What to do when nothing “happens” during prayer

Jul 3, 2018 | Philip Kosloski

We all know the scenario. After stepping into a church or kneeling beside our bed at home, we feel nothing. We may have the good intention of starting to pray every day for 30 minutes and then when the time comes to pray we feel discouraged because, well, nothing happens!

When presented with this silence we might ask ourselves, “Am I doing something wrong?” Or if we are feeling a bit down and at a loss we might question everything, saying, “Is God even there?”

One of the most common errors we all commit is in thinking that prayer is similar to a phone call where we pick-up the phone, dial a phone number and wait for God to pick-up on the other side. In this instance, we are the ones who initiate prayer and God is the one who needs to respond. So when we call “God’s number,” we get frustrated when all we hear on the other line is static.

What’s wrong with God? Why isn’t he responding?

The problem is not that God isn’t speaking to us; the problem is that our image of prayer is wrong. We are not the ones who pick-up the phone and try to contact God. God is the one who has been trying to call us and we are the ones who are giving him static.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church explains:

“God calls man first. Man may forget his Creator or hide far from his face; he may run after idols or accuse the deity of having abandoned him; yet the living and true God tirelessly calls each person to that mysterious encounter known as prayer. In prayer…God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response.” (CCC 2567)

What we often forget is that God is always trying to enter into our lives. He wants us to pray and is already there waiting for us. As Jesus said to his disciples,

“You have not chosen me: but I have chosen you” (John 15:16).

This reality corresponds to the first step of the “Way of the Heart” and encourages us to consider the gaze of God, who created us out of love.

Too often our problem with prayer is that we are not responding to God’s invitation to love and are searching for God in the clouds, not realizing that he is already here, waiting for us. God reassures us that he is here and waiting for our response through the prophet Jeremiah,

“And you shall call upon me, and you shall go: and you shall pray to me, and I will hear you. You shall seek me, and shall find me: when you shall seek me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:12-13)

In reality, the phone analogy goes the other way. When we go to pray, it is like picking-up a phone that has been ringing all day long. God has been calling us, ready to start a friendship with us in prayer and is already there on the other side of the phone.

What we need to do is instead of “doing all the talking,” we need to begin our prayer by listening, seeking to first respond to God’s invitation of love.

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