How Prayer Changes When You Become A Parent

by Family, Prayer

I don’t have time to pray

I have almost always struggled to feel like I pray “enough.” Believe it or not, the last time that I could definitively say that I didn’t struggle with that was before I had kids. I have 5 kids now and we also have some neurodiversity in the family, so the odds of me feeling like I do “enough” of almost anything is hard to come by. For all the things I wish I did more of, prayer has a special place. Not praying “enough” hits harder and brings more shame than say, not working out “enough.” My guess is, many people suffer some level of shame when it comes to prayer, especially parents. Shame is a soul-killer, but it shrivels in the light. So let’s shine some light.

When I think of prayer I often have this mental image of sitting or kneeling in a quiet room, wholly focused on the Lord. Or praying a rosary, meditating deeply on each mystery. Going to daily Mass. Doing the office of readings or morning prayer. Having 10 minutes to quietly read the Bible. I could go on. The common threads through are quiet, time, and focus. And if that’s what prayer means, let me stand up now and say the quiet part out loud, I don’t have time to pray.

My schedule, very nearly 24/7 is determined by the needs of my children. One might say that they’ll survive for 5 minutes without me, and by and large, that is true. But some of my kids have needs that really do require immediate attention or the results could be dire. So there’s a real sense in which I have to be on call 24/7. With all that, there are days when I just don’t have the time, at least not to pray as described above with the quiet and the focus and the amount of time.

Good news! Prayer isn’t a thing that we do. The Catechism of the Catholic Church says that the faithful ought to live “in a vital and personal relationship with the living and true God. This relationship is prayer” ( #2558 CCC).

That’s right, prayer isn’t an act to be performed, it is a relationship to be lived. I could theoretically say a dozen rosaries or read the entire Bible and not once lift my heart and mind to God and the relationship that we have. I could take 30 minutes to say morning prayer and not pray for a second.

Prayer is about living in relationship, not performing a task.

On the flip side then, I always have the opportunity to live prayerfully. That is, I can take whatever task I am doing, whether it is dishes or changing a diaper or trying to wrangle a meltdown, and if I do it with the Lord in my heart I am in fact praying. I am living out my relationship with God. The great news about this way of praying is that by definition there is always time for it. It doesn’t require the same focus that meditation or contemplation do. And it certainly doesn’t have to be quiet.

What does it mean to do these various tasks “with the Lord in my heart?”

Great question. Practically speaking, this form of prayer is very simple and very flexible. It means making an intentional act of the will that God be part of what you’re doing. That’s it. It’s 2 seconds to say, “Lord, let’s do these dishes together,” “Help me care for my child as you care for me,” “Lord don’t let me face this alone,” “God I just can’t focus right now, so please just take this jumble of thoughts and be with me in each of these worries and cares,” “God help me.” It can even just be the name of Jesus. I’m also pretty sure God has a sense of humor, so if you find yourself saying “Lord, can you believe that diaper?!?” it’s ok. He gets it. He’s seen them all. Talk to Him like he’s just a person who is there with you as you’re going about your day. Because he is. 

You may not have time to pray the idealized version of prayer that’s in your head, or to do that “enough,” but that’s ok. You always have time to be prayerful, and that’s what it’s really all about.

“Prayer is a surge of the heart; it is a simple look turned toward heaven, it is a cry of recognition and of love, embracing both trial and joy.”

St. Therese of Lisieux
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