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.

Though I never have doubts about God’s existence anymore, I’ve found a similar lesson applies in this time of fear and worry.

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.

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16 Responses to “AREWP Week 34: Prayer and spiritual dry spells”
  1. Kevin says:

    I hear you, Jen! I often feel very much the same way about praying the hours. It is a chore, even though it’s very rewarding.

    One thing I think about is the person, whoever it might be, who wants to – or more likely, needs to – pray but can’t, for some reason.

    Unlike a personal, devotional prayer, the Liturgy of the Hours is the prayer of the whole Church, and so I remember those people in my prayer, and they, as members of the Body of Christ, benefit from the prayer of the Church, even if the only member of the body praying is little old me.

  2. Kelly @ Love Well says:

    Your point about prioritizing prayer above everything else on your To Do list hit me hard.

    Ouch.

    But thank you.

  3. Ouiz says:

    Thank you for this much needed reminder!

  4. Multiple Mom T says:

    As a lifelong Protestant, I have heard of the various Hours, but not enough to be very familiar with them. Thank you for the informative link!

    I think that I am going to try this next week, once my kids are all in school, and see how much different life looks like with this as its structure.

    Thank you again for the honest look in to your life. I love reading your blog.

  5. razzler says:

    Good reminder – again.

  6. Sheri says:

    I’ve been watching for an update on this. I’m trying to make prayer a priority but it’s so hard to get out of that “here’s a quick prayer before bedtime” mentality. I’m working on it, but you post is exactly what I needed today. Thank you.

  7. Margie says:

    Jennifer, I found your blog through E.E.’s, and admit I struggle, too. At this point I want transformation – a real life change, a heart change – but find prayer, arguably the most important foundational element of change, the most difficult to do. Because, simply, the two little ones cling to my legs, call from other rooms, and create more laundry and dishes and messy rooms. I appreciate your openness about the work of it and struggle to pray without the emotional surge. Your post is pushing me to the next step – regular, daily prayer in the midst of chaos – to draw closer to sometimes distant God. He is waiting, and I am ready.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Thank you. I needed that.
    /bless you. Diane

  9. Paul Maurice Martin says:

    I know what you mean – I’ve experienced those dry spells too. My sense is that since they’re followed by periods of renewal and sometimes new direction, there are probably things going on below the surface in our relationship with God that we’re not aware of even during times when not much seems to be happening.

  10. Christine says:

    Thanks for sharing your insight. I have had to dig deep to make sure I wasn’t second guessing about God and angels. Through the Saints and their stories I know He is there.

    Fatima happened. Our Mother in heaven came down. There was a miracle. Yet in my heart I look up at the sky sometimes and just say…”speak to me”. When I hear nothing I sigh. I want so bad to see, touch, and to hear Gods voice.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I think you can avoid spiritual dry spells by worship and consistent prayer.

    I can tell a substantive difference in my day and mood by whether or not I’ve made worship and prayer a priority.

    I love your blog! You are wonderful!

  12. Elizabeth says:

    Oh, Jen, this was really great.

    Setting aside time each day is so challenging which is precisely why it’s so important.

    I love praying the Catholic prayers–even though I’m not officially Catholic. Especially when my mind is frazzled and sleep deprived, it is blessed to just be able to pray words already written; instead of having to come up with them myself.

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

  13. Anonymous says:

    Hey Jen, have you read Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light? It’s her private writings and it tells all about the spiritual darkness she endured for the rest of her life after she started the Sisters of Charity. It is really an interesting book. You would probably enjoy it right now.

  14. Anthony says:

    Hello Jen,

    What beautiful style and thoughts. I have no idea how I found your sight but I’m glad I did.

    Reading your writing makes me happy.

    God bless, Anthony

  15. Tune says:

    I’m actually in the same stage as you do. Thank you for the reminder! One ironic thing was that, I found myself slacking when I got nothing to do. But hey, it’s better to be late than never get up and straighten my LoTH, right?

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