This is a question proposed by Amanda. It was not a rhetorical question. She is asking for an answer. I thought to leave a comment on her blog, but, well, since this is one my favorite topics, I knew I’d write more than is appropriate for a comment! (even longer than that essay I left on your blog Ukok!) I also knew that I’d write more than a simple “this is what I do.” And let me just say, “Thanks a lot, Amanda! Look what you made me do!” LOL!
If you didn’t link to Amanda’s post, let me sum it up here. She shares that even though she’s been feeling more than busy, more than overwhelmed that she has had it on her heart to pray, to pray more, to pray better. On the surface, it seems that when we’re overwhelmed that adding anything would complicate rather than help matters, but of course, that is not true of prayer! Amanda wants to know how others pray so that she can find a way to increase her own prayer.
So, how does a busy mom of young kids pray? Well, quite possibly there are nearly as many answers as there are moms who pray, but that won’t be a helpful answer. I think the first “rule” of prayer looks something like this:
Pray as you can, not as you can’t
I think that this quite simply means to start. Now. Today. Where you are. Put everything you have, everything you are, into it. Never mind if your capacity seems small. They way to increase and improve and deepen your prayer is to pray. The best way to learn how to pray is to pray (though there are some good books on the topic and they could, even should, be considered as wonderful aids.) Come to the Lord. Tell Him of your desire to spend more time with Him. Ask him to grant you the gift of a life of prayer. Delaying while we try to “figure it out” won’t help. To delay will only keep us from Him.
Prayer is both something we give and something we receive. Prayer is like a tithe on our time. We set aside time to pray. We come and attempt in some small way to give God what he is due ~ our worship and adoration. It is public, corporate, liturgical prayer and private, personal, individual prayer. We also come to receive. We come to receive the Lord’s blessing and wisdom and guidance. We come to learn His will and know His heart.
It is essential, I believe, to set aside, as firmly as possible, a regular time of prayer. Further, I would urge everyone, as does St. Francis deSales, to make this be something that is done early in the day. The truth of the matter is: we are busy. We have so many calls on our lives. We have responsibilities to our vocation, to our state in life. We, as moms, cannot hit a “pause” button with our children so that we can go to our closet and pray. Once our day with them begins, it is typically go, go, go until we collapse in our beds at night.
If we don’t begin our day with prayer, we are less prepared (or even unprepared) to meet the challenges or recognize the blessings or learn the lessons that each day brings. Putting off our prayer until “later” has us running the risk of not being properly equipped to face the day and of never “getting to it.” I find it very difficult to meet the daily challenges (whether from within myself or from outside of myself) after the fact. If I meet the Lord each morning, I will find that He will equip me for that day. If I wait until evening or night time, I may find the only prayer I have in my heart will be that of sorrow and repentance for all the stuff I blew that day because I had to go forward in my own strength, which is anything but strength.
The way I see it is that God will send the same challenges and invitations whether we pray in preparation for them or not. By deliberately setting aside our time, our concerns, and our desires and meeting with the Lord early in the day, before it really begins, we will be ready to meet those challenges and receive those invitations.
I often hear from people, “I’m not a morning person.” I hear ya. I’m not a night person. I do believe that whatever make us different as morning or night folk, (nature or circumstance) that this is a real thing we have to deal with. Being a morning person does make it easier for me to get up and pray. My challenge, however, is making sure I don’t allow distractions to take over and that I actually use that time to pray! Being naturally inclined to rise early in the morning does not automatically mean that I will always resist the temptation to screw off on the computer or start laundry or unload the dishwasher first. Just as it would require some dedication and diligence for a “night person” to get up in time (i.e. early enough… even if that doesn’t mean 0400!) to begin the day with prayer, it requires dedication and diligence to actually use the morning for that. How tempting it is to spend all of that time relishing in the quiet and aloneness, doing whatever I please!
I think it is important to note here that as we begin to enter in to deliberate prayer that it is an “organic”, “living” thing. It will grow and change and transform. Some days will be better than others. How we begin our deliberate time of prayer may not look at all how it will be 2 months down the road. Or even 2 weeks. The important thing is to understand that we will grow and to be willing to go with the changes as far as they are reasonable. And also to adapt when things are not working or are not reasonable.
Prayer is not simply something on our “to do” list, either. Yes, yes and again yes(!!) we must make prayer a priority, we must make it first as far as we are able (I am thinking of very small children who may interrupt the time we try to carve out. When that happens, our prayer will change, but it can still exist!) Prayer is primarily about relationship. Relationship with the Lord. And we cannot simply say to ourselves that we have done our duty if we spend 15 minutes in prayer each morning, check it off of our list, move on to the more “important” or “pressing” needs of the day. Yes, we do have a duty to pray, and we must face it as duty, but more than that, we have a loving Father, Brother and Spouse who desire our love and attention throughout the day. And we need them. We really cannot please God without God!
