[This is part of an ongoing series about bringing peace to my daily life. You can read the other posts on this subject here (scroll down).]
A few months into our conversion process, a family member alerted me that I am related to a Benedictine monk (I wrote about it here). This long-lost cousin and I have corresponded occasionally ever since, and at one point I asked him if he had any recommendations for how I could better incorporate prayer into my daily life. He told me about something called the Liturgy of the Hours (also called the Divine Office), an ancient liturgical form whose origins stretch back to Jewish worship before the time of Jesus.
He wrote of how the earliest Christians’ days revolved around prayer, how they would consecrate each part of the day to God by pausing to say certain prayers (usually psalms) at certain times, setting aside their work to turn their hearts and minds to God. The practice is thousands of years old, and still today every priest, monk and nun from the Pope on down are vowed to pray these prayers each day. He encouraged me to consider this, to join him and all the other religious and lay people across the world who join their voices together in prayer throughout the day to consecrate their hours to God.
“Sounds great!” I thought. “Too bad I don’t have time for that.”
A few Google searches led me to see that each of the three”major hours” would involve stuff like praying psalms, reading Scripture passages, reading the works of great Christian thinkers…in other words, things that I don’t have time for. I decided to just come up with some ways on my own to add some less time-consuming prayer to my days.
None of these ideas for praying more actually happened and, meanwhile, the Liturgy of the Hours wouldn’t go away. I started to think that maybe God was trying to tell me something, since I couldn’t seem to escape blog posts and discussions and articles about the Liturgy of the Hours. I kept trying forget about it, to push it off to the “fantasy list of all the things I’m going to do when I have tons of free time, ” but I couldn’t get it out of my mind. In the little bit of praying I actually did (like 30 seconds at night) I began to ask God to make it more clear what he wanted me to do here. Obviously I wasn’t supposed to actually pray the Liturgy of the Hours since I had too many important responsibilities that left no room for extensive prayer, but what was it? Maybe just pray one of the prayers each day? Maybe learn about it to share with others? I then promptly tried to forget about it again.
Shortly after this prayer I was reading Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth, and came across a fascinating section about Jesus’ temptation in the desert to turn the rock into bread. Pope Benedict talks about how this is the temptation that Christians face still today, the temptation to focus on important practical matters like making sure everyone has bread, and worry about all the God stuff later. What struck me was when he talked about what Jesus means when he responds to the temptation by citing the Old Testament verse: “Man does not live by bread alone, but…by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord.” Pope Benedict writes:
[Jesus] himself has become bread for us, and this multiplication of the loaves endures to the end of time, without ever being depleted…The German Jesuit Alfred Delp, who was executed by the Nazis, once wrote: “Bread is important, freedom is more important, but most important of all is unbroken fidelity and faithful adoration.”
When this ordering of goods is no longer respected, but turned on its head, the result is…ruin and destruction even of material goods themselves. When God is regarded as a secondary matter that can be set aside temporarily or permanently on account of more important things, it is precisely these supposedly more important things that come to nothing. [emphasis mine]
Point taken. I began to really think about all my “important” tasks, and ask myself if they truly allowed so little room for prayer — after all, Mother Teresa’s Missionaries of Charity have helped the world tremendously on a practical level, yet they spend lots of time in prayer. I began to seriously look into the Liturgy of the Hours, researching what it would involve. It seemed counterintuitive that someone in my state of life with three small children would be led to this, but I felt pretty strongly that for some crazy reason I was being called to it.
Meanwhile, I’d been thinking a lot about how to bring some desperately needed structure to my days. It would bring so much peace to my life to have a clear rhythm, a stable routine, but how do I (to borrow Hallie‘s term) anchor my routines when I have a long history of ignoring self-made schedules? How do I find a natural rhythm to my days, to (as a commenter recently put it) live on God’s time when modern technology makes to soooo easy to live on the world’s time? How do I create hard stops?
When these two lines of thought finally collided in my mental meandering, “Why should I pray the Liturgy of the Hours?” and “How can I bring structure to my day with hard stops?”…a lightbulb finally went off in my head.
Could this be it?
Could making my daily tasks revolve around these prayers — instead of vice versa — as Christians and Jews have done for thousands of years, could this be the key to bringing peace to my daily life? Could putting regular prayer before everything short of emergencies provide the structure I’ve always yearned for? Could the pre-set times and prayers of the Liturgy of the Hours be the guide I need to not blow it all off and just tell myself I’ll do it “later” (as I did with countless other plans for prayer)? Could Lauds and Matins and Vespers provide strong anchors for my days?
I really don’t know. But I’m going to try it.
I’ve said so many times that I “don’t have time” for any kind of serious prayer…yet I have never actually tried it. I based my assessment on looking at my schedule in Excel and seeing how full it was, not on actually having tried prayer and found that it didn’t work.
So next week, I’m going to knock all my “important” tasks down a notch on the priority ladder, and I’m going to do something I really, really don’t have time for: I’m going to pray all three major hours of the Liturgy of the Hours, roughly at the correct time that they’re meant to be said, every day from Monday until Friday (RNW has a great sample of what that involves here).
I make no promises of whether or not I’ll keep it up after next week, but I feel like this is something I at least need to try. Every day next week will have three hard stops, one for each major hour. Every aspect of the day will revolve around prayer, not vice versa. Other than serious emergency, nothing will prevent me from saying these prayers. I won’t be a perfectionist about it — I’m not yet ready to chant them all, I may need to pause now and then to tend to the kids, and I might mess up parts of it — but they will get said. And at the end of the week, I will have a realistic estimate of just how much (or little) prayer I have time for, based on having actually done it rather than speculation.
Honestly, I’m interested to see just how rough it will be: will there simply be a few dirty dishes sitting around on Friday afternoon, or will the Health Department be knocking at my door? If at the end of the week I feel frazzled and stressed about all the things that didn’t get done, if it does not bring peace to the household, then I can safely put the whole idea to rest and know that I at least tried to do what I felt God was calling me to do. It will be interesting to see what happens when I use prayer to structure my days, putting all other matters second.
Truly, I do not have time for this. I have a three-year-old, an eighteen-month-old, and a four-month-old. I have too much to do. So I guess I’m giving God my time, lots of it, and asking him to work a miracle: if I’m going to get through next week without my to-do list getting out of control and my house degenerating into chaos, I’ll need him to do some serious multiplying of loaves here. I’ll need help. I’ll need grace. Lots of it.
I’ll be updating throughout the week next week so you can all get a glimpse into this reckless experiment with prayer. Whether this brings peace and order to my life because I interpreted God’s will for me correctly or it’s a flaming train wreck because it was just a bad idea that was all in my head, it should be interesting reading either way. 🙂
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