Get a (Prayer) Life: How to Actually Live Your Best Life

Ooo Heaven Is a Place on Earth

Have you ever been in ecstasy?

And no, I don’t mean high on drugs.

I mean, like, experienced an intense, overwhelming, supernatural joy. The kind you wish would last forever. Lost in perpetual delight, completely caught up in eternal bliss.

Sounds pretty epic, right?

Most of us spend all our whole lives restlessly chasing this intoxicating joy—only as a temporary high.

What if I told you that I knew someone who experienced this kind of ecstasy—without the “assistance” of illegal substances—and that the effects, more life-altering than any drug, lasted for decades? That this everlasting joy was somehow possible here on earth—by having a real, personal, intimate relationship with God (that which we call prayer)?

There was this woman, Teresa—you may have heard of her—from Ávila, Spain. When she first joined the Carmelite convent, at least externally, she seemed like a pretty decent nun. Not only was she charming, beautiful, and hospitable, she also adequately fulfilled the ordinary duties that nuns typically do (disclaimer: I can’t say I know what those are, seeing as I’ve never lived in a convent before, and I’m not exactly allowed inside).

Then something happened. One day, after decades of living in the convent and just going through the motions of prayer (i.e., her relationship with God), she had a profound encounter with Jesus being scourged at the pillar. Jesus, the Son of God, embraced a brutal death by crucifixion—to save her. She would later describe this profound experience as a blinding, blazing, earth-shattering moment of clarity—that she was actually able, through prayer, to experience the mercy and love of God in a totally personal and intimate way.

Amazing, right?

You may be thinking: “Yeah, good for her, but, like, dude, she’s a nun. I’m no nun.”

You’re right (most likely)—you’re not a nun (although maybe you are and you somehow got internet access).

Anyway, what’s your point?

Saint Teresa of Ávila, the first female Doctor of the Church, is totally confident that you don’t have to be nun to experience the love of God that fills you with enduring joy and lasting peace and forever changes your life for (the) good. So you can go ahead and cancel that opinion and keep on reading—that is, if you have enough self-awareness to admit that your life isn’t all that it could be.

Mansion Life

Teresa loved castles and mansions, but not in the way that we might imagine. Infinitely more beautiful than anything you’ve ever seen on MTV Cribs is the interior castle of the soul, and the several mansions established therein. That’s because God, whom Teresa affectionally called “His Majesty,” created every single human soul in his divine, kingly image.

What Teresa discovered (by God’s grace) is that in order to experience lasting happiness in this life, we need not go out, desperately grasping at the things of the world, lovely as they might be. Rather, we must go on the journey within—deeper and deeper into the heart, traveling progressively through each of the seven mansions, until we arrive at the very core of our being, where the Triune God dwells, in unbelievable intimacy, closer than we are to ourselves. The deeper we go within our own interior castle, the more lasting joy and peace we will experience in our lives.

But how, you may wonder, do we begin?

Teresa first encourages us to resolutely determine to foster the habit of daily, sustained mental prayer. What is mental prayer? For Teresa, it’s nothing other than engaging in heart-to-heart dialogue with the God who loves us, be it through meditating on Scripture/holy texts, speaking and listening to God in the quiet of our hearts, or simply holding a loving awareness/attentiveness towards his Presence.

Notice what mental prayer is not: hasty, vocal prayers before bed and meals, rushed rosaries, feverish journaling, or praise music. Now, those devotions are all fine and certainly have their place. But if we’re honest, most of us (myself included) are often too scared to do actual mental prayer because it requires us to get silent and to go deeply within ourselves. And that’s a hard and uncomfortable thing to do.  What might I discover about myself, if I go beneath the surface of my soul? Can I face what’s truly inside of me?  If I really go that deep, will I drown (spoiler alert)—like Elsa in Frozen II?

Terrifying as it is, we stand everything to gain by courageously entering into the frightening silence of the heart that liberates, for the moment that we are ready to face our cosmic poverty and fragile humanity in the light of His Majesty’s face, everything changes. What would happen if you actually took the time to get really real with yourself, and bring that person before God in your prayer time? Seriously, what might happen? Simply ask for the grace—God is longing to give it to you!

