After spending twenty-one-ish years of my life reading everything I could get my hands on, I developed a perhaps-too-inflated sense of my own intelligence. In fact, “perhaps” is a cover. I have a pronounced tendency toward pride, especially in the way I think about my, well, thoughts, and the effort I expend in trying to get others to think I am clever.
The time I have spent developing my skills as a writer didn’t help with this either. I’ve eagerly studied the humanities since high school, learning how to adopt and imitate the voices of some of my favorite authors in my own writing, from P.G. Wodehouse, to Flannery O’Connor, to Alisdair MacIntyre and more, my prose was carefully modelled after the people I thought sounded smart and impressive, because that way maybe I could sound smart and impressive.
There are many obvious areas in which this could be an issue. There have been moments when professors (rightly) wanted me to spend a bit less time flourishing and a bit more time developing my arguments. I am, of course, struggling with it as I write this piece, and this is all disregarding the normal spiritual side-effects of pride!
The area of my life, though, where I have felt this issue come up most strongly is in my prayer.
I have long struggled with the concept of prayer journals. They can be useful, for sure, in directing one’s thoughts, processing events, or tracking specific habits, but they also present me with a major problem. Given the idea that these are meant to be somewhat private (seeing as they are conversations between myself and my Lord and Creator), how do I turn off the part of me that wants to come off as clever? How do I write without the conceit that someone will eventually read this and decide for themselves whether or not I am clever, worthwhile, good?
One of my personal favorites mentioned earlier, Flannery O’Connor, recognized a similar struggle in her own prayer journal, which was recently published for mass consumption (and what a blow to my ability to write egolessly that development was). She writes, speaking to God,“But I do not mean to be clever although I do mean to be clever on 2nd thought and like to be clever & want to be considered so.” So at least I am not alone in this struggle. I’d wager that you, dear reader, may have also dealt with this from time to time, even if you aren’t such a drastic and far-gone case as myself. We all, I think, struggle with the desire to say grand things to God, to demonstrate our love and devotion to him by the beauty of our words. The psalms and Saints set such a high bar, though, that to even scratch up a sentence on par with their beauty would be the work of months, much less composing a Confessions. The result of our efforts, then, is most often to despair and fall either into rote recitation (not necessarily a bad thing!) or not to pray at all (definitely a bad thing). What is the solution?
In the end, what we’re trying to do is get ourselves out of the way of prayer, so that we can receive from God without this need to feel like we’re contributing. Given that we each have our own, unique ways of getting in the way, the solution will largely be personal, but I can recommend a few key practices.
1. Go to Adoration!
The best way to get out of God’s way, clearly, is to be in His presence. Think about a conversation with a loved one: will you be more able to receive them over text, or in person? The same holds true for our relationship with Jesus Christ: when we are present with Him, we are (theoretically) more able to focus on him and what he wants to communicate to us.
2. Bring nothing with you.
This can be a huge challenge, whether you’re going for an hour or just a few minutes, it’s so easy for us to get bored and mentally wander off rather than be present with our Lord. So, we rely on crutches, usually very good things, but nonetheless used by many of us to keep God at arm’s length. This can be spiritual reading, journals, or even rosaries. Again, these are all wonderful aids for prayer, but we have to also be able to spend time silently with Jesus.
3. Go when you’re tired.
This was what finally did it for me. When school is in session, St. Isidore’s holds overnight adoration one night a week, and students sign up for particular hours. Last year, I signed up for the 4 A.M. hour. Now, I don’t want to make any assumptions about our readership, but I know that for myself and many others it is nigh-on impossible to find something clever to say at 4 A.M. on a winter morning. I always walked to Church, so the cold woke me up a bit, but I was still barely coherent by the time I got into the chapel and settled in for prayer.
Yet, this was the most fruitful prayer I’ve received in my life. I was so tired, most of the time, that there was no way I could generate anything. So I just received. In my physical, metal, and spiritual weakness, God was able to work more strongly. Go to God when you are weak, tired, anxious, because it is there that he does his best work.
In the end, I can’t fix your prayer life, I can’t even fix my own. We have to recognize prayer for the gift that it is and rely totally on God. In our weakness, Christ moves with power and strength. Isn’t that what we are all hoping for?
Andy Brandt is a Senior at Kansas State. You can find him writing about Catholicism, Politics, and Justice at https://medium.com/@