When I left the convent nine years ago, I was entirely unprepared for my biggest struggle: the temptation to give up on prayer. I hate to admit it, but I kinda let prayer hang by a string for a while. I wish I were unique in this, but I suspect others have the same temptation, and I’ll bet no one warned you. So I want to share my thoughts in hopes of helping you avoid my errors.
What caused this temptation? First, I’d really wanted to be a Sister, I loved my community, and I’d really thought God wanted me there, so discerning otherwise took the wind out of my sails. Second, when faced with learning how to balance prayer, work, and life as a laywoman, I found it too easy to slack off. Like a pendulum, I swung from the convent-extreme of lots of prayer to the extreme of practically none. I never skipped Mass, but many days found me doing very little else.
At bottom, however, the real perpetrator was that ignoring God was less painful than facing Him. I eschewed confronting Him in emptiness and sorrow to avoid being exposed and vulnerable and, because He was so awfully silent then, having no answers or consolation. If I curtailed serious interior prayer, then I could forget I was a gaping wound.
Problem is, this is a time when we need serious prayer. We can’t pray as much as we used to, but we also shouldn’t stop praying as well as we did. So why do we feel tempted to give up on prayer in this time of weakness? Honestly, I think a lot is due to the devil wanting to kick you while you’re down. You’re already vulnerable, so he tries to convince you to despair and to stop talking to precisely the One Person who can give you healing, peace, and hope.
The remedy is to keep communicating with the Lord at all costs. At ALL costs. He can work with any little bit you can give or throw at Him. Really.
When I started to crawl out of the nefarious hole that is acedia, I found my best recourse was what I call the “park it” (as in “park your tukhas right there, young lady”) prayer method, because sometimes all you can muster up the heart for is to sit there. Your very presence is something He can work with.
So park yourself in the nearest church or adoration chapel, or if that’s not available, park it wherever you can pray. Don’t bring a rosary or breviary or Bible for this visit. Just bring you. Commit yourself to some amount of time: a half hour, an hour, whatever, and just sit with the Lord. OK, so you don’t have the heart to talk with Him? Maybe you feel like yelling at Him instead? Go ahead! Holler, scream at Him. (I mean the interior versions of these, unless you’re absolutely certain there’s no one around who might hear you!) Scowl at Him and be silent. Complain to Him about how hard this is. Tell Him how disappointed you are and how much you feel like a failure and all the other ugly things you feel. Or sit there and just let yourself weep in His presence. God’s strong enough to take anything you dish at Him, so let Him have it. And I’ll bet you dollars to donuts He’d rather have this honest, raw, hurting you who’s hurling gripes at Him than not hear from you at all. Maybe you’re not a Sister anymore, but you’re still His beloved, and He wants to hear from you.
Don’t stop there, and don’t move that tukhas yet. Don’t budge until the time to which you’ve committed is up. Is the Lord still not talking? Beg Him to talk to you, plead with Him to speak to your heart and heal it. Is He still not talking? Keep sitting there, and keep asking. Maybe He won’t say anything today, and maybe He won’t seem to say anything for a lot of todays, but you know what? The more todays you park it, the more you keep open those lines of communication. You’ve told Him, by your daily parking it, that He’s still more important to you than your hurt and disappointment. You’re showing that you still know you need Him and aren’t willing to rely on yourself. You’re showing that He’s still your everything, despite your disappointment, anger, and whatever else you’re experiencing, and despite the difficulty in focusing on Him. And this is a very real, deep form of abandonment and surrender.
You know the awesome, amazing thing that this does? It will gradually bring you to an entirely new level of prayer because, before you know it, you’ll start to hear Him speaking in new ways that you never expected. You’ll find that He’s started teaching you a new way of listening to Him, and then all of a sudden, you’ll see that He really is speaking to you after all, in a voice much more sonorous, healing, and loving than you could have ever imagined. Slowly but surely, the darkness will start to fade, and you’ll see bright sky peeking through, and prayer will bring you joy again.
Trust me, ladies. I’ve been where you are. It really, truly does get better because the Lord will make it better for you if you give Him the chance and the time. It took me a year to climb out of the hole, but it worked, and it was worth it! If you cling to the Lord when it hurts, you will find that great peace and joy come in and eclipse the hurt. And after all, this Lord of ours who clings to us eternally is so very worth clinging to, is He not?
By Cafea Fruor
Cafea Fruor is a former active religious sister who is now discerning a vocation to the contemplative life. She thinks that coffee, bacon, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups are God’s finest creations, but she’d give these up in a heartbeat to enter the monastery. Please pray for her continuing discernment.
This is such a painful subject. Thank you so much for addressing it. Prayer was SO DIFFICULT for me when I left and I didn’t have anyone to talk to about it, for fear that I would scandalize others. My main problem now is that I fall asleep when I “park it.” Is is better to fall asleep, or try to keep myself awake by reading, etc?
TJ, I think being awake is best because it’s hard to be open to listening to God if you’re asleep, but you first have to ask yourself why you’re falling asleep.
For instance, you might be falling asleep because you’re praying at the end of the day. It might help to try praying in the morning when you still have energy (a lot of saints say the morning is the best time to pray), if you can. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s really difficult not to fall asleep while praying late in the day.
Or, if you’re anything like me, you could be falling asleep because it’s easier to let yourself succomb to sleep than it is to focus on Someone who doesn’t seem to be speaking. It takes less energy.
Or you could just be giving too much time to parking it. If you usually fall asleep around 20 minutes into every half hour that you’ve committed to, maybe you should just commit to 20 minutes for the time being.
There are many things that might be making you sleep, so I’d try to address the why first and then try to stay awake.
In the meantime, I’d say it’s probably better to keep yourself awake with reading, if that works for you. After all, St. Teresa of Avila even said that she couldn’t approach prayer without something to read for something like twenty years. ? You could also try standing or kneeling — I know, for example, that it’s practically impossible for me to sleep if I’m kneeling.
It has been 18 years since conventual life and He is still silent. Must be more to the equation that escapes me.
My name is Penny, and I’m the blog mistress at Leonie’s Longing. I just wanted to say thank you for your comment: you’ve brought a different and valuable perspective to the conversation.
I hope that you’ll find consolation here – eighteen years is such a long time. Be assured that you will have the sincere support of anyone who reads your post, and please let us know by email if there’s anything we can do to assist you.
I loved what Cafea said. Hold on to prayer, even if it’s only five minutes a day. And be loyal to those five minutes even if you hate them. that’s the best time to pray those five minutes.
Thank you so very much for your thoughts and reflections. That’s what I MISS the most about the convent, having a CHAPEL in your house. I miss ALL the time I had for prayer and silence. I really need to take to heart and PARK IT TOO! After this election I’m feeling some of those leaving the convent losses. Where is God in this messed up world. Parking it sounds good as I FEEL depressed and sad just like I did when I left. Please pray for me. Thank you