How can I pray and grow with all the demands of a family constantly pulling at me?
Q: Dear Father John, between caring for my four young kids and husband, running my household, and working a part time job, I sometimes find that prayer time gets pushed aside again and again until it’s almost non-existent (or only on Sunday mornings). I need some help prioritizing my prayer time and making my faith a larger part of my everyday life. Any suggestions?
A: This can be a particularly difficult challenge during the holidays. I am sure our readers will have some suggestions for you, as you are not alone in facing this challenge. Here are a few ideas for you to mull over.
First, keep the goal in mind. Taking specific times out of the day just for prayer is a means for deepening our friendship with Christ. The deeper that friendship, the more all of our activities take on a supernatural tinge, becoming ways of serving, loving, and praising God (which is what we were created for, and what gives us lasting happiness). We are shooting for a mature spiritual life that enables us to live every moment of the day in God’s presence. So the goal is a seamless integration of activity and prayer, of service and contemplation. Understanding this and remembering it may help reduce some of the tension you feel and free you up, interiorly, to accept the limitations of your schedule and its necessary demand for flexibility. But embracing flexibility doesn’t mean jettisoning your daily God-time! As the Catechism reminds us (#2697): “…[W]e cannot pray ‘at all times’ if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it.”
Second, be creative. Sometimes the obstacle isn’t so much getting time to pray as not knowing what to do in our prayer time. If that’s the case, look for some advice on how to pray. You can also weave prayer into your daily rhythm by making it a family thing. Prayer before meals, a prayer before taking a trip in the car, a prayer before going to bed – accompanying your children in these prayers allows you both to pray and to teach them to pray, without crowding your schedule. Stopping spontaneously at a Church to visit the Blessed Sacrament and pray, together, for a sick family member is another example, or praying a decade of the Rosary together with your husband before going to sleep.
Here is some more advice on family prayer. I know a woman with nine children who lights a candle in the living room (near an image of the Sacred Heart) whenever she has an important prayer intention. The candle becomes a kind of extended prayer throughout the day. Just seeing it reminds her to say a prayer in the silence of her heart. Find ways that work for you, remembering Christ’s promise that “the one who seeks, always finds” (Matthew 7:8).
Third, seek quality over quantity. You may be entertaining some unrealistic subconscious assumptions about how much time you “ought” to spend in prayer. For example, maybe at some point (after a retreat, for example) you made a commitment to spend at least 20 minutes in prayer every morning, pray the Rosary every afternoon, and read the Bible for 15 minutes every night. But then reality showed up, and circumstances made it impossible. So you simply gave up and didn’t do anything. A better reaction would be adjusting the commitment (for example, ten minutes alone with God sometime in the morning, and one decade of the Rosary sometime in the afternoon), or adjusting the circumstances.
If you really can’t fit a daily God-time into your schedule (five or ten minutes alone with the Lord, just to open your heart to him and look into his heart), you can be sure that something is wrong; you are over-committed. Daily prayer should be as necessary as daily food and daily sleep.
Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC, ThD
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