Letters from Seminary: Thomas

Prayer can be a lot of work if you do it right

Published: January 28, 2023

By Quinton Thomas
Diocesan Seminarian

Everyone knows to turn to prayer for comfort and refuge, but few realize that genuine prayer is also challenging and risky. It is the struggle of growing in love of God, a serious pursuit of the deepest love. So prayer is less like reading a self-help book and more like scaling a dangerous mountain or winning the heart of the one you love.

In high school, I wasn’t challenged at all by my prayer. I often failed to pray even three minutes before bed and was proud I prayed before meals. My first summer assignment in the seminary was with the previous author of this column, Deacon John Paul Hartnedy (soon to be a priest!).

I saw his devotion there as he got up an hour early each morning to be with the Lord. Meeting the man is enough to see the fruit of that prayer: he is brimming with joy and love. His example inspired me to take up Bishop Taylor’s call to a daily holy hour, and I began to practice prayer more seriously.

In prayer, we gaze at Jesus on the cross, who refuses to retaliate or even defend himself, and he speaks to us of his love.

But beginning is one thing, and progressing is another. Maturing in this struggle to love God more deeply has proven to be the greatest challenge of my life so far. I’ve realized that, like any other serious pursuit, prayer requires a great deal of discipline.

I have to protect a time and place to pray, avoid obstacles to prayer, show up and stay for the time I’ve promised, even if it’s dry or uncomfortable. I have to do the work and return my focus to God as often as I drift. But the real challenge of prayer is to love. Without being demanding, love makes demands. It is costly.

True prayer demands much of us. In elementary school, we always behaved best for the teachers who were kind. Their goodness, which they would even let us abuse, demanded that we be good in return.

In prayer, we gaze at Jesus on the cross, who refuses to retaliate or even defend himself, and he speaks to us of his love. All the books in the world could not contain the things he says to us silently from the cross when we look at him with love. When I pray, he demands I be vulnerably honest, especially about the lack of love in my choices and intentions. He demands I remember and love others as he does.

He demands I be radically open, to let him change my perspective: his mercy challenges my shame when I sin. He asks for generosity that risks writing him a blank check and follows through with action. I’ve learned that until I am perfect, prayer will always demand that I change. So much for self-help prayer.

When I find the cost of prayer discouraging, I look at Jesus, and his silent love challenges, saying, “My yoke is easy.” Considering what I stand to gain, surrender is the easiest choice of all.

Even in the most difficult prayer, God offers himself to us in his characteristic tenderness — in the Bible, with whom is Jesus more compassionate than the suffering and sinners? And how wonderful the lot of those he gives himself to.