Prayer is central to the Christian life. It is not always easy, but we must pray, and pray daily. Our prayers do not have to be complicated. They do not have to be long. They can be as simple as saying the name of Jesus (so long as we intend to invoke Jesus in our lives and experience his presence in it). It can even be engaged by silence, so that we silence our thoughts and words and just open ourselves up to the presence of God and what God will reveal to us in that silence. Prayer is not about controlling God, dictating to God what we want, making God act as our puppet, but rather, it is about communion with God, about letting go of all earthly cares, all our thoughts and ideas, all things which distance ourselves from God so that we can experience God beyond all such distraction. This is why we do not need to use any words when we pray. Of course, for many prayers, words are important; we use them to lay upon God all our hopes and dreams, for once we do so, we can feel the release which we need as we realize God will help shoulder our burdens with us.
Nonetheless, we must realize, prayer is not easy because we will find many things distracting us, keeping us from opening ourselves up to commune with God. Prayer is difficult because we let so many things, especially our egos, get in the way between us and God. Even when we enter communion with God, receiving grace in prayer, we might not realize it because those distractions. Indeed, we often find ourselves having many different things on our mind rather than the prayer itself, and so, finding ourselves focused on them, we cannot see or realize the work God is doing in our lives. Likewise, when we feel that God is not there, the reason might be that our ego is big and blocks our spiritual perception, so that in reality, though we don’t sense God is there, God is there (but once our spiritual perception is no longer blocked, we will come to realize not only is God there, God is always there, closer to us than anyone else).
Because we have yet to experience the continuous presence of God in our lives, we find that prayer is difficult work. We must force ourselves to make time to pray. We must fight against all those things which would get in the way of our prayer. And because our ego with the false sense of self it gives us is with us throughout our lives, prayer will also be difficult for us throughout all our lives. We often have to fight against ourselves, and all the things which fuel our egos, in order to pray For this reason, we should not be surprised that this is a fight which will also be with us to the end of our lives, as Abba Aggathon noted:
The brethren also asked him [Abba Agathon], ‘Amongst all the good works, which is the virtue which requires the greatest effort?’ He answered, ‘Forgive me, but I think there is no labour greater than of prayer to God. For every time a man wants to pray, his enemies, the demons, want to prevent him, for they know that it is only by turning him from prayer that they can hinder his journey. Whatever good work a man undertakes, if he perseveres in it, he will attain rest. But prayer is a warfare to the last breathe.’
The demons which we face, whether or not they are external spiritual entities trying to influence us, or our own distorted thoughts and dispositions, fight against us as they try to make us forget our need for God. They make us think we can and will be able to do all the things we want to do all by ourselves. They do this in many ways – what is key is not how they do it, but that they do it. They might do it differently for each of us. But as they do it, they make sure we have to struggle if we want to prayer. We should not be surprised about our struggle. Nor should we give in and back off from prayer when we find it difficult to pray. So many, if not most, good things are difficult at first, and if we gave up before we attained them, we would find ourselves accomplishing little or nothing in our lives. When we open up to God, we will find the God’s grace influencing us and our lives, making it better, richer, even as others will see the change in us as we will be more at peace. The more we open up, the more we struggle against all the temptations which get in the way, the more we will receive grace and find it easier to get into a state of prayer.
Good works, Agathon also pointed out, leads to rest; we will not rest from prayer until our last breathe, when we hopefully will find eternal rest. Then, we will see that all the time which we had in prayer helped make our rest that much greater. We will rest in Christ. We will rest in God. We will rest in the kingdom of God. We will experience what we have attained in prayer. All the distraction and veils will be gone: we will see what we have accomplished through our prayer (as well as what God has accomplished in and through us through the times which we engaged prayer). We will find eternal rest and the beatitude which comes from it, thanks to all the grace we cooperated with through our acts of prayer.
 The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1984), 21-2 [Saying of Agathon 9].
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