I remember one particularly spiritually dry day early on in my second pregnancy. It was late at night and my energy was spent that day keeping a nap-protesting toddler content, doing chores and cooking, and grabbing spare moments to keep up with ministry work before collapsing onto my bed that night. My connection with God that day felt weak and secondary, and I shuddered thinking about more days like this when I had even more demands placed on my time and energy in the months and years to come.
I prayed to God asking for guidance to help me discern how to structure my prayer life during this wonderful but rather hectic phase of life—a phase I think many people would describe themselves as being in, regardless of their children’s ages, work demands, social obligations, and other responsibilities. I identified patterns of spiritual activity in many of my days, and I pieced them together to form the basic outline of how I might pray and study to a reasonable degree on an average day. Here are some of the praying and faith-studying “hacks” I uncovered:
- Pray first thing when you wake up. Most mornings I wake up via my what I call my toddler alarm clock—my son’s voice saying “Mama, Mama, Maaaamaaaaa!!” Though I always think it would be particularly delightful to preempt my toddler alarm clock with another phone tone, so I have time to pray more slowly before I start the day, right now this just isn’t practical most days given pretty intense middle-of-the-night pregnancy insomnia and nausea in the morning. So, at the very least, I make sure to chat with God, whatever few words I can, before I grab my toddler and rush to make him “eh-s” (eggs) before he supposedly will starve to death. When I greet him with a hug and kiss, we say Good Morning to Jesus, followed by the words, “Thank you, Jesus, for this day. Help us to live it well.” My husband and I (though I am occasionally half-asleep at the time), with or without our son depending on when he wakes up, also pray the Memorare and the Morning Offering before he takes his pre-sunrise leave for work.
- Listen to Catholic radio and podcasts while cooking and cleaning. As a stay-at-home mom, a decent portion of the day is spent cooking and doing chores—an activity shared by most parents, who work either in or outside of the home. My in-laws gifted us with a fantastic pair of speakers (one for upstairs and one for down), and I turn on Catholic radio as I occupy myself with my daily housework. This serves as a great opportunity to keep my brain active and learn more about my faith. I’m usually tuned into whatever is playing on EWTN radio, and am almost always home before 8 a.m. and around 4 p.m. when cooking dinner, so, being on Eastern time, I can plan on catching The Son Rise Morning Show for news and various interviews of Catholic interest, and Kresta in the Afternoon for in-depth commentary on important Catholic issues. Catholic podcasts are also a great source for audio learning. In addition to a variety of EWTN, Ave Maria, and Immaculate Heart radio show podcasts, I like Catholic Answers Focus (which I recently got to do a show for—look for Head & Heart!), for more thorough analysis on certain faith topics, and the Word on Fire Sermon podcast in preparation for Sunday Mass.
- Go to daily Mass whenever possible. Most days of the week, my son and I go to daily Mass. Though praying at Mass with a toddler in tow can be a wee bit distracting, I wouldn’t trade the opportunity for anything, as the graces I get from receiving the Eucharist and the blessing it is to have him make Mass a part of his regular routine from a young age are invaluable.
- Read the Bible on your phone. Reading the Bible electronically is not my ideal way to engage Scripture, but when I can’t easily hold a Bible in hand, having a Bible app on my phone is extremely helpful. (I like this one.) It allows me to read a chapter at a time in unexpected free moments of the day, and I try to select one verse in my reading to continue thinking about after I put my phone away. The Laudate app is also great for praying the Liturgy of the Hours, in whole or in part, throughout the day.
- Pray in short spurts throughout the day, with and without your family. For me, this usually means talking to God more casually in the car, while on an errand, in between books I’m reading to or games I’m playing with my son, while doing a quick task or chore, or while exercising. My prayers are sometimes form prayers, like all or part of a Rosary, a novena prayer for that day, or the Angelus, or they can be more conversation prayers, like thanking God for my blessings, petitioning for my own family’s needs, praying for others intentions, or asking for quick guidance or discernment. Offering up the actual tasks, highs, and lows of the day—whether that be laundry, moments of frustration, a joyful experience—is another way I try to incorporate prayer smoothly into my routine.
- Read a faith-related article or from a spiritual or theological book sometime during the day or evening. I work to include some sort of spiritual reading into my day in addition to Scripture, whether that is an article online from sources like the Integrated Catholic Life or the National Catholic Register or a spiritual book from a classic or modern Catholic writer. One of my all-time favorites is Fr. Jacques Philippe’s Searching for and Maintaining Peace. My husband and I also plan to start watching more episodes from faith-based DVD programs at night after we put our son to bed, like the Augustine Institute’s Symbolon or Beloved.
- Pray with your family before bedtime. Our evening prayer as a family after dinner usually looks like a decade of the Rosary, a reflection from a spiritual book (like this one, for example), or the PRAISE formula prayer we learned from one of Dr. Greg Popcak’s books (Praise and thank, repent, ask, intercede, seek God’s will, expect that He will answer your prayers in whatever way is best for you.)
- Spend a few minutes of silent time with Jesus before you go to bed. This is the critically important silent time with the Lord that is usually the hardest but most important prayer time of the day. My silent time with Jesus also generally includes an examination of conscience. (Among others, I like the one for families I include at the back of my book.) Ideally, time in the adoration chapel once a week allows for a more prolonged experience of silent prayer which the soul really craves to thrive.
- Listen to a spiritual audio book when you can’t sleep. I spend an unwelcomed amount of time awake in the 2-4 a.m. hours these days, thanks to the well-known experience many women called pregnancy. During these sleepless nights, I’m thankful for Catholic audio books, which allow me to squeeze in some reflection and learning time when my eyes are too tired to read. Thanks to the audio version of the text, I finally finished Ralph Martin’s massive and beautiful book, The Fulfillment of All Desire, which I had wanted to read in its entirety for years.
- Try to be patient with yourself and rely heavily on God’s grace. St. Francis de Sales said, “God takes pleasure to see you take your little steps.” Sometimes, my daily efforts to pray and study seem so wimpy to me, but I am consoled by the fact that God looks kindly on my effort, which gives me the motivation I need to keep praying and moving forward in my spiritual life.
What do you do to maintain a life of prayer and learning amidst your hectic work or family schedules? This is what my average daily prayer and study routine looks like while parenting, maintaining a home, and working part-time in ministry (mostly at nights and during naptime), but of course it fluctuates. Consistency, though, is one of the most important keys to making this all happen—that, and, of course, a heavy dose of patience and lots of God’s grace.