AREWP Week 34: Prayer and spiritual dry spells
[AREWP stands for A Reckless Experiment With Prayer.]
Back in the first few months of 2008, a theme that I wrote about frequently was my “Reckless Experiment With Prayer,” which I originally talked about in this post. The idea was that I’d structure my daily activities around prayer times instead of vice versa. I called it “reckless” because I was supposedly soooooo busy with three children in diapers that I didn’t have a single extra minute to spare for prayer, and the “experiment” was that I would take a risk and just see what happened if I put prayer first above everything else.
As I mentioned in my many posts on the subject (you can find them here — scroll down to see them all), it turned out to be one of the most life-changing things I’ve ever done. It gave my days some desperately needed structure, and brought a tidal wave of grace into my life and my family’s lives. I haven’t mentioned it in a few months, so I occasionally get asked: do you still pray the Liturgy of the Hours?
Here’s the short answer: yes.
Here’s the long answer…
Yes, although I can’t say that I never skip an office out of forgetfulness or laziness; nor can I say that there haven’t been entire days that I didn’t pray a single office. To be honest, it is not nearly as easy as or fun as it used to be back when it was something new and different and I felt on fire for my faith. There are days that I feel so distant from God and am so immersed in selfishness that it’s downright painful to open up that prayer book and take 10 minutes for Lauds. And that is one of the reasons that I think it’s beyond coincidence that I felt called to start doing this just before I ended up in the spiritual doldrums.
One of the first lessons I learned in this experiment was that there’s only one way to pray the Liturgy of the Hours: to think of prayer as the only thing you’re definitely going to get done that day, to mentally prioritize everything else as a distant second. On a practical level, I found it interesting that 10 out of 10 times that I approached my days this way, I was far more organized and productive than on the days that I let prayer slide to put more “important” things first (I talked about that major lesson more here). However, I found that the discipline of putting prayer in the #1 priority slot had an even bigger effect on a spiritual level.
Especially during these days of spiritual dryness, there’s been something powerful about putting prayer first even when I get nothing out of it in terms of feelings or emotions, even when I’m so immersed in worldly concerns that I feel like anything and everything is more important than sitting in front of a book and reading Psalms and other prayers. Something about giving God one of my most precious assets — my time — has kept me close to him in a different, deeper way.
I remember how painful prayer used to be when I wasn’t sure if I believed in God. Other little sacrifices I made for this unseen deity at least had some worldly payoff if he didn’t exist: donating money to Christian charities helped people do good works in the world, reading the Bible was educational as an important book in Western history, and we did meet some great new people at Mass. I was making some sacrifices for God, but my bets were hedged…just in case.
But prayer was different.
The first few times I tried make room in my day to talk in God’s general direction, I feared that I was wasting the ultimate nonrenewable resource: time. If God didn’t exist, or if he was some distant deity who had no connection to the day-to-day affairs of humans, then prayer was a waste of precious time that I could never get back. There’s no worldly payoff to talking to yourself with your eyes closed and your hands folded (not for me, anyway — if you say there’s some benefit to the meditative aspects of it because you find deep insights within yourself, you haven’t heard my prayers). Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I believe now that my (albeit grudging) willingness to give God some of my time, even though I wasn’t sure he existed, was a critical step that softened my heart and cracked open a channel of grace that would help me get to the next level in the conversion process.
I haven’t been great about bringing glory to God in my daily life lately. For a while there it came naturally to me to meditate on Christ’s sufferings any time I felt sorry for myself, or to give thanks to God for my many blessings when I was tempted to complain about some inconvenience. Now I pretty much just feel sorry for myself and complain about inconveniences. (I’m working on that.) But one thing I can do, perhaps one of the biggest sacrifices I can make for Christ in my daily life, is to give him some of my time.
I might not be overflowing with zeal and pleasant emotions like I was a few months ago. I might not feel enveloped in God’s love like I sometimes did earlier this year. Yet every time I choose pray Lauds instead of getting a head start on the breakfast dishes, or pick up my prayer book for Vespers instead of checking email one extra time, I am aware that I am intimately close to God in an important way, even if I don’t feel it.