It was an offhand comment.
“It’s just so hard to find time to pray.”
I was bouncing a baby on my hip and she was swinging a needy toddler up into her arms. We’d been talking about the general busyness of life, like most moms of littles, and about the struggle to establish routines, accomplish everything that needs to be done, and find time for things that mattered to us pre-kids. With a third baby on the way, she was wondering how she would be able to manage everything and still find time for what was most important to her.
I’d had similar conversations with new moms in the past, when I was college and the staff women in my Christian student group all seemed to be having babies. But their phrasing was slightly different:
“It’s so hard to find time to read the Word”
They would describe their tips and techniques for making sure they read and meditated on Scripture daily, and worked it into the fabric of their home life. I drank it up. I am still thankful today for the wisdom I gleaned listening to their conversations. But I never heard any of them talk about how to pray as a busy mom – how to pray alone, how to pray with your husband, how to pray with your children. Either they all had awesome prayer lives and took it for granted, or it just wasn’t as central to their faith as reading the Word.
It sounds like the old argument – Catholics don’t care about the Bible, they don’t take the time to read from it, and their faith isn’t formed by the truth of it. And there may be something to that. I deeply love and value the reverence my fellow Protestants have for the Word of God, and it does seem like Catholicism doesn’t put nearly as much of an emphasis on personal Bible study.
On the other hand, the Protestantism I’m familiar with doesn’t put nearly the same emphasis on prayer. We struggle with prayer. We don’t know what to say, or how to say it, or what our attitude and motivation should be. We follow the guides and programs in the prayer-help books but give up because it feels too stifled, impersonal, or rote. We try to pray from the heart, in our own words, but sometimes our emotions dry us up and even the “Dear God” at the beginning is an effort. As a result, we feel guilty, and we talk about our time in the Word instead, because that is territory in which we have confidence and experience.
Catholic prayer, and I think high-church Protestant prayer, is different. People memorize and pray prayers that have been passed down through the centuries, in addition to their own personal thoughts and thanks and requests. I think those pre-written prayers can act as a springboard for the soul, a key to entering into more personal and intimate communion in prayer, and I think that is why it was prayer, not Bible study, that came to mind first for this woman.
“It’s just so hard to find time to pray”
What hit me with a flash when I heard those words was the centrality and importance of prayer to this mom. Prayer was the thing she desperately craved, the essential aspect of her faith that she didn’t want to let slip away. And why? Because prayer is our direct communication with God, where there is both giving and taking, talking and listening, unburdening our anxieties and sins and receiving His forgiveness and grace. Reading can become an intellectual exercise, whereas prayer is relational by definition. In addition, as I’ve discovered some of the traditional written prayers more commonly used in Catholicism than Protestantism, I’ve realized the power of having words to pray when my own words seem stilted and unwilling: it allows me to overcome my emotions or my self-consciousness and simply come before God to worship, to thank, or to petition. I don’t ever want to lose my love for the Bible, but I think it would be good to learn from this Catholic mom how to love prayer as well, and make it more central to my life and my walk with God.