Understanding the difference between and the importance of both is as simple as thinking about your computer’s anti-virus software.
Do you like who you are when you haven’t prayed in a long time?
We might reply, “If there were 36 hours in a day, and I didn’t need to sleep, then, sure, I would certainly have time to pray as much as I ought and still get everything else done.” I understand the reasons for those words, having spoken them very often myself, so please understand me. I’m not suggesting that we insist upon more prayer; instead, I’m suggesting that we insist more upon prayer, and that we insist more upon prayer of a certain kind. In other words, I’m suggesting not expanding our prayer time, but rather expanding our prayer life. Remember that Jesus Himself did not direct His disciples to pray more; He instructed them to pray always.
God seems to be a relentless competitor for our time, attention and affection. Doesn’t he understand how busy we are? And why can’t everyone else understand that too? These experiences often prompt people to become exasperated when we talk about the need to pray.
A very busy priest, for example, working in a parish, university, or hospital—and I’ve done all three—can’t be expected to spend 12 hours a day in a chapel, sighing and enjoying ecstatic inspirations. (The same can be said for all people truly committed to the duties of their vocation.) Yes, there must be time set aside for formal prayer and for silent prayer. And, yes, very often it’s nearly impossible to expand that length of time. But the size of our prayer life can be expanded even if the size of our prayer time cannot.
Regarding your prayer time, let your time with Scripture and intercession and dialogue with God revolve around your identity as a loved sinner. Regarding your prayer life, let every waking moment be spent alert to the possibility of God inviting you to find him, love him and serve him in every circumstance. Every event, every conversation, when taken as a possibility for proving your love for God, can take on new and unexpected richness and vitality. Anything that brings laughter or tears, joy or sorrow, indeed, any person or event can be a gift from God that confirms our discipleship. Going through the day alert, expecting the unexpected, attuned to the possibility of a God-sighting—establishing such a habit—that is the foundation of a prayer life. And that constant openness to the presence of God, can, over time, become the life of prayer that helps disciples move from being dutiful workers to being a beloved son or daughter.
A computer simile illustrates my point. Maintaining a prayer life (in contrast to a prayer time) in order to cultivate a habit of near-constant prayerfulness is like a computer program that “runs in the background.” An anti-virus program runs constantly—vigilant, unobtrusive; it’s unnoticed until it “catches” something worth your attention. That habit of a prayer life for the sake of a discipleship that leads to beloved sonship is akin to that vigilant program running in the background on your computer.
Now let’s get more specific. Is there a way of keeping ourselves motivated to cultivate that habit of a prayer life for the sake of discipleship and sonship? First, let’s look at the why, then we can look at the how. The why: St. Ignatius Loyola asks us to place ourselves before Christ Crucified (who is the perfect proof that I’m a loved sinner) and ask: “What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I to do for Christ?” However we answer that question, regardless of our vocation, we must include a life of prayer that enables us to offer God worthy worship and opens us to receive necessary graces.
How? Here we can turn to the spiritual classic, The Practice of the Presence of God: “…all things are possible to him who believes, that they are less difficult to him who hopes, they are more easy to him who loves, and still more easy to him who perseveres in the practice of these three virtues. That the end we ought to propose to ourselves is to become, in this life, the most perfect worshipers of God we can possibly be, as we hope to be through all eternity.”
For all, the final vocation is to be a saint, to worship our Divine Beloved for all eternity. We prepare ourselves for that eternity by living here and now our call to worship God constantly—by doing all, even the most mundane things, for love of him.
When I write next, I will continue our conversation with Christ’s exhortation, not to pray more or to pray better, but to “pray always and not lose heart.” Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.