Three Components of Prayer
Prayer ideally is three things: Words, Presence, Awareness.
Praying with words is what we are all familiar with. It is what we do before every meal, before every Bible study and before every sermon. Words are what we use to make our wants, needs, thoughts, and feelings known. Words are important in prayer because it allows us to be specific about things and put words (or at least try) to feelings and thoughts that often remain undefined and ambiguous in our minds.
Presence is the ability to mentally be where you are. It is being ‘present’ to the moment, embracing where you are, with who you are with, and what you are doing. This is difficult because our minds are often meditating on the past, daydreaming about the future, or longing to be somewhere else. Have you ever been with a person whose mind was somewhere else? They are physically with you but they are unavailable. Becoming present makes us available to God.
Awareness is the ability to perceive a situation differently based on the knowledge that God is close. Imagine you are playing a sports game but your friends/family are not there. A quarter through the game you look over to the stands and see them there. Although their presence does not give you more stamina, or make you a better player, your awareness of their presence improves your game. Becoming aware of God in our prayer helps us perceive the world around us differently for the better.
When Three Aren’t Possible
Ideally, prayer should always have these three components. But that is not always possible. Sometimes, words are hard because we do not have words or we do not want to speak. Sometimes, presence is hard because our anxiety is stronger than our will and we cannot ground ourselves to where we are. Sometimes, awareness is hard because it feels like God is not there. These are real struggles that no one should feel guilty about, they are part of the human experience.
When it is not possible to have all three, try to at least have two.
If you don’t have words: Be present and aware.
If you cannot be present: Speak words and be aware.
If you cannot be aware: Speak Words and be present.
Prayer is Hard
What if you can’t even do two or even one? My answer is: try. Prayer is not easy, prayer is hard. When I was younger I used to think that the closer I got to God the easier prayer would become. But I have discovered that the more I pray the closer I become to God. But prayer remains all the more difficult. Prayer is the mountain we climb to see great heights. It is the labor in the field to feast on the harvest. It is the mining of the earth to take hold of its hidden treasure. Prayer is the necessary and difficult task to grab hold of what our hearts desire most: God. No one climbs a mountain expecting to be easy. No one plants seeds expecting there to be no work to be done. No one searches for treasure without anticipating having to mine stone. In the same manner, no one should expect to search for God through prayer expecting to be easy.
But why doesn’t God make prayer easy? That is because prayer is soul work. Prayer is not what God does, it is what we do. This is how God molds our character, makes us wise, and opens our eyes to wonder and mystery. Surely no one matures through easy paths. An easy faith is an immature faith. In the end, what is rewarded is not success but persistence (Lk 18:1-8).
Prayer is ideally at least three things: Words, Presence, Awareness. But when all three are not possible, at least two are. When that is too difficult, try. Prayer is soul work, and that is why it is difficult. If you do not have a practice set up, I encourage you to develop one. For there lies character, wisdom, mystery, faith, hope, and love.