Over the last few weeks, we have been looking at the importance of rituals in our daily lives. I’d like to finish up by looking at this in terms of prayer. We have seen that rituals can alleviate stress and can help us accomplish our work and goals. I have proposed the importance of a morning ritual and rituals throughout our workday. Including prayer in our morning and evening ritual or creating a daily ritual around prayer is an important part of advancing in the spiritual life.
Guess what? You won’t always feel like praying. But if you have it as part of your rituals, you’ll still do it. And that’s important.
More Than a Feeling
We can get distracted by the “how” and making sure our t’s are crossed and our i’s are dotted that we tire before we have even begun. It is not about how many rosaries you can finish or how prayers you can read from your prayerbook. It is not about whether you can get through all nine days of a novena without forgetting. Those things are great, don’t get me wrong, but they should aid our conversation, not replace it or hinder it.
God would like our undivided attention, but first He simply wants us to show up.
He would rather me come to him, habitually, every morning and tell him how I slept, thank him for the gift of the new day, and ask for help in my to-do list, than to put off my prayers all day until I can pray “well.” God wants me to show up whether I’m “feeling” it or not. He desires to talk to me. I can talk to Him whether I have the right words or not. He wants me to be honest and vulnerable and admit when I’m just not sure.
C. S. Lewis mused, “I have a notion that what seem our worst prayers may really be, in God’s eyes, our best. Those, I mean, which are least supported by devotional feeling and contend with the greatest disinclination. For these, perhaps being nearly all will, come from a deeper level than feeling.”
Do not wait until you feel like praying to pray. Do not wait until you think you can be a “good pray-er” (whatever that is). Start today. Show up.
So that starts by making a plan. Cultivating a prayer life requires building habits. And we build habits by recreating and then practicing rituals. If you’re temperament is such that you eschew formalities and structure, build a looser plan. But know that you will not pray unless you plan to pray.
Cultivate a routine in the morning that includes prayer. At the very least, make a good morning offering. Perhaps type out the prayer and tape it to your mirror in the bathroom. If your mornings are busy or if you aren’t a morning person, do not set that aside as your time for deep mental prayer. But perhaps plan a few moments of Scriptural reading or spiritual reading (I recommend Father Fernandez’ In Conversation with God or Mike Aquilina’s Take Five books of meditations with Newman, Ignatius, or Benedict XVI). Do it whether you feel like it or not.
Pick a few moments throughout the day that will remind you to speak to God. These aren’t times of prolonged mental prayer, but little reminders throughout the day to simply say hi or thank you to Him. If you work in an office building, maybe it’s each time you step on the elevator. If you’re a stay at home mother or father, maybe it’s each time you hang up the phone. Build little reminders to mentally speak to God throughout the day. Perhaps you can set an alarm to go off at noon to pray the Angelus.
If you’re a night owl, rather than spending time scrolling through social media or aimlessly watching TV, set aside thirty minutes before bed for more serious mental prayer. Before bedtime, cultivate the habit of an evening Examen. Take time to look over your day, thank God for its gifts, examine your conscience and ask His help to make a resolution for the following day.
Start By Showing Up
Do not bite off more than you can chew; set reasonable goals that are attainable based on your current prayer life. Yes, you would like to pray a daily rosary. But if you are not praying one now, perhaps it’s better to introduce the devotion into your life gradually. Remember, we are talking about building habits, and those do not happen overnight.
When it comes to our prayer life, the first step is to show up. Having a ritual helps this. If the feeling isn’t there, you aren’t going to pray if it requires reinventing the wheel every day, finding time, and figuring out what to do. Have a ritual. And try to show up. Maybe you are not feeling pious today. Maybe your mind is wandering and there is a lot on your to-do list. Perhaps the kids are especially needy this week and you do not know where you could find time to pray.
If you do not make it part of your daily rituals, prayer is not going to happen. If you create daily rituals, your rituals are not always going to happen. But it’s a start. And tomorrow is a new day.
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