In our busy modern world, constructing and keeping a strong, consistent prayer routine can seem impossible. Family duties beckon; work obligations eat into our evenings; countless people, emails and notifications are vying for our attention; and distractions abound.
Yet a consistent and steadily growing relationship with the Lord in prayer is the root of our spiritual growth and perhaps the most important part of our lives. We probably won’t consistently love others well if we aren’t loving the Lord well through prayer. Further, the more stressful our daily lives are, the more a consistent prayer routine is necessary. Our work-obsessed, technology-obsessed, and news-obsessed culture will easily destroy our prayer lives and our inner peace if we let it. Counteracting the pressures of the modern culture requires us to be more vigilant about our prayer time than Christians of past ages had to be.
St. Francis de Sales wrote that every Christian is called to reach the heights of holiness in his prayer life, but that the specifics will look different based on our vocation. College students need to pray differently than the elderly, working mothers need to pray differently than young single people, and diocesan priests need to pray differently than Trappist monks.
Constructing a better prayer routine often requires some careful thought, creativity, and fittingly, discernment through prayer itself over time, but a little effort and a few small adjustments can take us a long way when we turn to the Lord with a sincere desire for growth as we humbly ask for His assistance.
Here are a few forms of prayer that you may consider augmenting your daily prayer routine with, as well as some tips for implementing them:
Briefly pray first thing in the morning
The French priest St. John Vianney said that when the devil takes the first minute of our day, he knows he is guaranteed much of the rest. Prayer to start your day doesn’t need to be elaborate or time-consuming. It can simply be a few seconds where we use the first fruits of our day to acknowledge our loving God as the first priority in our lives. You can find your own way to do this, or perhaps consider simply kneeling before a crucifix while reciting the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Construct some daily/weekly prayer intention lists
It can be helpful to have a list of certain things or people to specifically pray for each day and/or week. Consider some of the following:
- A list of friends you pray for
- A list of enemies you pray for
- A list of virtues you most want to grow in
- A list of sins you most want to eliminate
- A list of things in your life you are grateful for
- A list of social causes you pray for (an end to legal abortion, a just and peaceful resolution to the war in Ukraine, the conversion of Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Christians to the Catholic Church, etc.)
Meet with a spiritual director to advise you, encourage you, and hold you accountable for your prayer goals
St. John Henry Newman said that trying to be your own spiritual director is like trying to be your own lawyer or your own doctor—it’s not a good idea, even for those who are great lawyers and doctors for other people.
Even the greatest of saints benefited from having a spiritual director to illuminate new perspectives and help cover their blind spots. If we wouldn’t go a year without seeing a dentist to individually evaluate the state of our teeth, does it make sense to go years at a time without having someone do the same for our immortal souls and our prayer life?
Ask one of your parish priests if you can schedule a spiritual direction meeting with them. Or if they’re unavailable, consider if there may be a deacon, a wise friend, or leader in your local community who could provide valuable help to you in this area.
Say a short prayer each hour, on the hour
At the suggestion of a priest friend of mine, when my watch beeps on the hour, I like to consecrate that hour to the Lord with this short prayer: “Heavenly Father, bless me this next hour that I may serve as a portal of charity flowing from your throne on high, and that I may be preserved free from all stain of sin. Amen.”
It takes less than 10 seconds each time—less than 2 minutes per day—and yet it has totally transformed how I live my day. Consider having your own short prayer that you say each hour—or use this one if you like it. Small time requirement— bigimpact!
Join a small prayer, community, or Bible study group at your parish
Virtue almost always grows to its fullest perfection in community—even for introverts (like myself). Communal prayer helps us grow in ways that private prayer can’t, and going to Mass once a week on Sunday simply cannot mine the fullness of grace that the Lord has to offer us through communal prayer. Consider joining (or starting) a small group of this kind at your parish.
Change the details of your prayer environment
Sometimes small changes in our exterior surroundings can greatly improve our prayer time. Consider experimenting with the following:
- Location (bedroom, backyard, adoration chapel, on a walk…)
- Time of day
- Lighting (dark room, well-lit room, dimly-lit room, dark room with candles lit….)
- Body posture (kneeling, sitting in chair, sitting crisscross, standing, slowly walking….)
Also, when praying, try always having a central visual focal point, such as a crucifix, an image of Jesus, or an image of our Blessed Mother. Every time you notice yourself dozing off or being distracted, stare at that focal point for a few seconds to regain your focus and redirect your thoughts back to the Lord.
Litanies are a short and simple way to improve your prayer life by targeting a specific virtue you want to grow in, and there is an abundance of them to be found online. Here are a few favorites:
- Litany of Humility (hard copies from Road to Purity available here)
- Litany of Trust (hard copies from the Sisters of Life available here)
- Litany for Chastity (hard copies from the Angelic Warfare Confraternity available here)
The devil wants you to remain stagnant in your prayer life, convinced that your busy schedule doesn’t allow you to improve it. But improving your prayer life doesn’t always require a great deal of additional time. A little structure and intentionality can go a long way. And as with all things in the spiritual life, the Lord wants to do the heavy lifting with His grace, operative through prayer, that is always purifying us, strengthening our ability to share His love with those around us, and fortifying our inner sense of peace.
“Love to pray. Prayer enlarges the heart until it is capable of containing God’s gift of himself.”
-St. Teresa of Calcutta