How I pray when I don’t have time to pray

September 26, 2011 | 43 comments

There’s nothing like daily prayer time. Over and over again, I’ve found that when I make the necessary sacrifices to structure my schedule around prayer (instead of vice versa), my small efforts are repaid tenfold by the tremendous graces I receive.

But I can’t always get there. I usually blame it on not having time, though that excuse is a little suspect since I always manage to find abundant time to mess around on the internet. Anyway, whether it’s due to laziness, fatigue, a lack of faith, being overwhelmed, truly not having time, or some combination of all of the above, there are seasons when regular prayer time just doesn’t happen.

With my personality type, there’s a temptation to let that mean no prayer at all: I am the master at letting perfection be the enemy of the good, not doing anything at all if I can’t do it the “right” way. When I let this happen, it’s always detrimental to my spiritual life. Though I do try to “pray without ceasing, ” offering up my actions throughout the day to God, it has not been my experience that that is a substitute for dedicated time spent focusing exclusively on the Lord. As my spiritual director always pointed out, prayer is about building a relationship. Praying as I do my work is like when my husband and I work alongside each other managing the household chaos: that’s a wonderful, necessary part of maintaining a healthy relationship, but if we never spent any time alone, our relationship would suffer.

So I’ve found it to be extremely important to make sure that I’m getting some dedicated prayer time in on a somewhat regular basis, even if it’s not quite as much as I’d like. The most helpful advice I’ve ever come across in this department is from Fr. Michael Scanlan’s book Appointment with God (which is out of print now, but I ordered a copy by phone from the Franciscan University Bookstore). The book is full of great advice about taking your prayer life to the next level, but the biggest thing I took away from it was the idea of making prayer appointments.

Fr. Scanlan points out that when we want to make sure we meet up with someone, we don’t just say, “Yeah, I’ll see you sometime.” Rather, we name a specific time and place the meeting will occur, which allows us to protect that time from getting displaced by our busy schedules.

I already had a routine where each Sunday I’d sit down and write out my weekly schedule, transferring whatever is on my Google Calendar to my handy day planner from Faith Calendars. After reading Fr. Scanlan’s book, I added a new element to this routine: I’d write down my appointments with God too. I’d take a moment to prayerfully think about when and how I should pray this week, then note that time on my calendar. Some weeks I might feel called to step it up and include serious prayer time every day; other weeks I might feel like just once or twice would be about all I could realistically handle. Not only do I note the time I’m going to pray, but the type of prayer as well (e.g. Gospel reflection, Rosary, silent meditation, etc.)

The process is actually fun! I might feel moved to get up early on Tuesday to pray a full Rosary at 6:30, to reflect on the Gospels at 2:30 PM on Thursday, and to wrap up the week with some Bible reading at 10:00 on Friday night. It’s always interesting to see how much of what type of prayer I feel moved to include that week. And when these “appointments” are written on my calendar, I actually tend to keep them.

This idea has really helped me keep my prayer life from fizzling out altogether when I’m in phases where daily prayer time isn’t happening. What are your tips for carving out time for prayer during busy seasons of life?


  1. MJRO

    I always pray every day before I get out of bed. If my husband isn’t at the gym, we do it together – even if it’s just an Ave to consecrate our day to the Blessed Virgin, we do that. At night, as I lay in bed, I try to think back over the day about what I could have done better and make an act of contrition for the times I failed to respond to God’s grace.
    Otherwise, I try to look over my calendar at the end of each day to prepare myself for the day that is coming and see if there are any times I can slip in extra prayer. Oftentimes my calendar will have shifted depending on what I did or didn’t get done in that day, so maybe the next day is more/less free.

  2. maggie

    I found it’s possible to say a family rosary even with little kids: buy
    catholic coloring books of the rosary, saints, and let them color in them
    while parents say rosary, and the kids eventually learn the prayers by rote
    and join in.

  3. Jenna@CallHerHappy

    I love the line about not doing anything if you can’t do it perfectly! That is so me. This post got me thinking of a great idea. Perhaps I could email you about it??


    • Jennifer Fulwiler

      Sure! I’d love to hear from you.


