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Catholic Spiritual Direction

Sometimes prayer is so frustrating I just give up… what can I do?

December 26, 2011 by  
Filed under Carmelite Spirituality, Difficulties, Prayer, Sr. Laudis

Dear Sister Carmen, in the Second Mansion of the Interior Castle, St. Teresa strongly emphasizes the need for perseverance. Can you help me understand how this works in a practical way? I really struggle to keep a consistent prayer time and to stay focused when I pray. Sometimes [prayer] is so frustrating tfrustrating I just give uphat I just give up. I know this doesn’t help but what can I do?

Many doors have a sign over their entrance. If the door leading to the Second Mansion or Dwelling Place were to have a sign, I would imagine it would read, “Where is your treasure?”

Teresa teaches us in her description of the Second Dwelling Place that if we are to reach the Center, the final Dwelling Place, we will have to wage war with Satan. In this Second Mansion we are still caught between the attractions of the world and our final destination. Self-centeredness makes us fearful of trials and penances. The tug-of-war is between falsehood and truth, between sin and virtue, between self-gratification and generosity. We must be determined to bring our wills into conformity with God’s will. To do this we need to avoid occasions of sin: persons, places or things that pull us into the arena of falsehood. To enter into truth we have to be willing to embrace the Cross of Jesus and conform ourselves to Him through the solid practice of virtue, accepting times of dryness in prayer, not becoming discouraged at our human failings, but persevering in our desires to draw closer to God.

A dictionary would define perseverance in these or similar words: a steady persistence in activity, purpose, or a state in spite of difficulties. Isn’t it then reassuring to know that a great saint and mystic, such as St. Teresa of Avila herself, struggled in prayer until she was 41 years of age? Because she also suffered with health problems which weakened her bodily, she gave up on prayer rationalizing her health as an excuse.

Distractions were no stranger to Teresa. Her very temperament shows in her writings as she jumps around from one topic to another leaving the thread of her original thought hanging while she moves on to another lengthy discourse before she eventually returns to what she was saying previously.

The time we spend in prayer is not about our success at it; it is rather about our relationship with Him who loves us. Teresa cautions us not to use “force” to obtain a spirit of recollection but instead to “be gentle” with ourselves. Listening is essential during this stage of our spiritual development. Many voices will vie for our attention: our own inner voice, the voice of the world, the voice of the Tempter, and the voice of God. To sift out God’s voice in this cacophony of voices we need to be determined in our resolutions for good.

Some practical ways of doing this is to set a reasonable length of time for prayer, one we can better achieve. It may be less than what we had hoped to do but as time goes on and we find ourselves looking forward to those moments, we can always increase the length of time that we spend in prayer. We do not want to set an unreasonable goal that will turn us into clock watchers or cause us to grit our teeth until the time we allotted to prayer is over. It is in this Mansion that we come to know more about God and deepen our friendship with Him. This is the Room for a hard work-out; it is not the Mansion for consolations.

In our persevering prayer we gradually become more conscious of God’s Presence. We are with the One we love and we experience many of our Advent dispositions: longing, yearning, expecting, thirsting, and waiting. We are filled with gratitude for the infinite mercy God showers on us. It is in this second mansion that one really learns to pray, but we cannot learn unless we are willing to labor and not return to a former state simply because it required less toil or because we become disheartened. What will make the difference? It depends on what we want most: the things the world holds out to us or intimate union with God. Where does our treasure lie? How much do we desire God? How much are we willing to sacrifice?

Will your mind still wander? Undoubtedly! Do not become anxious. Gently and ceaselessly return your focus to Him and if needed, read some brief passage from Scripture or a devotional prayer and continue to soak in His Presence. But above all, do not use excuses to abandon or omit your prayer time or shorten it (after you have made the reasonable adjustments). With perseverance God will give you blessings beyond your expectations.

Let us remember Teresa’s prayer:

Let nothing trouble you,

Let nothing make you afraid.

All things pass away.

God never changes.

Patience obtains everything.

