Without prayer, I'm doubtful. Without prayer, I'm anxious. Without prayer, I'm hopeless. There were times in my life when I chose not to pray. And those were dark times. The moment I opened myself up to God, and laid all of my troubles before Him, I was free. I was free because I knew how grace worked; you give your life to God and he gives you more than you could ever dream of.
For the last decade or so, before I became a mom, I used to spend dedicated time each day to pray and meditate. The only obstacle in doing so was either my own forgetfulness or ill-planning, which I admit was more frequent than not. Still, there were times I would stop on my commute home to make a visit to a church, just to soak in the peaceful solitude, or other times when I could order my day around what time I wanted to go to mass. Even during my pregnancy, I pointedly made an effort to not only spend time with God, but to learn more deeply the teachings of my faith through a weekly seminar.
One of the trickiest challenges I have faced as a new mom is how to make time for prayer and reflection, while also trying to be a loving wife and providing for my daughter's needs. I know I'm not alone. The women I do know that have productive, momentous prayer lives either have older children, or schedule their day to the minute, and I am not a natural scheduler.
In motherhood, there seem to be only pocket-sized moments of quiet throughout the day, and those moments are usually reserved for simple self-care: a shower, catching up with a friend, or reading, in my case. Often I try to squeeze in prayer as a checklist item, which usually results in A Litany of Complaints; a formula that leaves me feeling narcissistic and often, more discouraged. Distraction is plentiful and the to-do lists are long, but I still need time to reflect, repent, and receive. I have tried reciting a memorized prayer in my head while driving or doing the dishes, much like how I would recite the Pledge of Allegiance in elementary school while really wondering if I had remembered to bring my lunch to school. But life kept happening, including exciting moments compounded by stressful ones, and the longing in my heart for a relationship with God pushed me to try another avenue.
When my daughter was 8 months old I sought out a spiritual director. I knew I needed some gentle redirection and spiritual mentoring so that I could get out of the rut I was in. And the spiritual director, after listening to my entire spiel told me 2 things. First, she said I had to change my paradigm of what prayer time looked like. As with any life change, our priorities shift. What may have been a normal occurrence before babies, was now a total luxury. She asked me if I ever sat and marvelled at my daughter, and thanked God for her. She continued to explain that the act of thanking God for the joy my girl has brought to my life, her cheery smile, and her shocking intelligence are all the beginnings of prayers of thanksgiving (and, ahem, the opposite of complaining). So, while she lay asleep at night, I would thank God, with more precision, for all of the things I love about her, mostly that I get to be her mama. It seemed too easy, but it was, and it was enough.
Second, the spiritual director gently reminded me that finding 10 minutes a day to sit quietly, either reading a spiritual book, or contemplating a theme, would center my day sufficiently. She recommended separating the time into 5 minute intervals, if necessary. Her simple question, "Can you find 10 minutes a day to spend time with God?" shook me. It sounded over-simplified. It sounded almost patronizing, and the little zing I felt when she said it was a sure-fire motivator to give it a try. Hadn't I spent even 15 minutes a day zoning out on my social media feeds? Yes. Down a rabbit hole of celebrity photos on instagram? Guilty. So, how could I complain that prayer was hard and that I didn't know how to make time for it? It is a matter of the will, and my will is weak.
I'm a perfectionist, so the absence of something is usually much easier to notice than the abundance of it. But now, after following this prescribed formula, I have more peace. Things don't rattle me the way they used to. I'm sleeping better at night, and I trust God with more abandon. No longer do I feel like everything falls on me, because He is by my side through it all, and that has been revealed to me with lightning bolt clarity in my meditations. It's funny how 10 minutes a day can change that much.
Maybe in 10 years I will smile thinking of my 27-year-old "problems", just the way I scoff now over my 17-year-old "problems". I will continue to fight for my 10 minutes of prayer a day and I will continue to seek spiritual mentoring, not only for guidance but also for accountability. Sometimes the hardest thing we can do is ask for help, especially when it is something as personal as prayer.