“Why should I care?”, Ben asked about the statement on the billboard. We had been discussing the phrase it advertised: JESUS LOVES YOU.
“Knowing it does nothing for me. People need to stop telling me that Jesus loves me,” Ben complained. He told me that Christians should be more concerned with helping others realize that they are loved by God instead of simply broadcasting it so matter-of-factly. “I want to feel Jesus' love. I want to feel it in my heart. How do I do that?”
My answer: prayer. Ben was not pleased with that. He was looking for a quick fix. He wanted a handy tool that would allow him to calibrate his emotional metre and to tune in to God's love.
“I understand your frustration,” I stated, “but there is no makeshift or band-aid for that, dude... I am more than happy to talk to you about prayer.”
Ben smiled, but he left unhappy.
I was left wondering what I could have done differently – how I could have been more pastoral. The exchange confirmed a view I have about many young adults: everybody wants to have a heartfelt experience of God, but only a few are willing to work for it. My conversation with Ben inspired me to research more about the difficulties young adults have with prayer. And the research led me to create a web-based survey for people to anonymously tell me about their prayer life.
In total, 362 Catholic young adults from the United States and Canada answered the poll. I am not a statistician and, therefore, there are bound to be some issues with the way I weighted the results. I would have loved to have data available by gender and by age range, but I am not that sophisticated.
The survey contained ten questions and it began with one request: “This survey is anonymous. Under pain of death, please be truthful. Thank you.”
These are some of the findings of the survey, conducted 4–23 May 2014, among a small sample of U.S. and Canadian Catholic young adults:
Q3. How often do you go to Mass?
- More than once a week – 38 or 10%
- Once a week – 126 or 35%
- At least once a month – 104 or 29%
- A couple of times a year – 87 or 24%
- I don't go to Mass – 7 or 2%
Q4. How often do you pray?
- Several times a day – 18 or 5%
- Once a day – 43 or 12%
- A few times a week – 62 or 17%
- At least once a week – 112 or 31%
- Occasionally – 47 or 13%
- Never – 80 or 20%
Q6. Other than Mass, what are the main ways you pray? (Choose two) [Number in brackets designates the order of the choice – 1 being the most popular and 5 being the least popular.]
- Rosary (1)
- Liturgy of the Hours (8)
- Lectio Divina (10)
- Praise and Worship (19)
- Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament (2)
- Chaplet of Divine Mercy (9)
- Ignatian Contemplation (11)
- Meal grace (4)
- Novenas / Litanies (7)
- Morning offering (13)
- Examen of Consciousness (16)
- Vocal Prayer (3)
- Charismatic prayer (17)
- Hike and prayer (20)
- Praying with the Psalms (18)
- Taizé (12)
- Intercession (14)
- Thanksgiving (5)
- Consecration to Mary (15)
- Other (6)
Q9. What are the main reasons you don't pray (at all or at any given time)? [289 people answered this fill in the blank question]
- I don't have time – 10%
- I don't get anything out of it – 12%
- I am lazy – 6%
- I don't know how to pray – 17%
- I don't get results – 11%
- I don't experience God in prayer – 20%
- I have better things to do – 4%
- Distractions – 18%
- Other – 2%
The responses to this survey suggest that Catholic young adults overwhelmingly see prayer as meaningful to them and impacting their lives. But not everyone is praying. The survey found that the percentage of young adults who don't pray at all is substantial – although not as large as I first expected. I am please to find that nearly 8 out of 10 young adults acknowledge praying, and within prayer, experience a deep sense of peace and the strong presence of God. The narratives provided for some of the open-ended questions provided greater insight into what praying has meant for each respondent.
Q8 asked respondents why they pray. The answers were very diverse, and I do not have enough space to go into detail here. Suffice it to say that respondents realize that prayer has the power to transform their attitudes, actions, relationships, and worldview.
As my conversation with Ben showed me, young adults are hungry for God, but they struggle at times to experience his love for them. This is why I find the answers to Q9 so fascinating – the reasons young adults don't pray. I am taking some time to ponder about them. In the second part of this entry, coming up in a couple of weeks, I will remark on the answers to Q9 and offer some insights for those struggling with laziness, distractions, and/or those who find that prayer lacks meaning or relevance.
In the meantime, my encouragement to you is the same I gave Ben: Pray. Pray often. God wants us to experience his love for us, and he invites us to draw closer. Draw close to the Heart of Christ. Pray. For we can only learn to pray by praying.