I have a confession to make: I really struggle in my prayer life. It tends to wax and wane. The minute I think that I have a steady rhythm going, I stumble and get out of the habit. I am amazed at how quickly it can fall by the wayside. I can slump quite easily into sloth and then I really do begin to feel like I am battling “the noon-day devil”. I am in a period of struggle right now.
I just spent six weeks traveling and visiting with family. I made an emergency drive across the country to my home-state of Montana because it appeared that my only remaining grandparent, my dad’s mom, was going to die. It was dire when we set out, but by the time we hit South Dakota, she had stabilized and amazingly she has made a full recovery. Since I seldom make it to Montana these days, I decided to spend a month there with my parents. My husband left our daughter and me and flew back to Virginia. He later flew back out and we made the return trek by car.
You would think with all of my free time in MT that I would have made plenty of time for prayer, but the opposite happened. I crammed for my Theology of the Sacraments final that I had to take late due to the family emergency, but other than that I fell into a malaise. I didn’t have a house to take care of for a month and I fell completely out of my routine. It has been a bear getting back into it, especially since my daughter and I have been battling a chest cold. Routine really is the key to prayer.
I will confess that some of my struggles in my prayer life are due to pain. I made the difficult and painful decision to step away from being a Lay Dominican at this time. It was a complicated situation and is a source of deep pain for me. I had gotten into the habit of praying Lauds, Vespers, and the Rosary each day for two years. I occasionally faltered, but tried hard to maintain the prayer requirements. I sloughed off when I left the 3rd Order and much of it was because of the painful reminder that I had to leave, at least for now.
My daughter and I got up at 5am this morning. She is now asleep on the couch and I am blogging. I did manage to grab a cup of coffee and pray Lauds this morning. It was the best decision that I could have made for starting my day. My day begins with purpose and a centering force when I begin with prayer. It never goes well if I begin my day with my iPhone or computer, which tends to be the norm. Whatever is going on in the world or with my schooling can wait until I have spent a few moments with my Lord.
I also tend to write more when I pray regularly. Since I write about my Catholicism, it is important that I pray. If I am focused on everything except God it is really hard to write about Someone who is distant to me. It is also crucial for me as a student theologian. Every professor that I have studied under in graduate school begins by telling us that our theology must begin “on our knees in prayer”. It is impossible for a theologian to truly understand and share God with others if they do not have an intimate relationship with Him. After a while the theology becomes robotic and lacks insight. I know this from personal experience. I love to study theology. It gives me great joy, but when I don’t pray it can become a burden. It turns into forcing myself to complete assignments in order to keep up with the requirements of my courses. It loses the wonder, beauty, and joy that drove me into the Master’s program in the first place.
Prayer is also essential for living in a Fallen world. I read the news each day and I feel like I live in the Twilight Zone. The world is a mess. It is broken, violent, and incoherent without prayer. I have been an avid news follower since 2nd grade. Yes, 2nd grade. I was the first one to get up each morning and I would watch the news. In retrospect, my parents probably shouldn’t have let me do that. I remember seeing some pretty gruesome stuff, like the Somali Blackhawk down incident. I can still see in my rather young memory those soldiers’ bodies being dragged through the streets. I have been following terrorism and plane crashes for decades. The most ironic twist was that I found myself at 20 standing before the wreckage of a terrorist attack with hundreds of family members following 9-11. I guess God had a plan for my interest in current affairs….
The point is that I cannot watch the world unless I understand it through the lens of prayer and my Catholic faith. The world is Fallen, which is why I understand the reason for the chaos and pain. Even with that knowledge I still want to beat my head against my desk some days, and on others, tears pour down my face for the suffering of others. I have found that social media is a good place for prayer. I find myself praying for the dead and the suffering as I read various news stories throughout the day. It is usually a simple “Eternal rest grant unto them” or a “Lord have mercy” followed by a “Mary wrap your loving mantel around them and bring them to your Son”. Prayer doesn’t necessarily need to be complicated and at times that is all that can escape my lips in the face of overwhelming evil.
Do you struggle in prayer too? If so, figure out what part of the day is best for prayer in your life. I am not a night person, so morning is the best time for me to give my focus entirely over to God. He should not get our leftovers after a spent day. Prayer should be at a time when we are alert. We can also pray small prayers throughout the day. I always ask for St. Christopher’s intercession and my Guardian Angel’s protection when I get in my car. I pray whenever people come to mind. I have been blessed and cursed with a very long memory. Random people will come to mind at times and I use that as an opportunity to pray for them even if I have not seen them since childhood. The point is that the majority of us are beginners at prayer. All we can do is take small steps each day to pray and open ourselves to God. We just have to will it because God is already calling us to Himself.