How to Pray and Pray Again on this Journey

Reflections from Dr. Howell

In our last 2 emails, we have explored the basics of prayer. But being aware of how to pray is useless unless – yes, you actually pray. And the only way to pray is… to pray.

You show up. And you show up again. And again. It’s a habit. It’s the one thing in your daily routine you won’t sacrifice to your busyness or whatever is urgent. You need to pray more than you need to shower or brush your teeth or eat or get to work.

Each person has to find her or his own spiritual regimen. I’m not a morning person – but I do something to nurture my spirituality first thing every morning. As a night person, I can invest more energy and focus into spiritual things when it’s late. You may be the opposite. Doesn’t matter: the spiritually growing person starts each day, first thing, before anything else, with some umph, some load-bearing thought toward God. And you end each day, maybe during your last bathroom stop before sleeping, or just before you doze off, to another umph, some load-bearing thought toward God. Those bookends sustain you during the rest of the day.

Although waking and falling asleep can’t be your only moments with God. Muslims, quite admirably, stop everything to pray not once but five times throughout the day. Why on earth might Christians think they can make do with far fewer? Are there five set times day by day that really could work in your schedule? – for you to stop what you’re doing and be attentive to God for even a short few moments? You can set your phone/watch. You can calendar this. Are you interrupting something important? Good! What could be more important than returning God’s call?

On waking: many habitually repeat Psalm 118:24 on waking: “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Not sure I can always muster the rejoicing and gladness, but to kickstart each day with a profession that God made this day, God has gifted me with another day… is so hopeful and powerful. I love that Jews, first thing upon waking, say Modeh ani lefanekha, “I thank You, living and eternal King.” As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks puts it, “We thank before we think.”

Midday is a profoundly meaningful time to build some pause into your day. You’re heading to lunch. You’re shifting from Good morning! to Good afternoon! Whatever midday is for you, it’s a rich time to look back on the day thus far and ask Where have I seen beauty? Or goodness? Or God’s creation or presence? When have I gone bonkers and violated my dream of life in sync with God? As I gaze into the balance of today, How might I find God ahead of me? What opportunities might come for me to be God’s presence, Christ’s hands and compassion to somebody? When I come to those forks in my road, can I be grateful instead of critical?

Evening. You made it home. Can we make home a quiet space for rest, for listening, and even for some prayer? Reviewing the day with God, or with someone else who cares about you or cares about God: how to find what was blessed, or for what you might be grateful. There’s more than you’d realized unless you put this discipline into your daily regimen.

Falling asleep: I have a friend who told me he feels so guilty for praying at bedtime but falling asleep before he’s done. But how lovely! How intimate! God must cherish that we are so entirely comfortable with God that we can drift off into sleep – which after all, is one of God’s finest gifts to us!

Try this: take a few days to test out different patterns, sets of time to stop and be with God intentionally. Absolutely do it on waking and going to sleep!