Many moons ago, when I was a young religious I wouldn’t think twice about staying up all night in the dark church and spend hours with God in the silence of the night. Perhaps some of you did so too. If you did then you know how hard it can be to stay awake: our eyelids might begin to droop, our minds might begin to wander, and our bed might start looking softer and softer.
Even the Apostles had a hard time staying awake with Our Lord in the Garden of Gethsemane. But we need to remember that it is God who gives us the desire to pray. And even though we may struggle with sleepiness or distractions in prayer, our effort in itself is pleasing to God. Every time we decide to turn to God, every effort we make to come into his presence, makes him happy, regardless of the outcome.
Years ago, when I read many books on how to develop the spiritual life, I read Father Jacques Philippe’s book ‘Time for God’. He says that if you try hard, but are still unable to pray well, you shouldn’t get discouraged. He explains that if “we are incapable of praying well, or producing any good sentiments or beautiful reflections, that should not make us sad. We should offer our poverty to the action of God. Then we will be making a prayer much more valuable than the kind that would leave us feeling self-satisfied.”
When we don’t feel satisfied with our prayer, we can be confident that God is supporting us in our struggle. When we are aware of our weakness and our need, then we are much more open to receiving the grace that God wants to give us.
Pope Francis has admitted to falling asleep in prayer on occasion. Saint Jane de Chantal wrote that, “Neither should we be troubled when we sleep at prayer, provided we resist it.” And Saint Therese of Lisieux, who would also fall asleep in prayer, assures us that like all parents, God loves his children best when they are asleep.
So, at 6:30 tomorrow morning when you stumble into the chapel bleary eyed after a night’s blissful sleep, remember you are in good company.