How do you pray? For the first 18 years of my life, it was mostly rehearsed prayers I learned in school or from my parents. For the next five years or so, I didn’t really pray at all. Even in Mass, I would mindlessly go through the motions. Saying grace around the family table was more ritual than prayer.
Then, when I reconciled with God, the Church, and myself, my prayers were mostly awkward utterances of praise for God or shamefully asking for His help — but feeling like I didn’t deserve it.
I fully desired to have a relationship with God, but I didn’t feel like I deserved one after my years away from Him. I wanted to pray daily like my newfound church-going friends, but honestly I had no idea what to say to God. Sorry for being away so long? How great Thou art? Help me? Trying to be formal like the devout people around me sounded so awkward in my own voice — and I definitely wasn’t feeling any closer to God.
Last winter I had the pleasure of being asked to interview Dr. Carolyn Woo, former president and CEO of Catholic Relief Services, as part of a Theology on Tap series. As she spoke about her incredible life, one consistent thing stood out: chapels. Wherever she was, she made it a priority to spend some time in a chapel every day. But, instead of kneeling in formal prayer, she brought her coffee mug in with her.
Bringing her coffee, she said, makes it feel like she is sitting at God’s kitchen table — with all the comfort and warmth of home.
She shared that speaking openly and freely with God on a daily basis is what kept her grounded in the good times and got her through the bad. She would tell God about her day, her hopes, and her regrets, and ask Him for His help — even for things as simple as running a meeting!
This completely changed my thoughts on prayer! While I didn’t have daily access to chapels the way Dr. Woo did, I realized that praying could be as simple as inviting God into my day each morning over my coffee — and I decided to really give it a try.
For the first time, I was able to develop the relationship with God that I had desired. Talking or listening to Him didn’t need to be a formal affair. It only took a simple conversation at the beginning of each day. I turned this into a habit by remembering to tell God about my day each time I made coffee, but soon it turned into something I did throughout the day without needing to discipline myself into a routine.
Now, months later, I still wouldn’t say I have a rock-star prayer life. But, I’m no longer intimidated by it, and I feel like God is working in my life in a way that wasn’t there before I learned to talk to Him. Incorporating these authentic conversations into my spiritual life took it to a whole new level — no rosaries required.
Like St. Teresa of Avila said, “Prayer is nothing more than being on terms of friendship with God.” Those are terms I want to be on. Like Dr. Woo, I found a prayer life in sipping coffee at God’s kitchen table, telling Him about my life, and giving Him a chance to come into it.