On Prayer

hail mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. holy mary, mother of God, pray for us sinners now and at the hour of our death, amen.

According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, to pray is to speak to God, especially in order to give thanks or to ask for something; to make a request in a humble manner; to address God (or a god) with adoration, confession, supplication or thanksgiving.

hey God, just wanted to say thanks for all you’re doing in my life.

I was raised in a (semi) Catholic home. We went to church on Christmas and Easter and the occasional Sunday. I started going to Catholic school in 6th grade and went to mass every Wednesday through 8th grade. I went to Catholic high school and then to a Catholic, Jesuit university. My only real understanding of faith was academic. I took classes on the history of Catholicism, the sacraments, saints and a myriad of other things. It wasn’t until my third year in college when a very dear friend invited me to mass that I started to understand more about what faith felt like. I hadn’t been to church regularly since 8th grade and, to be honest, I wasn’t all that interested. I mostly kept going because it was important to my friends.

Most nights it just felt like I was going through the motions. I said the prayers, sang the songs, stood, sat and kneeled at the appropriate times. It didn’t really feel special or valuable. Then one night at mass, after a particularly difficult week, I found myself deep in conversation with a candle on the altar. I was crying out for help in honest desperation. It was the first time I felt a personal connection with God. I continued to explore that relationship and eventually decided to get baptized and become Catholic. My decision was based on a calling to grow closer to God. And, if we’re being honest, familiarity. I knew I wanted a relationship with the Lord, and Catholicism was the only religion I knew. It was the only path to God I knew. It turns out becoming Catholic as an adult takes a lot of work. I took classes, had meetings, went on retreats and wrote letters. I studied, a lot. Somewhere along the line I lost touch with God. I never felt like I had a personal relationship with Him. I felt like I didn’t know how to pray.

I didn’t know how to talk to God.

All of my interactions with the Lord were scripted. I was constantly talking at God, but I didn’t ever feel like I was actually talking with Him. I said Hail Mary after Hail Mary, I was always mumbling the Lord’s Prayer and praying for the well-being of everyone I could think of. It all felt so forced and formal. So, I strayed.

Then, life happened. I graduated and moved to Missouri for grad school. I was struggling. So, I turned back to my Hail Mary’s. I turned back to familiarity. I turned back to God. God knew I was ready for a personal relationship with Him. He blessed me with some incredible people that showed me what life was like with a relationship with Him.

I started praying. Often. At first it was mostly just Hail Mary’s and the Lord’s Prayer. I prayed for the well-being of those around me. Then, my faith started to change. It grew and deepened in ways I didn’t know were possible. It became personal. There were prayers of thanksgiving. Confessions. Cries for help. I shared my dreams and my fears. There were prayers of adoration. I thanked Him for little things like crunchy leaves and fuzzy socks, and big things like my chosen career and my incredible boyfriend. Next thing I knew, my life became one giant, personal conversation with the Lord. I finally feel like I have a beautifully personal relationship with God. My God. My Savior.

Here’s the thing you guys, prayer can be pretty much anything you want it to be. I was watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy tonight, and a dying patient asked one of the doctors to pray a Hail Mary with him. It was the first time I had heard the prayer in a while, and I was surprised at how beautiful it sounded. Now, I know it’s just a TV show and they were acting, but you guys, it sounded so beautiful and genuine. You see, prayer isn’t all about the words. I think prayer is about your relationship with the Lord. He loves us. He wants a relationship with us. If that relationship comes through a Hail Mary or two, that’s cool, and if it’s thanking Him for fuzzy socks, well, then that’s cool too. What matters is that we live for Him. That we are constant and faithful in prayer (Romans 12:12). That we trust Him. I think prayer is about our heart.

in those days when you pray, i will listen. if you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me. “i will be found by you,” says the Lord.

Jeremiah 29:12-14a