This is part two in our series on how to best prepare for a retreat. If you missed part one on commitment to the retreat, check it out Here.
The second “pillar” of retreat preparation, which came up when we surveyed every retreat center director that we could get a hold of, was not surprising. It is prayer.
All of us know that prayer is a good and important thing, but few of us actually spend the time in prayer that an adult ought to. Often, we don’t even know how to pray or what to say.
Here is what some of those retreat center directors suggested:
- “Spend time in prayer asking God to inspire you and encourage you; and to give you direction during your time away with Him.”
- “Find time for prayer and silence every day.”
- “Pray for the grace of a fruitful time dedicated exclusively to God and my relationship with Him.”
- “Starting with 5 minutes, talk to God each day: telling Him about your joys and worries and thanking Him for all the gifts you have received from Him.”
If you do not have a regular habit of prayer in your daily schedule it may be difficult to know where to start.
When to Pray?
The time of day that you pray really does not matter compared to whether or not you are praying at all. Every person probably has a different time of day that works best for their prayer.
That being said, it is very easy for the day to get busy and for dedicated prayer time to get pushed back further and further until it simply does not happen.
Something that we have found regularly recommended, by retreat directors but also by others, is to pray first thing in the morning.
In talking to a religious sister recently about how she discerned her vocation, and how she suggested others discern theirs, her main piece of advice was to not let oneself eat breakfast until you have prayed.
She noted that prayer is even more important for us than food, and so we should make time for prayer first. She also noted that, on a practical level, if she didn’t make time for prayer before breakfast, especially before entering the religious life, it would just get lost in her busy schedule.
If nothing else, try the coffee preparation prayer routine. After getting out of bed, the first step is to turn on the coffee maker. It takes a few minutes to make a cup, and then when the coffee is ready it is scalding hot. I needs to sit for another five to ten minutes until it is cool enough to drink.
Sounds like just enough time for a little bit of prayer, doesn’t it?
Find a period of down time like this in your day, and work in 5-10 minutes of prayer. Make it a habit. Even enter it into your schedule if you have to.
After a couple days of this, add one or two more 5-10 minute periods of prayer. If possible, after a few days of this, make an effort to lengthen at least one of those periods of prayer to 15 minutes. If this is not possible, at least fight to maintain that 5-10 minutes each day.
Where should you pray?
It is nice to stop in to a church to pray, but that probably is not practical for most people every day. Setting aside a few quiet minutes at home is usually a good idea. Many people find their commute to be a good period of time for prayer as well. Again, as long as you are making the time to pray, the location is not as important.
If you need (or just prefer) a quiet, still place to pray, look for Eucharistic Adoration nearby. An increasing number of parishes offer this, and some even offer a 24/7 Adoration Chapel.
In Adoration Jesus will be present in the Blessed Sacrament, displayed in a golden vessel on the front altar. It is essentially face-to-face prayer with our Lord.
To find Eucharistic Adoration nearby, try this Adoration Directory. (http://www.therealpresence.org/chap_fr.htm)
What to Pray
Prayer is, simply stated, talking to God, and that is a good place to start.
Find a quiet place away from distractions for a few minutes and tell God your thoughts, hopes, fears, frustrations, and needs.
God already knows all of these things, but they should be brought to Him in prayer anyway.
Why tell these things to God when He already knows them? It may at first glance feel like a waste of time, but as CS Lewis once said, “[Prayer] doesn’t change God, it changes me.”
Talk to God as you would talk to anybody else that you are closest to – a spouse, a parent, a best friend.
If in doubt, start with some written prayers, like the Our Father and Hail Mary. Afterward, leave some time for telling God your thoughts, and some time to listen in silence.
At first it can be difficult to spend more than a few minutes in prayer. We get restless and our mind wanders. This is ok. Keep trying to refocus.
There will always be distractions and mind wanderings, but with practice over time it gets easier to spend progressively more time in focused prayer.
As you gradually work into longer periods of prayer one option is to try a longer structured prayer like the Rosary or the Liturgy of the Hours. If you are unfamiliar with these, instructions for them and other prayers are available on the blog at CatholicRetreats.net/blog.
Keep in Mind
- Don’t be afraid to pray for yourself – it isn’t selfish, Jesus told us to do it
- Be persistent in your prayers
- Set aside 5 minutes today just for quiet prayer. Gradually make this time longer each day