Like many Catholics, prayer has often been a part of my life. From Mass and the Sacraments to novenas and Rosaries, the routine recitation of various prayers comes quite natural to me. Prayer often brings peace to my soul and to other people, but at times, it has done the opposite: I have actually found myself adding to stress through my prayers. I’ll petition God, place my intentions before Him, and then really get to work.
Novena after novena, Rosary after Rosary, Memorares throughout the day…and as I pray all of these, I keep asking: “Okay, God, where are you? Are you listening yet? Because I sure don’t understand why my petitions have yet to be answered!” I worry about my intentions, so I pray more…and then become more stressed out when I don’t see those prayers answered in a timely manner.
Now, don’t get me wrong—Rosaries and novenas are fantastic ways to petition God and the saints with our intentions. But, when we go overboard and have the wrong mentality, problems arise. If my heart is in the wrong place, I will behave as if I am the one in charge. I will act as if the more prayers I say, the more I am in control, and the more I will be able to understand things (#vocationaldiscernment, anyone?). When I continually babble on with a desire for control, I make prayer about me—and not about God. Instead of peaceful trust in God, my gaggle of prayers turns into a stress-inducing, anxious part of my day. In her Prayer Journal, Catholic author Flannery O’Connor discusses this anxiety. She prays:
“Let me henceforth ask you with resignation—that not being or meant to be a slacking up in prayer but a less frenzied kind—realizing that the frenzy is caused by an eagerness for what I want and not a spiritual trust.”
Are my frenzied, confused, harried prayers expressing a deep trust in God? As I have pondered O’Connor’s heartfelt words, I realized that my controlling prayers probably do not show a confidence placed in God and a resignation to His will. After all, does the Prince of Peace really want me to be living in such a non-peaceful state of confusion and worry? In the Scriptures, St. Paul encourages us to leave behind this anxiousness. He writes,
“Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God.Then the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phillippians 4:6-7)
If I am putting up a façade of “fake trust” to cover my stressed anxiety, I am not putting my full confidence in God. If I am praying many prayers in order to be “more in control,” I am failing to let God reign peacefully in my life. I am not perfect—or even adept—at the whole regime of trusting God. And, sadly, my life is not as stress-free as I would like it to be. But, I am learning to not settle.
I can strive for greater trust and less stress every day. I can bring my petitions to God in confidence, and not feel the need to anxiously worry about them. Years ago, as a teen living at home, a popular quotation attributed to St. Pio adorned my bedroom wall: “Pray, hope, and don’t worry. Worry is useless. God is merciful and will hear your prayer.” I’m sure that many of us do an excellent job of his first two exhortations. Oh, we can pray all right. And yes, we can hope. But “don’t worry”? That is a hard command, but one that we can try to live up to today.
I encourage you to give God every anxiety—and don't worry about it.
Live in the present moment, not the past or future—and don't worry about it.
Pray your Rosary or novena for a petition—and don’t worry about it.
Today, let us trust God with our lives, our vocations, our concerns, our jobs, and our fears. Let us be confident that He is always taking care of us—so don’t worry about it.
“Pray with great confidence, with confidence based upon the goodness and infinite generosity of God and upon the promises of Jesus Christ.” ~St. Louis de Montfort, The Secret of the Rosary