Is It Better To Pray Badly, Or Not At All?
Before we can answer this question, there are a few ideas we need to explore. First, what is prayer. Second, what do we define as "praying badly." And third, how does God view our prayer.
What is prayer?
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, prayer is “a vital and personal relationship with the living God … the living relationship of the children of God with their Father” (CCC 2558, 2565). It is not so much an activity as a disposition. Prayer is a relationship.
The Catechism also states that "according to Scripture, it is the heart that prays. If our heart is far from God, the words of prayer are in vain" (2562). The desire to pray (or pray better) is a prayer itself!
For me, prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy."St. Thérèse of Lisieux
What do we consider "praying badly?"
The answer to this will vary greatly, but among our fallen race, there are some common perceptions of praying badly that include praying when tired, failing at our resolutions, being overcome by distractions, being interrupted by family life, just going through the motions, and even a having general feeling of distance or darkness when we set out to talk to God.
The devil knows how efficacious our relationship with God is, so he will try to stymie it in any way he can, manipulating our feelings and thoughts and even tempting us to believe it would be better to put off our prayer or give it up completely. One day, we can feel on top of the world with our prayer routine and consolations, and the next we can feel a dryness and even repugnance.
Of course, God is infinitely more powerful than the devil and only allows these trials for our benefit - like an exercise for our souls. So take heart! When we feel like we are praying badly, we are in the middle of a workout - don't throw in the towel.
If you have lost the taste for prayer, you will regain the desire for it by returning humbly to its practice."
Blessed Paul VI
How does God view our prayer?
In trying to determine how God views our prayer, let us remember, first, that prayer is relationship with Him, and, second, that He is Our Father.
Even in our fallen human relationships it is difficult to imagine a father that would not be pleased to see his child, hear his child's voice on the phone, or receive a letter from his child, no matter the age. Even if the conversation is self-centered or the visit is short or the letter is full of grammatical errors, the father sees past the messiness to the love the child is showing.
We can deduce that God the Father sees every attempt at prayer, whether full of consolation or desolation, as acts of love from His children. However, as He loves us perfectly, that love includes a desire, an expectation even, to an ever deeper and more perfect relationship. As Aslan in C.S. Lewis' The Last Battle, He invites us to "Come further up! Come further in!", knowing that is where we will find our true happiness and fulfillment.
God is waiting for us, like the father in the parable, with open arms, even though we don’t deserve it. It doesn’t matter how great our debt is. Just like the prodigal son, all we have to do is open our heart, to be homesick for our Father’s house, to wonder at and rejoice in the gift which God makes us of being able to call ourselves his children, of really being his children, even though our response to him has been so poor.”
Back to the question
Knowing that prayer is a relationship, rooted in the heart, that our perspective on "praying badly" is often formed from our own weakness and influenced by the devil, and that God views our prayer as a loving father, accepting all attempts while calling us to a higher love, we are ready to say with confidence that it is undoubtedly better to "pray badly" than not at all.
If we find ourselves wondering if it would be better to put it off or give it up, let us ask ourselves these questions:
- Do we believe that prayer is a relationship?
- Could this be a temptation (aka, opportunity to grow in perseverance!)?
- Would God, Our Father, take the same view?
Then make the Sign of the Cross and proceed, no matter how tired, distracted, or distant you feel, knowing this is true love and resolving to always strive to "pray better."
You write: 'To pray is to talk with God. But about what?' About what? About Him, about yourself: joys, sorrows, successes and failures, noble ambitions, daily worries, weaknesses! And acts of thanksgiving and petitions: and Love and reparation.
In a word: to get to know him and to get to know yourself: 'to get acquainted!'"