Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

What can we say in response to comment, ‘I pray and it doesn’t help’?

Published: July 17, 2021

By Father Erik Pohlmeier
Director of Faith Formation, Diaconate Formation

In the ongoing concern for people abandoning their practice of Catholic faith, there are many aspects that need attention. Often the need in our time requires a closer look at the most basic aspects of faith.

Everything we want to build in our communities of faith requires a sure foundation that Jesus calls solid rock. One foundational aspect of faith is the life of prayer. Many of us have felt, or heard from others, some doubt about prayer. It often takes the form of wondering what good comes from prayer. The doubt comes after some effort in prayer doesn’t fix the current struggle of my life.

The promise of God is not that we will be free of difficulty, but that we never have to walk the path alone. Jesus speaks clearly of the cross as part of the journey.

How should we handle the comment, “I pray and it doesn’t help”? The first part of a response is to consider seriously what image of God occupies my mind. It is easy to consider God the one who grants what I need. Usually this image comes with the notion that prayer is to convince God. If I can’t convince God then I begin to doubt the goodness of a God who can’t see what should be an obvious good.

Understanding why we pray is worth some reflection for each of us. One basic question for our prayer is, “Do I trust God?” Our quick answer might be to say yes, but we should pause and let our real answer rise to the surface. If we are honest, many of us have the idea that God’s way is usually the harder path. When this is true, it hinders our ability to trust God. Of course, our paths are often difficult, but the difficulty usually arises because life is difficult rather than God having a desire to test us.

The promise of God is not that we will be free of difficulty, but that we never have to walk the path alone. Jesus speaks clearly of the cross as part of the journey. St. Paul speaks of “trials and distress” as the reality we can expect, but also of the fact that “nothing can separate us from the love of God.” God’s connection to us can only be for our good, but the measure is not ease of life. The grace God gives is meant to mold and shape our lives. This grace purifies us in our sinfulness and makes us heroic in the face of suffering.

The need for prayer is so that we are better at receiving. Prayer is not about convincing God. It is about choosing to entrust our lives to God as the potter who molds the clay. The continuous touch is what smooths the edges and gives shape. The Catholic Church has a rich tradition of prayer and many different methods and devotions to help us. We often learn the first movements of prayer as small children. Unfortunately, some of us don’t mature much beyond what we learn as children. If someone uses the prayers of childhood to address the more complicated situations of life, they are likely to be disappointed.

Growth in prayer is something each of us should cultivate. If we have some influence with children we should help them. Developing our prayer is a big part of establishing our foundation of faith. Let God take the lead and follow the Spirit. The help that comes from prayer can be discovered anew with each cross that comes our way. Let God mold you according to the needs of each day, and nothing will separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Father Erik Pohlmeier is the pastor of Christ the King Church in Little Rock, theological consultant for Arkansas Catholic and the director of faith formation and permanent diaconate formation in the Diocese of Little Rock.

Understanding Our Church