When You Struggle to Pray

When my daughter got her license and I retired from my position as her chauffeur, I started to volunteer at an after school program offered through our church. All of the children were first generation students who needed a native speaker to help them with their homework. The children’s English was fantastic, but most had no one at home who could listen to them read out loud or explain American history. If I am honest, neither the parents nor I could really help with the math.

At the end of the day we would see the parents. Some were fluent and wanted to hear all about the afternoon. Some had not yet gained confidence with their English and took advantage of their child’s fluency to translate. They were interested and attentive, but sometimes that was only communicated to me by their presence and a smile.

When we were in Portugal at the beginning of Lent, no one in our group could speak Portuguese. I regretted not learning more than a few words from my friends who speak Portuguese fluently. We went to Mass and tried to follow along, but most of it went in one ear and out the other, a garbled mess. Our worship was even more confused because of the cultural differences around kneeling and standing for different portions of the Mass.

Everywhere we went, we always had to lead with the question, “Do you speak English?” In the smaller towns, it was harder to find someone who spoke anything other than Spanish, so we had to do a lot of gesturing and smiling.

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There are days, even seasons of my life when it felt like God and I were speaking different languages. In these times, the gesturing I could offer was a super quick sign of the cross. My smiling equated to mumbling a half hearted Our Father or a Hail Mary. Since I was not forced to pray on a regular basis, I would avoid prayer when possible. No one likes feeling like a newbie at anything, so I would avoid any opportunity to lead anyone else in freestyle prayer.

Do you feel like you are going through the motions? Your children can dive straight into a conversation with Jesus like they are a native fresh from heaven themselves. Yet you feel like you are still learning the very basic vocabulary. You might have friends raised in the Evangelical tradition who intimidate you with long, breathless streams of praise and supplication.

And you are still not sure which prayers to say on which bead of your rosary because no one ever took the time to show you. You may even sit down to pray and the only thing that comes to mind is your grocery list.

Maybe you had a vibrant prayer life, but circumstances combined with stress make it difficult to reach out and trust that God is listening any more.

Well, you are in good company.

This is how I felt for so long.

If any of this sounds recognizable to you, I encourage you to become more familiar with God’s language. His inspired Word is found in Scripture and you can become more familiar with His voice, His accent, and His cadence a little bit each day. It does not require a huge investment of time, rather all you have to do is respond to His call and allow Him to love you.

My prayer life changed when I started praying the Psalms. It’s kind of like watching a television program in a foreign language with the subtitles turned on. Using the Psalms, you get to pray using someone else’s words.

These Psalms caught my heart in the past few months and might be a good place for you to start:

Psalm 19, 85, 100, 107, 121, 125, 138, 147

When you feel like you have no words, allow His Word to transport your soul heaven. Accompany Him alongside restful waters as He revives your spirit. Wherever you are today, He is waiting whenever you are ready.

If you have a favorite Psalm, please let me know in the comments below, this will help someone else discover the treasure for themselves. If you pray any of these Psalms, leave a comment below and let me know how it went. I would love to know.