A reckless experiment with prayer

January 11, 2008 | 26 comments

[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. 🙂

UPDATE: A part II to this post with the details of my plan is here.


  1. expatmama

    Have you seen the publication Magnificat? It’s a monthly publication containing Morning, Evening & Night Prayer, plus Mass. It also has a meditation for each day and one or two longer pieces. I have small children like you and find it really helpful, as it’s small and light, can be stuffed in a bag and taken anywhere. Anyway, good luck with your experiment!

  2. Tausign

    Happy Birthday to you…and many, many, more!

    So you’re giving yourself structured prayer as a birthday present? Hmmm… Well I’ve used LOH for over 20 years and love it. Twice a day is plenty – Morning (Lauds) and Evening (Prayers). I’ll bet a tidy sum that most priests (who don’t reside in a monastery) pray twice daily – not three times. Stay very flexible with time as you are not under any obligation to do this. Morning prayer is anytime ‘til mid-afternoon. Evening time is any time from late afternoon ’til bedtime. I very faithful to this, yet occasionally miss so don’t be overly scrupulous.

    My personal unsolicited gut feeling is that you are being set up for a fall. To go from less than 30 seconds a day to this…well it’s just not the ‘unhurried workings’ that you so enjoyed earlier this week. This has all the earmarks of ‘El Stinko’ (you know who that is) playing with your head. You’re doing a fantastic job with your family life and promoting the Lord with you blog and now someone is hanging around to disrupt you…making you do ‘reckless experiments’ with God’s grace. By the way, have you thought of sharing your feelings with your parish priest and asking him for advice or direction? I hope I’m completely wrong on this and making a fool of myself for shooting from the hip. If you do reconsider, try stepping up to a few faithful moments each morning and evening with some heartfelt prayer of intercession for your family or even a favorite prayer card.

  3. TwoSquareMeals

    I’m looking forward to hearing how it goes. I think few busy moms are brave enough to try something like this. Maybe you’ll inspire me.

  4. Judy

    What a wonderful idea! I have two little ones (two and a half and 15 months) with a third on the way (phew!) so know just what you mean when you talk about not having time for prayer – it’s something that happens in the car sometimes, when I’m on my way somewhere or at night for a brief period.
    I do work on liturgy in our parish, however, and we began praying the Liturgy of the Hours during Lent and Advent last year (just evening prayer, once each week as most parishoners weren’t familiar with it at all). It got such a positive repsonse that we are going to keep doing it and perhaps incorporate morning prayer as well. As for me, well, I’ve been thinking about giving at least morning and evening prayer a go on a regular basis – just to see how it goes and this post has inspired me to stop talking/thinking about it and give it a go too. I’d love to try it too and so will give it a go over the next week too.

  5. Kevin

    God bless you, Jennifer!

    The Liturgy of the Hours is an important part of my life. I really do love it, as it forms an important part of my spiritual life…

    Might I suggest you read the General Instruction of the Liturgy of the Hours? It talks a bit about “the sanctification of time.”

    It sounds a bit like you struggle with giving time back to God. I’m sure you realize that the time we have is His gift to us. After all, He is time’s creator. He just asks that we show that we love Him by giving a little of that time back to Him. Looking at it that way, it seems a little petty and miserly for us to begrudge Him that time out of fear that then we won’t have enough for ourselves, doesn’t it?

    A priest suggested in a homily once that the God who created time could stretch it for us to be able to accomplish all our busy activities if we make Him our priority. And why not?

    Those thoughts have helped me, anyway.

    Kevin A

  6. Jordan Henderson

    Thanks for this thoughtful post.

    I have trouble with prayer also, not doing enough of it, putting other things first, you know.

    You’ll be in my prayers, not just that you find the peace in your day that you want but also that you provide light for my path.

  7. sophie

    Very eager to hear how this goes for you!

    I worked with a girl in college, a practicing devout Muslim (she wore a hijab), who took time to pray the requisite five daily prayers facing the East. No matter what she was doing or where she was, she would take that bit of time to pray.

    I can’t imagine how it would not promote discipline in one’s life.

  8. Martha

    It’s awesome that you are trying this. But you know, if after a week it seems like too much, you could always start with only morning prayer, then add evening, etc.

