Now, I pray a lot, and most of the time it doesn't even register as prayer. It's just me and God talking, and I will have days where I think I'm still not praying enough (really, will we ever be?), but then I have to stop and think of all the conversations I have with God throughout the day that don't feel like they "count", but most certainly do. So how did I get from a once a week pray-er to someone who loves it and it comes naturally for? Well, I have to say it didn't come naturally at first. Just like anything else, I had to build prayer habits. Without them, I don't think anything would have stuck, and certainly wouldn't have grown into the prayer life I have today. If you're looking to step it up a notch, or are even starting out from scratch in this department, hopefully the efforts and steps I took will be helpful to you. I would say it took about a year for my prayer life to completely transform with some hard work and lots of encouragement from people further on the path than I. These tips shouldn't all be used at the same time. If you find certain ones helpful, try doing one at a time until it is routine. Then you can add another. The best way to overwhelm yourself and give up is to try too much all at once!
Tips to Build a Robust Prayer Life
- A lot of people I know say that when they were little, they were told to say a Hail Mary any time they heard sirens. I can't recall when I started this, but I would say sometime within the last year. The idea being, of course, that you are praying for whoever is in need of those sirens and whoever is providing the public service to that person. It's not necessarily routine (because hopefully you aren't hearing sirens multiple times a day or even daily!), but can be a great reminder to pray for others. If you have children, tell them about this. They probably won't let you forget it!
- Along the same lines, pray for the souls in purgatory when you pass a cemetery. You can either pray for ALL souls or specifically the souls in that cemetery... or it may remind you to pray for the soul of a loved one. If it's not a Catholic cemetery, it's likely that that souls could use a few extra prayers (though I know our cloistered brothers and sisters are praying fervently for them)! There is a cemetery on my way to work and every time I see a new tent up, it reminds me to pray for all the souls.
- Lent is coming up, as you are probably well aware. What a great time to commit to more prayer! You don't have to give something up; you can instead add something that will bring you closer to God. Most churches give out free Lenten devotionals. If yours doesn't, I bet you can find one online (let me know if you need help!). A great way to build habit is by committing to daily prayer during Lent. They say 30 days makes a habit, so you will be ahead of the game!
- The key to me for someone just starting out is to pick one or two times of day that you will always pray... ALWAYS. After a month or two of doing it, it will be complete habit and you will actually miss it if you skip a day. I don't mean miss it as in, "Oops, I forgot!". That will happen, but you'll actually begin to miss the quiet time with God. You could do something like pray at wake up and bed time, or meals. Make it something easy to remember!
- Once that has become a habit, add to it. You can do this as much as you want, and as fast or slow as you want. You will find that after a while (and be patient!) that you won't have to consciously think about these prayer times because you will be in conversation with God throughout the day anyway. But you need the routine to get yourself to a place where you are naturally and frequently praying.
- Work on praying with your spouse and children. If you are single, you may see if there is a friend or two who will pray for you. The more you normalize it (rather than saving it for something you do in private), the more you are likely to become used to it, do it often, and even enjoy it!
A Little More Intense
- Build confidence in praying 'free style'. As Catholics, we rock recited prayers. And that's ok... good even! But free style praying is important too because it is in that that you will converse with God instead of just talking to him. My husband, having a Protestant upbringing, is very good at this. In fact, it's still something I struggle with and lean on him for. I can talk to God all day in my head, but it's harder when it's out loud. That's ok! Start with whatever makes you most comfortable. Ideally, you'll be doing some of both anyways.
- Get to adoration. I will be honest. I feel bad saying this, but I used to feel pulled to go to adoration, but really felt like it was a chore. Now I find myself missing and craving it! Adoration is ideally spent with your mind totally open to God, but it takes a while to get there. I'm not there yet! Of my hour, I try to commit 20 minutes to that, and the other 40 is either spent saying the rosary or reading the Bible or other religious material. Back to the point though, adoration is a great way to increase your prayer life. If you are a mom, you might think about starting a kids adoration hour so you can have the opportunity to go and not worry if your kids are a little loud! You don't have to have an assigned hour to go. We usually go on random Friday nights, but not weekly.
- Speaking of adoration, get out of your comfort zone. Have you ever been to Taize Prayer? I had never heard of it until last year, but now I am hooked. At the church that does it locally, the church is dark, with tons of candles on the floor of the altar and a big wooden cross in the middle. There is lots of beautiful, soul stirring chanting. Oh man, it gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. Experiencing things like that can really shake up your prayer life because it's so different from how we normally pray. I'm sure there are other awesome prayer services out there that I don't even know about!
- One of my favorite things to do that really helps me remember to pray is to offer my day up to a cause, person, group of people, or situation. I don't do this daily, but usually when I know I'm going to have a tough day. Once I've identified what I'm offering the day up for, I find myself thinking about that every time I get frustrated. Instead of dwelling on my emotions, I say a prayer, and it grounds and centers me almost every time. I would like to add this as a daily thing eventually but, regardless, it is a very good prayer tool!
- Pray the rosary on car trips. We try (we aren't always successful) to pray the rosary or chaplet of divine mercy any time we'll be in the car for more than an hour. You're driving, so there are way less distractions than if you were sitting at home. I've heard moms say that it can really calm the kids down, too! Laudate is my go-to app for the rosary, but there are lots out there. You can also get a rosary CD. That way, you don't have to actually hold the rosary to keep up. Or, your spouse can hold/lead the rosary. Whatever works!
Remember what I said... don't look at these lists and think you have to do it all at once, or work up to doing it all. These are things that have worked for me during different times. Some things I am doing and will probably do for life, while others bridged me to more natural conversations with God. Try out a few of the suggestions and you'll find what works for you. We all come to God in different ways!