Feelings are an essential part of what it means to be human. As it has been said before, one might not remember the exact details of a given incident, but one would remember how one felt about it. Human beings are feeling beings. And oftentimes, we act from our feelings. We even tend to make decisions based on our feelings. And if St Ignatius of Loyola is right about the promptings of God in Consolation and Desolation (and I think he is), then even God communicates with us in and through our feelings. (I hope someday, to offer a teaching on the Ignatian method of prayer, God willing). So in all, our feelings are very important, for they tend to indicate what has come out of a past action, and where we might be heading to by way of a future action.
In this light, when we do not “feel like praying,” I get it. To be honest with you, I too sometimes do not “feel like” praying. There are days or times when prayer is the last thing I want to do! There are days when praying the Divine Office or Lauds (Morning Prayer) or Vespers (Evening Prayer) appear cumbersome to me. Somedays, I fail. So yes, I get it, when someone says to me, “Fr, I do not feel like praying.” We all are in the same boat!
But if my own little experience in the spiritual life could be of help to you, I wish to say to you what I often say to myself, when those “dry moments” come, which is, “Maurice, yes, feelings are important, but you cannot reduce your life to feelings only. And if you cannot reduce your life to feelings, then you shouldn’t reduce your prayer life to feelings only as well.” I might not feel like eating, but if I continue to deprive my body of food, starving my body, other health issues might arise. I might not feel like getting out of bed, but I know that if I do not show up for lecture at Boston College or St John’s Seminary, not only would it constitute an injustice to the students or seminarians, but I am certain to run into difficulties with the administration of BC or St John’s. A mother might not feel like financially supporting an adult child that has shown much ingratitude, but she still does it anyway, because she knows it is the right thing to do, even though she does not feel like doing it. In effect, there are good things we do that we do not feel like doing, that if it were left to our feelings only, we would not do them.
Dear Holy People of God, when we do not feel like praying, please remember two things:
Firstly, that prayer, like other good things in life, is not just about feelings but likewise about the will. In other words, we should will to pray. When we will to pray, then we stick to our prayer moments and prayer times. Praying is of the human will. Prayer is a willing moment. If I have set aside 15 minutes in the morning as my God-time, then I try to discipline myself to respect that scheduled appointment with God. I consciously safeguard those 15 minutes every morning, fully conscious that it tells a lot about my character, about who I am, to keep my word! And I have come to believe that character is who I am when no one is watching me! Hence, kindly remember when you do not feel like praying: prayer, like other good things, is not about feelings only, but is also of the human will.
Secondly, when we do not feel like praying, we are going through a “dark night,” like a “desert experience.” Feelings, warm thoughts about God, warm memories, are absent. I got good news for you: many of the saints too had desert experiences, when they did not feel like praying. From the saints, such as Ignatius, Therese of Avila, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, etc, we learn a saintly wisdom: never skip prayer when you do not feel like praying. Rather, if you can, add a little more time to your regular prayer time. You do not overcome the desert on the way to the promised land from Egypt by standing still or returning to Egypt. You overcome the desert by moving on towards the promised land. I have noticed, in my own prayer life, then whenever I have felt dry and not felt like praying, and decided to stick to my prayer time and pray all the same, those moments have been the most rewarding spiritual moments. Could it be that my breaking point is my breakthrough point? It would seem so. The saints teach us that God sometimes allows us in spiritual darkness, to train us to learn anew that timeless wisdom of St Paul: “For we live by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). One can say, for we pray by faith, not by feelings.
Summarily, when we do not feel like praying, please remember two things: Firstly, Prayer is not just about feelings but also of the will; Secondly, the desert or absence of feeling for prayer is a stage on the way to the promised land. Your breaking point is your breakthrough point.