Obviously, prayer is an important part of everyone’s spiritual journey. For a lot of people salah becomes this religious obligation that they must fill. This construct of "I must pray" or "I have to pray." The problem is this turns prayer into a chore.
When you get a new job, you get a contract that stipulates the job description; according to the CEO you are obligated to do those things. Whether or not you do them is your choice. If you do the job well, you are likely to succeed. More importantly if you love what you are doing, not only will you fulfill your work obligations but you will enjoy it and benefit more.
Many people approach prayer in a similar fashion. I have to pray to get that golden ticket to jannah because I'm fulfilling religious obligations. Technically speaking you have to pray because you signed this contract when you became Muslim, but existentially speaking you don’t; Allah (swt) doesn't NEED our prayers.
“I do not want from them any provision, nor do I want them to feed Me. Indeed, it is Allah who is the [continual] Provider, the firm possessor of strength.
إِنَّ اللَّهَ هُوَ الرَّزَّاقُ ذُو الْقُوَّةِ الْمَتِين . مَا أُرِيدُ مِنْهُم مِّن رِّزْقٍ وَمَا أُرِيدُ أَن يُطْعِمُونِ
Yes, we must pray from a religious-legal standpoint, but how far does this take you. It is Allah(Swt) who is the continual provider and the one who possesses invincible power and strength.
Steps to Improving Prayer
How we talk about prayer in our heads will influence our moods in salah. Imagine approaching salah with genuine love.
How we feel about and approach salah is the first step. Think about your relationship with Allah (swt). I have found in couples work there is a lot of interesting parables between romantic relationships and our relationship with Allah (swt). Reflect on these parables below.
Proposal/Shahada. If a man loves someone he confirms his love with a marriage proposal. The proposal is like the shahada, when we propose we are bearing witness and testifying to the truth of our love.
Engagement/Wudu. Engagement is the prep phase before marriage, before the connection. Wudu is the prep phase before salah, the way you make wudu connects to how you pray. Take your time with wudu, turn on the water just enough and that small amount of water will feel more spiritual.
Marriage/Salah. The actual salah is a means of connecting to the divine, the marriage moment, intertwining with the ultimate.
Take some deep breaths before prayer; make it a self-care process. Sit in the place of worship to clear you mind and ready yourself, then begin. You'll be more present from the beginning.
Once you start the prayer visualize something that will anchor you. I like to visualize myself from a bird’s eye view, I see myself in my home, neighborhood and that keeps going to space. Your breathing while reciting and movements help to reintegrate mind, body and soul.
We need to know what we are saying. Many of us can’t translate Al-Fatihah in a way that has meaning. A simple translation is not enough, we need to know what the words mean in a deeper sense.
When in sajdah, sit another 30 seconds. Free talk therapy, no insurance needed, he always responds. He communicates and manifests his decisions through the creation.
Think about your salah not as a chore, but as something you want and need. Work on understanding your relationship with the divine with all the same analogies of what does it mean to show commitment, love and service in marriage. All of those principles apply.
You can’t expect a marriage to go far if you don’t communicate. Just as you can’t expect to grow in your spirituality if you are too busy 5x a day when you are invited to communicate with Allah (swt).
If we are in a divine loving relationship with Allah (swt) and we want to cherish this connection, then prayer is not a chore. It will be something we want because we don't feel complete unless we connect.