One of the most confusing things, when one leaves religious life behind, is trying to figure out what a healthy prayer life “on the outside” looks like.
On the one hand, stopping to pray at all the same times and with all the same devotions as I did in the convent is just plain unhealthy. I’m not a religious – I am a lay woman. The prayer life of a religious is not appropriate to the lay state of life. In fact, its actually harmful, as it keeps the lay person from performing the duties proper to the lay state.
Having said that, the opposite extreme would be disastrous. To cease to make prayer a part of my day? Unthinkable. That would be to sever my relationship with the God with whom I have developed an intimate and precious relationship. That would be to lose the spiritual dimension of my life, that life breathed into me at Baptism, that in-dwelling of the Blessed Trinity that I hope and pray I would literally die to preserve.
Well… how about minimalism?
That doesn’t really work either. My relationship with God is founded on love. Minimalism is pretty loveless, pretty self-serving. That would be turning God into what I have heard described in the past as a “Toothbrush God” to be used for ones own health and well-being, and placed back on the shelf until the next time required.
So I know what healthy prayer in lay life is NOT. But what IS it?
I’m still over-correcting one way, and then over-correcting the other, trying to find equilibrium. In 3 days it will have been 8 months since I removed my habit and got on a plane to return home. In that time I’ve done a pretty mixed-up job of trying to maintain a strong and loving relationship with my Heavenly Father. I so much want to do better!
One thing I know for certain – the Mass is central. I need to get to Mass as often as I can. I need Jesus. I need Him. There’s just no two ways about it! I meet Him in the Eucharist. Whenever I’m tempted not to bother with weekday Mass, THATS when I need to step up my commitment. THAT’s when I need Him most. And not in a self-serving way. I need Him because I know that He is the only way for me to be able to return love for Love.
But outside of the Mass?
I’m a Scripture research student. My research is doomed to fail if I don’t spend time PRAYING with Scripture to support my study. I want my research to be at the service of the Lord – so I need to remember ALWAYS to put it in His hands. Each time I sit down to do any work on this, I need to start by praying with the Text for at least 10 minutes prior to commencing any work with it.
What about mental prayer? I need to set perhaps a more realistic target than the 1.5 hours of time before the Blessed Sacrament that used to be part of my horarium. Perhaps 15 minutes of dedicated time for mental prayer. That’s St. Teresa of Avila’s recommendation, right? They didn’t make HER a Doctor of the Church for nothing! 😉 At the beginning of the day, or perhaps some silence in the car on the way to work if all else fails.
And here is something that I think will REALLY be helpful – I need NOT to let go of the Office. Perhaps praying all the hours that I used to do is maybe a little unrealistic at the moment. But Compline? I can fit Compline in. It takes 10-15 minutes and its just before bed so it’s pretty hard to forget.
OK. These are the concrete goals I’m going to set myself for now. Not as a checklist of daily chores – but as an authentic commitment to a relationship that I want to nurture. If you chance across this blog post, please pray for me!