How long should you pray every day?Notice I didn’t ask IF you should pray every day. If you want to make progress in the spiritual life, that part is a given. But how long? That’s the question. I once had a spiritual director who was a religious sister. She was a wonderful guide to me at the time and helped me grow in many ways. But she wanted me to practice multiple devotions, and the list kept growing. I was supposed to attend daily Mass, read and pray with Scripture daily, go to weekly Adoration, and spend time reading spiritual books every day. At the time, I had just started a new job and had two small boys. I tried to do it, but I couldn’t keep it up. Instead of bringing me closer to God, it made me feel like a failure. I know she meant the best, but she was out of touch with my reality. Her life was completely different, and the things that worked for her just weren’t realistic for me. I like to read and listen to productivity experts, mostly because I’m so woefully unproductive myself. I need a lot of help. One of my favorite productivity “gurus” once shared a list of all the things productive people do, such as meditating, journaling, exercising, reading, and reflecting on goals. The list took something like three hours every day to accomplish. But then he said MY list would all depend on my season of life. When he had three girls under 5 years old, his list looked very different. It took a fraction of the time it takes now.
So, how much prayer time is enough?I see this layering on of devotions quite a bit. It makes sense. If some is good, more is better. And, if you have the time, those practices mentioned above will give you a well-rounded spiritually. But we have the tendency to think God is a boss watching the time clock to see how many hours we work. What is most important? How much you love, or how many hours you put in? St. Thérèse of Lisieux opened my eyes on this one. She wasn’t strong enough to do the harsh penances that were popular in her Carmelite convent. So, she fell back to quality instead of quantity. She loved greatly in everything she did. She prayed with all her heart. She had complete trust in Jesus and relied totally on the Holy Spirit to guide her. She followed through with zeal everything God asked of her. Granted, it wasn’t just the amount of prayer time that was hard for Thérèse … although she did have a habit of falling asleep during Adoration. It was corporal penances, like a crucifix necklace with spikes. But the same spirit was at play. The more you did and the more you suffered, the greater your devotion and holiness. Instead, Thérèse loved greatly and sacrificed spiritually in unseen ways like being kind to people that insulted her or eating whatever food she received and never complaining … even if she hated it. Will praying for an hour make you holier? Perhaps, but it’s not a guarantee. So, how much is enough? As much as it takes to get the job done … and no more. Do you need to pray for an hour a day to love God with all your heart and put him at the center of everything you do? Then, that’s what you should do. Can you get it done in less time because you don’t have an hour? Then do that. Fr. Benedict Groeschel once told a story about missing his holy hour because he stopped to help a man in need. He was distraught and begged forgiveness. However, God told him not to worry. Attending that man who needed help was indeed his Adoration because he did it out of great love, for the man and for God. Don’t misunderstand. I’m not saying you shouldn’t pray every day. You need contact with God daily in order to build a relationship with Him. But it’s better to pray well in the time you have than to schedule an hour and miss it half the time because you’re too busy. Some people say their work is their prayer. That’s good, but it’s not enough. You still need a dedicated time that is just for prayer. St. Thomas Aquinas said you can suspend your regular prayer time for a short period if your duties won’t allow it, but only for a short season. You should return to your normal schedule as soon as possible. Work that is offered as prayer is not enough in the long run because, to be honest, after a while it just ends up being work and not prayer. That’s just the truth of being human. We must be intentional about prayer because it’s not natural for us to pray … it’s super-natural. You may not be able to spend an hour praying every day. But that doesn’t mean you can’t start now and work towards that. You’ve heard the old saying -- when’s the best time to plant a tree? The answer is: 20 years ago. When’s the next best time? Right now. So, plant that tree and tend it. Even five minutes a day is building a habit that will result in fertile soil for your spiritual tree to grow. Later, when your season in life changes, you’ll be able to add more time. But the hardest part, the habit of daily prayer, will be set. You will have grown that tree instead of neglecting it and letting it die … or never planting it at all. It may have grown slowly over the years, but it was there, and it stayed alive. Also, as I was saying earlier, maybe it will grow fast indeed if you’re listening to God daily, doing His will faithfully, and applying that to your children, your family, your marriage, and your life. That’s the goal of prayer, not the prayer itself.
Copyright 2020 Marc Cardaronella
About the Author
Marc Cardaronella is the author of Keep Your Kids Catholic: Sharing Your Faith and Making It Stick from Ave Maria Press. Marc directs catechist and discipleship leader formation for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, MO. He is married, has two teen boys, and writes about Catholic spirituality and how to share the Faith on his personal blog.