Getting into a prayer habit after a life of atheism is no easy thing.
Up until my late twenties, I’d never said a single prayer in my life. I tried to follow advice like, “Start by committing to only five minutes of prayer per day!” but I actually managed to fail at that. Maybe it’s that it was a brand new habit or that I have some strong ADD tendencies, but my efforts at five minutes of prayer tended to go something like this:
Is this thing on? No, kidding. Hi, Lord, it’s me. I guess you knew that though. Anyway, I am grateful for all the good things in my life today, and sorry for the things I did wrong. (What can I say, I just don’t know where those f-bombs came from. At least it wasn’t in front of the kids.) Anyway, I ask you to strengthen my faith, and to help me be a better person…
72 seconds later:
…and when they say “dolla’ dolla’ bill, y’all” in Sweetest Girl, I wonder if that would be considered sampling WuTang. Let’s think here about what technically constitutes sampling: to use a portion of a recorded song. So since they did not actually play anything originally recorded in C.R.E.A.M., it would probably be more accurate to say that Wyclef Jean was “drawing upon the wisdom” of Wu rather than “sampling” Wu. That reminds me of Busta Rhymes lifting Dangerous from a public service announcement. You cannot tell me that was an accident…
That is about a direct transcript of my first attempts at prayer. Trying to read the Bible for five minutes didn’t go much better. I’d end up getting hung up on some technicality, getting lost in the footnotes and wandering over to the computer after about 45 seconds to Google questions about some verse.
What I found was that going from a lifetime of zero seconds of prayer per day to a full 300 seconds of prayer was just too much. As silly as it sounds, what ended up working for me was to just start with not five minutes of prayer, but five seconds. I committed to do one extremely simple thing each day: I’d just kneel down at the side of my bed before I went to sleep, cross myself, and say hi to God before going to bed. That’s it. My prayers were usually something like:
Lord, thank you for everything, and I’m sorry for all those little sins I committed today. Strengthen my faith, show me how to do better and, most of all, please show me how to pray more. Amen.
Saying these short little prayers is one of the best things I ever did.
As simple as it was, it gave me a surprising sense of accomplishment to actually hit the prayer goal I set for myself, and it gave me at least some time focused completely on God (as opposed to zero time, which was starting to happen when I’d get frustrated and give up on my five minute prayer goals). Also, God answered my prayer in a big way. It didn’t happen immediately, but after a few months prayer began to get easier and easier, and I began to “get” it more. Then I was led to the Liturgy of the Hours and ended up regularly praying three times a day for a total of about 30 minutes, and having it not only not be a chore but be something that actually made my life easier. I think that discovering the riches of the Liturgy of the Hours all started with saying those little five second prayers.
As I’ve mentioned, this spiritual dry spell has made prayer less fun and interesting than it used to be, and I find myself skipping prayer times more often than I’d like to. During those weeks when it feels like everything is spiraling out of control and it’s just impossible to pray as much as I’d planned, I need to remember that there is still value in even five second prayers. On those days when even praying one Office is a goal that I just can’t seem to hit, I can always kneel down next to my bed and just say goodnight to God. As I’ve found, even five seconds out of your day focused solely on the Lord is exponentially better than none at all.