Prayer: Spiritual Breathing
Prayer is one of the four essential habits of a disciple of Jesus, as described in Acts 2:42. Use this article to teach someone how to build a regular prayer life and help them on a journey to a transformative and intimate relationship with Christ.
Optional Lectio Divina Prayer
- Read John 15:5-11.
- Meditate on the words.
- Speak to Christ about this passage.
- Rest and listen in God’s presence.
- Discuss together.
Have you ever had too much to do, felt overwhelmed and wished you had more time?
There probably were many moments when St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her sisters in the Missionaries of Charity felt that way as they poured out their lives in caring for the poorest of the poor around the world. But in 1973 she made a radical decision about how the sisters would use the little time they had each day in a new and extraordinary way.
The sisters already were very committed to prayer. As part of their regular routine, they stopped for prayer many times throughout the day: Morning Prayer, Mass, Mid-day Prayer, Evening Prayer and various devotions. But in 1973 she introduced into their daily schedule a “Holy Hour”—one hour of prayer in Eucharistic adoration.
From a practical perspective, such a move seems counterintuitive. These sisters are doing some of the hardest work in the world, caring for the poorest of the poor around the globe. With so much need, so much work to be accomplished, why spend an extra hour in prayer each day?
She answers: “We have much work to do. Our homes for the sick and dying destitute are full everywhere. And from the time we started having adoration every day, our love for Jesus became more intimate, our love for each other more understanding, our love for the poor more compassionate, and we have double the number of vocations. God has blessed us with many wonderful vocations. The time we spend in having our daily audience with God is the most precious part of the whole day.”5
When asked how she could justify her sisters’ spending so much time in private prayer instead of using that time to serve the thousands of sick and poor who needed their attention, Mother Teresa replied, “If we don’t take time to pray, we could not do this work.”6
If our life is without prayer, it is like a house without a foundation.
St. Mother Teresa clearly had a supernatural outlook on her life. She knew that her work depended not primarily on her own talent, ability, planning and effort but on allowing God to work through her. She knew how much she needed God, and that’s one reason why she committed herself to prayer each day. She was convinced that on her own, she could accomplish very little, for Jesus himself says, “apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5).
Are you convinced of how much you need God in your life— for your studies, your activities, your friendships, your career and even more, for your overcoming sin and weakness in your life and becoming the person God wants you to be? People who think they can manage through life relying on their own strengths don’t feel the urgent need to make time for prayer each day. But Mother Teresa felt that need. And so should we.
Discuss: What stands out to you about Mother Teresa’s commitment to prayer? Are you convinced of your need for prayer? How has prayer been a part of your life? Have you struggled to make prayer a priority? Why?
We need time to pray each day if we want to grow spiritually. The soul needs prayer like the body needs oxygen. To be filled more with Christ’s life, we need to take in what Pope Francis called “the deep breath of prayer.”7
When we make daily prayer a priority, our lives are better. All that we do—in all our works, studies, relationships and most of all in our friendship with God—is enriched, filled more with Christ’s Spirit. Rather than relying on our own abilities, efforts and plans, it will be Christ radiating through us, enabling us to live life at a level we could never achieve on our own.
Most of all, prayer is not about what we do as much as it is something God initiates as he puts a desire for him on our hearts. He put that desire for prayer in us because He longs for our time, our attention our love. “Jesus thirsts; his asking arises from the depths of God’s desire for us. Whether we realize it or not, prayer is the encounter of God’s thirst with ours. God thirsts that we may thirst for him” (CCC 2560).
We need to do three things to launch a daily prayer life.
First, we must be consistent. Most of the greatest things in life all come about through a routine and consistent effort. You go to a class or a meeting on a regular basis. You have a set workout routine. You see friends at particular times and places to help you build those friendships. The same is true for prayer. When you are getting started, don’t worry about how long you pray, where you pray or what method of prayer you use; simply make sure that you take time for prayer every single day. Even if you can pray for only ten minutes, find a way to do it every day so that you build up the habit. This habit is what is going to allow your relationship with God to thrive and flourish, just like it did for Mother Teresa and her sisters.
Also keep in mind that as you seek to develop a habit of prayer, your commitment will be tested. There may be times when you feel you don’t get much out of prayer, when prayer is hard, when you don’t want to pray or when you’d rather be doing something else. In those moments, your heart is being tested: Will you still be faithful to Jesus? Are you coming to prayer for some feeling or insight you get out of it or because you want to give Jesus a part of your life each day?
Your heart also will be tested when you feel busy, pressed for time. You might be tempted to say, “I don’t have time to pray today! I’m too busy!” When people told her about the overwhelming amount of work they had on their plate Mother Teresa would wisely reply, “If you are too busy to pray, you are too busy!”8 Will you still be faithful to Jesus in prayer even when you have a lot going on?
