Christian spirituality often boils down to two questions: Do I have time? Will this work?
You could say these are chicken and egg questions. If prayer works, you’ll find the time for it. If you don’t find the time for prayer, it won’t work. If prayer doesn’t seem to work, you won’t find the time for it.
Find the time for prayer, and it will work… eventually.
This is why it has helped to compare the ways that the reflection of prayer resembles the reflection that goes into writing. The two use many of the same practices and mindsets. If I struggle at one, there’s a good chance I’m struggling at the other. My failures and breakthroughs in writing have helped me understand my failures and breakthroughs in prayer.
Writing is a lot like prayer since everyone thinks they can write, just as everyone thinks they should be able to pray. However, both require learning some basic disciplines, mindsets, and practices in order to make them more likely and more fruitful. True, anyone can and should pray. Anyone can and should write. However, just sitting down to write can be extremely frustrating. The same goes for just sitting down to pray.
Disciplines, structure, and the wisdom of those who have gone before us provide a framework that helps us stand. We learn within the security of these structures and disciplines. What we learn from others we imitate clumsily at first. Over time we find our own way forward.
In the case of writing, I’ve faced these questions about whether I have the time and whether writing will “work.” I’ve found that I had to spend years making time for writing, prioritizing it, learning from experts, imitating the masters, and failing a lot. The progress was slow and incremental.
We can find time for just about anything if we make it a priority. I have learned that prioritizing things like prayer, exercise, and writing means I have to really plan ahead during the day for things like:
- When will I do the dishes?
- When will I fold the laundry and put it away?
- When will I sleep and when will I wake up?
- How will I keep myself from wasting time on social media?
- How will I focus on my work?
- Some days go better than others with all of these tasks!
If I want to make the most of my writing time, I need to invest in things like:
- Reading constructive books.
- Free writing when I have a moment.
- Jotting down ideas in a notebook or phone.
- Practicing and stretching myself with new projects.
My growth as a writer is a lot like prayer in that I need to learn the disciplines of prayer, learn from people who have greater experience in prayer, and practice using them. Just trying prayer out a few times won’t give you a clear sense of whether it will work. It’s a long term discipline that you develop over time.
Will prayer work? Only if I make the time for it.
Can I find time for prayer? I can, but I’ll be more likely to do so once I see that it works.
If you’re uncertain, discouraged, or leaning heavily toward doubt right now, I trust that prayer is hard to attempt. Where do you begin if prayer has been a source of frustration?
I’ve learned that I need to begin with making time to practice and learning what I can.
We’re left with faith, believing that God is present already and that the greatest barrier in prayer isn’t coming from God’s end of things but rather training ourselves to become aware of God. We can step forward into prayer believing that those who seek will find. Mind you, we don’t know what exactly we’ll find when we seek. We can’t control the timeline of our seeking.
We can only control our schedules and what we believe about God: that God is present, that God is seeking us, and that the simple desire to pray is enough to begin making time for prayer.
Read more about the basics of contemplative prayer and Christian spirituality in my latest book:
Flee, Be Silent, Pray: An Anxious Evangelical Finds Peace with God through Contemplative Prayer
On sale for $2.99