How can I pray better instead of just rambling?

| Father Michael Schmitz | October 11, 2017 | 0 Comments


Q. I know that prayer needs to be a part of my life, but I never know what to say. I find myself either daydreaming or just rambling to God. How can I pray better?

A. First, this is possibly the most important question that any follower of Christ can pursue. Well, maybe the question isn’t the most important, but actually praying certainly is.

A friend of mine once pointed out how many of us view praying. He noted, “As Catholics, we were rarely taught how to pray; we were often merely taught how to repeat.” I think he had a great point. We “learn our prayers,” which typically means that we memorized the Our Father and the Hail Mary or a couple dozen other prayers. If we learned (memorized) these prayers, then we “knew” how to pray.

And let’s not snub those memorized prayers. I mean, the Our Father comes from the very lips of Jesus as his response to the disciples asking him to teach them how to pray. So I need to be very careful if I am going to offer any kind of criticism regarding reciting the very prayers Jesus — or his Church — have given us.

But praying is meant to be more than merely “saying the right words” and needs to reach the place where we come into contact with the true and living God.

The good news for every Christian is that you have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you. And the “Spirit comes to our aid because we do not know how to pray as we ought” (Rom. 8.26). So we are not left to try to figure it out on our own. In addition, prayer is not a matter of “technique” or “steps,” but there are certain habits or dispositions we can learn and engage when we pray.

The particular habit I would like to encourage you to cultivate is something called the “Pirate Prayer,” because it involves four “habits” that follow the letters “ARRR”: acknowledge, relate, receive and resolve. These aren’t “steps” as much as they are meant to be reminders of the dispositions we ought to have when we pray.

So, how does one pray this way?

First, acknowledge. The person entering into prayer first acknowledges the thoughts, feelings and desires of their heart. It is really as simple as noticing what thoughts have been occupying one’s mind, which feelings are present in one’s heart and the desires that a person is experiencing.

An important practice in this habit is to avoid the temptation to judge or evaluate what we find in our hearts. Too often, if we find desires or thoughts that embarrass us or are inappropriate, we will try to ignore the fact that they exist. (Not only do they exist, they exist within you!) People will keep their conversation shallow because they falsely believe that they can only bring “holy thoughts” to God, and all the while they will ignore what is calling out for attention.

Next, the person relates. They tell God about what they have found. This is an incredibly important step. I often talk to people who argue that they shouldn’t have to tell God about their life “because God knows all of it already.” Of course he does. But you who are parents know that there is a difference between knowing what your child did at school all day and your child actually telling you what they did all day.

When we tell God something about our heart or about our day that he already knows, it is an act of trusting the Father. “Relating” our heart and thoughts to God like this is transformative because it is what creates and deepens actual relationship. I remember someone asking the question, “If all Jesus knew about you was what you told him in prayer, how well would he know you?” Every time we relate our experiences and feelings to God, something powerful happens.

Third, we receive from the Lord. This might sound like the most abstract, but I always accompany this movement with one question: “How is God loving me right now?” This isn’t limited to that particular prayer moment, but involves the whole of one’s life. In response to this question, you might recognize that God is loving you by allowing you to rest a moment that day, by giving you a peaceful drive to work, through a phone call with a friend or family member, in having given you two eyes that work, etc.

After recognizing what is in one’s heart, sharing that with God and being attentive to his love, the praying person makes some sort of resolution. Resolution can involve anything from making the decision to write down one thing from that prayer time that you want to remember, to a certain action that it is clear God is asking you to take after that prayer time. It doesn’t have to be momentous or incredibly challenging; it is just a response to the conversation.

Think of it in terms of our human relationships: You’ve had a conversation with your spouse where you’ve revealed your heart, and they have revealed their heart. What would be a natural consequence of that conversation? You would probably make some small (or large) change in some area of your life. Do the same with God.

Putting these habits into practice in your life throughout your day will absolutely transform your relationship with God. You will cease “saying your prayers” and truly begin to pray.

Father Schmitz is director of youth and young adult ministry for the Diocese of Duluth and chaplain of the Newman Center at the University of Minnesota Duluth. Reach him at

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