During my years as a FOCUS missionary, I was invited to start every day with a holy hour of silent prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. This was how my team began every day together, with Mass following at some point and often a Rosary as well. Whether or not I wanted to, felt up for it or had other things going on, I never had to think twice about praying because it was built into my schedule.
Then I left FOCUS (Fellowship of Catholic University Students), entered the workforce as a teacher and began preparing for marriage to my fiancé. Many told me how hard it might be to keep up the robust prayer life I’d had the opportunity to foster while as a missionary. I believed them, but didn’t quite know what that struggle was going to look like.
It didn’t take long for me to find out. The anxiety of a new job, a new city and my coming vocation were overwhelming. And can you guess the first thing that left my daily routine? I’ll give you a hint: It wasn’t taking a shower.
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Prayer was often done before my brain was awake in the early hours of the morning (when I got up for it, that is) or after a long day of teaching. As the days went on and my commitment waned, it wasn’t long before a week would go by and I would think, “Did I pray at all?”
I tried many different methods: waking up earlier, praying before I went to sleep, a hand-written prayer said every morning before I started teaching. Nothing stuck. And pretty soon, the shame of not praying, not doing what I was “supposed” to be doing, set in, making an already difficult situation even more so.
This same sort of pattern followed me into motherhood. It was always something. I was too tired or couldn’t focus because of the demands of taking care of my sons, and I found a million other things that needed to be done as soon as my hands were free.
If I’m being honest, this same pattern follows me today. I’ve learned how to be a better mom, a better wife, a better friend, a better homemaker, but I am still stuck in what seems to be the same place in my prayer life. I start a new habit, and it lasts only a few days. I get a routine, but then something changes in my life and that routine no longer works. I get discouraged, I get frustrated, and I have a hard time not totally giving up.
A few weeks ago, after another “too long since I last prayed” moment, my kids were amusing themselves and the Bible was sitting right beside me. “Alright Jesus,” I said, “this is it. I can do this. I can give you 10 minutes.” I thumbed to the Gospel of John, and as I read the second verse, my 7-month-old tipped over backwards, hit his head on the ground and began to wail. After consoling him, my 2-year-old wanted a snack. And I smirked at Jesus: “This is what you let happen when I try to make time for you.”
Ironically, that cynical remark was probably the most honest and genuine part of my 2-minute prayer. And Jesus, knowing me and seeing right into my heart in that moment, said lovingly, “It was enough.” I knew in my heart he meant what he said. He was consoling my frustration, pleased purely by my desire to be with him and the effort I gave to do so.
Are you in a similar season? Is it hard to find the space, the desire or the motivation to pray? Sister, I’m with you. And so is Jesus. He hasn’t abandoned you because you’re not living up to whatever expectation you’ve made for yourself when it comes to prayer. And you are not the only one.
What I’m not saying is that your prayer life doesn’t matter, that it’s totally fine to not pray because Jesus still loves you. He does still love you, but he wants to be with you. He is patient and gentle, but he is also zealous and passionate. He wants to receive you and for you to receive him. He wants you to pray so that you can be with him.
That “being with,” though, doesn’t have to look a certain way. It really doesn’t. There are women all over, whether in my community, in a book, on a podcast or on Instagram, who have beautiful prayer lives and who I aspire to imitate. However, Jesus is still with me in my 2-minute Scripture reflection, my car Rosary, my prayers with my children before bedtime, and my 10-minute Hallow session on a walk.
“Much more is accomplished by a single word of the Our Father said, now and then, from our heart, than by the whole prayer repeated many times in haste and without attention.” St. Teresa of Ávila was basically a prayer master, so feel free to take her words seriously. Truths like these are what get me through these dry days and provide me with the motivation to give what I have while I learn how to give more.
I don’t want to stay here, and I hope that my prayer life is still just in its infant stages, waiting to grow and develop into something robust and beautiful. In the meantime, though, I will stop shaming myself for my own unfair expectations so that I can actually say yes to what God is inviting me to.
If you want to move from shame to freedom in your own prayer life, ask yourself the following questions: What do I believe about myself, God and prayer? What is true and what is a lie? What is my expectation for myself? Is it fair to the season I am in? How are shame and guilt getting in the way of me spending honest time with God?
Allow your answers to these questions to start to break chains of slavery to shame and fear so that you can be free to pray as you ought. Bring them to a trusted mentor, spiritual director, priest or Catholic counselor, and start to work through them. And in the midst of your healing, give God what you can and ask for the grace of knowing you are enough.