Until we allow God to encounter us as we truly are—with all our sins, weaknesses, and failings, not pretending to be something we’re not—then we are probably just settling for the motions of a prayer life, like pre-conversion Teresa.

Will you take the risk?

Is your best life worth it to you?

Get Vaxxed: Protect Yourself from the Busyness Disease, And Live

Once we’re able to get real about our poverty and experience God’s love and mercy in that place, then the real work begins of fostering the habit of daily mental prayer.  Not only is it far easier for us to stay on the surface of our souls, Satan, in his consuming hatred for us, does everything within his power to derail us from getting to the innermost core of the mansions, where God’s heartbeat and ours unite unto eternity. Satan knows that if we’re victorious in establishing a regular life of mental prayer, it’s game-over for him dragging us down to hell, and game-on for us making it heaven. God, of course, knows this, too, and is all the more than ready to help us in our weakness to make daily mental prayer a solid habit. This is where his grace and our effort must meet, because we bring the whole of our humanity into our prayer lives (hence the repeated use of the word habit).

Let me take a brief pause here to shoot you straight: if you don’t really want this epic life, found explicitly through cultivating your relationship with God through daily, mental prayer, then don’t worry. It won’t happen.

But—if you’re at all curious, if you have an ounce of desire to taste the most amazing existence possible on earth, if you think that there’s more fulfillment than what you’ve experienced up to this point in your life—then God has mapped out the path for achieving the heights of our happiness and holiness in the here and now, and he lovingly and patiently awaits your response.

What will you choose?

I hear a lot of people say that they would really like to pray every day, but that they’re too busy, or they “don’t have the time.” I wonder if those same folks are too busy to eat, and therefore starve to death?

Two hard truths about life (they are worth embracing if you’re an adult human): (1) we always make time for the things that truly matter to us (we call these priorities), and (2) all of us actually have the same amount of time every single day—24 hours—and so “not having the time” is a complete misnomer. What we really mean when we say we “don’t have the time” is that said thing isn’t really a priority for us. So, if we “don’t have the time” to pray, perhaps we might be a bit more honest with ourselves and others by just owning the fact that cultivating a regular prayer life isn’t a priority, in essence because we don’t really value our relationship with God that much… yikes!

Here are my recommendations (informed by the Church and personal experience):

  • Engage in mental prayer (i.e., heart-to-heart conversation with God), not the fluffy stuff that keeps you on the surface of your heart and prevents you from entering into silence and poverty.
  • Avoid being “busy” during your prayer time, jumping from praise music to the rosary to your journal. Get quiet, settle in. Ask for the grace to simply encounter God.
  • Pray for at least 30 minutes/day, at the same time and in the same place, to make it an established habit. Don’t break it up, don’t shorten the time.
  • Don’t quit, don’t make excuses. If you miss a day, don’t worry. Get back up and go for it!
  • Aim to pray in the morning before other “priorities” take over.
  • Strive to pray in front of Jesus, present in the Eucharist, whether He’s exposed in Adoration or reposed in the Tabernacle. We definitely know from COVID that heart-to-hearts are always better in-person 😉
  • Don’t let discouragement settle in you when you aren’t “feeling” God during your prayer time. This is how He naturally tests our love for Him. Are we in it for God or for what He does for us?
  • A daily rosary is beautiful; however, because we often struggle to go deeply within ourselves, pray your daily rosary in addition to your daily holy-half-hour, and not in lieu of it.
  • Attending Mass every day is great, but a daily habit mental prayer is arguably better (according to the Saints) because mental prayer is the space in which to process the Sacramental graces received.

Do that for a month and see what happens. There’s an Almighty Guarantee that you’ll be on your way to living your best life!

James Van Matre
James Van Matre
James takes point on staff mentorship for the FOCUS Formation Department. He's currently pursuing a Master's in Clinical Mental Health Counseling in Texas. James is passionate about helping people thrive and become who they truly are. You can learn more about his work here.

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