Q 27. How can I overcome dryness in my prayer life and relationship with God?
-Alvia Sreeny Edinburg, USA
We grow and deepen our relationship with God in and through prayer; and our relationship with God in prayer has a certain rhythm. It has moments of great highs and lows, as well as very ordinary times. As most of our life in fact quite ordinary, we may feel frustrated and say “nothing is happening”, particularly if we feel boredom or dryness when we pray. In other words, everyone who prays regularly goes through dry periods in his or her prayer life. The usual temptation during such a period is the urge to stop praying or to shorten the prayer time. However, spiritual masters like St. Ignatius of Loyola recommend that ‘we honour the time commitment we made to praying, even staying a few extra minutes when we feel a strong temptation to cut it short’ (Spiritual Exercises 12). Not giving up on prayer when the going gets tough is the only real remedy to overcoming dryness in prayer life.
Why does God allow these ordinary times in prayer, which we often label as dry and boring? It could be that God is gently tilling the soil of your soul for some future harvest, preparing the ground for a great insight or a deeper emotional experience to come. At other times God invites you to ordinary times to kindle deep desires and longing for him. In ordinary times of praying, we may feel that God is not there or not listening. Yet, the truth is that God is there, but not as we imagine or have experienced him in the past.
Like all interior movements, dryness or boredom in prayer can reveal to you something, if you would respond: Am I making the necessary preparations for my prayer? Am I being honest when I pray? If your prayer is not related to your real life or your true thoughts and feelings, then boredom or dryness naturally results from this disconnect. Am I letting my own expectations dictate too much of my prayer? Expectations and desires are part of our life in general; but letting your desires and expectations get in the way of what God wants for you would not help. We need to let God take the lead.
St. Francis de Sales, in his book Introduction to the Devout Life, speaks about what to do during dryness in prayer.
- Vocally tell God about your dryness: He says, ‘seek relief in vocal prayer, bemoan yourself to our Lord, confess your unworthiness, implore his aid, kiss his image, if it be beside you, …’
- Read a spiritual book: Read a spiritual book attentively till such time as your mind is calmed.
- Perform a bodily gesture of prayer: Sometimes external actions like prostrating yourself folding your hands upon your breast or kissing your crucifix can help.
- Persevere with faith and continue praying regardless of any feeling.
The good news is that dryness or boredom in prayer does not have to indicate the end of all things. Most of the saints have experienced similar struggles in their prayer lives. They used various means, including those discussed above in overcoming their dryness, and thus they persevered and grew in their relationship with God.
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