God alone is enough.

In Him – Sister Carmen Laudis

PS: To learn more about the Carmelite Sisters visit our web site: www.carmelitesistersocd.com and for more information please contact the sisters at contact@carmelitesistersocd.com, or 626-289-1353 Ext. 246, 920 East Alhambra Road, Alhambra, California 91801.

 

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  • Cestjudy

    Distractions in prayer are something all of us face, but what are the distractions? When your mind drifts, ask God to help you focus. Perhaps the drifting is another area where He wants you or needs you to focus. Also–spend time in front of the Blessed Sacrament and ask Christ to allow yourself to be emptied and filled with His Grace. Keep your focus on God throughout the day so you every action becomes a prayer. That is why the saints are so important to us in our walk of faith–if St. Therese of Avila could become the Doctor of Prayer despite her aridiity and distractions in her life, there is hope for all of us!

    • Rstussy

      There is a saying ” the seed in the ground never sees the flower.” Often when we are in prayer we want some kind of confirmation or consolation that God is close to us and hears our prayer. We must be willing to be the seed in the ground that can not see the flower. Isn’t that what faith is all about. We must be rooted in walking the faith. St. Teresa of Avila never gave up. She always gazed at the face of God. Her consolation was her faith in God who is all good and faithful to us always. It is not doing prayer but being prayer. Rosemarie Ludwig, OCDS

  • Nonnie4

    Very good information.  At times it is very hard not to be distracted or let your mind wander.

  • Guest

    Thank you so much for this Post.  For those of us who are not very intellectually gifted and have not read many of the wonderful Books frequently quoted here, I truly appreciate what St. Teresa of Avila says here about struggles we encounter in Prayer. How I wish her writings would be quoted more often for our benefit.  Blessings from Baby Jesus to you all

  • Hanleypatrick

    Desire creates frustation even if what we ourselves perceive as a good desire. The subtelty of this attack is to twart you from resting with Him who is within you. I find this prayer usefull “Lord Jesus I thank for the wonder of my being and the miracle of your presence within me, Lord Jesus I bless you with all that is within me”.

    • Dcfiore

      thank you for this. my desire is so intense at times, it burns in my stomach. I realize this is once again about me and need for control!!

      • Patrick hanley

          ….maybe relax, accept yourself, love
        yourself, you are in His image, …let go and let God…..maybe intensive desire is disturbing that precious
        gift of inner peace…meditation on an aspect of Our Redeemers love can
        lead to ..contemplation..an enhancement of inner peace.. His peace…you are in
        His image…you are in eternity… His creativeness in and through you and your
        gift of receptivity, maybe not so much control …as self
        mastery…love..giftedness..(John Paul 11)

      • judeen

        this is spiritual… a burning inside.. the ack… pain…
             ask your self if it is because your are praying? or it is trying to keep you from prayer…
             I have had both… 1 a demon come to cause pain.. a sworlling in the stomack..
          but yet another… a healing of deep wounds from God… start praising God , Jesus Christ as your savior… and redemer.. and offer the suffering out loud for souls.. if it is evil it will leave.. if it is God He will be pleased…

  • Barbaraksanders

    This is also a process of “letting go” of the old self (dying to old self)
    This is the self that desires power, possessions, prestige as its
    source of happiness.  In order to be “Christ centered” we have to
    stop being “self centered” 
    barbara

  • Magnoliaj1962

    Thank you for your post.  I have to remember perseverance in prayer is the key.  Satan is always around to tempt me to worldly desires.  I want union with God.  Thank you Lord Jesus for your patience with me.  I want my heart to be one with yours.  Turn off the TV and computer, light a candle and focus on Him who is the only way to true peace.

  • Christine Ann

    Let me share in thanks for this post.   There is so much in this time to trouble and discourage us.  It is essential that we continue in prayer. God will hear the cries of a contrite heart.  We must pray fervently for His mercy and grace in these troubling times.  I plan to meditate on St. Teresa of Avila’s prayer, asking her help in my own prayer life. 

