“Pray without ceasing,” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 states (ESV). This verse is tucked away in a long stream of instructions Paul gives at the end of the letter, which is his final sendoff to the church in Thessalonica.
Paul glances past this as if it is supposed to be common knowledge, as if we are supposed to automatically know how to do this. These three little words have sent me on a personal journey of prayer that I feel like I am only just starting.
Growing up Catholic, prayer was a ritualistic endeavor. Each Sunday service was dominated by Hail Mary’s, the Apostles’ Creed, Our Father’s and other priestly chanting that echoed through the hallowed chamber of the sanctuary.
As a child, I was usually bored during much of this. It was not nearly as interesting to me as my own daydreams, fantastical wonderings I created as an outlet for my budding creative mind.
It was not until high school that I learned that prayer is, at its simplest, a conversation with God. I experienced impromptu prayers that were not written on a screen but came from the heart. I learned how to speak to God on my own, talking to Him as I would a friend instead of a far-off, distant Being in the sky.
Yet, as I grew in my faith, this became routine too. I paid no more attention to these prayers than I had to the Catholic intonations of my childhood.
In college, I tried truly praying on my own. I held an ideal of the prayer warrior and heard stories of professors waking up at 5:00 a.m. every day and praying for hours on end. While I was not this extreme, I did try to spend an hour with God every morning. What I found was that my mind wandered, and I got bored and restless just sitting there on the island at the University of Northwestern–St. Paul doing nothing.
As an introverted person, I spend a lot of time reflecting and thinking about my life: who I am and how I see the world. It is hard not to see prayer as a time where I just recharge my energy.
I have heard many people suggest trying to spend time with God throughout the day rather than in big chunks. This could be talking to Him while getting coffee, eating a meal or on the way to class.
The problem is this: My mind is just a constant chatter of me talking to myself. I have tried letting God into my internal monologue, and I just cannot make the switch. It has become such a habit to be lost in my own mind—groomed by years growing up without many friends—learning to find the outside world as uninteresting as it apparently found me.
My mother never made my brother and me kneel on the floor, elbows braced on a chair, and say the rosary every Saturday night. In a way, I wish she had. There is a certain level of comfort in the ritual nature of those set prayers. At least then I would have words to pray. I would have structure, something to focus my mind, so it doesn’t run off on little bunny trails.
It has taken me years to realize—and with the help of many spiritual mentors—that I need to take slower steps to build focus, lengthen my attention span and not get bored. It is a struggle for me to take things slowly because I am a fairly impatient person.
I am starting over again as simply as I can with one minute of intentional, focused prayer time with God. It is not “pray without ceasing” yet, but I hope one day I will never leave the presence of God.