Stop Praying Like a Moody Girlfriend or Selfish Boyfriend

I was talking to my son one Sunday morning about the spiritual life and the need to be consistent. This is the benefit of having a son who has tried seminary, tried dating — and is now engaged.

“You know what it’s like?” I said. “It’s like being a good girlfriend or boyfriend.”  And it made a lot of sense.

We all know there are different types of girlfriends.

Romantic comedies stereotype them, women’s magazines give you advice on which kind you should be, and Buzzfeed lets you take a quiz to see which one you are.

I’ll limit myself to just one type: The moody girlfriend.

This is the kind of girlfriend who, when you call her, you never know what you’re going to get. Her personality is totally dependent on her mood. Sometimes she’s great — loving, generous with her time, and full of good humor. She’s the greatest girl in the world.

Other times she’s abrupt or angrily silent, but unwilling to say why. Whatever you propose doing she rejects, and doesn’t give you a reason. You’re left sitting at the edges of her mood, waiting.

We all act like God’s moody girlfriend sometimes.

We’re God’s moody girlfriend when we sway and sing, or kneel in reverence, with intense fervor whenever we feel delighted by supernatural things. Other times we wake up, remember we should pray, and decide not to. Or we sit through Mass unfocused, our mind elsewhere, not even trying to pay attention — or, to be honest, trying not to pay attention so we can think through the plans we are making in our heads.

Be a better girlfriend.

Far better is the girlfriend who makes an effort to include her beloved, whether she feels like it or not. Her manner is not always the same — she still has ups and downs — but her care for him is steady and deep. She isn’t just generous when she’s in a great mood; she’s generous when it is difficult — when it costs.

But this is not about girlfriends. Boyfriends can be even worse.

You may have experienced (or may have been) the kind of boyfriend who always keeps the girlfriend guessing. Sometimes he calls her. Often, he doesn’t.

You start to notice he calls you when he wants you to fill some need he has — for affection, for a favor, or for affirmation — and he doesn’t call you when he doesn’t need that. Worse, he doesn’t call you when you need those things.

He is funny when other people are around, but what you get one-on-one is the not-so charismatic version of him. Or when you do get the charismatic version, when he’s in charm mode, you know you will have to listen to him a lot, and that he won’t notice how little he is listening to you.

This is us all too often with God.

Sometimes we pray. Often, we don’t. We don’t talk to him regularly, we don’t build a relationship. He mostly only hears from us when we need something — affection, a favor, or affirmation.

We have a lot to say about God and are even eloquent when we have an audience — at a Bible study, talking to a parish friend, or posting a deep thought on social media. We are alight with piety when others are watching, but alone we give him perfunctory treatment in prayer and are eager to put him aside to focus on what we really love.

And, just like a bad boyfriend, too often when we pray, we do all the talking. We rapidly say the things a lover of God is supposed to say, but we don’t give him a chance to get a word in edgewise.

Be better with God.

Don’t base your relationship on your moods. Don’t treat God like an imposition on your time who is only good when you feel needy, and can otherwise be safely ignored.

Court him.

“Call” him.

Tell him how you really feel.

Listen to what he has to say.

Do more than that, because he isn’t a girl or boyfriend. He’s God. Baptism is your marriage, not your first date. Your love should survive arguments and misunderstandings, and your relationship should be fruitful now — you’re not preparing for later.

Above all, be consistent. It should actually be easier than being a good boyfriend and girlfriend, because in this case, your Beloved is perfection itself.

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes

Tom Hoopes, author of The Rosary of Saint John Paul II and The Fatima Family Handbook, is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Kansas and hosts The Extraordinary Story podcast about the life of Christ. A former reporter in the Washington, D.C., area, he served as press secretary of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee Chairman and spent 10 years as executive editor of the National Catholic Register newspaper and Faith & Family magazine. His work frequently appears in Catholic publications such as Aleteia.org and the Register. He and his wife, April, have nine children and live in Atchison, Kansas.