    Sincerely….Christine Corder Hickey

  • anam

    Wise words, right on time.  Thank you Sister. Thanks St. Teresa!

  • Cindyjoycehiggins

    This is wonderful thanks so much  God Bless

  • Mbtvalli

    Remembering HIM.  Lover’s don’t say much but they do say, “I love you”.  A prayer I find helpful:  “Jesus, you are in my heart.  I believe in your tender love for me.  I love you.”

  • confused

    I’m always confused about the thin line between perseverence in prayer and a “no” answer to prayer. Paul prayed for his ‘thorn’ to be removed but God said no. At least Paul could ‘hear’ God’s answer. How should we distinguish the ‘answer’ to our prayers? Or persevere till we finally get a ‘reply’?

    • Becky Ward

      Practice…practice….practice…patience….patience….patience.

      Every situation is different…….and learning to discern is important.

      Regarding prayers of petition (where we are asking God for something ), for me, when I find myself rationalizing or trying to convince myself that I should keep praying……and this is ‘all in my head’……it’s a sign that it’s my want and not God’s…… I can also sense a certain difficulty in praying…like there’s a wall there and my prayer isn’t reaching God.

      When the desire is truly from God it comes from my heart and I don’t even think about it….I just do it.

      Some things we know we need to keep praying for…world peace…and end to abortion…etc….even though it may not seem like God is answering. 

      I’ve heard this expression: God has only three answers to our prayers: “Yes”, “Not yet”, and, “I have something better in mind.”

      We need to establish good prayer habits and trust that the Holy Spirit will inspire us to pray – or not – as He wills.

      • http://www.marythedefender.wordpress.com MariaGo

        What you said about rationalizing makes sense. But I don’t think I fully understand. What do you mean by “Should keep praying” at what point can we be certain that we should not keep praying? If what were praying seems to be something good, how do we know it’s merely our wants and not what God wants? Sorry for all the questions but I’m not good at discerning…

        • Becky Ward

          Maria, I can’t share the details, but one example is when I am praying for a young couple who are having trouble conceiving a second child due to a doctor’s error.  It’s not fair…..healing would be an act of justice….at least in my eyes……but I can’t see the situation like God does.  Maybe there is more blessing in the difficulties they are encountering….perhaps they are learning things that are better for their souls…..the Dad won’t consider adoption…..

          Whatever the reasons……it’s been a few years now and still no second baby……….and I have found myself  remembering the persistent widow story and ‘telling God’ what he needs to do here, rather than praying that His will be done and that we can all accept and learn from it……it wasn’t right that Jesus was crucified either….but God still allowed it to happen….and thank goodness!

          The devil can use these things to trick us…I guess the bottom line for me in this particular example is that I am not at peace when I am praying for a healing miracle for this couple……and I have learned that this lack of peace indicates that it is not God who is inspiring my prayer……..that leaves me…or the evil one.

          The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola are great for learning discernment.

    • Ears888

      eventually your prayers all become, “Thy will be done”.

  • $1650412

    I love Sister’s emphasis on gentleness, here, and perseverance.

  • franny bombaro

    I am so glad that i read the above. i hv just returned to the Catholic Church since 2008, but i keep back sliding. the above gives me Hope
    i am reading about the Bayside Apparations-Our Lady of the Roses,
    & i think sometimes we are tempted,especially when we want to follow Blessed Trinity, our Church,etc and change our lives for the
    better. i never knew of Bl.Angela of Foligno until yesterday,and i
    found out so much about her so quickly. May God Bless & Keep
    all of you.  most sincerely, Franny

    .

    • Becky Ward

      Dear Franny,

      I believe that the Bayside apparitions have been denounced by the Church and we are cautioned to not be involved or follow them.

      Better to stick to the lives of the saints.  :)  Much better investment of our time.

      Blessings……

  • Dan Burke

    Becky – I believe you are correct. Your advice is on target regardless. This is particularly critical for those seeking to rekindle an old fire of faith or to deepen an existing one.