What to do When Your Prayer Life Falls Apart
If you’re reading this, you have some affinity to prayer. Either out of curiosity or a desire to be a better practitioner, each of us has some sense of “praying well”.
Unfortunately, praying well isn’t as easy as we might like it to be. This may be due to inconsistency or a lack of confidence or an inability to focus. Whatever the case, we want progress and if you’re an American, you want fast progress that you can measure.
But, as 14th century mystic Meister Eckhart indicated, much of the spiritual life is about subtraction, not addition and certainly not measurement. Our efforts can fall flat when we don’t “see” progress. ‘
As Eckhart says, “God expects but one thing of you, and that is that you should come out of yourself in so far as you are a created being made and let God be God in you.” At first glance, this can sound like the stuff of fluffy spirituality, sort of like a “let God be God” approach to life.
But look deeper at the quote.
Prayer, as a means to an end, is just that- a lever through which a relationship can grow. Our relationship with God uses prayer as a means of communication and intimacy. When our prayer life falls apart, we can fear that our relationship with God is faltering as well.
I can relate to this through a recent personal story.
As I am the early riser in our family, morning dog care has become my responsibility. While I don’t mind the chore, it has wreaked havoc on my morning routine. Instead of coffee, a Bible and a journal for 30 minutes, I’m taking out the dog, feeding him and then making sure he doesn’t have an accident. It’s an odd process- feed, wait, watch, wait some more. This doesn’t make for a calming morning routine.
First, a settling reassurance from God that this “season” won’t last forever. Having had Ace (our puppy) for a month, I can see that the strong foundation of prayer which existed before Ace has propelled me through this time of regrounding a morning routine. Quite amazingly, I haven’t gotten discouraged and have found other times during the day in which to pray. Not ideal but better than nothing.
Second, and this is thanks to some wise counsel from my spiritual director, I’ve been able to reframe my morning routine into a prayerful experience. This is the funny part of the story. I am what you might call “kitchen challenged” but thankfully, I married a woman who is a wonderful cook.
Over the years, my attempts at cooking dinner (or any other meal for that matter) have been greeted by polite tolerance from my children. Still, I dabble occasionally and keep trying to improve.
In the month since we’ve had Ace, I discovered a chunk of time in the morning (30 minutes) which used to be reserved for morning prayer. As the adorable and demanding puppy has now claimed that time slot, I wondered if I could use the rest of the 30 minutes for something else.
Why not make a hot breakfast for everyone?
The first thought of this was hilarious. Remember, I can’t really cook that well. But, when people are tired, they will eat almost anything. So, without fear, I ventured into the kitchen and decided to re-use what had been my morning routine into cooking.
The results have been decent and on some days, rather wonderful.
- Blueberry muffins.
- Cranberry muffins.
- Sugar cookies.
After a week, the kids are now asking what the next morning breakfast will entail. It’s become a game of sorts.
Another discovery from this is the awareness that I might be able to use this time of cooking as a time of praying. To be fair, when you are busy in the kitchen you are typically stirring, measuring and paying attention to your ingredients. But, with some intentionality, you can (as I have) turn this simple act of cooking into a pure act of praying.
Here's how it works
Here’s how it works: first I put out the ingredients, then I put on my Dad Apron, then I make the sign of the cross and ask God to turn my cooking into praying, then I go to work. The final product, even if imperfect, is something wonderful.
I won’t go so far as to say that “God and I cooked this for you” but you get the point.
What I’ve learned is that yes, there are times in your life when your prayer life really falls apart. This will happen to each of us at some point. If it hasn’t yet hit you, I dare say “get ready”. When a mom has a baby, things get crazy. When you get into a car crash and have to recover, things get crazy. When you are traveling or on vacation, things can get crazy.
If you can let God turn the crazy into something new and different, you'll be ok.
By taking the long view and then reframing how I thought of prayer, things have now settled and I’m finding new rhythms for prayer. New spaces are opening up in my day that I didn’t see before. God is being God in me and I’m learning, once again, to graciously get out of His way.
And of course four children plus a puppy are getting to enjoy fresh muffins each morning.
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