There are many things that each of us have established as part of our daily routines. You wake up at a certain time every day. You brush your teeth, shave, shower, drink coffee (or tea), eat breakfast, get in your car, go to work, come home, watch TV, read a book, go to sleep, and do it all over again the next day. This is a basic framework that each of us obeys at some level – the precise details vary from person to person, but that is essentially the rhythm of our lives.
Some of us choose to inject a certain amount of randomness or uncertainty into this rather static set of events. We may work jobs that require us to travel a lot and be in unusual places. We may work irregular hours because this suits our circadian rhythms. We may associate with people who have very different tastes or ideas about how to go about things, simply because this shakes things up.
Others may choose to become even more rigid and schedule-oriented, because that is comfortable for us. We might fall into a very predictable pattern in terms of activities, setting aside specific times of day for fitness or eating or leisure activities. It can come down to something as predictable as, “Well, it’s Wednesday, so that means leg day at the gym – squats and deadlifts, and I need to GTFO out of work by 6pm in order to get to the gym in time before those stupid dudebros clog up the squat racks”.
Some of these habits are good, and some are bad. All of them are either instinctive or learned behavioural patterns.
There is one habit, though, that all of us would benefit from introducing into our lives:
Take five minutes a day to pray.
The immediate question that springs to mind is, why?
Why would any man want to spend five minutes every day praying to a God that he cannot see, feel, touch, hear? Why would any man want to be on his knees before some deity who does not seem to answer prayers? Why would any man want to waste his precious time like that?
Well, for one thing, every single one of us wastes far more than five minutes a day on far less consequential things. Add up all of the time that you waste surfing YouTube for funny videos, and I guarantee you that it will add up to a few hours every week – far, far more than the 25 minutes a week that you’ll need to have a quiet private conversation with your Creator.
For another thing, it is true that God doesn’t answer your prayers directly. He isn’t supposed to. The days in which God spoke directly to men are long past, and that much has been quite clear for some time.
The reason for this is very simple. God cannot stand to be around sin and sinful behaviour. Because God is the very living definition of Truth, He cannot stand to be around that which is corrupted. Therefore, He cannot contact us directly, for sin cannot be tolerated by a pure Creator.
That is why He sent His Son, the Immaculate, to us. Jesus Christ is our intermediary through whom we can reach God and experience a tiny spark of His incomprehensibly vast power, grace, wisdom, and love.
And it is through that intercession that we have a link to a Creator who loves us, and wants a personal relationship with us.
This is the hardest kind of logic to explain and accept – because, really, it isn’t logical at all. This is where faith comes in, and attempting to explain faith through logic is nearly impossible. Faith is very much a binary concept; either you have it, or you don’t. As my own personal experience in my journey from atheism to Christianity shows, you can reason yourself toward faith, but that final leap requires acceptance of ideas that make absolutely NO logical sense whatsoever – until you actually accept them, and you realise that there was actually logic behind them all along.
That desire for a personal relationship with each and every one of His most beloved children is the reason why the Lord tolerates sin in this world. He doesn’t do it because He wants us to suffer. He does it, though it grieves Him terribly to see us in pain, because He wants to give us each as many chances as possible to get to know Him, to accept His outstretched hand, and to pull us up when we fall.
But in order to help us, He needs us to ask Him for help. He respects us far too much to simply step in and override our free will – even though we individually and collectively do nothing at all to deserve either His respect nor His help.
That is where prayer comes in.
To pray requires you to acknowledge and accept that you aren’t big enough to solve your problems on your own. It requires you to reach out to your Creator and ask Him for help. And it requires you to give up your own preconceived notions of yourself and see yourself through His eyes.
You will not like what you see. That is because, as I pointed out last week, each of us is broken in our own way, and broken things are not pleasant to look at.
Everything that I have written here, by the way, is pretty much unique to Christianity. Other faiths do not put this kind of emphasis on a personal relationship with the Creator. Hinduism tries to connect with avatars of God through rituals and appeasement. Islam requires submission of the individual to a collective group identity. Judaism does not stress anything like the kind of parental love that God has for His creation. Buddhism and other Eastern religions have a far more philosophical approach to dealing with such questions and focus much more on meditation than they do on a spiritual connection with the numinous.
This idea of spending a few minutes a day with one’s head bowed, talking to the air, trying to feel some sort of connection that may or may not exist, sounds absolutely ludicrous to an outsider – and yet it is as real as real can be.
For while it is true that God rarely, if ever, answers prayers directly, He absolutely does hear them, and He does respond. And He answers them in ways that can seem shockingly cruel and random, at first. I can attest from personal experience that when I asked for maturity, wisdom, and strength, I was tested so hard and so frequently that I didn’t understand what was happening to me and thought it all to be an incredibly cruel joke at the time. It was only later that I realised that certain things were happening in my life that were preparing me for harder tests to come.
It is hard to establish a daily routine of prayer. It is harder still to resume it after breaking that habit for a few weeks or months. Trust me, I know.
Yet resume it you must, for once you start, you will feel a strong call to continue, no matter where you are or what are your circumstances. Once He knows that you are one of His children again, He will find ways to remind you, as any loving but stern parent will, that you need to talk to Him and lean on Him for strength.
For, as with any parental relationship, the bond between you and Him is strengthened through communication. And that communication can only happen with prayer.
So, make those five minutes a day part of your life. Sit, stand, kneel, even lie down if you must – whatever is most comfortable and whatever keeps your mind clear and focused. You don’t have to follow any particular ritual or pattern; I like to start by reciting the Lord’s Prayer, because it provides a great framework upon which to build, but it’s really up to you. Focus your mind, ask Him what He wants from you, try to listen in the silence, and always – always – ask for forgiveness of your sins.
And always – every single time – remember that you must learn to forgive others who have done you wrong.
This is horribly difficult. I know. I lost my job last year and lost almost everything else in the process, and it took me nearly 18 months before I got to the point where I was able to forgive my former bosses for doing what they did to me. I’ve been laid off three times, in fact, and it took me ten years to forgive the people responsible for my first job loss. I only managed it a bare few days ago.
Forgiveness is hard. It has to be. That is the reason why I tell you that forgiving yourself and others is the first thing that you need to learn how to do in order to make progress in your life. If you don’t do it, you will wallow in anger, misery, and resentment for days, weeks, months, or even years.
And if you can’t forgive others in your prayers… don’t expect the Big Man Upstairs to forgive you either. It is very much a question of getting what you give – take a look at the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant (Matthew 18:23-35), for example. You cannot ask Him to forgive you, if you do not forgive others. It just won’t happen.
There are few habits more effective and important than prayer. Take it from someone who is really bad at following his own advice, who is nobody’s idea of a good Christian, and who likes the good things in life and isn’t about to join a monastery anytime soon. Prayer focuses your mind on what really matters in life. It gives you the ability to ask for good things for other people instead of for yourself, and therefore makes you less selfish. It gives you the right to earn forgiveness through hard acts of charity and goodwill.
Most importantly of all, those five minutes a day spent in prayer connect you to a Creator who loves you more than you will ever understand or appreciate, who will forgive you for almost anything if only you genuinely repent and ask for His forgiveness, and who will teach you, in ways that you will not understand until after you go through Hell, that He wants you to fulfill your true potential.
You are here for a reason, but very few of us are lucky enough to know what that reason is. Only through Him can you find out – and only through prayer can you reach Him.