Over the past few weeks we have been examining prayer from an Ignatian perspective. We began looking at , “Why Do We Pray?” by Jesuit Father William A. Barry, S.J. then examined Prayer and Our Deepest Desires. Last week, and this week, we feature the writings of Jesuit priest Father Kevin O’Brien, S.J. We looked at “Distractions at Prayer last week. This week we will look at “Boredom and Dryness in Prayer” once again from from The Ignatian Adventure.
Our relationship with God in prayer is based on a relationship. Much like all relationships, there is a certain rhythm. There are moments of great highs and lows but quite often there are very ordinary times. In our prayer life, people sometimes are quick to judge these ordinary times. People will claim that “Nothing is happening” or they will express frustration with their prayer life, particularly if they feel boredom or dryness when they pray. The danger here is that we can experience a strong temptation to stop praying or to shortchange our prayer time.
Father O’Brien writes that, “When this happens, the first thing to do is resist this temptation. See it for what it is – a temptation to become stingy in your prayer.” O’Brien says to recall times when your prayer life was exciting or fruitful or when you seemed to receive God’s grace and consolation in great abundance. Ignatius suggests that we honor the time commitment we made to praying, even staying a few minutes longer when we feel a strong temptation to cut it short (See The Spiritual Exercises, Chapter 12).
We need to carefully discern feelings of boredom or dryness. Like all interior movements, they can tell you something. Ask yourself:
- Am I making the necessary preparations for my prayer? These preparations dispose you to receive the graces God wants to give you.
- Have I reviewed any suggestions that I have received about prayer and praying? These might reveal new insights about your personality and prayer life. If I haven’t received any such suggestions, seek them out or ask yourself why have you not sought out such suggestions.
- Am I being honest when I pray? If your prayer is not connected to your real life or your true feelings and thoughts, then boredom and dryness naturally result from this disconnect.
- Am I working too hard when I pray? As a general rule, if you feel as if you are working too hard, then you probably are. Such efforts, though well intentioned, indicate that you may be trying to exercise too much personal control over your prayer life.
- Am I being invited to let go of unhelpful images of God or old ways of praying? Consider trying a new way of praying. Ask a spiritual mentor for help.
- Am I too attached or addicted to the highs and lows of praying? Dramatic moments in prayer are very engaging, but they can make ordinary moments of prayer feel like a letdown. Father O’Brien reminds us to remember that we mostly live in ordinary time, and that’s just fine. God is found in the ordinary, in the unexciting, regular details of our lives. Consider a significant human relationship in your life. Some of the most meaningful moments occur when nothing exciting is happening but when you are simply enjoying the other’s company in the daily routines.
- Am I letting my own expectations dictate too much of my prayer? We naturally bring certain desires and expectations to our prayer, as we do to life in general. This is all well and good, but do not let your desires and expectations get in the way of what God wants for you. Expectations may point to your trying to control what happens in prayer. We need to let God take the lead.
Why does God lead us to these ordinary times of praying, which we so quickly label as dry and boring? A number of reasons come to mind. God may be gently tilling the soil of your soul for some future harvest, preparing the ground for a bold insight or a deeper emotional experience to come. God might be using the times of dryness to heighten your sense of God’s presence, so that you will be aware of that presence later in the day or week. God may be inviting you to ordinary times to kindle deeper desires and longings.
Restlessness can sometimes be God calling you to actually take a rest! God may simply want to offer you a period of quiet especially after an intense experience of prayer. So, consider this time a “mini-retreat.” Enjoy the stillness and quiet.
O’Brien closes by writing, “Remember, in ordinary times of praying, we may not “feel” that God is there or listening. We cannot base the fruitfulness or effectiveness of our prayer life on “feelings” alone. To the contrary, God is there, but perhaps not as we imagine or have experienced in the past. Be faithful. God is always close.”