How to Pray When You’re Sick

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Taddeo_Gaddi_-_Sick_persons_praying_for_recoveryWhenever I have a cold or stomachache, or when I’m feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, I struggle to pray the way I normally do. But I know that in those moments, I shouldn’t just give up prayer altogether. In those times especially, I am in particular need of God’s guidance and grace, and even though I have trouble focusing on traditional prayers, I still need connection with God. Praying through sickness can bring great comfort and consolation as well.

For days when I have trouble focusing on prayer, I’ve found a few simple methods that help me connect with God even in my weakness:

Icons and Religious Images: This is the simplest and most effective method I’ve found to refocus on God when my brain is fried. Rather than trying to digest a passage of Scripture or even recite familiar prayers, I allow myself to simply rest, while keeping my eyes fixed on an icon or religious image. The Divine Mercy Image, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Our Lady of Perpetual Help are all great images to use for this. Being still in the presence of God, allowing everything else in my mind to fall away except for the image before me, reminds me that prayer is not about how many words I recite. It’s about placing myself in the presence of God and just being with Him. It’s about being open to hearing His voice and acknowledging my littleness in His presence, my own reliance on Him.

Offering It Up: Sometimes I forget to do this in the middle of my sickness, but it’s so important! All of our sufferings and all of our small sacrifices have meaning when we unite them to the sacrifice of Jesus. God can use all of our pain for good. Taking a moment to offer up your suffering will help bolster your spirits to endure it, and your sacrifice is precious to Him. Suffering can be a powerful form of prayer. You can offer up your suffering in any words you choose; one form is the words given to us by Our Lady of Fatima: O my Jesus, this is for love of You, for the conversion of sinners, and in reparation for offenses committed against the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

Audio Rosary: Sometimes, I’m so dazed and exhausted that keeping track of Rosary decades takes a great deal of focus. On days like that, I put in my earbuds and listen to an audio Rosary. It allows me to relax and reflect on the mysteries without having to count all the beads myself. It makes for soothing background noise, too, if I’m trying to get myself to sleep when I’m sick.

Conversational Prayer: Talk to God as if He were here in the room with you. Tell Him what you’re feeling; unload your burdens and ask for the grace to bear them. Take some time to articulate, both to God and to yourself, what you’re struggling with and where you need His help. Even when it feels like you’re not getting a response, God hears you and delights to hear you speak to Him.

Contemplative Prayer: Take in your surroundings and reflect on how God is present with you in this moment, in the ordinary circumstances of your life. Maybe there’s something that happened today where you experienced God’s providence: reflect on that moment. Maybe you feel a deep emptiness right now in the midst of your illness: reflect on how this unites you to Jesus on the Cross.

As human beings, with both bodies and souls, we don’t always come to prayer in the same way. Sometimes, we are full of energy and insight; other times, our bodies are weak and weary. But we are called to care for both our body and our soul; both are gifts from God. We can’t tend to one at the expense of the other, and our prayer should reflect the fact that we are not mere spirits but fully corporeal beings, undergoing all the ups and downs of human existence. So when our bodies are suffering, we can adjust our prayer to meet God in the midst of it.

1. Taddeo Gaddi / PD-1923

Erin Cain

Erin Cain

Erin Cain is a writer and editor living in New York City, drinking lots of Earl Grey tea, and attempting to grow in virtue and love. She writes at Work in Progress.

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1 thought on “How to Pray When You’re Sick”

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    I appreciated the lovely suggestions that you so kindly posted. As pretty advanced in age, not quite feeling right is not unusual. Might I suggest some further methods. This one is attributed to Pope Saint John Paul II if he were hurried supposedly he would say the Rosary by using only the Ave part on the small beads, not the Sancta Maria and in that way go through the mystery. It seems like an adaptation of the Eastern technique written up by the saintly Carlo Carretto. He suggests using ejaculatory phrases on the beads and a full Ave on the larger bead. I have done it and it is somewhat quieting to do it this way. Finally I would like to suggest that in the section on sharing your feelings with Jesus is a fine idea, especially as I have tried, to cry out from that feeling state sincerely crying out to Jesus but at the same time, no matter what the feeling, for example, guilt about past sins would always be accompanied by the joy of forgiveness and how that feels. This way, it is a “both…and” [B/A] situation not “either…or” [E/O]. This method of thinking B/A puts the person in touch with experiences whether remembered or proximate whereas the other method E/O ends in identifying reality with ideas and the mind of the one who thinks them. Experience always involves Feelings: and Feelings take place within Experience. For example Ideas of Jesus are “about” Jesus thus one removed from his reality, whereas having feelings while involved with Jesus, is to experience Jesus as in contemplative prayer, or Thomisticly speaking “connatural knowing”. Perhaps these “ponderings” will be of some help, if not please forget I ever said them. What is important not necessarily ‘agreement’ but rather unity from which comes Love. Thank you for the opportunity to share about prayer on of my most necessary and loved things I try to do as often as possible.

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