Why do some harmful habit-forming things feel impossible to kick, while others—especially the helpful ones—seem so hard to keep up with?
Not unlike my attempts to kick the toxic habit of backbiting and gossip, I have found that buckling down and building a consistent habit of prayer keeps reappearing on my list of goals.
I keep listing this goal because I know that prayer creates a consistent space for meaningful mindfulness. Aside from the more immediate and natural benefits that prayer provides, the Baha’i writings describe prayer as crucial for our spiritual health:
… the core of religious faith is that mystic feeling which unites man with God. This state of spiritual communion can be brought about and maintained by means of meditation and prayer. And this is the reason why Baha’u’llah has so much stressed the importance of worship.
It is not sufficient for a believer merely to accept and observe the teachings. He should, in addition, cultivate the sense of spirituality which he can acquire chiefly by means of prayer …
The believers, particularly the young ones, should therefore fully realize the necessity of praying. For prayer is absolutely indispensable to their inner spiritual development, and this, as already stated, is the very foundation and purpose of the religion of God. – Shoghi Effendi, from a letter to an individual Baha’i, December 8, 1935.
Similar to the way I am trying to understand the underlying reasons that backbiting and gossip are so hard to avoid, I want to try to understand what exactly makes it so difficult for me to make the time and space for prayer.
We all have unique experiences with prayer, but in my own case I find it easier to remember to pray when I am moving about in my day and something I am hoping for or someone I think of crosses my mind. Little pleas to God for things I imagine will create joy or well-being are the kinds of prayers that come most naturally to me.
These short prayers help me to feel better equipped to detach from the nuanced details of my own personal life. They allow me to let go of the things I cannot control and help me to feel more directly attached to God. Though this form of prayer provides me some sense of freedom and connectedness, Baha’is are encouraged to say a daily prayer in addition to praying every morning and evening.
The Baha’i writings explain the profound significance of this daily obligatory prayer:
The wisdom of obligatory prayer is this: That it causeth a connection between the servant and the True One, because at that time man with all his heart and soul turneth his face towards the Almighty, seeking His association and desiring His love and companionship. For a lover, there is no greater pleasure than to converse with his beloved, and for a seeker, there is no greater bounty than intimacy with the object of his desire. It is the greatest longing of every soul who is attracted to the Kingdom of God to find time to turn with entire devotion to his Beloved, so as to seek His bounty and blessing and immerse himself in the ocean of communion, entreaty and supplication. Beside all this, prayer and fasting is the cause of awakening and mindfulness and conducive to protection and preservation from tests. – Abdu’l-Baha, Baha’i World Faith, p. 368.
Baha’is can freely choose to say one of three daily obligatory prayers—one is quite short, the second medium-length, and the third is longer. The short obligatory prayer reads:
I bear witness, O my God, that Thou hast created me to know Thee and to worship Thee. I testify, at this moment, to my powerlessness and to Thy might, to my poverty and to Thy wealth. There is none other God but Thee, the Help in Peril, the Self-Subsisting. – Baha’u’llah, Baha’i Prayers, p. 4.
So with all this in mind, I’ve wondered—what on Earth makes it so difficult to prioritize saying one simple daily prayer? The first thing that comes to mind is how easy it is to be caught up in the minute tasks that make up my daily life. We live in a culture that keeps us extremely busy. If we aren’t making complex decisions about our careers, friendships, or love lives, we are usually focused on work tasks, studies, taking care of errands, or deciding what we should do next. The noise of both the complex and simple tasks in our lives can sometimes create so much noise that we forget to nurture our higher spiritual nature.
Then, there is the fact that life actually becomes pressing. Making sure our immediate physical needs and mental health needs are met is far from easy for masses of people. The gap between the rich and the poor is splitting wider and wider, in many places violence is on the rise, and climate change creates new challenges. These circumstances make addressing the more obvious basic needs difficult—we have to be able to eat, but our souls need nutrition, too. The two are not mutually exclusive.