As an outspoken Catholic, I find I am often asked about my prayer life, and asked about it in such a way that suggests other people might look at me as a model of good practices. When such conversations occur, more often than not, I find I am squirming in the discomfort over knowing how deeply I actually struggle with prayer. It’s so tempting to blurt out an answer to try to satisfy the person or shut them up or, at the very least, not disappoint them. But, since I’m honest (sometimes to a fault), as hard as it is, I usually try to simply admit, “I have a complicated relationship with prayer.” It’s within that very real space of my own discomfort, and even shame, that the Holy Spirit inevitably always moves and brings both me and that other person to a greater understanding of God’s patience and love.
While I’d like to pin my difficulty with prayer squarely on the unmooring impact of my season of infertility, I know deep down that a lot of my struggles with prayer are borne out of an underdeveloped prayer life, well before experiencing this particular wander in this particular desert.
I grew up in a Christian household as a mealtime pray-er and a bedtime pray-er, an in-church pray-er and a share-your-request-during-Sunday-school pray-er. As I became a young adult, my ability to talk to God off-the-cuff and to use words with some eloquence often placed me in the situation of leading a group in prayer. I am grateful for these things. But outside of more publicly Christian places, my prayer life was an afterthought, more often than not. I have lived with the simultaneous privilege and curse of suffering relatively little, which has led me time and again into the prideful sin of thinking I don’t need to be in regular communication with God. As I reflect on my spiritual life, it has usually been times of acute pain or suffering that have driven me back into God’s arms and back to prayer.
When I hear the readings of Old Testament Israel proclaimed at Mass, they so strongly resonate with me. I am given the gift of God’s love and faithfulness, and yet I too frequently run from it or take it for granted, only to find myself back in the desert and longing for God to save me. And mercy of mercies, He always does.
So this brings me to the particular challenge of prayer in a season of infertility. I don’t think I am at all alone in this struggle to pray while battling infertility, primarily because I know so many other beautifully faithful people who have trusted me with this same vulnerable admission, and because I know the holy people of the Scriptures, and their example. Rachel cries out and laments, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Hannah prays with such anguish that the temple priest believes she is drunk. Zechariah is in such disbelief that he will bear children that, even while in conversation with an angel, he is struck mute. I am often moved by the ways in which our Scripture and Tradition provide us with such intimate windows into the suffering of others. It is a comfort to know that such saints as these struggled with prayer, patience, pride, and faithfulness, as I do.
My husband and I have been in a season of infertility for almost four years now, punctuated with the comingled joy and sorrow of conceiving and losing one child in miscarriage. In this time, I have simultaneously done my best to pray, have let prayer slough off through weariness and lack of intentionality, and have tried out different methods of prayer the way I might try on clothes in a dressing room: considering, casting aside, and hoping for the right fit. Prayers to St. Anne, the St. Andrew Christmas Novena, the Rosary, the Jesus prayer, simply saying “God, help,” expressing my own thoughts and feelings in conversation with God. Praying specifically for a child, praying for God’s will, praying for holy desires, praying for a death of my desires–it’s all been there. All of these seasons of prayer have also been coupled with intermittent seasons of dryness, of silence or general indifference to prayer. Let me make clear, I did not cast aside these various beautiful and meaningful types of prayer because of a belief they were not “working;” all prayer works, all the time. My serial prayer and dryness have been more a result of a weary heart than anything else.
And this is where the prayer of others has made all the difference to me over these past several years; it has lifted me up when I have no strength or desire of my own to pray. I am blessed to know a handful of people in my life who I would call prayer warriors. They are my prayer life jackets when I’m floating and gasping for air on the sea of infertility. They have shown me, time and again, that they are ardent in prayer, inviting me to share my heart and needs with them, to the point that I now feel comfortable enough reaching out to them on my own. On the days when I am struck by the need to pray, yet the words don’t come or I feel so far away from God no matter how much I talk to Him, I ask these warriors to go to battle for me. It has both humbled me and lifted me up to be prayed for by others. I don’t know why I remain so consistently surprised, but whenever I hear from someone that they have been including me in their prayers, my heart is touched as if it were the first time someone ever said this.
It is in the prayer lovingly heaped upon me by others that I have uncovered some scrap of a prayer life in these past few years. I realized that, if others could pray for me, perhaps if I could not pray for myself, I should pray for others. That has been a wellspring in my prayer life. Though I wander in the desert, and some days I am a far journey from that spring, it is faithfully there, and I try to return to it often and drink deeply. Experiencing the humbling love of others praying for me has made me much more authentic in my offer to pray for others. Some friends and I have an ongoing agreement that we will pray for one another regularly, as we each have such a hard time praying for ourselves. This is the good work of fraternal love! This is the agape that God both gives us and to which He calls us. And it bears such fruit.
No one spends their time in the desert alone. The people of Israel were prepared communally as they wandered. Even Jesus was accompanied by Father and Spirit during his temptation. We need not wander in our desert of infertility alone either. I am grateful for the community of this particular ministry, my personal companions and prayer warriors, and for the suffering Christ, who accompanies us, intercedes for us, and redeems us wherever we go.
Cayce Farina is a mental health counselor and has been married to her sweet husband, Brian, for 7 years. They are parents to one child in Heaven and run a miscarriage bereavement ministry at their parish. In her spare time, Cayce enjoys baking, singing, musical theatre, and snuggling her two cats.