    Love the tips!
    I work in the afternoons now, so mornings are when I have most free time. I try to stick to a morning routine as best I can, so I calculate that I need about two hours to get through my routine (run, shower, eat breakfast, pray) and only then do I let myself go on the internet or do other things. And at night I try to pray the rosary before going to bed, unless I’ve had another type of community prayer. I also take my journal with me in my purse to journal throughout the day. I’m still working on being more consistent though!

  5. sarah

    I mself take the “always praying” approach and find it works really well between me and god to keep our relationship strong. It also means that I am comfortable asking for a longer, more intense conversation when needed. But we are all individuals and each of us have individual, special relationships with god. I’m glad you have a method of prayer that works for you. I can see the respect and love in both kinds of arrangements. 🙂

  6. Roselady

    Gosh, the first part of your post sounds so much like me — with the difficulty fitting in quiet prayer/messing around on the Internet/offering up my day. I pray a lot, except not alone with God. At least not as much as I should. This is probably a struggle so many of us face. Esp. when we have a myriad of little kids at home. It’s so much easier to spend three extra minutes on the computer, than burrow away somewhere quiet for prayer. Esp. when quiet doesn’t exist until after 9, and by that time all I want to do is let my mind wander leisurely.

  7. Bridget in Bellingham

    Here’s one “rule” for my personal prayer life that really works:
    I do not ALLOW myself to use the computer, phone, or any other distracting device UNTIL AFTER I have said my morning prayers. I use the Magnificat for AM prayer + a bookmark with my {6pt} handwritten personal prayer intentions ~ You are one of those whom I pray for everyday this way.

    I have a special chair for prayer, and plant myself there before I get too “busy” to stay still. I begin with an examination of conscience + an act of contrition.

    Feeding the children or helping my husband (anything related to my primary vocation) is “allowed” before prayer, but the use of electronics has to wait until after prayer. It’s become a bit more challenging since we doubled our family size almost overnight (4 foster children, including twins 13mos old); but I’m still faithful to it and it saves my spiritual life every day.

    Thanks for asking!
    Bridget in Bellingham

    • tanya

      Bridget, I’m going to try this. It’s the kind of promise I could keep, and it would definitely re-order my priorities. Thanks for sharing!

  8. Tracy

    I wake up at least 30 minutes or more earlier than the rest of my household. Full-time job, 4 kids, hubster….it’s about the only P&Q I get all day. It’s my time to read the Daily Readings and do my best to focus on the day ahead and offer up prayer intentions. Some days are more focused than others, but EVERY morning I start off in prayer is FAR better than the days I don’t.

  9. Megan

    This is a great idea! I need to learn how to pray the Rosary (and still need a Rosary), but until then I have been studying the Bible and saying simple prayers nightly. I am working on stopping myself before eating to thank God. Overall, going from no prayer to a prayerful life is a hard work and a huge adjustment, but so worth it! I am attending RCIA classes as well and look forward to Easter more this year than I ever have in my entire life.
    You are an inspiration! Thank you!

    • Kris, in New England

      Megan – having completed RCIA last year and was baptized & confirmed at this year’s Easter Vigil I say – WELCOME! What a beautiful process you are about to go thru. I hope God’s grace shines down upon you as you venture thru RCIA and become closer to this beautiful faith.

      • Megan

        Kris – Thank you! I am looking forward to learning more about the Church and growing in my faith!

  10. Christine

    My husband & I pray together every morning (well, almost – 6 days out of 7). We pray the Rosary & I have given each member of our family a dedicated Rosary bead along with a bead for a bunch of other regular special intentions (priests, homeless people, our pets, our internet friends, etc.), then we pray to the Sacred Heart (we had our home Enthroned last year), and finally we use the Word Among Us for daily prayer & reflection. 45 minutes, tops!

    If something happens & we skip prayer, my entire day goes wrong.. something’s missing & I’m like a person without a cause all day.

    I always remind hubby, “Let’s give God what’s right, not what’s left”.

    Blessing to you!

    • Kerry Wolf

      Hi Christine

      What does having your home “enthroned” mean? I am a new Catholic and still learning.