Second, we need quiet in our hearts. When we talk to friends, we want to have their full attention. The same is true in the great conversation of prayer. God wants our full attention. He wants to hear what is on our heart—what we’re going through, our hopes, our dreams, our fears, our hurts, our needs. He also wants to speak to us through his words in Scripture or the saints or other devotional books we might use in prayer. He wants to encourage us, comfort us, and prompt us.
But if we don’t have enough silence in our souls, we won’t be able to speak to him and we won’t be able to listen to what he has to say to us. Find a quiet place—for example, in your room, in a chapel, outdoors—where you’re less likely to be distracted. Put down your phone, or even turn it off so you don’t have the distractions of incessant vibrations, notifications and messages.
Still, we might have many internal distractions, as all sorts of things can occupy our thoughts and emotions and distract us. Don’t worry too much about this. Try your best to settle down and quiet yourself interiorly to prepare your mind and heart to be in conversation with God. And if you find yourself getting unfocused and distracted, you can even use these distractions as topics you can talk to the Lord about in prayer.
Third, we need a plan for prayer that’s simple.
Many people ask, what am I supposed to do in prayer? While there are many different approaches and techniques to prayer, when you’re first starting out you want to keep it simple. After you quiet yourself down and recognize God’s presence, take some time to read, perhaps a few verses from the Bible or a few lines from a saint or some devotional book like In Conversation with God or The Imitation of Christ or the meditations in Magnificat. Then, have a simple conversation with God about what is going on in the passage and how it relates to your life. Tell the Lord something that struck you about what you read. Ask him a question about it. Reflect on how it might apply to your life right now. Talk to God about it, and take time in quiet to listen as well. Then, take what you’ve learned in prayer and make a resolution for how you want to live better.
Apart from me you can do nothing.
What else can you talk to God about? There are four basic things the Church recommends for any ordinary believer to do in prayer. These can be summed up with the acronym ACTS: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication.
• Adoration: Acknowledging God as the Creator, praising him for his goodness and love, telling God you love him
• Confession: Thinking about your sins, telling God you’re sorry, asking forgiveness
• Thanksgiving: Thanking God for the various blessings in your life
• Supplication (or petition/intercession): Telling God of your needs and the needs of others (CCC 2626–49)
Discuss: How have you prayed in the past? What was helpful as you tried to have a conversation with God? What steps do you need to take to have consistent, quiet and simple prayer?
One great way to build the habit of prayer is praying at the same time and place as someone who already prays each day. It will add instant accountability for sticking to your commitment. For the first few times, this person might even share how they pray so that you can continue to learn.
Also, at the end of this article, we’ve attached FOCUS’ Prayer Challenge. This list of verses from the Gospel of Luke will give you material to pray with over the next 30 days. Typically, habits can be formed by doing something consistently for one month. By completing the Prayer Challenge, you will have a much better chance of making prayer, and a deeper friendship with God, a foundational part of your life. Make a plan and get started. Building a new habit isn’t always easy, so be patient and keep trying.
Discuss: Would you be willing to try to pray each day for 30 days? If so, what’s your plan for pulling this off? What time and location will you chose? What materials will you pray with? Also, consider finding some time to pray together to keep each other accountable.
Spiritual Breathing: We must take in “the deep breath of prayer” each day. The soul needs prayer like the body needs oxygen.
ACTS: Four simple ways you can always talk to God in prayer: Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication
Time for God by Fr. Jacques Philippe (General book on prayer)
WRAP Yourself in Scripture by Karen L. Dwyer (WRAP)
Meditation and Contemplation by Timothy M. Gallagher, O.M.V. (Ignatian meditation)
Here’s an easy list of Scripture passages to pray with each day that will take you through most of the Gospel of Luke. You may also find these passages on the FOCUS Equip App.
Part 1—Jesus’ Early Life
Part 2—Jesus’ Ministry
Part 3—Jesus on the Road to Jerusalem
Luke 15:1–2; 11–26
Part 4—Jesus’ Death and Resurrection
Luke 24:36–53 45
5 Catholic Exchange. (2007, September 4). Mother Teresa, What Will Save the World? [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://catholicexchange.com/mother-teresa-what-will-save-the-world
6 Coronel, Joyce. (2012, May 14). Too Busy to Pray? Finding Time for God Brings Peace. Retrieved from https://www. catholicsun.org/2012/05/14/too-busy-to-pray-finding-time-for-god-brings-peace/
7 Pope Francis. (2013). Evangelii Gaudium, 262 [Apostolic Exhortation]. Retrieved from http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium.html
8 Towey, Jim. (2010, December). It All Begins With Prayer. Columbia, 13. Retrieved from https://www.kofc.org/un/en/resources/mother-teresa/columbia-excerpts072010.pdf