever faltering.   The challenge is to keep starting over.  A Hindu sage put it quite well saying: “We can’t stop birds from flying around our head, but we can prevent them from building a nest in our hair.”

Besides distractions there are various temptations that can trouble our prayer life.  Example: I may be tempted to think of my prayer as just another task, a duty to be performed.  It then becomes something to get out of the way so that I can then relax.  Another temptation is to think God is not really listening to my prayers.  I may think my words have disappeared as though down a deep well from which no echo comes back. God may seem so distant and silent that my prayer seems useless.  I may ask: Is my prayer only a monologue?  Am I doomed to wander in the barren wasteland of my own emptiness? Can my prayer withstand the corrosive effect of routine?

Sometimes the difficulty in prayer stems from the fact that I am praying for the wrong things.  Better, perhaps, to say that my prayer is somehow incomplete.  I may be praying for light when I should also be praying for trust. I may be praying for a trial to pass when I should also be praying for patience and submission to God’s will. Ultimately my prayer must be characterized by a patient waiting for God to speak, a silent standing by until God gives me a sense of his omnipresence.  Perhaps that is what is meant by the exhortation to pray always, an attitude rather than an action.

While it is true to say that in praying I am seeking God, it must be recognized that it is God who takes the initiative.  In his dealings with human beings the initiative is always God’s.  A word of caution.  That the initiative is God’s and our response is to be open does not mean we are to be totally passive.  There is the task of removing any of the obstacles that prevent God from coming into our lives. A nautical metaphor can help to illustrate that point.   The sail does not make the wind blow, but the wind cannot move forward a ship with torn sails.

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