Friday, February 24, 2017

competitive prayer

Today in A Year with the Church Fathers, Palladius of Galatia tells us about praying.

It's an odd conversation that he and the young ascetic have regarding prayer. They are considering a young woman who apparently fasts every day except for the weekend and prays over 700 prayers each week. The young man is vexed because he only prays 300 prayers each week.

The old Palladius answers with some odd advice. He says that if the young man's conscience is bothering him, it must be because he is able to pray more and doesn't do it.

The thing that occurs to me as I read this story is the well known fact that comparison steals joy. The young monk was happy (though maybe a little proud) that he prayed so much. Until he heard that someone prayed more than he did. And then he was "afflicted" because he let himself compare his prayer life with another person.

But if we stop right there and think about it, the young man could have had two very different and very positive reactions to hearing this news. He could have been impressed and pleased to hear that someone was praying so much. To know that his neighbor spent that much time with God could have brought him joy. But it didn't.

He could also have been challenged by this example and determined to pray to the utmost of his ability. That, I think, is what the old Palladius's advice amounts to... pray to the fullest extent that you are able.

Instead, the young man becomes envious in his pride and loses the joy that prayer was bringing into his life. Let's take this as a cautionary tale and remember that comparison steals our joy, even when we're talking about prayer.

God, please help us to live in constant, unceasing prayer. And help us to keep our joy in spending that time with You.