You never forget the first time you hear a priest swear in the confessional.
Maybe he did it because he was crabby or because he felt comfortable enough to be honest with me. Maybe it was because I was the only young man in a line of old women and he knew I could take it.
Regardless, it shook me up and made me examine myself more closely. I decided to be completely honest with him. I had never held something back in confession, but rarely have I confessed everything in my heart. This priest saw through my routine sin list and asked me why I committed the same sin again and again.
I knew the answer: “I haven’t been praying a lot recently.”
“Well, why not? Why don’t you want to?”
“I want to…” And I finally said it out loud, “I just don’t think I remember how. It’s been a while.”
“Look,” He said. “If I put you on a bike, how do you think you’d do? Exactly. Your penance is to go out into the Church and pray.”
Of course, nobody forgets to ride a bike. But I was honestly convinced that I forgot how to pray. After confession, I sat down in a pew, looked at Jesus, and remembered what the apostles asked Jesus in Matthew 7, “Lord, teach us how to pray.”
Prayer works best when I don’t think I know how to do it. When I ask Jesus to teach me how to pray, He does it. That’s just who He is. I don’t think riding a bike is the best analogy. I think eating is a better one.
Nobody forgets how to eat. They may forget how to eat healthy, but they always manage to eat. Similarly, we always pray to something. Whatever obsession/distraction/idol strikes our fancy, we pray to it. It’s up to us to ask God to teach us how to pray to Him.
I often hear from my friends, my students, and even myself that we forgot or we don’t know how to pray. That is no excuse. It would be like a child refusing to eat because he can’t feed himself. Similarly, we should never refuse to pray, even if we think we can’t.
Didn’t Jesus tell us we would receive good things from Him when we ask?
If you’re struggling in prayer (and this is most of us, if we’re honest) ask God to feed you and give Him an opportunity to do so. Go to the table, sit, and wait. Go to a chapel or quiet space, sit, and wait for the Lord.
Those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength. They shall mount up on wings like eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faintIsaiah 40:31