When you spend time with someone, there are a variety of ways in which you can be in their presence. There are formal questions that involve inquiring about their family and what they are doing. Then there are moments when we share our ideas with our friends and wait patiently for their response. There are also moments when we might simply pass time with someone in silence, perhaps watching a movie or fishing.

We sometimes make too much of prayer in that we fail to see the common sense side of things. Prayer is about a relationship with Jesus Christ, and that relationship varies from time to time. We get ideas in our head about how prayer should be or correct ways of praying that we forget the relational dimension. I am going to go out on a limb and say that if you are committed to daily prayer and the practice of the sacraments, then you have already won the battle. The problem is not so much in doing, but learning to receive.

We need to learn to rest in the presence of our Lord. We will have the same practices, but instead of thinking of them as rigid formulas for holiness, we need let them lead us to the more spontaneous sharing of the heart. There is a balance between formal and informal prayer, and discerning how to approach this balance is tricky. The key is to approach prayer as an activity grounded in a relationship. In this way, what guides the conversation is how the inspirations of the heart move us to intimacy.

We should have structure and set practices; these form the backbone. However, we should also feel comfortable improvising or setting the formal practice aside for a moment to make room for the spontaneous. Each feeds off of the other, the two sides of prayer will form a dynamism in which the formal will lead into the informal, and the informal will breathe new life into the formal.

So today, consider doing a kind of examination of conscience for your prayer life. Do you balance the formal with the informal? Do you take time for the spontaneous while maintaining a regular discipline of prayer?