Can we learn to pray?

“Lord, teach us to pray,” the disciples asked Christ. This request continues to resonate strongly today. There are many ways to enter into a relationship with God.

“For me, praying was above all reciting texts that I had learned by heart, as I had seen my grandparents do, very pious people with whom I was attached. Today I would say that praying is spending a moment with God”, says Nicolas Join-Dieterle , 36 years old. This dairy cow breeder from Criquebeuf-en-Caux (Seine-Maritime) has made a whole spiritual journey through the preparation of his wedding, in 2019; the baptism of his two sons; and then his, which took place in Holy Week 2022. “I learned to pray as a child. I used to go to mass. It was much later, during an initiation retreat to the Spiritual Exercises, that I discovered prayer as a living relationship with God,” confesses Cyrille Causse, 34, head of the Jesuit vocations service for the French-speaking Western Europe province.

Moment with God, living relationship… These terms evoke a closeness, even an intimacy with God, but it is not necessarily experienced by everyone. How can we get authentic prayer? Is there a good way to address God? This issue already preoccupied Christ’s contemporaries. The Gospel of Luke tells that a disciple who saw Jesus pray asked him: “Lord, teach us to pray, as John the Baptist also taught his disciples.” And Christ responds by praying the Our Father (Lk 11:1-4).

This same question continues to resonate with many Christians today. “There is a real loneliness when it comes to learning to pray. As it is a private matter, it is not natural to talk about one’s own difficulties”, says Father Matthieu Aine, parish priest of Malo-les-Bains, in Dunkirk, who, With two lay people, he runs an online prayer school, The beginning? A free five-week course, which can be followed alone or in a group, and includes daily meditations via email and two weekly videos, one as a guide and one as a testimonial. The counterpart? Commit to taking a daily prayer time. “Our approach is experimental: to measure what happens in my life when I spend time in prayer. This is never written in advance,” continues the priest, a member of Notre-Dame-de-Vie, an institute rooted in the spirituality of Carmel. . The formula has attracted many participants: a few days after the opening of the registration period, at the beginning of October, two hundred participants had already registered.

Today, there are many ways to learn to pray, step by step and at any age: prayer schools for young people from 6 to 18 years old; movements such as the Rosary Teams or the Pope’s worldwide prayer network (,, Offers abound on the Internet: online training courses, such as “Lord, teach us to pray” (ten video modules of an hour and a half and an evening of prayer) by Alpha courses (The training courses are scheduled in Prayer social networks such as Hozana, applications such as Prie en chemin, Meditatio or Prions en Église, published by the monthly magazine of the same name (More information at,, Podcasts, such as the one launched by La Croix, entitled “Believe: the paths of prayer” or “Maman prie” from the magazine Famille chrétienne, aimed at mothers. Not forgetting the broadcasts of masses and services on Radio Notre-Dame, RCF, France Culture or Jour du Seigneur…

Prayer practices are just as varied. An Ifop survey, carried out for the Congress of the Mission (survey on the French baptized in the Catholic religion. Ifop for the Mission, June 2022. Of a sample of 1020 people surveyed, 813 said they had been baptized), reveals that 44% of the baptized surveyed take “a time of non-religious meditation (silence, yoga, mindfulness meditation)”; and an equal percentage go “to a quiet and peaceful church to reflect on (themselves)”. 39% of those surveyed pray alone and address themselves to “God, the Virgin Mary or (the) saints”. 23% leave “a prayer intention in a notebook provided for this in the church”. 22% pray “in a group or family”. The most common prayer gesture is still lighting a candle (57% of respondents).

If the means are different, the goal remains basically the same. “The first task of prayer is to make oneself present to God”, says Cyrille Causse. “I imagined that God expected something specific from me. I understood, in prayer, that he simply told me: let’s spend some time together, build your life with me, and then we’ll see… God first offers us a relationship, before proposing an alliance “.

This association had an effect on Nicolas Join-Dieterle, tormented by the state of health of his three-year-old son, who had been hospitalized seven times since his birth. It was during a retreat at the Carmelite monastery in Le Havre, organized for the future baptized, that a change occurred. “During a service, I saw a sister who radiated benevolence and serenity. There was no sound. Everything was quiet. I felt my anger evaporate and a radical appeasement took place.”

His petitions to God have begun to evolve. “When I’m in trouble, I don’t necessarily ask God to stop, but to give me the strength to keep going.”

His prayer has acquired a collective dimension. “When I am in church, my prayer has become a form of communion with the people around me. I thank God for all those who have accompanied me: my friends, my wife, the priest, the parishioners… “.

It never leaves him, even when he’s at work. “When I slow down, when I rest, God comes,” says this farmer. “Sometimes I am surprised by what surrounds me. I think, in particular, of the moment when I go to look for the cows in the meadow. The sea slowly unfolds before my eyes. And I say to God: what a beauty!”

Can we learn to pray?