Prayer, a turning of the mind and heart to God, must continue on throughout the day. As we prepare food, as we do laundry and we clean the bathroom, we can speak intimately with our Lord from our heart. We can use these times to intercede for others or to express our deep thanksgiving for the many blessings we have. As we prepare meals and snacks, why not speak to the Lord our gratitude at being able to feed our families or intercede for those who are truly hungry throughout the world or praise Him for his providence? As we wash clothes or clean bathrooms, why not thank God for the sanitation we have, for the roof over our head? Why not express our sorrow and repentance for the times when we stood in a closet full of clothes and whined about having nothing to wear? Why not turn our minds and hearts to those who are naked? When the inevitable noise and chaos (well, it’s inevitable here, anyway!) of family begin to wear our nerves, why not intercede for those who are lonely, sick and imprisoned? For the ones who are dying (either spiritually or physically) for lack of love and companionship? Or in thanksgiving for the reality that we are never alone, that He is always with us?
And now to take a look at some of the elements of personal prayer. Please read on with the knowledge that while I have pursued to understand prayer and to pray better, the terminology I use may not be used as most commonly do. In any discrepancy, I submit to those with more knowledge on this! Having said that, I think the two main types of personal prayer are vocal prayer and mental prayer.
Vocal prayer includes things like The Lord’s Prayer, the rosary, chaplets, the Office or Hours, Stations, Litanies and so on. These are prayers that have a rich history in the Church. For millennia, Christians have uttered these prayers, shared them, passed them on and they are quite efficacious. They have an important place in personal prayer. How wonderful to have such a huge treasury at our disposal. How wonderful to join in the endless voices since the very beginning of the Church. The gift of these prayers, the freedom they bring is invaluable. On any given day, even when my mind is swimming and my heart won’t still, I can pick up my rosary and begin meditating on the life, teachings, passion and glory of the Lord through this prayer. The Lord’s prayer sums up all of what I need each and every day. The Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, for example, is a wonderful means of praise. I can pray it and mean each and every word I say. It is not less valuable because someone else thought of the words first! The Lord’s prayer, His very own words, His very own teaching, is not less valuable because it didn’t come spontaneously from me. Prayer is not less sincere or less “me” because it is in print. I take each and every word and make it my own. This prayer is not only valuable on those days of disquiet. It is valuable everyday.
There is another prayer that more neatly falls under vocal prayer than it does mental prayer, but feels to me to be kind of in-between them, or in some sense incorporating both of them. This prayer is kind of “active”. We recognize needs all around us, beginning with our need to give praise, honor and glory to our God. Other elements or parts of this prayer would include, but is not necessarily limited to:
praise and adoration, surrender, repentance, forgiveness, scripture, meditation and reflection, listening, intercession, petition, armor and warfare, healing and thanksgiving
(I have adapted this from the Miracle Hour: A Method of Prayer that will Change Your Life booklet by Linda Schubert. Linda has neatly and succinctly put together this method that covers all of the basics. It’s like dozens of books on daily prayer distilled in one little booklet!)
These are the areas I try to cover in my morning prayer. Some days are more successful than others, but using this as a guide is more than helpful. Now to elaborate a bit on each of these areas:
It is our duty and our joy to give God the praise He is due. It is first. I use simple things, like praising Him for His various attributes or calling Him by His various names. “Praise you, Jesus, for You are the Way, the Truth and the Life. Praise You, Jesus, for you are the true Bread of Life…” or praying the psalms of praise.
Again and again, we must surrender our lives, our wills to the Lord. It is essential that I take the time to surrender, to the best of my ability, to the Lord each day. Handing over everything in my life, my husband, my kids, my health, my time… everything. And then later in the day, when I take it back, I surrender it again! “Not my will be done, but Thine.”
Spending time examining our conscience and bringing our faults, failings and sins to him for healing and forgiveness. This is something that is well done both morning and evening. In the morning, I usually go over the previous day or days and repent and ask for help in overcoming these things, especially the habitual things [see my last 2 Reflections posts and notice I’m working on taming the tongue!] and in understanding them enough to overcome them, by grace. I try, also, to remember to do an examen at night, but adding it to my prayer early in the day helps to arm me for the fight against “the world, the flesh, and the devil” that I will face that day.
Here I also examine those times when I have been hurt or offended and I come to terms with forgiving. I know I don’t need to feel happy about it at all, but that I do need to make the firm decision to forgive as I hope to be forgiven. Often I find myself forgiving old hurts again and again. I think as humans we have a tendency to cling to our role as victim, so forgiving again and again is often necessary. Forgiveness is an act of the will that not only frees the person who hurt us, but also frees us and allows us to imitate our Creator!