  11. Gaby

    I pray the rosary when I walk the dog and whenever I work out on the elliptical machine.

  12. Andrea

    I notice when I pray that it seems pointless, and a voice in my mind usually says, “This isn’t doing any good! This is a waste of time!” For some reason there is a little time lag before I feel the connection with God and the benefits of the prayer. And if I don’t pray, I really notice the difference.

  13. Anne

    Thank you for this post, Jennifer. I really needed to read this.

  14. Elisa | blissfulE

    I love how you make the analogy between working alongside your husband vs spending time alone with him. This will help me put more balance in my prayer life. Thanks!!

  15. paige

    Probably one of my best prayer times of the day is the time i set aside with my little ones in the mornings – we take turns praying… They’re getting bigger now – & their faith is edifying & humbling all at the same time.
    i have also just recently made the committment to fasting and prayer on fridays – specifically pleading with God for family. i told Him that i will meet with him for 15 minutes – which doesn’t sound like a lot, but to me, it’s a beautiful beginning. i have never been one to ‘fast’ before & this is a huge learning curve for me as i make this effort to “press into” Him.
    i love how you so gently put forth the challenge – & encourage people to look at their habits.

  16. Debra

    I am somewhat new to your blog, i have been reading it now for about 3months. I am enjoying your postings and just wanted to make a general post to say thank you for you writings. As far as prayer goes, I get up before everyone else in the house and spend time in my bible and prayer.

    If I want to email you privately what email do you use?

    Thank You, Debra

  17. Brenda

    Hi Jessica,

    My family has a daily prayer routine around 9 o’clock in the evening. We used to do it because we believe, in God’s guidance everything will run smoothly.

  18. Patty Burnett

    Having my own unclassy bathroom, I have been able to tape all kinds of prayers by my “put on makeup place.” So while I am flossing, applying routine face cosmetics, eye shadow, makeup, lips, hair scrunching, etc. I pray for the Church and Priest of the day from our diocese daily calendar of priests with the prayer by St. Therese, (I try monthly to add names of my own dear ones birthdays next to the priest of the day, I have Mother Teresa’s “scripture for the day” flipper, a “Psalm for the day flipper,” Prayer to End Abortions, holy cards with Saint’s prayers, prayer cards for our departed, special intentions. So while I put on “the face of Jesus” for the day (poor Jesus), I primp and pray to prepare for the blessings of His day. (I will say when my kids were little, it was just one step, lipstick.)

    • Tienne McKenzie

      I do this too! I have a bunch of prayers framed in really cheap plastic and mounted right by the sink so I can pray them while I’m getting ready in the morning or before bed. It really helps to start the day on the right track.

  19. Lauren

    I have heard this advice before, and while I’ve thought it excellent I’ll admit it hasn’t come into much practice. I try to take the “pray without ceasing” approach, but I think you brought up a great point that it can’t be our sole method of prayer. While I’m not married, your parallel to quietly carrying on work with a spouse and quietly praying thoughout the day, but neither being enough to build a relationship upon still made a lot of sense to me.

    As for what I try to do, I try to keep constant reminders of prayer around me. I like to write a scripture verse or inspiring quote on the top of my planner, and I keep a rosary around my rearview mirror. While I don’t really use that rosary to pray in the car (at least not regularly, I did the other day when I got stuck in traffic!) it is still a reminder of God in my life. And I’ve found that since I started keeping it there it’s changed the music I listen too when I’m in my car, and often leads me to using my commute time as prayer time.

  20. Kerry Wolf

    Hi Jen

    I thought I recognized that day planner–I have the same one! I got it at Catholic Art and Gifts on Burnet (little plug here for the wonderful Austin Tx Catholic book and gift store). I love that store! The first time I went to a bookstore to buy some Catholic books I made the mistake of going into a regular mainstream Christian bookstore chain. When I asked if they had a section for Catholic books they looked as though I had requested pornography or something. They took me to the back of the store where they had a single copy of a Douay Bible with the wrapping torn and that was IT–wow! Even B&N had a better selection!

    Anyhow, I love the organizer and it really helps me to keep track of feast days and days of obligation, etc.

  21. Paul Forgette

    This is an interesting post and coincidentally is the same subject that my brother in Christ wrote on his blog.

    Actually this looks like a God whisper to me. :0)

    I do pray on a regular basis but what the two of you wrote today adds more dimension to my praying.

    Thank you and God bless.

  22. Kris, in New England

    As a recent convert and graduate from RCIA, I find my prayer-time to be especially meaningful as I continue to nurture my relationship with God. I have one reminder on my work calendar – to pray at my desk at the start of everyday. It is an Old Testament Prayer – the Prayer of Jabez – and it asks for God’s grace for the day, His guidance in all things and his blessing over my actions. I always add in my own prayers for my friends & family. My husband and I also pray over every meal we eat together. And I try to pray each night before I fall asleep.

    I have found that Adoration is a time for truly meditative prayer. Our Church holds Adoration on Fridays – so we try to get there on the way home at least once a month, sometimes more. I pray the Rosary there specifically and find it a beautiful way to end what is always a busy and anxiety-filled week of work and life responsibilities.

    • jack gibes This website I find helpfull to use for prayer, we use it for our night prayer with my wife, meditate a litle. Also in my personal prayer life I ask Our Lady to help with prayer, whenever trouble arises. Keeping appointment is crucial to growing in prayer life, persistence, just like Jesus said. With Jesus and Mary, jack

  23. Peter Ascosi

    Great post!

    I am part of a Catholic young adult community – ChristLife. This is our focus right now. Setting aside a daily time to pray.

    It is hard, but rewarding.

    Each day I try to follow Fr. Mike Scanlan’s outline of prayer (20-30 minutes)-

    *praise and worship
    *listening to God through Scripture
    *petitions and intercession

    It’s a big part of my life, though a baby and a toddler in the house, sometimes interrupt this! 🙂

    Blessings to all!

  24. Cottage By The Sea

    I am a creature of habit. I’ve been praying the same prayers, rosary, at he same times every day since I was a child. I do have not only rote but, personal prayer in there but it happens, before getting up, before bed, before meals, etc. On special occasions, for special intentions, I do add more prayer. Your article was enlightening. It seems you are pretty organized about it too, so I like that, but making time not just taking time for prayer seems a good idea. Then I came here to the comment section and there was a wealth of information. Thanks to everybody! I got some great ideas and reminded also, how important it is to pray with your husband and include your children in some of your prayer time. I did that on a regular basis when they were younger (and I was in charge of their time) but now everybody lives around here on their own schedule and at their own pace. We still often eat dinner together though, so I am going to incorporate a rosary or prayer time with my family once again. Blessings, Tia

  25. Robert Threadgill

    I converted five years ago. During that process, I prayed in a small adoration chapel several times a week, and I have continued the prayer ever since. Three times a week I make a holy hour at a chapel near my home in a Poor Clares monastery. To pray before the Blessed Sacrament has changed my life, it really has. I don’t understand the comfort and strength it brings — but I do understand I hope to be able to pray this way for the rest of my life!

    I wonder why more Catholics don’t pray before the Blessed Sacrament?

  26. Becky

    I found that going to Adoration weekly has increased a desire in me to pray more. I really try to make a point of having a half hour prayer time–and make a big announcement about it— to husband and my kids that during this time I am not to be disturbed. (I usually am anyway, over and over, but it’s a learning process I guess.) I say 3 decades of the rosary with some spiritual reading and then I finish the rest of the rosary before I go to bed.
    At this time, I’m not able to go to daily mass, so my daily prayer time is very important to me, otherwise, I tend to slip in my spiritual life.

    BTW, what motivates me is this following story that I heard about Bl.Mother Theresa.

    She was once sharing a ride with a priest that she knew pretty well, and they got on the subject of prayer. He then confessed that he’s been so busy with other obligations that he doesn’t take the time daily to pray. And Mother Theresa reproved him and said, “Father! you should ALWAYS take the time to pray! You take the time to eat, don’t you?”

