Why We often Fail to Pray? What can We do about it?

“Pray can I not,

Though inclination be as sharp as will:

My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent”

These are the words of King Claudius in the Hamlet as he is struggling to get himself to pray. This is something lots of us struggle with. We feel like we need to get to a good state of mind before we can be ready to pray. It may be because we want our prayer time to be moving or profound in some way. We may be afraid that if our prayer time may not feel moving or profound, it may affect our sense of faith. This dilemma can create a lot of anxiety as is the case with Claudia in Hamlet. He feels his guilt, over the murder of his brother, will get in the way of any peace that prayer could afford. Feeling paralyzed by this kind of inner conflict can lead to avoidance behaviours, causing us to not attempt to pray at all.

How can we prevent this prayer paralysis from happening to us?

The key is to take the pressure off of wanting every time we pray to feel like a deeply moving or profound experience. If we want every prayer time to feel like a deeply moving spiritual experience we may be tempted to want to engender it, which may feel fake. If we keep doing it multiple times, we may be tempted to lose our own confidence in prayer. There is freedom in taking the pressure off. We see an interesting example of this in Andre Agassi.

Andre Agassi was struggling in his tennis career. He was losing to players with less skill. His rankings dropped to below 100. His coach dropped him. Agassi’s manager encouraged him to meet with Brad Gilbert, who was a quirky tennis coach. Gilbert told Agassi that he had the gift of being a top tennis player. But he was getting in the way of his own gift  by trying to hit a winner on every ball. Every time he would hit a bit hoping for it to be a winner and it did not win the point, it chipped away at his confidence, taking him on a downward spiral. Agassi took this advice to not try to hit a winner on every ball, and went on to will the US open.

There is freedom in taking the pressure off by not trying to make every time of prayer into a winning experience. If in our mind’s eye we expect our prayer time to be 30 minutes long, we may be putting too much pressure on ourselves. We may think I am too busy today to pray in any meaningful way. May be tomorrow I will make 30 minutes to pray, that way I will have a good experience then. But tomorrow become tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow… The pressure we put upon ourselves gets in the way of our own prayer.

How do we take the pressure off our prayers?

Make prayer short and simple!

In the Orthodox Christian tradition monks would pray “Jesus Son of God, Have mercy on me.” They called it the Jesus Prayer, because this put the focus on Jesus as the healer of all our maladies. It is derived from Luke 18:38 where a blind beggar feels lost in the big throng around Jesus so cries out “Jesus, Son of David, have Mercy on me,” as a way of getting Jesus attention in order to be healed. The people around him getting irritated by his loud cries and rebuke him for being a disturbance. But he wouldn’t stop! Jesus then notices him and heals him.

Just like the blind beggar repeated this prayer until he was healed, the Orthodox monks would repeat the Jesus Prayer until it became a part of their breath and being. Repeating this simple Jesus Prayer multiple times helps us enter an internal state of prayerfulness.

Some of us may wonder if this is too simple a form of prayer. The key is to remember that God values our intent, not our words. We see this in Matt 6:7 where Jesus explicitly warns about long babbling prayers with too many words that puts too much pressure on oneself. There is no need to overly complicate prayer. Prayer is not so much about fancy words as much as it is about intention and presence.

If we find ourselves like King Claudius, caught in the horns of dilemma, unable to get ourselves to a state of prayer, just start with the Jesus Prayer. Just keep saying, “Jesus Son of God, have mercy on me,” as many time as you feel you need to keep saying it. And the spirit of God, who knows your deepest intentions, will attend to you in ways we cannot fathom. Under the ministration of the Spirit you will find true rest for our souls.

Author: Emmanuel R Paulpeter

I am a writer, spiritual director, life coach and a Church Planter who love all things pop culture, theology and spirituality.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: