This past week has been really grace-filled for me. In terms of activities we were booked solid and I was on the go more than usual. And yet within that busyness God seemed to provide opportunity after opportunity for me to meet Him in prayer, which was surprising because I always think I don't have time. I always have the best intentions, and yet far too often the end of the day comes and I realize that I really haven't taken any quiet time with the Lord. So I rattle off a few prayers as I drift off to sleep, and hope to do better the next day.
I have struggled over the years trying to carve out a dedicated time for personal prayer to no avail. Every now and then I get into a good groove where I'm getting up before the whole household to pray, but that never lasts. Having long ago realized that rising before dawn, while a holy ambition, is not my forte, I tried to commit to an evening prayer time instead. This too did not work out so well, since kids are still up and my husband who I haven't seen all day is around and I want to spend time with him, and that also tends to be the time of day when people call or babies need to be put to sleep, or other things need to be taken care of. The middle of the day also never seemed to work consistently. So consequently it has been a very long time since I've had a regular, dedicated prayer time during the day.
This week though, it just seemed to happen. I didn't specifically try to carve out any particular time to pray, but with the summer break from school have been finding myself with a spare moment here and there. I am always tempted to put myself to work on a household project or chore when that happens, but my toddler is just at the right age to need constant supervision, but also with the uncanny ability to completely undo just about everything I set out to do in his presence. So while he's awake I have been spending lots of time really just hanging out with him, and saving my grunt work for nap time. Gradually the Lord began prompting me to use this time to spend with Him, and so I have been trying to be attentive. Here are a few things that He is teaching me.
#1 - Keep prayer books in central areas
A wise friend once told me she leaves holy books scattered all around the house, so that whenever a spare moment pops up she has something to grab to take advantage of it. I can so relate to this sentiment now, and her advice has really helped keep me ready to turn to prayer whenever I have the opportunity. A few years ago I went to great lengths to set up a beautiful prayer space in my bedroom. I have a nice comfy chair, a bedside table for my bible and journal, a rosary hanging on the wall, pictures of people I want to remember in daily prayer - the problem is that if I retreat to this room every time I want to pray, alarm bells start going off for the kids. All of a sudden they're hungry, they're fighting, they need to see me, they broke a glass, or they're in my room tearing it all apart! It didn't take long for me to stop going there during the day because I knew that if all was peaceful, that peace would come undone as soon as I left their presence. For some reason they all know when I've left, and it's unsettling to them. Taking my friend's advice however has allowed me to make my whole home a prayer space, and this has been much more conducive to my daily prayer life. I've had a breviary sitting on my sofa table for ages, and this week have actually had many opportunities to use it simply because it was right there, in a central space when my time became available.
#2 - Don't limit yourself to one prayer space
Another gift to me has been our back yard grotto. A friend put a great deal of time into finishing it for us, and the end result is a beautiful back yard sanctuary that is just perfect for a busy toddler to occupy himself while his Mom says a few prayers. My husband got me a bench for mother's day and it's been back there ever since. I really hadn't been in the back yard all year until recently, but once I did and was able to see how beautiful it is, it seems to call to me. There is nothing I'd rather do with my spare time than bring the baby back there, have a cup of coffee, and read or say the rosary.
Besides that we also have in walking distance of our home a church and a beach, which are both excellent outings for the kids and I. When we all start to get restless or need a break we can take a family walk and have a prayer time together. One day last week we brought our breviaries and journals to the church for afternoon prayer and then played in the church yard when we were finished. Another day we walked to the beach together, and I brought my rosary so I could pray while the kids ran around on the beach.
I realized throughout the course of this week that there are so many beautiful spaces inside and outside my home that I can go to for prayer. If I can be flexible with my space instead of confining prayer time to one particular spot, then it makes it easier for prayer to be a regular part of my life. It helps to make not just one but many spaces beautiful, because then I will want to go there. Having a dedicated space inside and outside allows me to be wherever the kids are, and remembering to bring things with me and making the decision to have outings be prayer outings helps me to live life and pray at the same time. For so long I had seen prayer as something that I needed to take time out of my day for, but in these last few days God has really been showing me that the best prayer is the one that encompasses my whole life, and flows from it.
#3 - Don't limit yourself to a certain amount of time
This one I find is difficult. It's not so much that I watch the clock, but most of the devotions I observe take a certain amount of time, and I want to finish them when I start. Sometimes that's totally doable, I could sit down to say the rosary and the stars would all be properly aligned for me to finish it without interruptions. But far more often that will not be the case, because life continues to happen all around me, and I need to be prepared for that. This morning we went to the beach and I began a rosary, but only got as far as the first few decades before the kids wanted to leave. Rather than force them to stay I decided we would go home, and if I had time then I would finish it later. Sure enough later in the afternoon my toddler wanted to go outside, and it was the best time to pick up where I left off. Even if I hadn't been able to finish, I still realized that two decades of the rosary was better than nothing. I think too often I felt that I should start something that I couldn't finish, but that's not the case.
