Well, let’s now at any rate come clean. Prayer is irksome. An excuse to omit it is never unwelcome. When it is over, this casts a feeling of relief and holiday over the rest of the day. We are reluctant to begin. We are delighted to begin. While we are at prayer, but not whole we are reading a novel or solving a crossword puzzle, any trifle is enough to distract us. And we know that we are not alone in this.
For too many of us prayer is something to check off our “to-do list.” It is a daily duty but not something we truly enjoy doing. But the necessity of prayer is seared into our hearts by words like those of the apostle Paul: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17).
As we go along in the faith we hear stories of great saints who prayed for hours and hours and become discouraged. We simply do not know how to pray as we ought (cf. Romans 8:26). This is, in the words of Romans 8, precisely what Scripture teaches us.
The problem is not that we are so bad at methods but that we are just normal. This is the result of sin. Sin results in a darkened mind, a weakened will and disordered desires. As these maladies play out over the course of our lives we lose sight of God. Bridging the chasm is not easy (Isaiah 55:8-9).
Remember: in prayer we are attempting to build a relationship with the One who is wholly other. The ancient Greeks concluded that God and man could never become friends. But Christ has revealed otherwise. And Hebrews 4:14–16 is the answer.
The Creator continually calls us “to that mysterious encounter known as prayer” (Catechism of the Catholic Church). God doesn’t want us to be slaves, but sons. Prayer has been rightly defined as “a covenant relationship between God and man in Christ” (Catechism of the Catholic Church). We are invited to know the God of covenant in his Son Jesus Christ. Prayer is not about us but about him. When we admit its difficulty and seek to know him better we can then begin to find methods that will help us. Before this we are doomed to fail.