How Singles Can Develop Maturity In Prayer & Relationships


Our sense of God’s existence is linked to our fidelity to prayer, writes Fr. Ron Rolheiser.

Several years ago a friend shared this story with me: Raised a Roman Catholic and essentially faithful in going to church and in trying to live an honest moral life, he found himself, in his mid-40s, plagued by doubts, unable to pray, and unable (when he was honest with himself) to even believe in the existence of God.

Anxious about this and looking for spiritual guidance, he went to see a Jesuit priest who had a reputation as a spiritual director. He anticipated the usual counsel about dark nights of the soul and how these are given to us to purify our faith and, already familiar with that literature, he wasn’t expecting much. Certainly he wasn’t expecting the advice he received.

His Jesuit guide didn’t try to engage him in any deep theological reflections on doubt and dark nights of faith. Instead, like Elisha to Naaman, the Syrian leper, he gave my friend a counsel that sounded so simplistic that it triggered irritation rather than hope.

The Jesuit simply told him: Make a promise to yourself to sit in silent prayer for half an hour a day for the next six months. I promise you that if you are faithful to that you will, by that time, recover your sense of God.

My friend, beyond being upset with what he felt was an over-simplistic bit of advice, protested that the biggest part of his problem was precisely that he couldn’t pray, that he couldn’t talk to a God whom he didn’t believe existed. How can I pray when I no longer believe that there is a God?

The Jesuit persisted: “Just do it! Show up and sit in silent prayer for half an hour a day, even if you feel like you are talking to a wall. It’s the only practical advice I can give you.”

Despite his skepticism, my friend took the Jesuit’s advice and faithfully sat in silent prayer for half an hour a day for six months and, by the end of that time, his sense of God had returned, as had his sense of prayer.

This story, I believe, highlights something important: Our sense of God’s existence is very much linked to fidelity to prayer. However, and this is the catch-22, it is hard to sustain a life of prayer precisely because our sense of God is often weak. Simply put, it is not easy to pray. We have easy words about prayer, but we struggle to sustain, long term, real prayer in our lives.

Prayer is easy only for beginners and for those who are already saints. During all the long years in between, it is difficult.

Why?

Because prayer has the same inner dynamics as love, and love is sweet only in its initial stage, when we first fall in love, and again its final mature stage. In between, love is hard work, dogged fidelity, and needs willful commitment beyond what is normally provided by our emotions and our imagination.

Prayer works in the same way. Initially when we first begin to pray, like someone young and in love, we tend to have a period of fervor, of passion, a time when our emotions and our imaginations help give us a sense that God exists and that God hears our prayers. But as we grow deeper and more mature in our relationship to God, just as in a relationship to someone we love, reality begins to dispel illusion. It’s not that we become disillusioned with God, but rather that we come to realize that so many of the warm thoughts and feelings we believed were about God were really about ourselves. Disillusionment is a good thing. It’s the dispelling of an illusion. What we thought was prayer was partly a spell of enchantment about ourselves.

When that disillusionment sets in – and this a maturing moment in our lives – it is easy to believe that we were deluded about the other, the person we had fallen in love with or, in the case of prayer, God. The easy response then is to back away, to quit, to see the whole thing as having been an illusion, a false start. In the spiritual life, that’s usually when we stop praying.

But the opposite is called for. What we need to do then is to show up, just as we did before, minus the warm thoughts and feelings, bored, uncertain, and stripped of our enchantment about ourselves. The deeper we go in relationships and in prayer, the more unsure of ourselves we become, and this is the beginning of maturity: It’s when I say, I don’t know how to love and I don’t know how to pray, that I first begin to understand what love and prayer actually are.

Hence, there is no better advice than that given by this Jesuit priest to my friend who thought himself an atheist: Just show up! Sit in humility and silence long enough so that you can begin to hear someone else, not yourself.



Editor’s note

This column originally appeared at www.ronrolheiser.com. It is published on “Faith, Hope & Love” with permission.






10 Comments

  1. GinaMaria-622671 October 17, 2010 Reply

    This is a great reflection, Father Rolheiser! Thank you. You make a very true connection between our relationships with one another as well as with God. It is a choice to love, and for it to be a free act of the will, it has to be purified from selfishness. Less about what we get out of it, and more about what we give.

  2. Dan-517162 October 18, 2010 Reply

    Great story. Sometimes it seems as if we taste God’s sweetness and all the great fuzzy feelings when we first encounter God, or experience him in this “young and full of passion” stage. But then it seems he pulls the lollipop out of our mouths and asks us, “who do you love, the lollipop, or me”. As much as I think he wants to make it easy for us, we make it so hard. So hard to the point that unhappy events or feelings occur, and I thinks it’s those times that we are separated from him or he wants to teach us something.

  3. Rollande-323349 October 18, 2010 Reply

    This is an excellent article by Fr Rolheiser. I had had the honor of making a retreat with Fr Ron in August. It was magnificent! The article above outlining disappointment has been the story of my life. I am so grateful that God has pulled me through again and again.

  4. Tiffany-66114 October 19, 2010 Reply

    Thanks :)

  5. Alice-600264 October 20, 2010 Reply

    Wonderful advice. A lot of meaning and direction in a very few sentences.

  6. Nicholas-124272 October 20, 2010 Reply

    Awesome!!!

  7. Theresa-123031 October 21, 2010 Reply

    Thank you very much for this very uplifting article, Father Ron. You are absolutely correct to say that it is in discipline and perseverance in prayer that we will find God. St Paul echoes the same idea when he says: “pray without ceasing”. In truth in so seeking Him, we will certainly find what He wants of each of us. Thank you again and God bless you, Theresa

  8. Kathy-555815 October 21, 2010 Reply

    I am in the same situation your friend was in. I tried going to a couple of priests and they just brushed me off. I do pray everyday- i guess i’ll see what happens.

  9. Liza-523080 October 23, 2010 Reply

    Thanks….. spiritual and uplifting.

  10. car rims October 24, 2010 Reply

    ghost ride that whip

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