Praying in Tongues means that we deliberately let go of our rational powers normally used when we are speaking and thinking. We let go of our memory of prayers. Our intellect is quiet. Yet, our lips, tongue, and larynx are still working to produce the sounds. The sounds are there because we willfully yielded our speech mechanism to the Holy Spirit Himself.
When the “sounds” are verbal, they are totally under our control. We can both start and stop as we choose. When the sounds are in our thoughts, we can still start and stop as we choose. Sometimes, when we first receive the gift of praying in Tongues, we simply let the sounds be. We certainly can be curious about what the sounds mean.
While yielding to the Holy Spirit is the important part of praying in Tongues, the way we yield is not written in stone. When we pray the Hail Mary, we yield to both the purpose and joy of that prayer. When we pray the Rosary, we yield to the inspirations which come with the mysteries. It is our desire to be in prayer *with God *which is the important part of yielding. Sometimes, that desire seems to be automatic because of our love for God.
I often think that yielding our gift of speech to the Holy Spirit is the best example of humility and trust. In turn, the Holy Spirit accepts our humble gift of love and trust by perfecting our prayers via His holy sounds. These sounds can be actual words from a different language. The point is that we let the Holy Spirit speak in our name as He chooses.
Perhaps, the desire to be as close to God as possible is, in a way, our seeking of God’s gifts. St. Paul has a marvelous description of the Mystical Body of Christ including many diverse gifts. That is why we do not say that praying in Tongues is better than praying in the vernacular. That is why praying in Tongues should never be considered a “badge of holiness.”
Receiving the gift of praying in Tongues does require a bit of courage when it comes to actually using it. I often suggest that being in the shower, where no one can hear you, is a good way to test one’s freedom to use Tongues. The Holy Spirit does not follow black and white rules. Sometimes there is only one word or a “clicking” sound which is the way a friend of mine started to pray in Tongues. We should use that word or sound and use silence to let that sound expand because that is the personal way the Holy Spirit is giving His gift. Often praying in Tongues develops the cadence of a language.
And yes, we can tell the Holy Spirit what we want to pray. Sometimes our prayer can be sheer joy. Sometimes our prayer can be the confusion of our lives. Sometimes our prayer can be “Here I am, Lord.” And yes, praying in Tongues can be in the middle of a formal prayer or in the middle of thinking about God. Often, a few minutes of praying in Tongues is used as a preparation for prayer. Praying in Tongues is better than road rage.
One last thought. The gift of praying in Tongues is a permanent gift of the Holy Spirit. It is up to the individual to use it or not use it. The gift of the Rosary is a permanent gift. It is up to the individual to use it or not use it. We exercise our freedom. That in itself is a gift.