How I pray when I don’t have time to pray
There’s nothing like daily prayer time. Over and over again, I’ve found that when I make the necessary sacrifices to structure my schedule around prayer (instead of vice versa), my small efforts are repaid tenfold by the tremendous graces I receive.
But I can’t always get there. I usually blame it on not having time, though that excuse is a little suspect since I always manage to find abundant time to mess around on the internet. Anyway, whether it’s due to laziness, fatigue, a lack of faith, being overwhelmed, truly not having time, or some combination of all of the above, there are seasons when regular prayer time just doesn’t happen.
With my personality type, there’s a temptation to let that mean no prayer at all: I am the master at letting perfection be the enemy of the good, not doing anything at all if I can’t do it the “right” way. When I let this happen, it’s always detrimental to my spiritual life. Though I do try to “pray without ceasing,” offering up my actions throughout the day to God, it has not been my experience that that is a substitute for dedicated time spent focusing exclusively on the Lord. As my spiritual director always pointed out, prayer is about building a relationship. Praying as I do my work is like when my husband and I work alongside each other managing the household chaos: that’s a wonderful, necessary part of maintaining a healthy relationship, but if we never spent any time alone, our relationship would suffer.
So I’ve found it to be extremely important to make sure that I’m getting some dedicated prayer time in on a somewhat regular basis, even if it’s not quite as much as I’d like. The most helpful advice I’ve ever come across in this department is from Fr. Michael Scanlan’s book Appointment with God (which is out of print now, but I ordered a copy by phone from the Franciscan University Bookstore). The book is full of great advice about taking your prayer life to the next level, but the biggest thing I took away from it was the idea of making prayer appointments.
Fr. Scanlan points out that when we want to make sure we meet up with someone, we don’t just say, “Yeah, I’ll see you sometime.” Rather, we name a specific time and place the meeting will occur, which allows us to protect that time from getting displaced by our busy schedules.
I already had a routine where each Sunday I’d sit down and write out my weekly schedule, transferring whatever is on my Google Calendar to my handy day planner from Faith Calendars. After reading Fr. Scanlan’s book, I added a new element to this routine: I’d write down my appointments with God too. I’d take a moment to prayerfully think about when and how I should pray this week, then note that time on my calendar. Some weeks I might feel called to step it up and include serious prayer time every day; other weeks I might feel like just once or twice would be about all I could realistically handle. Not only do I note the time I’m going to pray, but the type of prayer as well (e.g. Gospel reflection, Rosary, silent meditation, etc.)
The process is actually fun! I might feel moved to get up early on Tuesday to pray a full Rosary at 6:30, to reflect on the Gospels at 2:30 PM on Thursday, and to wrap up the week with some Bible reading at 10:00 on Friday night. It’s always interesting to see how much of what type of prayer I feel moved to include that week. And when these “appointments” are written on my calendar, I actually tend to keep them.
This idea has really helped me keep my prayer life from fizzling out altogether when I’m in phases where daily prayer time isn’t happening. What are your tips for carving out time for prayer during busy seasons of life?