Finding time to pray is hard for busy families

Prayer on the Run

Finding time to pray is hard for busy families.

The church tries to help. We encourage people to set aside time for prayer and Bible study on a regular basis because if love is a function of time–and it is–how can we expect to love God if we don’t spend time with Him?

The problem is that many people in our churches don’t have time to spare.

Who has time to pray?

If they’re younger parents, they wake up in the morning to kids who need breakfast, grocery shopping put off from yesterday, work appointments to prepare for, school functions to coordinate, checkbooks to be balanced and car keys they can’t find because their two-year-old thought it was funny to hide them under the couch. Their days are so filled with to-do lists that often their only free time is a few minutes after the kids go to sleep before falling into bed themselves.

The parents of teens aren’t any better off. Just because older kids can take care of themselves (or think they can) doesn’t mean they don’t still need their parents to do things—a lot of things—for them.

What about empty nesters? I used to think this would be a much easier time of life. Boy, was I wrong. What Pam and I have discovered is that the empty nest years are packed with graduations, job responsibilities that your grown kids need encouragement in, marriages and—quicker than you can imagine—grandchildren. Any thoughts I had when I was younger that once the kids left home I’d have more time for things I really like to do have been proven wrong.

And then there are the retirement years. I know that for many retired people life does slow down. But for many others, it seems to pick up steam. In fact, many of them are the busiest people I know (they’re just not being paid for being busy anymore). Friends, trips, church, doctor’s visits, family get-togethers—the pace may change but the areas of responsibility may actually grow more numerous.

Do you get the point? How can people in our churches have a meaningful devotional life when few of them can find the time? Talk about a clash of visions—churches telling their people that they’re not being spiritual if they don’t devote more time to God while their people are looking at their daily schedule and saying to themselves, “Are you kidding me?”

But busy families can find time to pray if they build habits of prayer into their daily routines.

A false choice that leads to a nagging guilt

I wonder if we haven’t set up a false choice between two ways of staying close to God. One way is our evangelical ideal of a “quiet time”—an hour or so of unhurried time with God every morning with a cup of coffee, a Bible and an open journal in hand, listening to the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit. You can learn five simple steps toward having a daily quiet time like this in a previous blog here.

The other way is to be so consumed with the God-given responsibilities of daily life that they become the de facto shape of our devotional life. Maybe we could call that approach Prayer on the Run. Bob Hostetler describes six ways we can learn to pray on the run:

  • Pray while you wait
  • Pray in the car
  • Pray on the phone
  • Pray during commercials
  • Pray while exercising
  • Pray what you see and hear

The Bible frames the two ways of staying close to God in the story of Martha and Mary, sisters who loved Jesus but in different ways. Martha stayed busy with household chores while Mary simply sat at Jesus’ feet. In the biblical account of their experience, Jesus commends Mary while gently chastising Martha:

But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken from her.” (Luke 10:41-42)

Many of our people today long to be in Mary’s place but the realities of their life force them into Martha’s frantic pace instead. Finding time to pray is hard for busy families. The result is often that many in our churches have a nagging sense of guilt that we’re not spiritual enough.

Mary AND Martha?

But is there a third way?  A way in which busy families can find ways to pray if they build prayer into their daily routines? A way that combines the prayer of Mary with the activity of Martha. A way in which faithful people in our churches who are short on time and energy can still find a way to nurture their relationship with Jesus. I think there is—and it’s a way that’s been around for a long time but in our modern church hasn’t always been given enough attention.

This third way is when we choose to see our daily chores and responsibilities not as distractions from God but instead as the very platforms where God speaks to us–and we to him–right in the middle of the hurly-burly of modern life.

Brother Lawrence, a medieval monk and author of “The Practice of the Presence of God,” (a book that more people should read) spent his life washing dishes in his monastery’s kitchen. He figured out how to merge prayer and work in a way that honored God and satisfied his own soul. He says it this way in his book:

The time of busyness does not with me differ from the time of prayer, and in the noise and clatter of my kitchen…I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees in worship.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s vitally important for all of us carve out time to be with the Lord on a regular basis. But in those times and seasons when time is in short supply, Brother Lawrence’s counsel is an encouragement to every stressed mom, every overworked dad and every frantic family trying to build a spiritual foundation in the modern world.

God can meet us in the middle of a busy life

Let’s face it. There are seasons where there aren’t enough hours in the day to do all we’d like to do or even all we need to do. But in those times if we can figure out how to pray in whatever moment we find ourselves in instead of feeling frustrated that we can’t find the perfect moment, we may be surprised how God will meet us there.

Busy families can find time to pray if they build habits of prayer into their daily routines.


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