The Difference Between Prayer and the Spiritual Life

By Rachael Marie Collins

Consolation by David Dalhoff Neal

The terms “prayer” and “spiritual life” refer to subtly different things but they are inclusive of one another and mutually dependent. Where you are in your spiritual life will impact your prayer. Correspondingly, one is dependent upon prayer to maintain and advance in one’s spiritual union with God.

St. Teresa of Ávila writes much on the stages of prayer and the spiritual life. Read her autobiography, Life. This will help you understand the different types of prayer—the path of prayer through which God will lead you—as well as the various stages of the spiritual life.

Prayer may sometimes feel like hard work. You may find at the start—and recurring throughout other stages of the spiritual life—that you will do a lot of the talking. Remember the importance of silence and quiet listening in prayer. Do not be discouraged if God is more silent than you’d like Him to be. Empty your heart to Him. Let Him speak to you by reading His Word in Scripture, especially the New Testament and the Psalms.

Establish fixed times for prayer and a daily routine. Stick to this routine. It will seem like a lot of work but God hears you and your effort pleases Him. Slowly and surely—if done with an earnest and humble spirit—you will make progress. Ask God for the grace of perseverance when you experience prayer as difficult or tiresome.

At the start, you may well be granted many sweet consolations. These consolations are unmerited gifts from God, given as a sign of love and encouragement as He sees fit. Be careful not to seek them out. Don’t try to force God to give these to you, or expect them from Him. They cannot be earned. They are little treats for which you should be thankful. Ask for a spirit of gratitude in accepting these gifts.

Moving forward, you may also experience periods of dryness and darkness. These stages are meant to purify you. There is only so much we can do to purify ourselves. Only God Himself can perfect our souls and He does so—in part—by allowing darkness and dryness into our spiritual life and our work of prayer.

Sometimes the soul can also feel abandoned by God. In such cases, the soul no longer has any sense of God being present or supporting it. The soul feels alone and very far from God. The reality, however, is that while the soul does not perceive God, it is in fact very close to God—or rather God is very close to the soul. God is drawing the soul near to Him while remaining hidden from it.

The soul in this state is being asked to share in the abandonment felt by Christ first in the garden of Gethsemane and then on the Cross. Such times are given to purify the soul or as a suffering for the atonement of one’s sins and conversion of others.

As you progress in the spiritual life, be careful not to slide back or fall. The higher one climbs, the further one has to fall! Do not let this happen to you. Pray to Our Lady for protection!


Rachael Marie Collins is the author of Called by God: Discernment and Preparation for Religious Life, a guide for young women discerning their vocation.