I’ve invested so much time, so much devotion, and developed so little competence in return. I’ve been praying daily for forty years and often wonder why I’m still so bad at it.
It shouldn’t be this hard.
But we can’t be good at prayer. Not if we understand what prayer truly is. Can we be good at enjoying our wives? Good at laughing spontaneously with friends? It seems manic to imagine sitting across from someone you love, anticipating that they might say something interesting, and then overreacting when they do, only to take over the conversation once more.
This is why Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware has reframed prayer, not as something we initiate, but as something we share. “Prayer is not something I do, but something that God does in me,” he says. “Prayer is God.” And if there are times when we feel like our prayers are good, the danger then becomes arrogance. We will feel as though we have achieved something, which misses the point entirely.
Prayer isn’t like fitness or design. You pray to get better—not at praying, but at being you. At being God’s. Boston college professor Peter Kreeft says “prayer is like gardening,” but in this case we’re growing something “alive for eternity.” The work is gradual and invisible, but “it is the difference between life and death.”
Prayer is how we grow up into ourselves. There is a clock that only ticks when we pray, and it tracks our metamorphosis from sinner to saint.