    My spiritual director gave me similar advice when I read Mother’s Rule of Life and immediately began making big charts and plans for my days. Actually, I keep reading your posts and thinking “She needs a spiritual director!” You keep coming to the web with questions I remember taking to my spiritual director. I can’t tell if you are in the Dallas diocese but if you are, they have someone to help people find one.

    Good luck with your new prayer routine! I am sure it will bear fruit!

  9. Sarah

    FWIW, you’ll be in my prayers this week as your “reckless” experiment unfolds…

  10. Scott Lyons

    Jennifer, you’re probably already aware of it, but Universalis has a basic Divine Office up here.

    It’s a habit I’ve gotten out of and need to get back into – thanks for your encouragement.

  11. Anonymous

    I pray the Liturgy of the Hours more regularly when I have a newborn than any other time. I keep my book next to a comfortable chair and nurse the baby as I pray. However, I must admit somedays I finish saying the prayer and realize I remember nothing – my brain was partially asleep.


  12. Tienne


    Blogger hasn’t been loading for me lately, but I’ve been keeping up with your posts via my RSS feed and I just wanted to say how much I LOVE the insights you’re sharing with us. I think your efforts to truly change your life and put God above all are both remarkable and admirable, and I hope they bring you the peace you are seeking. I look forward to hearing all about it.

    Love and prayers!

  13. Anonymous

    I can’t wait to read how your week goes!!! I’ve been thinking along the same lines as I read The Year of Living Biblically. The author, who is an atheist, spends an entire year following the laws and rules given in the Bible, as literally as he can. It’s an interesting read, and it points out how sometimes just doing (even as an experiment) what God seems to say/want, we find unexpected beneficial results that we wouldn’t otherwise find by endless speculation and reasoning. Thank you for sharing!

  14. Anonymous

    I’ve been praying parts of the Liturgy of the Hours for a few years now.

    It helps.

    I started slowly – with Morning Prayer only, and got up before anyone else, to say it. Then I added Evening Prayer. And Night Prayer.

    Now I’m trying to remember to do one of the middle of the day prayers.

    I didn’t do so well at adding the Office of Readings as my little prayer book didn’t have the readings, (well, it had some, but none attached to days) and Universalis didn’t always, either. And it’s just not very prayerful to sit at the computer for me.

    I do find Universalis.com extremely helpful during liturgical seasons or for feasts, to make sure I’m saying the correct psalms for the day. Or for after the feasts/seasons, to make sure I get started back on the right sequence.

  15. Anonymous

    You’ve got it! Prayer first, everything else will follow. It’s hard with three little ones but, there are very few emergencies that won’t wait fifteen minutes. Try not to think of it as “one more thing” to cram in but, “the ONE thing” that makes it possible to do everything else without anxiety.

    Have you ever heard of the
    “Magnificat” It might be very helpful to you. Here’s a link for you to check it out: http://www.magnificat.com/index.asp?referer=

    They will send you a free copy so you can check it out for yourself.

    God bless you.

  16. Jennifer F.

    I’m delighted to read all these comments, thank you!

    Tausign –

    My personal unsolicited gut feeling is that you are being set up for a fall.

    I understand why you think that. I had the same thought myself. One of the reasons I am hopeful that it as a chance of working is that it serves a twofold purpose: helping me give more time to God, and giving me some desperately-needed structure in my life. Because of the latter situation, that I truly need something to anchor my days and my routines, I think that there is some hope that I’m not attempting too much here, that perhaps this is exactly what I need to stop drifting aimlessly through my days.

    Also, a sneak preview: I actually did a “trial run” this week to make sure the times I set for myself fit in naturally with my current schedule, to give myself time to become familiar with it, and to make sure that it wasn’t just an utterly unreasonable idea. I’ll write more about it this week, but let’s just say that I think I’m on the right path. 🙂

    Also, I don’t exactly think that it would be a “fall” if it didn’t work. I’m not pronouncing that I will hereby pray all three major hours for the rest of my life. I’m only trying it. If it’s too much then I’ll try just doing one of the hours, and adjust from there.

    But I do appreciate your advice. It’s nice to hear from a LOTH veteran. 🙂

  17. will

    Jen, first, I’d like to thank you for all your posts; I’ve regularly found them helpful and inspiring

    I’m also beginning to experiment with the LOTH (though not as recklessly as you!); shall we pray for each other?

