Are you too busy to pray?
I was recently talking to a college student, and she shared that she’s struggling to pray the whole Daily Office, and read all three lessons and the Psalm everyday. She works a lot, goes to school, and volunteers at her church. Other people here in Atlanta have to commute long hours, which can take away 1-2 hours per day. Mothers and fathers of young children are often so exhausted by the time they could sit down to pray, that they fall asleep! Some people are suffering through illnesses that take away their alertness and focus. And there are an increasing number of people taking care of elderly or ill family members.
These are understandable, and even noble, reasons why some people have a hard time following a daily rule of prayer. Yet often we use guilt-inducing motivations, along with other negative reinforcement to try to get ourselves praying. Friends, negative reinforcement never works long term. Jesus came not to condemn us, but to save us.
What if we take away condemnation and any kind of weird guilt trip, what is left? Can we form a simple rule of prayer for those challenging phases of our lives?
Here are some ideas that have assisted me and folks I’ve known:
Rule of Prayer
Its better to form a simple rule of prayer, and follow it, than to develop an unobtainable one and never be able to practice it. And its better to develop a rule of prayer than to “wing it.”
The Daily Office is based on the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is our basic form of prayer, and it covers everything. Worship, praise, thanksgiving, intercession, confession, reconciliation, requests, and doxology. Start each day by saying the Lord’s prayer. Say the names out loud of the people you are praying for. Speak your requests. Then make the sign of the cross in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
Pray over each meal. At the end of the day, before bed, kneel and say “The almighty and merciful Lord, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless us and keep us. Amen.”
A few people have mentioned to me that they have prayer partners they call. You can call someone on a commute, or for 10 minutes a day, and pray together.
Also many have found the blessing of the Jesus Prayer, which is prayed throughout the day. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” Or a simpler form, “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy.” This keeps us “praying without ceasing” as St. Paul taught.
Instead of trying to read the whole Bible in one year, why not try five years? Wouldn’t it be better to read the Bible slowly over five years, than to not read it at all? Some people will read the Gospel lesson each day. Some will read one section of scripture each day. Some commuters listen to the Bible in the car. Some listen to the Bible on headphones while jogging or exercising. Some people play the audio Bible while cleaning the house or getting dressed. I know a few people who will memorize short Scripture sentences to say out loud each day.
What if you read two pages of a devotional/theological book every day? You’d probably finish a couple of books a year. You might start with A Year with the Church Fathers or Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich.
There are a lot of great resources out there to help you, such as our Daily Office Booklets.
The Trinity Mission offers daily audio prayers and lessons. So does the Mission of St. Clare. The English Standard Version has the print and audio version of the Daily Office lesson available every day.
Weekends or Retreat
Maybe the weekend, or a special retreat time, will provide a longer block of time for you to read through morning prayer, and plan out your rule of prayer for the following months. Maybe you have time to read a devotional book then. Take those times when you can. But building this cycle of longer retreats of blocks of prayer can help remind us of God’s presence and grace, and center us on Jesus in a more focused period of time.
Is that enough? Yes. Jesus cautioned us against the idea that we have to “make many words” in order for our prayers to be effective. There are times in our lives when we must have simple forms of prayer.
We aren’t talking about “bare minimums” here. There isn’t a bare minimum or a maximum amount of prayer. It doesn’t work that way. Prayer is a part of our life, not a regulation.
Prayer is a lifelong journey, its a relationship, and its a discipline. Cut yourself some slack if you are limited on time. Develop a simple rule of life that involves prayer and reading. Go to worship every Sunday. Talk to friends about how they pray. Cast your cares upon Jesus, because he cares for you.