A Lesson on Prayer
In May 2008, my mother was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. At the point of her diagnosis, the cancer had spread to her liver. Doctors gave her just six months to live if no treatment was sought. Her treatment options were limited and at best, palliative.
I was devastated by the news and it marked the beginning of a downward spiral towards despair and utter hopelessness. I had grown complacent to my faith and had by this time become a ‘part-time’ Catholic. Put simply, I did not have a relationship with God. With sudden and heartbreaking news like this, and with an already non-existent prayer life, I found it hard to turn to God in prayer. To me, all hope was already lost.
With no emotional outlet for what I was facing, I bottled up my pain and anguish and pushed away the one channel of hope that would calm and comfort my weary soul – prayer.
My mother, on the other hand, handled the news of her illness with calm once the reality of her situation had sunk in. Her doctors had a ‘battle’ plan in place to tackle the cancer but she felt that her strategy was better. She would simply turn to prayer and entrust her life to Jesus. So as she began treatment, I saw her put her prayer strategy to work.
Mum drew strength from and leaned on the Lord and would pray through her fears, her physical pain, her worries and her anxieties. Her rosary was her constant companion when she faced long days at the hospital and whenever she had to endure chemotherapy sessions and numerous blood tests.
In her own simple way, she became a prayer warrior not just for herself but for her doctors and nurses, her family and fellow cancer sufferers too. Her mind and her heart were always attuned to the Lord in prayer. Unknowingly, she was living out what St. Alphonsus Liguori had exhorted believers to do – to pray without ceasing.
To Mum, there was nothing she could not overcome without the Lord’s grace and through prayer. She urged me to pray but her advice fell on deaf ears. While I internalized my pain and blamed God for everything, my mother saw this as an opportunity to experience God’s grace in her suffering.
As the months went by and she grew weaker, I saw a certain peace take over her – an inner calm that can only come from the Source of love and the Saviour she entrusted her life to. When the cancer progressed and she struggled to remember her prayers, she would make me pray the Rosary at her bedside while she listened and followed along. And Jesus’ grace and mercy was upon her. Doctors had given her six months to live. She outlived that prognosis by another two years before she passed away just as I said the final ‘Amen’ to the Hail Mary.
For almost three years after Mum’s passing, my Catholic faith and prayer life came to a standstill as I dealt with the grief.
It was only after my own conversion experience in 2014, that I realised that I had in fact been given a front row seat to witnessing God’s grace at work in the final act of my mother’s life, and the transformative power of prayer and faith in times of suffering. Jesus had in fact given me my first lesson on the importance of prayer and complete surrender to the will of God – under the most trying of circumstances – through my late mother.
This time, I desired to have the same deep relationship and faith that my mother had in the Lord – but how does one even get started?
Ironically after several failed attempts, I turned to my mother’s basic strategy – prayer – and asked the Lord for direction.
The practical guidelines below are the first basic steps I took – the prep work – towards building a regular and consistent prayer life.
If you begin by following a few of them, your prayer life will improve but do remember that for your prayer life to really take off, you will need to be consistent and persevere.
Lord, Teach us to pray!
Jesus is our teacher. If you desire to improve your prayer life, ask the Lord for the grace to grow. Pray for an outpouring of the Holy Spirit in your prayer life and ask for the presence of the Holy Spirit to enlighten your mind and ignite your heart. He is closer that you think.
Make a commitment and stick to it
To know our Lord and understand His heart, we need to spend time with Him in prayer. There are no shortcuts.
We have an open invitation from the Lord, ‘Call to me and I will answer you.’ (Jeremiah 33:3) and we have a promise that He hears us: ‘You will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.’ (Jeremiah 29:12).
Once you decide to prioritise prayer and make it a part of your day, you give yourself that space to walk closer with the Lord and more importantly, for Him to do His work in you.
Don’t be too ambitious
Just sitting down to pray can be challenging for many of us.
For a start, set a realistic goal to make it achievable. For example, begin with 30 minutes a day, and build it up from there. Once you grow and progress in your prayer experience, you will want to extend this time to an hour and beyond.
Set a time
Prayer is a practice that requires discipline and perseverance. Pray at the same time every day, if possible. Make it part of your regular routine and it will soon become habit. Write it into your schedule, consider it a fixed appointment that you will keep with Jesus, and stick to it.
Set a Place
Choose a specific place to pray away from distractions so you can concentrate. Ringing phones and crying children will sabotage your “quiet time” even before you get started.
Make Prayer Active
Prayer becomes a chore only if you treat it as such. It is your special time to connect with the Lord. Take steps towards making your time with Him meaningful. Light your Easter candle to create a sense of sacredness. Or have soothing music play softly in the background before you begin, to help you relax and ease into prayer.
Keep a prayer journal to record your personal reflections. If you choose to, make a list of your prayer requests and stop to pray for each petition. You may even wish to write a prayer letter to the Lord. A prayer journal builds faith when you look back over your petitions and recall what the Lord has done for you.
Read the Word of God
Prayer is not a one way street. Have you ever been in a one-sided conversation with someone who talked non-stop without listening to you? That didn’t go very far, did it? We do the same thing when we pray without reading the Bible.
The Word of God is His letter of wisdom and love to each one of us. Reading scripture helps us to get to know God and breathes life into our prayers.
Start by reflecting on the Gospel reading of the day and praying over a verse that speaks to you. Or you can simply turn to the Psalms or words of St. Paul’s letters give you specific prayers for yourself and the people you love. If you desire to have an effective conversation with God, you need to read the Bible.
Don’t Give Up!
So how about getting started today? Don’t lose heart if fall off the wagon– just simply start again and get back on track. Remember – it starts with a commitment and your ‘yes’ to God. In upcoming issues of Our Pilgrimage, we will share more tips on how to make the most of your time with the Lord in prayer.
By Cheryl Sim