by Andrew Craig
What is prayer? That is quite a loaded question, but one that I can answer in a few ways based on everything I have read and experienced. One of my favorite responses is that prayer is a conversation with God. Fr. James Martin, S.J. talks extensively about God as being like a friend you can talk with. The more you talk with a friend, the more you come to know, appreciate, and love your friend. Fr. Martin writes that this is similar with God. The more one talks with God, the more one can come to know God and recognize Him outside of prayer.
What if I cannot concentrate? What if I am so stressed that I cannot even imagine calming my mind enough to stop pacing the floor? What if I lose track of my thoughts during prayer? These are all questions that have come up for me numerous times, especially once I started college. The answer? I do not think there is one foolproof answer for all of these questions. But one thing I have found helpful for myself is remembering that God, like any good friend, wants to talk with us. God knows we are human; He knows we have stresses and sorrows and distractions. And the best part is, He wants to experience all of these things with us. God wants to walk with us, not over us. And we know this from Him becoming one of us! Like a trusted friend who can relate, God listens even when our thoughts and prayers wander.
Going into this past Christmas break, I remember thinking, “A whole month to spend with family, and read, and catch up on Netflix!” Family, friends, and reading thankfully were the majority of my Christmas break, but something else arose as well: prayer. With no schoolwork to focus on, my mind wandered to both many good places and many stressful places. My thoughts often decided to linger and hold onto those stressful ideas that I have no need to worry about. While I cannot say I enjoyed having these worries, I can say I am thankful for them. When there is so much going on in my head, I often feel that is the best time to pray. Not necessarily to sit quietly and ponder, but instead to sit and actually talk to God as I would a friend. God experienced a multitude of stresses when He was on Earth. One only needs to read the Gospels to see this. And God, knowing our sufferings, wants to hear them. He is compassionate, and thus wants to “suffer with” us, giving us the strength we need to overcome and go through sufferings.
So, what is prayer? Well, yes, I still enjoy the simple answer of “a conversation with God,” but I think that carries with it a far deeper implication. Conversations are a two-way street. God is always here to listen to us and to hear both our sufferings and successes. But prayer also offers us the chance to listen to God. This is not to say that prayer is the only place we can hear God, but in fact, I think it helps me to believe that every living moment is an opportunity to see and hear God speaking to us. What does that mean? It can mean a lot of things, but one way I like to take it is this: one’s life can be a continuous prayer to God, an ongoing conversation with Jesus throughout our daily lives.