My Relationship with God is at a Standstill

I'm at a standstill in my relationship with God; whenever I pray its like talking to a brick wall. I never feel any different, and I just need to know that someone will always be there for me. What can I do?

Dear Friend, 

First, let me just affirm you in your desire to grow in your relationship with God! It is so inspiring that your faith is a priority in your life. I hope that you will continue to seek God first throughout your life.

We all hit brick walls from time to time in our prayer lives – that’s a very common Christian struggle. While that may not be the most comforting thought, it is good to know that we are not alone in that – because that means that other people can share their wisdom on how to deal with that struggle.

God has uniquely created every person who has ever lived… which means that God communicates with everyone uniquely. That also may not sound very comforting, but there’s so much freedom in that! What works for me in my prayer life may not work for you…and what works for me in my prayer life right now is not what worked for me in eighth grade, and it probably won’t work for me in five years. As we grow and change, our prayer lives will also have to grow and change.

It can be so helpful to have an outside perspective on our relationships with God. Think about it – professional baseball players have pitching and hitting coaches. They use someone else’s eyes to help them improve their game. The same thing applies to our spiritual lives: we need someone else’s eyes to help us improve our prayer. Is there someone at your parish that could serve as a spiritual director for you? A teacher, or a priest? Or maybe your Confirmation sponsor, if you’ve already chosen one? If you can discuss your spiritual life with someone you trust, someone who has been where you’ve been, they can often give you some objective advice on how to grow in your faith. They will know much more about what’s going on in your life than I do and will be able to give you specific advice on how to grow in your relationship with God. You can also learn a lot about connecting to God through your peers. Is there a youth group you can join, either at your parish, or a neighboring parish? At my parish, there’s a junior high prayer group that meets on Tuesday mornings before school starts. The seventh and eighth graders get together and pray together once a week. If there isn’t anything like this at your school, ask your youth minister or religion teacher if you could start one! Jesus says that where two or more are gathered in His name, God is truly present. Praying with other people is a great way to strengthen our prayer lives.

Even though I don’t know your circumstances, I do have a few tips that we can all use to grow in our prayer lives. The first is to make a good Confession. More often than not, when I feel like I’ve come to a stopping point in my prayer life, it’s because it’s been awhile since I’ve been to Confession. One by one, my sins act like bricks that build a wall between me and God, and when I go to Confession, God forgives my sins and knocks down that wall. I don’t want to assume anything about you, but in my life, my sins are usually the little ways I fail to love my family, or friends, or even strangers. They act more like little bricks than huge boulders. If I get lazy about going to Confession, they build up a wall in between me and God without me even noticing. But no matter how big that wall gets, God can take it out in an instant. Going to Confession gives us the ability to talk to God freely again.

Another way to make sure our prayer life stays on track is to participate fully in the Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith. The Mass is the greatest prayer we have. When we come to Mass prepared to participate – maybe reading the readings before we arrive, or being especially attentive to the homily, or spending the time after we receive Communion by thanking God sincerely for coming into our lives in such a powerful way – we cannot help but get closer to God.

I don’t know if you are a big reader, but the Bible is an incredible way to grow in our relationship with God. Often our prayer can be composed solely of us talking to God, telling Him what we’re thinking, but when we read the Scriptures, we listen to what God says back. Those are His letters to us – and no matter what is going on in our lives, God has given us a passage of Scripture that relates. I don’t know if you have smartphone or iPod touch, etc., but there are a lot of great apps out there that can help us connect to God, especially through the Scriptures. Smartphone or not, praying the Liturgy of the Hours can make Scripture part of your day, five times a day. You can look up Liturgy of the Hours online, or buy a Breviary at any Catholic bookstore and learn how to pray it that way. You can also check out reapteam.org or lifeteen.com for more resources on prayer that are specifically designed for teenagers.

The last tip I have on prayer is my favorite: it’s called ‘Practicing the Presence of God.’ There was once a really holy guy named Brother Lawrence, and in the religious order to which Brother Lawrence belonged, his job was to wash bottles. That’s it. He spent hours on end washing bottles for the brothers in his community. He had a lot of time to think about God while washing those bottles, and one of the revelations he had was that God is not only always present to us, but He is also always attentive to us. No matter what we’re doing, God is paying attention to us. You mentioned that this is your eighth grade year, and with so much going on, you just need to know that someone is there. God is! He is always with us – which means that whatever we’re doing can be a prayer if we’re aware that God is with us. If you like to write, journal and make that a prayer. If you like to play sports, offer up practice to God and make that a prayer. If you like music, write songs and make that a prayer. It doesn’t matter how you pray, as long as you pray – that’s straight from Blessed John Paul II, and he knew a few things about prayer.

One last thought – you mentioned that even though you are praying, you aren’t feeling anything. I understand how frustrating that can be. When we’ve had great experiences of God and we can really feel His presence, we believe that a lack of feelings means that He’s not there. But our feelings and emotions are not the most important part of our prayer lives. Many people think that prayer is just a part of our relationship with God, but it’s not. It IS our relationship with God. And like any relationship or other important goal we set for ourselves, it requires commitment, even when we aren’t ‘feeling it.’ Imagine if you wanted to take up weightlifting to increase your strength. Do you think that the first time you lifted, you’d feel something? Yes! Your muscles would let you know the next day! But if you looked in the mirror, you wouldn’t see any difference. And eventually, your muscles would get used to that weight and you would stop feeling that soreness. That would be your body’s hint that it’s time to lift more weights. Over time, looking in the mirror, you’d be able to see the difference that weightlifting has made on your muscles. The same thing is true for our prayer. There will be times when we’re ‘feeling it,’ and there will be times when we won’t. But if we want to see the difference that prayer makes in our lives, we’ve got to stay committed to it. We’ve got to lift new weights, and try new exercises, to keep challenging our spiritual muscles. And over time, God will make a huge difference on the shape of your heart.

I hope that this is somewhat helpful for you as you strive to grow in your relationship with God. Know that you are in my prayers, and please say a prayer for us, if you think of it.

God Bless,

Rachel