Do you enjoy having a fit and toned body? I know I do. I love seeing my muscles starting to take form and the feeling of being strong and healthy. However, these results don’t appear overnight. In order to achieve this reality, I must exercise regularly. In my own life, when I haven’t been in a steady exercise routine, I often get into the head space of desiring the results while not wanting to put in the effort. I can imagine how I’ll feel when I am fit and toned. I can imagine how energized I’ll be and how I’ll be ultra productive in my daily life. But then reality hits and I realize I’m simply not there yet. I have not yet made the daily choice to exercise, whether or not I feel like it. When I do get into a steady exercise routine, there are always ups and downs. Some days I can tangibly experience those endorphins being released and I “feel” the positive effects of working out. Other days it’s all I can do to make it to the end of 30 minutes and then drag myself to the shower. But after weeks of daily fitness, the results start to show and those previously desired outcomes have become a reality. It is the same way with prayer and spiritual growth.
We often desire holiness and a life of virtue. We can envision ourselves having wisdom and being in tune with the Holy Spirit’s promptings. Over the past month or two I have discovered significant immaturities that I wish were not there and a lack of spiritual insight that I wish I had. But like becoming fit, spiritual growth can not fully become a reality unless a daily practice of prayer takes place. When we commit ourselves to daily prayer, we allow Christ to enter into those spiritual “muscles” which need work. When we set aside time to welcome God into the quietness of our hearts, we receive grace which cultivates virtues that we cannot develop on our own.
Like exercising our bodies, prayer also has ups and downs. Some days we feel our emotions in line with our prayer and we have tangible experiences of God. Other days our prayer may feel dry and even meaningless (I personally experience this frequently!). The Catechism of the Catholic Church even refers to prayer as a “battle”. It is often quite hard to make time to pray! But prayer always has an effect on us, whether it feels good or not. And over time, the results of daily prayer start to take shape and we may notice that certain struggles we once had are no longer there.
Christ is always with us, closer than our next breath. When we turn to him in prayer, he does work in us even if we cannot experience it in the moment. There is a difference in terms of motivation between physical exercise and prayer. With exercise, we may have friends or trainers to keep us motivated and accountable. With prayer, Christ lives within us and his deep love draws us into encounters with him. Often it may feel like we do not know how to pray. But this is where Christ meets us. The Catechism says, “Only when we humbly acknowledge that "we do not know how to pray as we ought,"5 are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer.” (2559). How does daily prayer look practically? Like the many different forms of physical activity, there are many different beautiful forms of prayer ranging from common prayers (like the Lord’s prayer or the rosary), to meditation on the life of Christ, scripture reading, prayer-journaling, and quiet conversation of the heart. It is best to start small by committing to even 5 minutes per day and work up to larger amounts of time. I encourage you to take a step in this journey of prayer and build up your spiritual muscles!