    God bless!

  18. Kelly @ Love Well

    Jennifer, I’m not Catholic — just a fellow believer — so I have no insight on the Liturgy of the Hours for you.

    But I’m a new reader, and I wanted you to know that your writing style, your thoughtfulness, your humor and your honesty have made me fall in love with your blog.

    You have my prayers and support as you do a trial run this next week. May God keep you thirsty for Him.

  19. Marie

    Hi Jen,

    Your desire to put God first through the LOTH is inspiring. I look forward to hearing how your experiment goes and I am contemplating giving it a try myself.

    I too was in your situation — caring for several little ones who kept me busy every waking moment of every day. I also struggled with a desire to put God and prayer first in my life and felt so guilty when I didn’t or couldn’t. A few years ago, I came across the book “Holiness for Housewives and Other Working Women” by Hubert van Zeller. This book was written especially for women in charge of houesholds to help them better understand and respect their vocation as a housewife and discover their own God-given path to sanctity. To further quote from the back of the book — the author’s purpose is to help women develop a greater awareness of God’s presence even amid the diapers and the dirty dishes! It is through sacrificially caring for their families that women can become holy and glorify God. I highly recommend this book to you as you try to find the order and maybe purpose in your days. In fact I think it would do me some good to reread this book!

    Thank you so much for sharing your faith journey.


  20. Studying Catholicism

    I’m very interested in seeing how this goes, especially with your children. I have a 4 month old as well, and that seems to be my cause for not getting a lot of the “things” I want to get done, done, especially with regards to God. I will be checking your blog next week to see.

  21. ElaineT

    I see a couple people have recommended Magnificat as a source of the LotH. I’ve looked at it.

    While they do have prayers for Morning, Evening, etc. those prayers and readings bear no resemblence to what is in my Psalter, nor what Universalis.com posts. Does anyone know the sources Magnificat uses for their prayers? Is it an approved variant, or are they making it all up for busy people – I’ve tossed my copies, so I can’t check, but my impression was that their forms were much shorter – or … ?

    I must admit to raising an eyebrow when they printed something from the Gospel of Thomas for a reading, too.

    To the commentator who suggested if we make time for God, He’ll make time for us to accomplish what we need to … thanks! I needed that reminder. Also to hold in mind something our hostess has mentioned recently, that what He wants us to accomplish and what we think is necessary aren’t necessarily the same, and He’s right.

  22. Jennifer F.

    Martha –

    I agree! I would really like to get a spiritual director. I actually met with one at one point last year. I’m having a couple issues in that department that I’m not at liberty to discuss here, but I am very interested in that.

    I am in the Diocese of Austin and do have the name of the priest who coordinates the spiritual directors for our diocese. I’m planning on contacting him.

    Thank you for the suggestion!

  23. Jennifer F.

    Oh, I forgot to answer a question I’ve seen a few times here: I am familiar with the Magnificat and actually have a sample copy on the way. I went ahead and got the one-volume Christian Prayer though, and that’s what I’m using right now. That was an early birthday present. 🙂

  24. SH

    Why, why, why discourage someone from trying to devote more time to prayer? I don’t understand your comment at all.

  25. Tausign

    Dear Sh:

    A triple ‘why?’ question surely deserves a response. I’m not trying to discourage Jen from prayer – quite the contrary. In short, I feared her experiencing spiritual ‘whiplash’. (Something that is not uncommon with enthusiastic converts.)

    I’ve prayed the Breviary for many years and am one of its great promoters. But I don’t recommend that lay persons take on such a ‘rigor’ implied by ‘hard stops, etc.’ as would be observed in a monastery.

    Finally, I’m an advocate of taking small and consistent steps in our prayer life. As I admitted prior, I may be entirely wrong on this matter.

    Peace and all good.

  26. Agatha June

    Hi Jennifer,

    Don’t forget the Morning Offering. If you get no other prayers done for the day, you have at least given to God the gift of your day with all it’s joys and frustrations. He, in His infinite mercy, will never cease to accept the gift of our day and extend to us all the graces needed to live our lives as very busy moms.

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