  27. MyFeminineMind

    My oldest wakes up around 8:00 every day, so I try to rise everyday around 7:00 so I can have half an hour of meditation before the day begins. Also, I have an audio rosary app for my iPad that I pray along with when I do the dishes. It’s not a chore that requires to much concentration or thought, so I feel it’s a nice way to stay recollected, pray for others, and get a rosary in, because otherwise it just doesn’t get done.

  28. Kelly @ Love Well

    This is brilliant, Jen. (Is it bizarre or cool that your spiritual advisers sometimes act as the Internets spiritual adviser via your blog?)

    Ever since I read about the practice of hourly prayers, I’ve been slowly drawn to the idea. And what you say makes so much sense. For a relationship to really thrive, it needs dedicated time.

    I’m going to do a series in October – 31 Days of Sabbath – since Sabbath is my word for the year. I’m sure the idea of scheduled prayer will works its way in there.

  29. Abigail

    Hello Mrs. Fulwiler!

    I love your blog!

    Some ways I like to work prayer into my schedule is by praying the Rosary while I’m showering/ getting myself ready in the mornings with a audio guide (so I don’t have to keep up with the beads). Then, my family and I have prayer time in the mornings where we read the Bible, go over the day’s Saint, and read from a book about the Church Fathers.

    The ideas you wrote about are wonderful; I can’t wait to plan next week’s appointments! 🙂

    God bless you and your work!

  30. Sarah @ Beaten Copper Lamp

    What you say here is so true! Over the summer I made a point to visit my parish’s adoration chapel after I dropped off my little brother at band camp across the street. Now that I’m working full time making it to Mass or Adoration would require rising very early – I guess that’s a sacrifice I should be willing to make. For now, I say a Morning Offering, etc. as soon as I get behind the wheel of my car.

  31. Jeff

    I am equally afflicted with perfectionism and a frequent inability to discern priorities.

    This quote helps:

    “For busy people of the world, retire at various times into the solitude of your own heart, even while outwardly engaged in discussions or transactions with others and talk to God.” – St Frances de Sales

  32. 'Becca

    I carry my prayer beads in my coat pocket. Each morning when I leave my son’s school and walk toward the bus to work, as I put my hands into my pockets I feel the beads and remember to start saying my prayers.

    Of course, that doesn’t work unless it’s cold or raining so I’m wearing a coat. In summer, I have the beads in my purse in case I feel moved to use them, but carrying them in my un-pocketed hand I get stupidly distracted by the idea that I’m going to drop them down a storm grate! So instead I say a few basic prayers and then choose a hymn for the “song in my head” all day; if some other song intrudes, I think hard about the hymn until it starts “playing” again.

    A new ritual I started with my six-year-old this school year is singing “This Is the Day that the Lord Has Made” every morning right after we leave the house. This puts me in a more prayerful and appreciative mood.

  33. jack gibes It helps to hear others. I use this website to pray liturgy of the hours, where it is easy collected into one unit for each time of a day. Sometimes I copy the contents and put it on E-mail so I can print it when I need it. This adds choice to pray. I have a great scriptural Rosary where there is a bible verse after each Hail Mary, it is also slow, on CD, so I pray it in my car mostly. I use for night meditation with my wife. I go to Mass almost every day since my conversion 2 years ago. I try to pray always and Our Lady helps so much, She is my Misstress and my Queen. God Bless you all. My 2 year old son knows about Jesus in his heart, he can’t say the NAME yet.

  34. Elizabeth @ Coppertop Kitchen

    This is such a great idea! I, too, suffer from perfectionism, and I constantly have to talk myself out of thinking that if I can’t do something all the way, it’s not worth doing at all. I’m going to try this with prayer, and also with working out; Two things that never seem to be high enough on my priority list.

  35. Catherine

    Hi everyone. I pray the rosary while I am commuting in my vehicle. I truly have no privacy to pray it at home and I need that alone time and privacy to pray a rosary. As a result, I decided my alone time was while driving to work and back in my vehicle. I purchased the rosary from as an mp3 album and uploaded it to my mp3 player. When I drive to work I play it in my vehicle and I don’t complete the rosary all at once, because my drive to work is only 10 minutes, but I complete it on my drive back home or when I go somewhere else.

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