Can I Find Time to Pray While I Travel?

My daily prayer practices can fall into chaos during the holidays where schedules are scrapped due to travel and I certainly can’t focus on prayer if my mind is swirling with packing lists, present lists, and managing family relationships. How can I find time to pray over the Christmas and New Year’s travel season?

I was on the road last week, and there were certainly plenty of moments when I considered how to fit prayer into my schedule and plans. Here are a few practices that I’ve been using in my own travels and shifting schedule:

Develop Habits to Prompt Prayer

The easiest way to pray is to make it automatic. For instance, there’s a good chance that, like me, you are tempted to whip your phone out when you’re waiting in line or sitting in traffic.

I don’t blame you, and that was my default until I tracked my daily phone pickups with the Moment app. Now that I’m trying to limit myself to 40 phone pickups each day, I have reconsidered how I wait.

Waiting can act as a kind of trigger for prayer, using a few moments in line to quiet my mind with a deep breath and to return to a prayer word to guide myself toward greater awareness of God. Prayer is described as waiting on the Lord, so it’s just about the perfect invitation to pray.

Even if my regular prayer times are filled with travel and family gatherings, a regular prayer trigger or prompt can help me make more time for it.

Keep Track of Your Mental State for Prayer

Travel and family gatherings can be stressful and busy. For instance, I’ve caught myself becoming unreasonably anxious about getting to the airport on time and catching my flight.

I have finally figured out that, in my mind at least, I had treated the urgency of travel with the same alarm as a threat to my life or family. I have a little mantra that I say when I travel, “It’s urgent but it’s not dangerous” that helps me calm down when my mind ramps up into its highly alarmed threat avoidance mode.

Whether journaling or using an app like Examine or Examen Reimagined, a simple prompt to remain aware of my mental state while traveling can help me keep the events of each day in perspective and saves my mind from the afflicting thoughts that can make it so difficult to focus on prayer.

Make Space for “Quiet” Prayer When You Can

Even five minutes in a quiet room, a little time sitting alone, or a ten-minute walk can prove healing for my soul when I’m traveling. Of course the quiet I’m talking about is often personal quiet when I’m traveling. I have no control over what other people say or do!

If I can at least keep in mind that quiet will be good for my soul and my mental state, I can remain attentive and intentional about seizing that time whenever I can. This could be while doing the dishes in the kitchen by myself, sitting on an airplane with headphones on, or playing through some Taize songs while in the car with my family.

Give Grace to Yourself When You Struggle to Pray

Prayer has been practiced by Christians for centuries around fixed times and schedules because it works. When your schedule falls apart due to holiday travel, don’t fall into the trap of shame or guilt.

If you didn’t find time to pray, that’s a great opportunity to ask why and to look a bit deeper into your expectations for prayer, your priorities, and your habits. Judgment and shame can be paralyzing, but if you believe that God desires to be present for you, then you have an opportunity to address what keeps you from praying.

Mind you, I still prefer to have a set schedule where I know when and where I’ll pray, and I am always trying to be mindful about prayer when I’m on the go. Perfectionists may not find these tips very helpful!

By cultivating some habits, growing my awareness of my thoughts, and becoming more intentional about my time, I’ve managed to hold onto some prayer practices while I travel. Imperfect though they are, they are so much better than watching my spiritual practices fall into chaos when I hit the road.

 

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What Are We Mad about This Week?

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I have been taking the weekends off from Facebook, and something strange has been happening on Monday morning. Feeling like Rip Van Winkle, I open up Facebook and review the news from the weekend. I catch myself wondering what people are angry about this week.

It’s strange to feel so detached from the passionate debates of the past two days.

Of course there are many things that we can legitimately become angry about. The world is rife with injustice. I’m not doubting these things or suggesting that we embrace complacency.

Rather, I’ve been noticing that the daily use of Facebook can lead my mind into a kind of ongoing angst and anger, if not a sense of anxiety. In light of the injustices and problems in our world, I’m concerned that despite the benefits of awareness that comes through Facebook, it’s also creating a mindset of anger and anxiety that leaves me unable to thoughtfully engage the problems of our world in a constructive manner, let alone the people who disagree with my perspective.

I will never doubt that Facebook has been a great tool for sharing worthwhile causes and events. Heck, even the much-derided ALS Ice Bucket Challenge led to major research innovations and potential breakthroughs. I follow causes such as the Preemptive Love Coalition primarily through their Facebook page. Social media can do more than raise awareness for a cause—it can help us take organized action.

However, social media isn’t as great for fostering empathy, hosting complex, nuanced conversations, or creating a mindset that can take measured steps toward solutions. It’s so very easy to assume the worst about others, to lament what “those idiots” think, and to demonize people who post smug memes mocking what I hold dear. More to the point, I’m sure I’ve done all of these things to others plenty of times as well.

I am committed to being constructive, redemptive, and action-oriented within my resources. I don’t want to go through my life critiquing and criticizing others without ever getting involved in a cause. In fact, for many years I’d been involved in prison ministry, and I immediately noticed that I wrote with far more snark and divisiveness online compared to the way I reached out to the men in prison. I wanted my in-person words to guide my online words.

This brings me back to the weekend breaks I’ve been taking from Facebook (and all other social media channels). I don’t know how long I’ll keep this up, but I feel the acute need to know what I am like without any social media interactions. I need to feel the gnawing desire to check in and to ask what’s driving that and whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. The more I’m driven to check in, the more I need to examine that drive and where it’s coming from.

I need solitude each day, and a big part of creating that space means learning to cut myself off from distractions and time wasting activities that eat up precious blocks of five, ten, or fifteen minutes.

I need solitude in order to hear the still, small voice of God.

I need solitude in order to recognize when my mind is spinning off track into anger, fear, and frustration.

Rage can become a lifestyle, a habit that we cultivate by constantly feeding it tidbits of injustice and fear from our circles and from the news cycle. In fact, news outlets and social media sites have every incentive in the world to push outrageous events into our faces. That isn’t to say there aren’t journalists doing good and essential work. Rather, the people running these companies need to attract viewers in order to maximize profits, and rage works.

The worst part about today’s outrage culture is that we need solitude in order to actually address it, but we’ll no doubt hear guilt trips that we’re putting our heads in the sand or acting irresponsibly if we disconnect for an extended period of time. The pursuit of an actual solution appears to be just another part of the problem.

Activists and saints surely figured out ways to address injustice before social media, and I trust that a bit more mindfulness and consideration about the way forward will help us take better steps forward together.

I care deeply about the injustice that America has inflicted on the Middle East (see the Preemptive Love Coalition for more ways you can help the most desperate refugees today). I think often about our criminal justice system, and I still associate names and faces with sentencing laws and parole policies. I very much want to stay engaged. I want to feel the anger of the injustices people continue to suffer. I can use Facebook to raise awareness about these issues, but I need something more than rage.

I need the focus and direction that comes from silence and contemplative prayer.

I need a still small voice to speak in the midst of the storm, or I’ll most likely become just another voice in the storm.