Do you struggle with prayer? Does God seem distant? Do you have trouble finding the words to say? Or when you do find the words, does it feel like all you do is ask God for things?
These are common concerns regarding prayer. But don't worry; even the saints have struggled at times with knowing how to pray.
As a faith formation teacher, I had always loved teaching second grade because it was also the year of First Holy Communion. Talking about prayer was an important part of the class, and it is amazing what I learned as I worked with these seven and eight-year-olds. We taught the kids to use the acronym "ACTS" as they prayed:
A = Adoration
C = Confession
S = Supplication
What I didn't realize at the time was that we were teaching a method of prayer long established by the Church as a wonderful way to teach her children to properly reverence Our Lord.
A few weeks ago, after the death of Mother Mary Angelica of the Annunciation, my husband brought home for me a copy of the Manual for Eucharistic Adoration, compiled by the Poor Clare Nuns of Perpetual Adoration.
I was delighted to see that the Manual encourages readers to use almost the same acronym.
(The only difference was they used the ARTS acronym, rather than ACTS: 'R' standing for reparation. In essence it is the same thing.)
And if this method of prayer is good enough for Mother Angelica and for the Poor Clares, then it is good enough for me!
This simple prayer tip has helped me to think about my prayer life in a broader sense.
When I remember to consider ACTS, I come before God in a more humble way; I first offer praise and gratitude before seeking consolation or petitioning for help.
The Poor Clares utilize this approach in Eucharistic Adoration, as it allows them to fill a Holy Hour in a complete and purposeful way.
In their book, the nuns say this:
"We often think first of prayer as supplication or petition, as we pray for our needs and the needs of others. Yet this is not the highest or most essential form of prayer. By incorporating each of the four types of prayer, we learn to round out our prayer life more fully...making use of the different types of prayer traditionally categorized by the Church: adoration, reparation, thanksgiving, and supplication."
If you have never had the opportunity to pray in this way before, it may be very helpful. Here are a few simple steps for you:
Guidelines for using ACTS
Begin with a prayer of "adoration." You can find one in a prayer book; or simply close your eyes and imagine Our Lord on the cross. The psalms are another place to find praise and adoration for God: "Praise the Lord!/ Praise God in His sanctuary;/ praise Him in His mighty firmament!/ Praise Him for His mighty deeds;/ Praise Him according to His exceeding greatness!.../Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!/ Praise the Lord!" (Psalm 150:2-3, 7-8)
C (or R): Confession/Reparation
Reflect upon your sins. Ask God for forgiveness and for help in overcoming them. Say an Act of Contrition. Ask God to help you make an act of reparation not only for your own sins, but also for the sins of the whole world. You can say something as simple as, "Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy steadfast love."
At this point, think about the many blessings you have received, and offer gratitude to God for all He has done for you. Thank Him specifically for the prayers that He has graciously answered. Again, the Psalms contain multiple examples of gratitude and thanksgiving: "I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;/ I will tell of all your wonderful deeds./ I will be glad and exult in you;/ I will sing praise to your name, O Most High." (Psalm 9:1-2)
We usually have an easier time with this part of the prayer, as we place our own needs and the needs of our loved ones before God. While this might seem like a simple thing, the Manual for Eucharistic Adoration suggests that we should be specific as we pray:
"Ask Our Lord humbly, simply, and directly for the things you need, for the prayer requests entrusted to you by others, for all the intentions that are on your heart. Ask in the faith-filled, trusting manner of Our Lady, as shown to us at the wedding feast of Cana when she says to her Son, 'They have no wine' (John 2:3). Then leave all your petitions in His Heart, asking that they be accomplished according to His most holy will."
Something to Remember:
While ACTS can assist us in our prayer life, we should also remember what the Manual For Eucharistic Adoration says about prayer:
"Each person's relationship with Our Lord is wholly unique and throughout our lives we will go through different experiences of prayer. At times, we may need to find new ways to open ourselves to God, and at other times, we may need to set aside the familiar and comfortable in order to follow where He is leading."
As Mother Angelica once said, "Sometimes in our daily life, we go through dry periods; you go through this, you go through that, but the heart is the vehicle through which I can reach God..."
The most important thing is to persevere in prayer. This can be as simple as telling Him how we truly feel, and what our fears and concerns are. He wants us to tell Him.
"There are two things I want you to do..." said Mother Angelica, "...keep close to Our Lord in the Eucharist and stay close to His Mother."
Although it has been almost ten years since I have taught second-grade faith formation, I am grateful for what I learned. I continue to think of ACTS when I find myself struggling to pray.
Next time you find yourself without words, or when God seems distant, try to think of ACTS, and bring it to your prayer. I think you will find that it brings you peace.
Have you ever prayed in this way before?
Do you have suggestions for someone who is struggling with dryness in prayer, or is struggling just to pray at all?
Share your thoughts with us in the comments below. We want to hear from you!