Discouragement has to be one of the most debilitating feelings. It can come in many forms: your plans are foiled, the promotion at work did not come, or you feel as if everything you do doesn’t quite work out. There is also discouragement in prayer: you pray and pray and pray and nothing seems to happen; you feel as if you’re praying to a wall. We’ve all felt that way.
If we remember in the Gospel of Mark and Matthew, we have the woman who was hemorrhaging for twelve years and the daughter of the temple official who had died. We all remember the endings: Jesus cured the woman and resurrected the young girl from the dead. And we all remember why: because the woman and the father had faith, faith that Jesus could, and trust that He would.
Three elements that any good prayer must have are: faith, hope and trust. But sometimes there is the discouragement because it seems that our prayers are not being heard.
Discouragement is from the devil: when you start feeling discouraged, know that that is the time to double your prayers and pray harder. Isn’t it true that when we feel as if our prayers are doing nothing, we are tempted to stop? The devil wants us to stop praying, especially when we have no warm fuzzy feelings, when prayers stops to feel good.
We remember in the Gospel the Pharisee and the tax collector who go to the Temple to pray. The Pharisee is full of himself, the other feels unworthy, but God listens to the latter. The story tells us that there is no true prayer without a spirit of humility. It is precisely humility that leads us to ask, to pray.
The teaching of the Gospel is clear: we must always pray, even when everything seems in vain, when God appears deaf and dumb and we seem to waste time. Even if the sky darkens, the Christian does not stop praying. His prayer goes hand in hand with faith. And faith, in so many days of our life, may seem an illusion, a sterile effort. There are dark moments in our life and prayer seems like an illusion there. But praying also means accepting this effort. We have to go on, with this fatigue of the bad moments, of the moments that we feel nothing.
When we continue to pray even in our darkest moments we are closest to the Heart of Jesus. Praying well is incredibly difficult. And praying well when there is no emotional comfort is even harder. St. Faustina stresses in her Diary that if you want your prayers to be answered, you must have faith and trust. The more we trust in Jesus, the more we will receive.
If we pray and no one answers—or we feel like no one answers—we can lose hope that we will ever be answered, and so on and so forth, until we risk simply going through the motions. In those dry moments we have no hope, no trust, no faith, and no confidence. But we must remember: God is always listening, He always hears us.
He will get you to where you need to go: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart’” (Jer. 29:11-13 ).
He will listen, but He makes the stipulation that you must search for Him with your whole heart. So start praying with everything you’ve got, with all that you can muster.
When I’m discouraged these are the times when I must fight against the inclination, go against my will, and keep right on walking and praying, even if there is no light and no emotional comfort. Our greatest triumphs come when we face the greatest adversities. Discouragement in prayer will always be a challenge.
Continue to grow in prayer even when you feel nothing and experience your own human limitations; that’s exactly where the Lord wants to meet you.
Only when we are aware of our limits, we discover ourselves as fragile creatures. Then we spontaneously raise our eyes and say, with marvel and confidence: “God, so many things escape me, I need you”.
In the pages of the Gospel we read that the good thief, exactly during his agony on the cross, recognized God’s immense love in Jesus. And for Him the words of salvation were spoken: “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). The story repeats itself today. How many times God uses moments in which man feels weakest for going to him with open arms and showing himself as Father!
Whoever witnessed these experiences has seen how God can work wonders when man, aware of his own fragility, trusts totally in Him. “When I am weak, it is then that I am strong,” wrote St. Paul (cfr. 2 Cor. 12:10). It can still amaze us that even the limit of sin can be an occasion of our meeting with God.
Let us seek to look at ourselves as God sees us. He calls us with unique affection and tenderness. Our limits are not an obstacle to his love, but an occasion to meet with Him. So let’s pray that every moment of weakness (at home, school, work, with friends, etc.) helps us to open up our hearts and to redirect us with sincerity towards He who alone is our strength.
When I am discouraged, not feeling God’s presence in my prayer, I ask the Lord for the strength to persevere in prayer and to surrender all my human limitations to Him. We can repeat over and over again the words of St. Paul, “when I am weak, then I am strong.”
This month’s Spring of Water reflection was prepared by Sr. Francesca, AVI