Sometimes I use the daily Mass readings, other times I kind of “randomly” open my bible. Either way, I ask the Lord speak some word to my heart that He wants to impart to me through is word.
- Meditation and reflection
Following the scripture reading, I try to spend some time meditating on what I read and reflecting on it and applying it to my life. I try to grasp some attribute of God through it.
I try to spend some time listening to what the Lord has to say to me through His word or through other spiritual writings or on something on my mind and heart. I think this is the hardest part. Being still isn’t easy. Being still and hearing the whisper in the wind is even more difficult. Even if I don’t think I hear anything, I faithfully try to hear each day.
- Intercession (praying for others, for the world)
Oh, there are so many needs to pray for! So many need prayer! In addition to those in my own life who need prayer as well as that which we find in the headlines of the day, I ask the Lord to place individuals and groups of people on my heart throughout the day. He usually does.
- Petition (praying for ourselves)
Here I spend time praying for my own temporal and spiritual needs. I pray for my salvation and to grow closer to Him. It is not selfish to pray for ourselves. It is necessary!
- Armor and warfare
I put on the full armor of God to equip me to battle for my own soul, my family, friends and neighbors and then if I know of some particular battle waging, well-armored, I stand in the gap and enter the battle.
The Armor of God
10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.
I realize that this certainly falls under intercession and petition, but I have a specific time for this sort of prayer. I pray for hearts, minds, souls and bodies to be healed of our infirmities to the greater glory of God
Finally, I offer thanksgiving. First, for the time of prayer and then for all of God’s blessings, including the trials that he sends or allows for my growth in Him.
I consider these critical elements of my own personal prayer. Do you realize that if you spend just 5 minutes on each of these areas, you have an hour’s worth of prayer before you? I find that often I linger much longer in some areas. I also find that sometimes, 5 minutes in an area can seem like an eternity. I can’t always do it in one sitting, especially if i drift into discursive prayer during my scripture reading, so I try to be open to breaking it up throughout the day. Some days, I simply don’t get through it all. It’s still a good goal, though.
Journaling is another element within this type of prayer. To write in a journal all that is on my heart and mind, to bring it to the Lord by act of writing is very freeing. It can also be “record” of sorts for our growth in prayer and prayers answered. We can look back and see how the Lord met a particular need or situation. Honestly, I have rarely gone back through my journals. I just don’t do it. Those days have passed. I think it could do some good and I recognize the benefits I pointed out about having a “record” but it just isn’t something I’ve done very often at all.
Mental prayer is that simple prayer of the heart that also includes things like discursive prayer and contemplative prayer. In more simple mental prayer, we talk to God from the heart and we listen. We face, with the Lord, what is in our hearts, our joys, fears, hopes, sorrows our questions and our longings. We talk to Him about Him.
Discursive prayer is a prayer in itself, of course, but it is also a means, a path, to being able to receive God’s gift of contemplative prayer. In discursive prayer, we use scripture or other spiritual writings as our “springboard.” We read until something catches and holds our attention and we remain there, pondering it, chewing on it, speaking to the Lord about it, looking for understanding and application, using it for self examination and so on. We do this for as long as it holds our attention and our minds don’t want and then we return to our springboard. For some, the meditation holds the primary place and others it is the conversation with the Lord that holds the primary place. I think that it is natural for the meditation to eventually take less and less time and the conversation to take more and more.
The highest and deepest form of mental prayer, contemplation, is God’s work in us, not our work. Clearly, we have a part to play, (showing up for prayer, rooting sin and wrong attachments out of our lives, resisting temptation, etc.) but we cannot decide we’re going to be a contemplative and then do it in our own power. I leave you here with that very simple description and refer you to those who can better teach on it, like St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila and more contemporary experts like Fr. Dubay and Ralph Martin.
Some of the specific ways I pray, in addition to what I outlined above, include a morning offering to dedicate the day to the Lord, offering my duties with a joyful heart, joining my sufferings to the suffering of Christ (I find this “fits” fairly neatly in the time I spend in prayer of surrender), small aspirations throughout the day (like the Jesus prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner” or “Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I love you, save souls” or “For the sake of His sorrowful passion, have mercy on us.”) I also pray every time I hear a siren ~ I pray for those who need help, for those who are lost and may be breaking the law and those who are helping them all and all of society. We pray at meals. With a preschooler, our prayers are “simplified” at meal time. We have the preschooler lead the prayer which goes like this: “God is great. God is good. Let us thank Him for our food and for all good things. Amen.” I also try to cultivate and attitude of gratitude and try to give thanks for all of the blessings around me.
There are so many other things that I didn’t even touch on that I think are important, but I also think it I’ve written WAY more than enough for one entry. I hope to come back to the rest soon.
So, Amanda, there you go. A bit about how I pray. My thoughts on prayer and a little on some of the different kinds of prayer. I know most is not what you asked for, but I hope you find something useful.