One classical definition of prayer defines it this way: “Prayer is lifting mind and heart to God.”
That means lifting up, at any given moment, exactly what’s there and not what, ideally, might be there. It would be nice if we always felt warm, reverent, altruistic, full of faith, chaste, hopeful, connected with others and nature, happy about who we are and what life has dealt us. But that isn’t the case.
We all have moments and even seasons of doubt, anger, alienation, pettiness, boredom, obsession, and tiredness. Our thoughts are not always holy and our hearts are not always warm or pure. It’s at times like this we need prayer and what we need to take to prayer is, precisely, those bitter thoughts and unholy feelings.
All thoughts and feelings are valid material for prayer. Simply put: When you go to pray, lift up what’s inside of you at that moment. If you are bored, lift up that boredom; if you are angry, lift up your anger; if you are tired, lift up that tiredness; if you feel selfish, don’t be afraid to let God see that.
To “pray always” invites us rather to live our lives against a certain horizon. It doesn’t necessarily mean to stop work and go to formal prayer, important though that is at times. The point is rather that we need to do everything within the context of a certain awareness.
Our relationship with God is the same. We need to “pray always” by doing everything out of that kind of awareness. Moreover, when we do spend time in formal prayer, we need, like children do, to tell God exactly how we feel and invite God to deal with that.
Rabbi Abraham Heschel points out how, in prayer, the great figures of scripture did not always easily acquiesce to God and say: “Thy will be done!” They sometimes fought bitterly and said: “Thy will be changed!”
That can be good prayer. It lifts mind and heart to God.