Catholic Spirituality,  prayer

When prayer is hard

You’re the God of the hills and valleys, and I am not alone.

I promise this isn’t another reflection on the difficulties of real estate or the minor aches and pains of pregnancy. Pinky swear.

I’m coming out of the fog of what has been a spiritually (among other things) difficult season, and I’m just starting to want to even pray again, so I’m no expert on spiritual growth or perseverance, but I’ve noticed some things that I’ve found helpful and perhaps worthy of further reflection.

First, I’ve never in my mature, adult Christian life been tempted to just skip Sunday Mass. I’ve always been mildly scandalized by the notion, and probably indulged in a little bit of scrupulosity over sick children or a sick self keeping me home on Sundays past.

No more. I get it now, what it’s like to feel alienated (or apathetic) enough towards God that the thought of sitting though an hour of liturgy on Sunday morning leaves me cold. If not for the good ‘ol Sunday obligation and a husband of faith, I would have stayed home in bed and felt only mild reproach. Some of this I attribute to the depression making me feel less “myself” and some of it to plain old fashioned temper tantruming towards a God who wasn’t listing, didn’t care. That’s what it felt like anyway. I’m glad my experience of worship isn’t purely subjective, that something objectively “other” to me is happing up on that altar, and that the Church requires me to bend my knee in worship even when my heart and my brain are like DON’T CARE.

The Eucharist is still there, whether or not I feel like worshipping.

Which brings me to my next point: Adoration. And how glad I am it exists, that even when I can’t feel or hear or see God, I can literally go plop myself down in a pew in front of Him and look at God. That is such a profound gift. And so reasonable and human, like He would know that we would need the tangible gift of His presence to keep us going, and that we’d be too weak and fainthearted to do it without Him.

He’s not wrong. So off I’ve dragged myself to the adoration chapel, sitting fidgety in a chair for 15 or 30 minutes of relatively passive sunbathing, knowing that whether or not I feel His presence, He is present. It’s a complete intellectual exercise at some points, but I’m glad to have that tangible something to “do” when talking to Him feels ridiculous and I’d rather not, frankly,

Which leads me to: the Rosary. If ever there was a prayer for “I have nothing to say to you God and You’re not listening, anyway and I don’t feel like pretending,” it’s the rosary. A trip through the gospels from memory, no heavy thinking or feeling required. Sometimes the rosary gets a bad rap for being “rote prayer,” but when I’m not feeling particularly prayerful I’m sure glad to have something from heart memorized to lift my mind and heart to heaven, particularly when I’m feeling rather earthbound. The rosary is another great “I don’t feel it, but something is happening” reality, since Mary pretty much only asks for two things in almost all of her apparitions: repentance and rosaries. So I tell God, “I’m sorry this is how I feel, I’m sorry this is how it is, I’m sorry I have nothing to give you except this blindly memorized prayer that your mom is obsessed with, so here goes nothing.

Bam. Rosary and repentance.

Finally, I’ve been reading the Psalms a lot this summer. Not a lot as in I’ve been reading a ton of Scripture, but a lot as in, when I do pick up the Bible, that’s where I flip. It’s all there: praise, lament, accusation, rage, rejoicing, reconciliation, repentance, and just plain despair. It’s comforting to know I’m not inventing the wheel here, and that God thought it fit to enshrine as sacred the human experience of WHY ARE YOU LETTING THIS HAPPEN? But still I trust in you.

If your prayer life is dry or non existent or resentful right now, might I recommend any or all of the aforementioned exercises until the storm passes or the despair subsides, or at least offer you the knowledge that you are not alone.

Because you are not alone.


  • Remi

    I am so utterly lacking, through my own faults and through God’s respect for my sinful choices.
    I can only hope that the joy will return.

  • Miriam

    How does this happen. Every time I read your blog it speaks to me. I’ve missed mass three times in a row, and finally, when everything just was crashing down I escaped to adoration to try and ask God to bring me back again. Then I read this and it feels like every thought I was feeling suddenly was written down. You’re wonderful Jenny and God speaks through you. Never stop talking. Cause I’m bawling my eyes out and it’s a really good feeling.

  • Maureen

    Thank you. I needed this, this morning. I am nursing a broken left wrist. Nothing dramatic about that, but it is trying my patience to limits I did not know. And I ask ‘why now?’

    I sense He wants me to stop, take stock, reflect…. But in the middle of the school holidays ? bah humbug….😖

    Like you, the rosary, even one decade, at least means I have turned up for duty ….🙂

    How did the saints cope with such aridity year on year? Teresa of Avila, Therese of Liseux, pray for us…..

