The great spiritual writer and priest Henrí Nouwen once visited Mother Teresa and asked her what he should do to live out his vocation as a priest, she replied:
“Spend one hour a day in adoration of your Lord and never do anything you know is wrong, and you will be alright.”
My first reaction was something like, “Oh, that sounds super simple. Got it.”
Then, I started looking at my calendar. “AN HOUR??? REALLY?”
And then I started thinking about the low points in my days, the times when anger burns, and the moments when apathy and sloth make it very easy to resist what could help me the most.
With a few moments of reflection, the words of Mother Theresa started sounding like a reach for me.
While we could argue about the merits of her advice and the fact that she gave it to a priest rather than a married guy with a job and three kids, let’s assume for a moment that she’s right on the money about what we all need each day. Besides, it’s easy to assume that only “religious professionals” have the time for spiritual practices.
If adoration and obedience will help most of us fulfill our vocations, then we just need to figure out how to make them both happen. And even if we want to debate with Mother Teresa, I don’t think more adoration and obedience would hurt anyone—especially since adoration could take so many different forms.
So, let’s consider for a moment what it could look like to set aside an hour of adoration for the Lord each day and not doing anything we know that’s wrong.
Where Do We Begin? Obedience?
I’ll be honest that when I first tested out this path for spiritual direction, I spent a lot of time focusing on my actions and thoughts. I tried to do what I knew to be right.
There are moments when we need a bit of willpower and some white knuckling to obey God’s commands. A few incidents with neighbors come to mind as moments when I had to intentionally act to forgive some who had done something wrong. I had to choose to let go of my anger in order to forgive as Jesus told me to forgive.
Forgiveness isn’t usually easy, but it is what a merciful and forgiving God asks of us. Yet, should obedience to God’s commands always come down to willpower and white knuckles?
I think that question helps us see how Mother Theresa’s two suggestions intersect rather than stand alone. In fact, that separated approach to obedience and adoration was a big mistake on my part.
An hour of adoration of a merciful and forgiving God will remind me of God’s great mercy for me. I’ll also allow God to shape and change me so that I conform to the work of the Holy Spirit in my life rather than making myself act correctly.
If I need some spiritual direction that will lead me away from willful sins, then I may benefit most from looking toward the God who can show me the path forward.
Adoration has a lot to do with obedience.
Can I Spend an Hour in Adoration of the Lord?
The thing I’ve learned about myself and spiritual practices is that I can’t let the ideal undermine the reality of life. I can’t let the perfect replace the possible.
Some days the kids wake up extra early or stay up super late. Some days the alarm isn’t set properly or we fall back asleep by mistake. Some days the unexpected happens or an interruption pulls us away from our worthy pursuits.
If we aren’t tucked away in a monastery, we have to accept that we probably don’t have as much control over our schedules as we would like. And even monks have sometimes complained about not having enough time to pray!
I have found that I do best with making space for adoration of the Lord in silence and in praying scripture by aiming for a rough schedule every day. It’s not perfect, but I generally know how I’m going to start each day. That helps a lot.
I also try to make some space in the middle and at the end of each day so that I can remain aware of God. It would be amazing if I could just make an hour available each day at the drop of a hat, but there are so many competing priorities and distractions each day. The best solution I can find at now is to make space for prayer and adoration before the day really gets going and to then find space for it as I do other things or as I take breaks throughout the day.
I don’t know if I’ve gotten close to an uninterrupted hour of adoration in a day, but I have found that it’s possible to at least spread this time out throughout a day.
As imperfect as that approach feels some days, I have noticed without fail that my ability to live in obedience to God always follows my ability to make space for silent adoration. If my adoration falters, then my obedience most likely follows that path shortly.
This is the mystery of the Christian life, both choosing to live in obedience to God while also placing ourselves in the care of the Holy Spirit to shape us and to guide. As my mind is reshaped by God’s work, my “work” of obedience becomes a joint venture in union with the Holy Spirit.
These days I try to spend a lot more time asking if I’m making time for adoration rather than if I’m living in obedience. If I am making time for adoration, the obedience often takes care of itself.