While on retreat, a friend of mine, Jane, heard that couples who pray together tend to have stronger marriages than those who don’t. She went home excited to share the news with her husband Josh.
Lying in bed that night, Jane turned to Josh and said, “Honey, after what I heard this weekend, I would like us to pray together.” “Umm, well, I’ve already said my prayers,” Josh replied. “No, no, I don’t mean to pray silently,” Jane said. “I want us to pray out loud together right now.”
Jane and John lay in awkward silence for a few moments. Thinking that her husband was composing himself, she was surprised when he said quite loudly, “Well I’m ready. You go first!” “No, you go first,” she said. And back and forth it went like this for a few moments until John said, “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do. Do we hold hands? Why is this so hard?”
This situation crystallizes what many Catholics feel when they are asked to pray aloud with another. Generally, Catholics haven’t been taught to pray aloud with others in such an intimate way. At first, it can be an uncomfortable experience. In prayer, the inner voice of our heart reaches out to God and we voice our innermost desires, hopes, dreams, failures and weaknesses.
This is a place of vulnerability that touches to the core of our faith and our humanity. Our outer voice and our inner voice can seem distant from each other as we go about our busy daily lives. In prayer, however, they come together so that we can listen, not to our own voice, but to the voice of God who speaks to our heart.
When we pray with someone, we speak heart to heart and allow others to be the voice of God to us. We expose who we are to God the Father, who sees each one of us as we really are and yet loves us all the more. We fear that we don’t have the “right” words or that we sound silly. This doesn’t always make for an easy experience but it is one that is rich, deep and very profound. Each time we pray with someone, we invite Jesus Christ to be present to us and to each other in a very intimate way. This is humbling and humility lays the foundation for prayer.
A simple formula for prayer helped my friend Jane and her husband John to become more comfortable praying together. In our home, we call it the “Whoops-Wow-Please-Thank You” prayer and it encompasses the five forms of prayer that are outlined in the Catechism: blessing/adoration, praise, thanksgiving, petition and intercession. Here is the formula:
Spend some time reflecting on your day. Carefully and thoughtfully run through the highs and the lows from your day.
Whoops: Reflect upon the moments of your day that were difficult, trying or stressful. What moment from your day is weighing on you? Where did you make some mistakes? Where did you fail in your walk as a Christian? Confess that moment and express your sorrow for this “whoops” behavior. Ask God to help to heal this situation so that you can be a more Christ-like person and do better tomorrow.
WOW: As you look back on your day or week, identify those moments that were positive and joyful. Where were you at your best? Where did you feel the strength and power of God most fully? Express your praise and awe of the Lord and the wonderful world that he has created.
Please: Is there a situation in your life that you are asking for increased prayer and help with? Name that situation and with sincerity, petition the Lord to take hold of this situation and transform it. Be specific here and be honest.
Thank you: Take time to reflect upon and be grateful for all of the blessings in your life. Thank God for each one of these blessings and thank God for those around you who bring you daily reminders of his love. Say each name with a heart full of gratitude and love.
End your prayer with the “Our Father,” “Hail Mary” or another prayer of your choosing. This is something that you can do as a couple or with your children or grandchildren and you can hold hands, incorporate silence or a Scripture reading as part of this experience also.
Prayer is God’s gift to us, a fortress of strength and a wellspring of joy where Christ waits for us. With practice, praying together for Jane and John has become a deeply meaningful experience which has strengthened their marriage.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that “prayer and Christian life are inseparable (CCC 2745) and that “prayer is a vital necessity “(CCC 2744), but sometimes we need a little help to pray with others! Give the “whoops-wow-please and thank you” prayer a try in your own home and let me know how it goes. You can email me at [email protected]
Stanz is director of the diocesan Department of New Evangelization.