As Saint Teresa de Ávila said, prayer is a conversation with someone we know loves us.
Q. I am a perfectionist and because of it I really struggle with prayer. I know there is no right way to pray but I can’t get out of my own head. I really do try and want to develop this relationship with God but I feel like my need for perfection is preventing that.
I find it hard to sit still and pray when I should be doing things around the house, and I can’t concentrate. Basically it just feels weird sitting there in silence trying to meditate and have what feels like a one-sided conversation. Prayer has become a source of anxiety and frustration for me so that’s how I know that I am doing it wrong. What do you recommend to turn this around?
A. From what you describe, I believe your problem has more to do with control than about being a perfectionist. It took me awhile to recognize this about myself so I am familiar with what trying to control prayer looks like, and the anxiety and frustration that results from it.
You’re right; there is not a right way to pray, and there is no one way to pray either. It sounds like you are trying to force a certain prayer discipline that probably might be more suited to religious life, if we were to make any strict distinctions between what’s suitable for the laity and for those who have another calling. I would, for now, let go of that perception of what prayer is supposed to look like and feel like, and to talk to your confessor or spiritual director about this struggle. If you don’t have a spiritual director, maybe it’s time for you to get one.
Now, it is also true prayer is intensely personal and different for each person. There is a lot to gain from contemplative and silent prayer but something like that requires a lot of patience, discipline, and practice. So if sitting still doesn’t feel right to you, then don’t. But, again, this is something you might like to discuss with a spiritual director.
There was a time in my life when prayer felt like a luxury, especially as a mother to a young son. I would sit and squirm, physically and mentally, at the time that could be used to run my household. Finding the time to pray made me anxious and not feeling the fruits of prayer immediately afterwards left me frustrated. I wanted prayer on my terms; that is, at my convenience and on my demand. My need for control was taking over. If you’re constantly trying to control the conversation then of course it will feel “one-sided.” As Saint Teresa de Ávila said, prayer is indeed a conversation with someone we know loves us.
My advice to you would be to resolve yourself to prayer. Understand that your prayer isn’t going to be perfect and you won’t hear God’s booming voice in reply, and just be OK with this. I know it’s going to be hard to let go of your preconceived ideas of perfect prayer but doing so is a step toward surrendering yourself to God’s working in your life. It is going to require you put more trust in Him than in yourself and your abilities to achieve an idealized prayer life.