Many times this week I also carried my journal around in the hopes of writing a bit after my prayer time, but again this didn't often happen (I think if I make it through a prayer time at all I should count my blessings, haha!) But a few days it did, and even though I intended on writing every day I feel like God was prompting me, and made time available when He wanted it. I'll continue to have my journal ready to write when I am able, but won't beat myself up over not writing in it every time I intend to.
#4 - Prioritize personal prayer over family prayer
This is one I think especially as a homeschooling mother I have been really bad at. I've fallen into the belief that if I'm going to pray I should gather all the children and we should all pray together every single time. It never really hit me until just before the end of the school year when I found myself at a church alone for the first time since I can remember that I rarely ever take the time to pray by myself. We are always in churches, at Mass, we pray the Angelus together and Morning and Evening prayer, sometimes the rosary. But I almost never did those things on my own. Quite naturally and not wanting to force the kids to pray, this week I have simply been praying with them around me. Sometimes, much to my surprise, they will ask if they can pray with me. And much more often I am praying while they play at my feet, or run around on their own. I hope they will learn by watching me that prayer is not something to be suffered or endured because your mother says you need to do it, but something you do out of a great love for Jesus. I have to say the quality of my prayer when I'm trying to organize all of them and have them pay attention is much different than when I'm praying on my own, and I'm starting to realize just how much I need to not always be wrangling kids when I come before the Lord. It does my heart so much good to just be able to speak to Him without trying to direct (and correct!) at the same time, and I don't want their only experience of prayer to be of their mother nagging them to be quiet and being frazzled, which is so often the case in our group prayer. But when I pray on my own, they can either ask to join in (which they will do because they want to, and then they're much more earnest) or simply see that prayer is important to me, and that it makes me happy.
We still have many prayers throughout the day that we say together, but I'm trying to be aware not to make every prayer time a big event. It is important to me that the kids' prayer life is not forced but comes from a place of freedom, and trying to find the balance between that and instruction can be a challenge. God is showing me that when I come to Him often and unite my heart to His does not replace family prayers and devotion, but that these will naturally flow from it.
#5 - Don't get stuck on any one routine
While we're on the topic of family prayer, I'm learning it's important not to limit ourselves to one devotion or routine all the time. Before my kids were born I spent a lot of time with families who said the rosary together in the evenings, and I knew I wanted to do this with my family. At different times in our lives this was an amazing grace and came easily to us, but in other seasons it was very difficult and fell off our radar all together. At one point we discovered the breviary and began saying morning and evening prayers, which were also a great blessing to us. But these too were easier to maintain at some stages than others, so sometimes we pray them and sometimes we don't. For a long time I would feel guilty about our lack of discipline, but I'm coming to realize the beauty of the Church in proposing many devotions - there is always a prayer for whatever season of life you are in. There is a huge collection of prayers to turn to throughout the day, many devotions that have specific times attached to them (like the Angelus or the Chaplet of Divine Mercy), others that you can do anytime or place, like the rosary or the liturgy of the hours. For me even having our instruments in our living room as opposed to the bedroom, and music books handy is a great encouragement to sing praise and worship songs when we have a bit of free time. I am beginning to see that I should not expect my prayer life to always look the same, because life is changing and growing all the time. Instead of feeling bad about the things I didn't do, for me it has been much better to say, "what can I do now to find Christ?" And the answer to that may be the same as it was yesterday, or it might be totally new.
This past week God has really been showing me that prayer is not something to be tucked away. It is not something to check off a to-do list but an entire way of life - an orientation of your heart to God that allows Him to direct your day and is attentive and listening to His promptings. Sometimes it takes the form of a formal prayer, and other times it is a quiet, whimsical acknowledgement of His greatness. I'm learning that living with a heart fixed on God naturally leads to prayer and union with Him, and brings Him into every aspect of my life. I am grateful for the grace I have received this week, that He has made Himself so present to me in the midst of such busyness. And I pray that as summer winds down and the new school year approaches, He will continue to guide me and keep me close to Him. That as life becomes more crazy the chaos will not consume me, but instead God will enter into it with me, touch it with His presence, and bring new life to it.
"The Covenant God established with Abraham contained a promise: 'Therefore, if you hearken to My voice and keep My covenant, you shall be my special possession, dearer to Me than all other people, though all the earth is Mine.' Given the signs of this unheard-of preference, what response would be expected from those who received and experienced it? 'To live your life,' Fr. Giussani says, 'attentive to the leadings of God.' "
(2016 Spiritual Exercises of the Fraternity of Communion and Liberation)