When it comes to exercise, the general train of thought is that more is better. Sometimes my first task as a fitness coach is to gently move people to a new way of thinking that developing quality technique is more productive that doing lots of work without careful attention to how the body is moving and recovering.
Most people are exercising for general fitness and overall health for life and sport. Even when they are training for a specific event, such as an obstacle course race or a marathon, focusing on the quality of training, rather than the quantity, is essential to prevent injury and ensure they are well prepared.
I was reminded recently, in a conversation with a friend, that sometimes we have the same view of our prayer lives … that more is better. That may not always be the case.
If we set a goal of a specific quantity of prayer, rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to guide us as to what and how to pray, we might not even start, or if we do, we might rush through without any heartfelt contemplation at all.
We might be expecting too much from ourselves based on our vocation and especially with our full lives serving family, community and our employer— which, with the proper intention, are also forms of prayer.
Asking the Holy Spirit to guide our prayer lives and coach us on how to pray can be freeing and spiritually productive — without a time element. So we start by setting aside a little time and space, in our schedule and in our hearts, and trust that the Spirit will move us to pray in the way he desires us to pray.
St. Teresa of Avila said, “Much more is accomplished by a single word of the Our Father said, now and then, from our heart, than by the whole prayer repeated many times in haste and without attention.”
What if it isn’t clear how we should pray?
We can stop, listen and have an openness to the gentle movement of the heart to pray, for example, a fervent decade of the Rosary for a family member. Maybe later in the day the Holy Spirit will prompt us to pray another decade. We may have a lunch date cancel and we have a desire to attend noon Mass. We might comfort a suffering friend with spontaneous prayer. We can pray the Gospel for that day in a few minutes at bedtime. The possibilities are endless and the Holy Spirit might just surprise us!
I know that each of us have had ‘God instances’ when we asked for help with time to pray and get everything else done too. Then we look back over the day and see how Our Lady and her Son worked it out all in a way that we could never have imagined.
St. John Vianney reminds us that prayer is love rather than an item on a checklist. “Prayer is the inner bath of love into which the soul plunges itself.” With that thought in mind, let us pray with joy and confidence in the way the Holy Spirit is individually and intimately moving each of us.