Question on how to improve your prayer life


By Father Thom Hennen
Question Box Column

Q. How can I improve my prayer life?

A. Let me first say that my own prayer life as a priest is not always where I would like it to be either. I cut corners. I talk myself out of prayer. Sometimes when I am praying the Liturgy of the

Fr. Hennen

Hours (the prayer of the Church comprised mostly of the psalms), I feel like I’m just turning the pages. I can read a passage of Scripture and immediately forget what I just read because my mind is in a million other places. Sometimes when I pray the rosary I am just “thumbing the beads.” Many days I have to fight for my prayer and even then I am often distracted, drowsy or impatient.

My first piece of advice would be to start small. Whether you are starting from scratch or rebuilding, the key is to develop a habit of prayer. Consistency is more important than duration or content. Once you are praying regularly, God can take the prayer where he will and can stretch the time as needed.


Secondly, find a time, a place and a way to pray. As for the best time, personally I find that the longer the day goes on, the more likely I am to skimp on my prayer or talk myself out it. For this reason, I find the best time to pray is in the morning. Fortunately, I am a morning person. I love the quiet of the morning with a cup of coffee before the emails start piling up, the office gets busy and I am knee deep in daily responsibilities. Others may find evening to be a more conducive and a naturally reflective time for prayer as they look back on the day.

Finding a place to pray is important, too. I happen to live next to a church, and I have a key! Convenient, I know, but some of my best prayer is in my room. I have a comfortable (but not too comfortable) chair, a little table for my Bible or other spiritual reading and I have a favorite image of Jesus on the wall opposite me to help me focus. I often hear about people creating prayer spaces in their homes. This is probably best where there is not a lot of activity or other sources of distraction like the television or the computer. Of course, when you can get to a church, maybe before or after Mass or for a period of eucharistic adoration, take full advantage.

The last part is probably the most difficult, and that is finding a way or method of prayer that works for you. Rote prayers are wonderful, but if these make up the sole content of our prayer, we are missing something. I think of these more like “appetizers.” They can lead us into deeper, more conversational prayer with the Lord or draw us back when we get distracted, but they are not the “main course.” For that, I propose four simple steps taken from my own training in spiritual direction: (1) Acknowledge any thoughts, feelings, desires — good prayer starts with self-awareness; (2) Relate those thoughts, feelings and desires directly to the Lord, as to a close friend — there is nothing “unworthy” of sharing with him; (3) Receive in silence what the Lord wants to put on your heart — this takes time and patience, which is why consistent prayer is so important; and (4) Respond by making some practical resolution from your prayer. You can remember these steps by “praying like a pirate” — ARRR. I hope that helps!

(Father Thom Hennen serves as the pastor of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Davenport and Vicar General for the Diocese of Davenport. Send questions to

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