10 Short, Spontaneous Prayers That Really Work
Adapted from Five Pillars of the Spiritual Life, By Fr. Robert Spitzer
Spontaneous prayers are short and effective vehicles for grace in daily life. They allow grace to come into our lives precisely at the moment we really need it with prayers that we can easily remember. What follows are a number of spontaneous prayers that have been very important in my life.
Never underestimate for a moment how much God wants to hear that prayer. We often forget because we think it’s too easy or that God wouldn’t respond to something so simple. But Jesus taught us to call god Abba – my affectionate, caring father, or more colloquially, “Daddy.” He responds to our cries for help, just like parents respond to their children.
2. The Hail Mary.
I don’t know why this is so, but if you say the Hail Mary, you will have instant consolation. I used to try to figure this out intellectually, but I have to admit that I don’t know why it’s true – it just is. My father, who was not a Catholic, saw action in World War II, and he told me, “Whenever the bombs started flying, and people were diving for cover and thinking they were about to die, the one thing that brought me consolation was hearing those Catholic boys saying, ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee ...”
3. “Lord, make good come out of this suffering.”
Sometimes, suffering has neither speedy relief nor obvious meaning. I first became aware of my serious eye problem, retinitis pigmentosa, six months before my ordination. I was completely baffled, but I knew God’s providential love would be operative through this challenge throughout my life. I began to pray, “Don’t waste one scintilla of this suffering. Make some good come of it.” The Lord answered that prayer by deepening my gratitude for what I do have and my understanding of what matters and what doesn’t. He helped me to see that every moment counts in manifesting His love and presence, and gave me a deep appreciation for the Beatitudes. I frankly cannot imagine what my priesthood and apostolic zeal would be like without my little challenge.
4. Offer it up.
When I was a child, I would complain to my mother about various things, and she would say matter-of-factly, “Offer it up.” My general reaction was, “I’m always offering it up, and no good seems to come from it.” It only occurred to me years later that the offering was not intended to be a direct benefit to me, but rather a benefit for the world to enhance the efficacy of my life and benefit me indirectly in the most important ways. One of the great mysteries of Christian life is that our suffering can, with Christ’s suffering, help in the redemption of others.
5. “I give up, Lord. You take care of it.”
I discovered this prayer while studying in Rome, taking a class taught in Italian, a language I didn’t know well then. The professor spoke Italian faster than the Italians – with a Spanish accent! I was sure I’d flunk the course, but in desperation I finally prayed, “I give up, Lord. You take care if it!” All the pressure I’d placed on myself was relieved by giving the problem over to the Lord, Who could make some good come out of my predicament. I became content with understanding my professor only partially, and I eventually started to understand him better. On the exam, I got to select which questions to answer and chose ones that pertained to the last parts of the course, thereby hiding my earlier confusion. I did quite well, thanks to the composure that came from trusting the Lord of love.
6. Lord, I accept your forgiveness.
When I was in the novitiate, I slipped into the habit of not quite believing that God had forgiven me for my sins. I had a sneaking hunch that He was saying, “I wish I could forgive you, but you have far to go before you are perfect enough to be forgiven.” This was the worst possible spiritual attitude, for I had conditioned God’s forgiveness on being “good enough,” yet I’d never be “good enough” without God’s forgiveness and healing! Fortunately, my novice master recognized the insanity of my position. He gave me advice I’ve followed throughout my life: “When you ask for forgiveness, turn to God with the heart of a child who trusts unconditionally in his parents, and say, ‘I accept Your forgiveness.’”
7. “Make good come out of whatever harm I might have caused.”
If we harm someone intentionally, we need to ask that person for forgiveness. But in trying to clear up harms and possible harms, we often find ourselves powerless. Sometimes, I give advice that I think will be quite fruitful, only to realize at 3:00 in the morning that I might have really blown it. At such times, when I pray this prayer with confidence and trust, I can sense the Holy Spirit working in the hearts of the people I might have harmed. My confidence is often confirmed when the “victim” comes up to me days later and says, “Fr. Spitzer, when you said X I really took it the wrong way. But the next day I woke up and got a very different insight into what you meant.”
8. “Lord, you are the just Judge. You take care of it.”
I discovered this prayer after I had written a philosophical paper, and a colleague who didn’t criticize it or ask questions when I read it publicly later criticized the paper behind my back and tried to damage my reputation. I addressed the criticism in writing, but my anger continued to grow. Every time I opened my breviary, I saw this person’s face suddenly appear. I tried handling it on my own (“I’m going to stop thinking about this and forgive this person from my heart”), but this solo approach didn’t work. Finally it struck me, “Why not let God help?” I said this prayer, and an unbelievable peace came over me. The immense reconciling love of the Holy Spirit cannot be underestimated.
9. Prayer for enemies.
Throughout my career, I’ve seen how personal conflicts can intensify in emotion when people continue to think the worst about one another. When this happens to me, I begin my campaign to pray for those who are angry at me or who may be trying to harm me. At least three times a day, I ask that the Lord enter their hearts, show them His love, and bring them to Himself. The response is absolutely remarkable. A great majority of the time, the person for whom I was praying will show a marked decrease in hostility within days. He’ll approach me and say, “I don’t disagree with you as much as I thought I did. Maybe you’re not such a rotten punk after all!”
10. “Thy will be done.”
Without a doubt, this is the most important prayer of all. Jesus teaches us this prayer in the Our Father and uses it Himself at the Agony in the Garden. It is the centerpiece of the Christian spiritual life and can be used in times of fear, temptation, anger, and trial. Indeed, it can be substituted for all the prayer listed above. Why? Because the will of God is optimally loving, optimally good, optimally just, and optimally salvific; and when the will of God is working through you, you become an instrument of His optimally loving, good, just, and salvific will in the world. There could be no more worthy a purpose for living than this.