Jesus was a teacher of prayer. He is constantly praying, exhorting others to do likewise, going off alone or with other to pray. He not only taught us how to live, he taught us the means to do so - prayer. He was very clear about the kind of prayer too: not shouting aloud in public but, as the quote from Matthew’s gospel at the beginning of this chapter indicates, going humbly into that private “inner space” to approach and be open to the presence and love of God.
This is the work we do, this is our contribution, perhaps our only contribution, the only power we have - willingly setting self aside, make the effort for a while, if only a little while. The rest is up to the Divine.
By paying attention and showing up, taking those first steps, we are saying “yes” to God. Setting aside those “no” moments enough for God to invade our lives, for the power of God’s love to do its work in and through us, the only real power there is.
We can only go so far with our own efforts. As I explored in Coming Home - DIY spirituality is a dubious route, and may even be harmful. Contemplatives, alone or in groups, are open to the guidance of others in turning their hearts to the God whose irresistible pull draws us to follow the Way.
It is common for some to want to give up, at any point, not just in the early stages. We can feel that we are “getting nowhere”, that we have no time to pray or that ordinary life has encroached upon our prayer life so much that is has extinguished it. Yet these ego distractions are also part of the process - “patience, persistence and perseverance” are the watchwords (a useful meditation mantra in itself).
And yet, though they may seem hopelessly infrequent, those “yes” moments are important, whether it be that brief moment of turning attention to God after months of distraction, or that one minute of longing for God in an hour of prayer that has been full of mental distractions and physical fidgets.