Jack Bernard again, in How to Become a Saint (2007): two bits of matter-of-fact advice on spiritual discipline.
(1) “Saint Thérèse is surely right that holiness does not consist in doing our spiritual practices faultlessly. It does not follow, however, that we can do without particular spiritual practices that are carried out with some degree of regularity. Discipline means we exert willpower to do something that is not our natural inclintaion of the moment. The distinction between wanting to do something and feeling like doing something is crucial…
“…. Disciplines are devices to help us transcend our feelings of the moment and get on with what we ultimately want to do.
“For the most part, spiritual practices are boring, not exciting. The point is to open ourselves to God, not to entertain ourselves.”
(2) Most people struggle with concentration in prayer and we think we are uniquely unable to concentrate. If you do very poorly at it you are probably just average - but, as in everything else in seeking after God, comparative ratings are not important….
“Difficulty in concentration is no barrier to success. This feels counterintuitive. If I sit down to pray for a ten-minute period and at the end realize that I have spent eight of those minutes thinking about some work I have to do in my shop, I am inclined to think that I have only prayed for two minutes. Who is going to become a saint through two-minute prayer sessions? After all, Saint Francis went on for days. The answer to that question is this: anybody in Christ who is willing to. Holiness is not something we achieve and it does not consist in special abilities at doing anything, even praying. As for the mathematics of having only prayed two minutes out of ten, that’s great. I’ve managed to turn my attention to God for two minutes! That is far more than I would have done if I hadn’t tried to pray for ten. As for how much of that time our Father, who is all love, spent paying attention - do you want to have a guess? This isn’t to say that my effort doesn’t matter, but that it matters as a child’s childish effort matters to a loving parent. Such childish effort guarantees success because of the parent’s love, not the quality of the child’s effort. This kind of thinking enables me to persist in prayer and the hope of pleasing God. I suspect it is the only kind of logic of disciplined prayer that is actually pleasing to God.”
Jack Bernard, How to Become a Saint (London: SPCK, 2007), pp. 96-98.