  • Mary

    “So I tell God, “I’m sorry this is how I feel, I’m sorry this is how it is, I’m sorry I have nothing to give you except this blindly memorized prayer that your mom is obsessed with, so here goes nothing.”

    This is so great. I went through a very hard, dry time about 2 years ago and pretty much all I could do prayer-wise was pray the Hail Mary and ask JPII to pray for me. Thank God for our dear friends in heaven.

  • annie

    Thank you for this. This is very much the place I have been in lately add in that I feel like a giant fraud because I am a youth minister. But the same steps you offline offs what I have been doing because it’s what I can do. Nice to know I am not the only one that feels like this.

  • Sarah

    I needed to read this today! I have been feeling very apathetic about prayer recently…between postpartum depression/anxiety, a difficult 2 year old, a nursing 6 month old, a full time job, and a husband in medical school, I am just feeling blah. I love love love what you said about the rosary. I’ve felt a nudge recently to pray the rosary more recently, but I think to myself “I’m not holy enough” to do that right now. But what you said really resonated with me–” I’m sorry this is how I feel, I’m sorry this is how it is, I’m sorry I have nothing to give you except this blindly memorized prayer that your mom is obsessed with, so here goes nothing.” Today, I think I will give it a go. Thank you!

  • Cheryl

    Jenny you are such a gift. May I also request that you never stop writing. You seem to find us where we are. And that is no accident. That is God working thru you, for us.

  • jeanette

    A desire to skip mass is often planted by the enemy…so you do have to resist. Always remember that love of God is not a sensible feeling: it is a personal decision, so you don’t have to worry about whether you “feel” like going to mass or praying or anything, just stick to your firmly held decision to do it always. Then you will not be swayed by changing emotions or situations that arise in daily life.

    Yes, Jenny, do pray the psalms (pray, not read–connecting yourself in a kind of dialogue with God). Write down the ones that hit home and pray them over and over again as you find time to do so. You will go deeper into each one that you pray this way.

    Spend some time with the Book of Job (read beginning to end…)

    Finally, when you feel spiritually empty, spend time with our Lord in John 14-17. The surest way to restore or strengthen your commitment to a relationship with someone is to be with them. So, yeah, adoration. But Jesus is also present in the Word, so if you cannot be there in adoration, go to Him in the Word. He will speak to your heart, you only need to receive what He wants to give to you. Docility of the heart is important in your relationship to our Lord. It is a different level of being there together. You can bring the Word to adoration, too. Read a verse, then sit with the Lord and let Him fill in the silences.

    In praying the rosary, remember too that it is a relationship you have with Mary, as mother to child.

    “Mary, I really need your help!”

    Just like your little child comes to you when they need help with something. Whether it is because something overwhelms them, or something scares them, or something is beyond their capacity or ability, mommy is the go-to person to figure it out and make it better. So, Mary has that wonderful go-to nature we can access when we are just flat out incapable of moving forward. She will always point us back to her Son. That makes her a safe person to turn to in times of spiritual difficulty.

  • Gloria

    Have you ever tried to pray the psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours? I love it for the same reasons you love the rosary–someone else’s words when I’m uninspired (I’m not a “prayer warrior” and never have been), and oh, those psalms can cut right to the heart of humanity!

  • jeanette

    I was thinking about difficulties people encounter in prayer and was reminded of the help of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:22-27

    We know that all creation is groaning in labor pains even until now;
    and not only that, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, we also groan within ourselves as we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.
    For in hope we were saved. Now hope that sees for itself is not hope. For who hopes for what one sees?
    But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait with endurance.
    In the same way, the Spirit too comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings.
    And the one who searches hearts knows what is the intention of the Spirit, because it intercedes for the holy ones according to God’s will.

  • Pamela

    Thank you for writing this. I feel like I have nothing to give right now. I just finished a book where the author spoke often of hearing God talking to her, and I was totally at a loss. Does everyone have that kind of prayer life that they hear God speak to them like an everyday conversation?! It’s funny, though, in this Tim or aridity, I have turned to the rosary more often than I ever have in the past. There’s something comforting in reciting those well known prayers when I’m at a loss for my own words.

  • Kristen

    A million times yes. This is so what I needed to read right now. I’m going through a patch of spiritual dryness. I’m even doing the “33 Days to Morning Glory” and feel nothing. I talked with a priest about it and he said that sometimes through perseverance in prayer, we gain the most graces.

    What I’ve learned is that faith is not a destination; it is a journey. They are peaks and valleys, but like you said we’re not alone.

    God bless you Jenny for your blog.

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