St. Augustine once said, “Man is a beggar before God.” Prayer begins with a recognition of our littleness and our need for God. But could we ever pray so much that we would annoy or harass Him?
To harass means that we put pressure on or try to intimidate someone. While a beggar on the street could try to do this, God knows well our relationship with Him. He is God and we are His beloved creatures. Even though we are beloved, there is little pressure we can put on Him and certainly we can’t even begin to intimidate Him. So it’s not possible to harass God.
In a similar way, we can’t annoy God. To annoy someone means to irritate them. With prayer, it would be by asking for the same thing repeatedly. Since God is infinitely patient, we never exhaust Him to the point of annoyance by our prayer.
But out of respect for our Heavenly Father, realizing our position as beggars, are there boundaries to our prayer of petition? The best way to answer this is to look at different types of petitions.
Some of our prayers of petition are perennial. For instance, praying for the needs of the Church or our country. These graces are always needed and thus we always need to pray that God bless us with them.
Other prayers we continue to make for long periods of time. When we lose someone we love, it is highly recommended by the Church that we pray for them daily. Even if they may be in heaven or it is decades after their passing, we are encouraged to keep praying for them.
A different prayer of petition might be in a time of crisis, such as a natural disaster or a tragedy. We may find ourselves for a short period transfixed by what is going on and praying for the situation again and again. This is a good thing for us to do, especially when there may be nothing else we can do.
We also might be praying for the intention of another person. To pray in such a case is to journey with them in that need, and our prayer will change over time as their situation changes.
We should listen to our gut feeling of praying too much in the case of a petition for ourselves or someone very close to us. We may be asking for a specific thing or a specific outcome. After some time of prayer or extensive frequency, don’t stop praying, but be aware of how God is speaking to us. God may be answering our prayer in another way, but we are so focused on this one outcome that we don’t see God’s answer.
Father Mayo is pastor of St. Raphael the Archangel Parish in south St. Louis.