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Making Friends with God Through Mental Prayer

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The aim of prayer is to become friends with God. The aim of these three books is to help us do it.

“Prayer,” as St. Teresa of Avila put it, “is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.”

That is my story, and this friendship is completely transformative. I’m the mother of seven children, and while my husband is at the office and the older kids are at school, I have the little ones. It is a rewarding vocation, yet I needed something more, a boost beyond what sometimes seemed like an unchanging routine.

Several years ago, following the guidance of a spiritual director, I was introduced to “mental prayer.” The name sounds intimidating, but it isn’t, and it has changed my life.

Mental prayer gives me a focused clarity in my calling as a wife, mother and everything else. It gives me peace, and it is how I am living this very day, in this very moment.

Yet if it is so simple, why don’t more Catholics do it? It is hard work, I’d guess, requiring a level of patience and concentration scorned by our culture. Communicating spiritual truths with words is a challenge, and mental prayer is a reality only discovered by seeking it yourself.

Prayer of course is a familiar exercise to everyone, one way or another. Whether with our parents at the bedside or in a time of tragedy, we have all invoked God’s help. Such efforts are not to be discouraged, but there is so much more to be gained from spending time in daily prayer.

In our daily routines, prayer, in friendship with God, is the thing that transforms everything. Prayer opens new discoveries of self and our self with God, as St. Augustine found in his Confessions. God is deep within our soul, and no matter how lonely I feel or how many high-pitched children want my attention, God is there, always. Prayer helps me combat the sometimes tiresome boredom of daily life.

The greatest problem is overcoming simple laziness and getting into prayer, regardless of mood and feelings. Don’t wait until the end of the day or it will not get done. Prayer must be scheduled, and we must keep the daily appointment.

Once God is on our schedule, how do we talk to him? Two excellent books for the aspiring beginner are Jacques Phillipes’ Thirsting for Prayer  and Kilian Healy’s Awakening Your Soul to the Presence of God.

Both explain why prayer is important and tell us exactly why a daily commitment will transform us. Healy’s book is the shorter, but neither is terribly long, and both are inspiring.

The best news? You don’t have to have to pray for hours. Start small. Five minutes. Five minutes is doable. Once that has become a habit, you can increase it. Soon you will not want this time to end.

Jacques Philippe notes in Thirsting for Prayer:

I know laypeople fully taken up by their family and work commitments who in twenty minutes of daily prayer receive as many graces as monks who pray for five hours a day. God so urgently desires to reveal himself, to show his fatherly face to all of us, poor and little as we are, so that he can be our light, our healing, our happiness. And this is especially true given that the world we live in is such a difficult one.

Because prayer is largely a matter of the heart, mechanics often fall short because our personal prayer is, well, personal. Yet Phillipe provides a bit more of a framework on how to go about praying and you can build on this. Books and apps will help—I certainly use them. The idea is to read a bit, and talk with God about what you just read. Keep going back and forth.

In that back and forth we begin to hear God calling us to him, to love him for himself and not for all the gifts he gives us. If you begin and experience distractions, cold feelings or even boredom in your prayers, Eugene Boylan’s Difficulties in Mental Prayer will help you persevere.

The aim of prayer is to become friends with God. The aim of these three books is to help us do it.

 

Theresa Branch is a graduate of Hillsdale College living in Virginia. She is a happy wife who—when not busy changing the world one diaper at a time—writes. You may drop a note to her at theresa.notes@gmail.com.

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