Making space for prayer means making space to love and receive love, because prayer is simply a synonym for a mutual exchange of love between us and God. But that doesn’t come easily; and in some seasons, we have to learn or relearn both the giving and the receiving of love.
If you are in that place and feel the need to reset and refocus your prayer life, let me suggest a different angle. Dr. Gary Chapman’s theory of the Five Love Languages can help us understand and improve every relationship we have: with family members, friends, spouse — and God himself.
The first step is to take the basic Love Languages quiz. Sometimes, you might give in one way but receive in another, so pay attention to both results. Then, we’re going to use those love languages to help us give love to God and receive his love in return.
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One more thing before we dive in: God crafted each one of us as individuals. He designed the building-blocks of our personalities, our temperaments, even our love languages. He made you this way, and he desires for you to experience his love according to the way he made us. If you’re a gift giver, he’s not going to withhold gifts from you because he wants you to receive his acts of service. Likewise, if your primary language is quality time, he’s not going to discount the time you give him because he wants you to give him gifts instead. We are human, with a limited capacity for love; and he, in his infinite nature of love, responds with joy to our uniqueness.
Words of affirmation
- Go to Mass and participate fervently, focusing on your responses.
- Pray the Liturgy of the Hours, the Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet or other vocal prayers.
- Praise him through song.
- Write him a letter in your journal.
- During the day, take a minute to look up and say, “I love you!”
- Express gratitude for his gifts, both in prayer and in conversation with others.
- Ask him for your needs with loving trust in his providence.
- Read Scripture prayerfully, focusing especially on passages where God shares his promises and expressions of love. This is the heart of receiving his words of affirmation for you, because the words of Scripture are his own inspired texts.
- Go to Mass and listen closely to everything you hear, listening for the Lord’s voice in the liturgy, homily, even the hymns.
- Set aside silent prayer time, especially in front of the Eucharist, with the goal of simply listening.
- Read good Catholic books, and listen to Catholic speakers and podcasts, listening for God’s voice in their words (i.e. notice when something resonates with you, when it has that ring of truth about it).
Acts of service
- Make a morning offering to dedicate all your acts of the day.
- Serve him through his presence in others: volunteer at your parish, help out at local charities, take food to a new mom or bereaved family … you get the idea. Embrace the corporal and spiritual works of mercy!
- Love him through your family. Cooking dinner, changing a baby’s diaper, and every other act you do for those around you can be an act of love for God if you offer it to him.
- Consecrate your work to him. Even in a secular workplace, your work can be a service for God — just ask St. Joseph.
- Keep an eye out for all the little things during the day that went better than they maybe could have, and remember to say thank you.
- Every evening, journal three or more times you saw God working in your life that day, even the littlest things.
- Keep a list of answered prayers, and return to it when you are feeling down.
- Pray the Surrender Novena, or the short prayer “Jesus, I surrender myself to you, take care of everything.” God waits sometimes for us to let go of our worries and concerns before he steps in to work on them.
- Set aside a regular time each week to spend in Eucharistic adoration. Consider it date night with Jesus — a time of companionship and presence with the other.
- Go to daily Mass, if you can, bringing his Eucharistic presence into your whole day.
- Commit to a dedicated time of prayer each day. Just like with a human, it’s about being present with and for the other, and less about what exactly you’re doing during that time.
- St. Teresa of Avila advises that we use our imagination to build a little “cell” in our hearts where Jesus can dwell. Come up with your own mental image (mine is a dark, wood-paneled library with a roaring fire), and during the day, go and seek him there. He is there, waiting and abiding, so long as you are in a state of grace!
- Get to Sunday Mass a few minutes earlier than usual. Spend that time just being with Jesus and preparing to receive him in holy Communion.
- Stay a few minutes after Mass, too, meditating on his Eucharistic presence in your body and soul. The saints advised 15 minutes of meditation after communion — about the time it takes to digest the host.
- Check the map and figure out where the nearest tabernacle is to your home and workplace. When you pray, turn to face that direction or just mentally call to mind where Jesus is physically located, and remember that he is there and fully aware of you.
- Pick up a statue or image and hold it in your hands as you pray.
- Use your imagination to give Jesus a hug. Really enter fully into that experience, imagining what it feels like to wrap your arms around him or to look into his face.
- Kiss the feet of the crucifix when you get up and before you go to bed.
- Wear a crucifix or holy medal as a necklace or bracelet. Touch it throughout the day, and say “Jesus, I love you” or some other simple prayer.
- Receive the Eucharist! Again, be fully present physically to Our Lord as he desired to be fully present with you.
- Try some basic mindfulness practices to enter fully into Christ’s physical presence in the Eucharist. When you receive the sacred host or the chalice, pay attention to the taste and feel, to the movement of the priest’s hands, your own movement of opening your mouth to receive. Use your imagination to be fully aware of Christ’s presence in and with you.
- Use a prayer shawl. Find a soft, pretty scarf or shawl; put it on when you begin your scheduled prayer time, and take it off when you are finished. Let that familiar touch be a physical reminder of God’s loving arm around you as you talk to him. (Likewise, consider using the same set of beads to pray your Rosary with every day.)
- When you receive physical touch from a friend, family member or spouse, remember that God’s love for you is coming through their affection as well.
- Practice almsgiving, as well as the other corporal works of mercy.
- Light a votive candle.
- Fast (i.e. give God the gift of your comfort or a particular luxury).
- Invite your priest over for dinner.
- Say the Morning Offering, giving God the gift of your whole day.
- If you have a creative hobby, dedicate your time and project to God. Baking, art, writing … everything you make can be a gift for him.
- Consider becoming a sacristan, choir member, server or lector, giving the gift of your skill and energy.
- Practice gratitude with a daily journal.
- Walk in nature, noticing and admiring the beauties of creation.
- At communion, imagine Jesus coming to you with gifts of gold and jewels — the graces and virtues he wishes to bestow upon you.
- When you receive a gift from a friend or loved one, remember to thank God, the giver of all good gifts.