• Readings for today's Mass

Can prayer be a satisfying experience?

Summary of main ideas

Most Christians find themselves frustrated and discouraged, when they try to give prayer a bigger place in their lives. Prayer is a challenging activity, which takes us to a very elemental level – Jesus tells us that we must recover the simplicity and trust of little children.

Perhaps the difficulties we commonly experienced – we seem to be talking to ourselves; asking for things seem to be childish – can provide a clue to how these difficulties can be overcome.

Developmental Psychology has brought an understanding of how a small child's consciousness develops. One important milestone psychologists call "differentiation" – the capacity the tiny child develops to relate to another person as "someone". Before differentiation, other people are a comforting environment in which the child can explore its growing awareness. The difficulties we have mentioned may involve a subtle form of "regression" to a manner of acting of early childhood. This is understandable since prayer is such an unusual and challenging activity.

The great adventure of prayer really begins when we recognise that instead of speaking to ourselves – with God as a comforting environment, which facilitate our self-exploration – we face the challenge of meeting God face to face. A simple way of doing this is to ask the question: "Who are you God? Who are you for me?" This question inevitably raises the further question, "Who am I? What is in my heart making the person I am today?" This approach brings a new realism to our prayer.

The faith of the Old Israel began with the "Who" question at the burning bush – and the answer came as their life in Covenant with God led God's people to know God's ways, what is in the heart of God. In our prayer we can make a similar journey of covenant-faith as our lives unfold.

We must be ready for the many moods and seasons of an authentic life of prayer – particularly the "desert" time when our faith hope and love are deepened and purified.

True Christian prayer will learn to share with Christ his concern for our struggling world.

Jesus often commends prayer of petition – but he warns against mechanic repetition. We must ask "in his name" – that is, in a spirit of oneness with all that he stands for.

Much of our prayer time will be spent in distractions. This should not discourage us. Our distractions – when we become aware of them – help us to understand what is on our minds and in our hearts, bringing a greater realism to our question "Who am I?"