Would you prefer to say a prayer we both know or say your own prayer?
I ask this question at the end of mentorship meetings. Some people squirm at the idea of making up a prayer and opt to say an Our Father or Hail Mary. Others are comfortable going off script and talking to God.
My comfort zone was traditional, already-written prayers, until a traumatic experience in youth group. I was asked to lead a decade of the rosary. This meant saying the first half of the Hail Mary by myself into a microphone. Everyone joined in to say the second half with me. Well, I got nervous and botched up the first part multiple times. To this day, I will happily defer leading a decade of the rosary to someone else!
Both ways of praying have beauty and merit to them. The traditional prayers of the Church have been handed down century after century. They share the timeless truths of our faith. The off-the-cuff prayers share our current reality and specific circumstances with God.
For many Catholics, praying out loud and off-script is unchartered territory. Here is a three-step guide, with examples, to make this type of prayer more comfortable for you.
Start off by addressing your prayer to God. You can pray to the Trinity, or specifically to God the Father, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit. A simple address works fine, but you could also include some words about who God is, or stating how God acts in our world. Then, take a moment to offer praise or gratitude to God.
God, you are our loving Father. Thank you for being here with us now.
This is the real beauty of the off-script prayer. Why are you praying to God? What intentions do you have? What’s going on in your life or the life of the person you are praying with? No need to be a flowery poet. You aren’t competing with King David the psalmist. Talk to God. Get specific. Be real.
We ask you to help Mary with her upcoming CPA exam. She is feeling anxious about it. Guide her in these final days of studying and during the exam next Saturday. We can’t wait till this is done and we can celebrate over drinks!
Close by asking for your intentions in Jesus’ name because, as God’s Son, Jesus’ presence among us — both 2,000 years ago and now in risen form — proves to us God’s love and care. Praying in Jesus’ name reminds us that all things come to us from the Father through the Son.
We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Praying out loud is not rocket science. It can be casual, realistic and even humorous. The goal is entrusting the nitty-gritty, specific details of our lives to our loving God.
This type of prayer has been a true gift to me throughout my life. When I was a kid, I remember my parents praying with me when I was worried about a big test at school. My best friend and I have prayed with each other many times over the phone or in person. These prayers have been a real source of strength for me, especially in difficult times.
For our brothers and sisters who come from Protestant traditions, praying out loud and sharing immediate needs with each other and God is a familiar thing to do. Just because you’re not comfortable doing so doesn’t mean you’re a bad Christian. It simply hasn’t been a part of our Catholic tradition — and that’s because we have other gifts, such as a rich sacramental life and a dedicated hierarchy that connects our community through space and time.
There are ways to approach God in spontaneous prayer that resonates with our Catholic tradition, however — keep this three-part structure in mind and use simple, plain language. Next time your co-worker, friend, or family member is sharing a struggle with you, go out on a limb and ask if you can pray with them. A brief and heartfelt prayer can bring God’s grace to the person and the situation.