Motherhood’s Demands and Inconstancy in Prayer
Part 2 of 2
In Part 1, we talked about the demands of motherhood, how they can impact our prayer life, and how they can also be an excuse for not praying as we would like. Today, we will discuss things to consider in dealing with inconstancy in prayer … and what we can do about them.
Questions to Consider in Dealing with Inconstancy in Prayer
First, to be clear about terms, when I speak of the time for prayer, I am referring to that intimate time of solitude and quiet that we ought to carve out for God, daily – the time of meditation or, as it’s also called, mental prayer – that Father Faber had above-mentioned [in part 1] we must first earnestly sacrifice for. “For mental prayer in my opinion is nothing else than an intimate sharing between friends; it means taking time frequently to be alone with Him who we know loves us,” says St. Teresa of Avila [The Book of Her Life 8, 5].
So how can we deal with the inconstancy of our prayer at times? First we may ask ourselves these questions…
1. Take note of the pattern of your inconstancy.
Am I sleeping in past my time of prayer? Perhaps I need to go to bed earlier. Perhaps I need to be more disciplined in waking at my alarm.
Am I frequently falling asleep during prayer? Perhaps I need to move my prayer to another time of day or just get more sleep.
Is this simply due to a “season of life” I am in? (For example, a child wakes up crying because he is going through a phase or you have an infant to tend to.) If so, it will pass. Keep steady to your prayer commitments the best you can and don’t give them up; just adjust and be flexible as to when and where. If you can’t one day, just let it go and try again the next day, discerning how and where the adjustments need to be made. But most importantly, don’t stop praying! St. Teresa of Avila reminds us this during our times of sickness: “Prayer is an act of love, words are not needed. Even if sickness distracts from thoughts, all that is needed is the will to love.”
Is there an activity that is encroaching upon my time of prayer? How can I change things so that my time of prayer does not take second place in my day?
Did something throw me “off-track” with my daily prayer and I just haven’t taken the initiative to seriously get back on track? Then get back on track.
Do I miss prayer because I have not properly prioritized the use of my time and end up doing other non-urgent things instead? The underlying cause of this may be spiritual sloth and a dissipation of spirit will happen by being so caught up in worldly matters and not allowing the soul to breathe.
On an aside but related to these former questions, this next comment may be debatable, but it’s worth considering since it’s repeated so often by the saints: Morning is the best time for mental prayer. As a busy parent of young children, you have two options:
- To pray before the kids wake up or after the kids fall asleep. That is, unless your kids have a consistent, every-day nap time.
- OR your spouse tag-teams a daily prayer time with you at some point during the day, i.e. they watch the kids while you go in another room to pray for a time and vice versa.
I am deeply convinced that whatever time we choose for our daily time with the Lord, that our minds and bodies fall in line with the discipline. One older, more-experienced mother shared with me that forming this habit was “the hardest lesson she had to teach herself,” but now, for her, it is very easy to rise early and pray. Like her, taking pains to make space for prayer might be the hardest yet most necessary habit to acquire. It should be emphasized, however, that whatever time we choose, being consistent with it and developing that intimate relationship with the Lord are what matters most. St. Teresa of Avila advises us with regards to prayer:
“The important thing is not to think much but to love much; and so do that which best stirs you to love.” – Interior Castle IV, I, 7
Again, if you are a parent of young children, we really only have two options: Before the kids wake or after they go to bed — again, unless you have some kind of routine as noted above. So, what time do your children typically wake up? If you wake up with them, why not try to wake up 15 minutes earlier and then increase that time by 5 or ten minutes every couple of weeks until you feel you’ve allotted ample time for your daily time of mental prayer? It’s doable!
If you’d rather pray at night, make a resolution to do it first thing after your child or children fall asleep. Chances are that if you don’t, you won’t, or you will be too tired. An important thing to remember is that we ought to fit our day around prayer, not prayer into our day. Do you see the difference?
2. Do I thirst and pine to grow in daily intimacy with the Lord through prayer?
Each moment that our minds are not occupied by the duties of our state in life which need that type of mental attention, we ought to lift our hearts and minds to God. Even in the midst of our doing, we can still be loving God.
In regards to daily time of prayer and those days we perhaps either miss it or have to cut it short, does that desire to pray still remain in us? Are we still “searching for God” throughout our day for “little pockets of prayer” to stow away with God in our hearts or during an unexpected pause in our day? If that desire to be with God in prayer remains, it is a good sign that one is not missing prayer due to the vice of spiritual tepidity or spiritual sloth.
3. Am I taking concrete steps to establish prayer as a daily part of my life?
Concrete steps are important because it is very easy for one to merely say, “Ugh, I need to get back to praying every day” and then never follow through. Desires need to be backed by resolutions. If a season in life, perhaps a sickness, threw you off track with your daily prayer, what are you doing to establish it as part of your daily life again? Establish concrete steps and write it down if you have to. At the end of the day, ask yourself if you did them. If you didn’t, simply try again the next day.
Remember, daily prayer is the most important thing you can do in your day. Do not take this commitment lightly. Repeating the words of Father Faber, “God will not send His fire if we do not first lay the sacrifice in order.”
4. Skipping or missing prayer should be the exception rather than the rule.
So, is your time of daily prayer the exception or the rule? The goal is every day. Yet the days don’t always go as we had hoped. Unexpected interruptions happen from time to time. Breathe. Let it go. Occasionally, you just need to sleep in. You’re sick? Get better! You have an infant? Take it easy on yourself!
But if you notice that missing prayer is becoming more of your rule of life and a habit, it’s time to begin asking yourself the first three questions again. What’s underlying it?
So mothers, you’re doing great. Even if you miss prayer at times or struggle with making that time some days, it is a good sign if:
- Your desire to abide with the Lord in prayer remains,
- You are taking concrete steps to establish prayer as part of your daily life,
- You simply try again the next day if you miss the time for daily prayer,
- You persevere and never give up!
Remember, to grow in a relationship with someone you need to spend time with them, and so it is with prayer. Consider the questions above when you realize you lack consistency or get thrown off-track. Prayer is our time with God; it is our “intimate sharing” as St. Teresa of Avila says. If we want to be spiritually life-giving to our families – which is our number one duty – then we MUST draw from the source of Life Himself through prayer.
Art for this post on motherhood’s demands and inconstancy in prayer: Close-Up Face, Mortification7, own work, 22 July 2010, PD-Worldwide; Eternal Clock, Robbert van der Steeg, 25 March 2009, CC-SA 2.0 Generic; Mirror of Maiden Meditation, Charles West Cope, 1847, CCA-SA 4.0 International; Child Praying at Mother’s Knee, Pierre-Édouard Frère, 1864, PD-Worldwide; all Wikimedia Commons.