Relationships need time spent together. A relationship with Jesus is no different. If we are seeking to maintain a relationship with him, we need to make sure that we are spending regular time with him. This is, of course, time spent in prayer. A great deal has been said about how to pray. But for any of that to matter, we have to make sure that we actually take the time to pray. That means prayer needs to become a habit. But how?
Monks and nuns in a monastery or convent have a set community schedule, part of which is devoted to regular daily prayer. In fact, monastic life is built around prayer: everything else is of lower priority. But while nuns and monks may have prayer automatically built in to their daily lives, most of us don’t: if we want a prayer habit, we need to make one for ourselves. While the Church asks of us to attend mass weekly, that’s only once every seven days: if we want a strong relationship with Jesus, one that is at the center of our lives, we need something that is daily, not just weekly.
To build a daily prayer habit, if you’re like most people, it’s best not to try to make resolutions to perform major daily prayer sessions: those things tend to fall apart when lives become complicated or busy. Instead, focus on daily activities you already perform, and build your habit around those. These are activities such as getting up in the morning, going to sleep at night, eating meals, cleaning or hygiene, and daily movement or travel. Attach prayer to these things. At least once per day, schedule ten or fifteen minutes in for dedicated prayer, based on a daily activity that is consistent and where time can be made. For instance, when you get up in the morning, pray as part of your morning ritual, getting up fifteen minutes earlier to make room. Or if you are more functional at night, do it in the evening, as part of going to bed. For the rest of the day, make brief prayer moments attached to ordinary things that you do daily. If externally visible prayer isn’t practical or desirable, you can pray internally: Jesus sees our hearts and can hear what we say on the inside. Attach simple prayer to mealtime: a brief thanksgiving before each meal, for example. Pray as you walk down hallways, pray as you get in your car, when you get out, or when you’re traveling. Find times that works for you. Even very brief times are helpful for simple prayers. But do make sure that you have that one time in your day when you can give at least ten minutes of uninterrupted time to Jesus: you need time to become quiet enough to be able to listen, to hear him. For me, my time with Jesus is in the morning when I get up. For you, it might be bedtime, or some other time during the day. But schedule and do it, every day. Each day is a new day: if you missed your prayer yesterday, neither catch up nor give up: pray for today.
As for what to do when praying, find something that works for you: pray the Church’s prayers, meditatively read the bible, speak to Jesus from the heart, simply breathe his name. Sure, sing, especially if you are musical; speak beautifully, especially if you are adept with words; use posture and move expressively, especially if you are kinesthetic. But do not just make a speech to God: yes, speak, but also leave space to just be, and to listen. Prayer is an encounter, not a monologue. Always start and end with gratitude. Keep things simple. When things get difficult and time gets short, pray simpler, not less. Whatever you do, pray diligently, faithfully, daily. Start right here, right now. Make time with Jesus a habit. He is always there for you, and he is worth it.