Falling Away from Prayer

For most of the past month I have fallen away from what was my routine prayer practice.  Since September, when I began my 70 minute train ride to Center City, I have been praying a modified form of The Suffrages from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, and reading the three assigned texts from the daily lectionary.  It was a 10-15 minute routine, a good way to begin my train ride.

To do this, each week I was printing out a self-made crib sheet that listed the lectionary readings, the Prayer of the Day for Sunday and any festivals that may fall during the week, and a listing of any commemorations that are celebrated during the week.  I would fold this nifty little sheet once, and stick it inside the front cover of my pocket-sized Bible.  It was a good routine.

But then one week last month, for whatever reason, I didn’t create and print out the sheet.  For one or two days I skipped the readings, but continued to say my prayers (also printed out and tucked into the front of my Bible).  But even that practice faded away.  And now I have gone a few weeks without either the prayer or the readings, choosing to go right to sleep, read a book, listen to NPR, or do some work on my computer.

I wish I could say that there was some qualitative decline in my quality of life, that I’ve been worse off for not keeping this prayer routine.  Since I am no longer praying the Prayer of the Day, no longer reading Bible passages connected to the church year, and no longer thumbing through my Bible from the Old Testament, to the Psalms to the New Testament, I feel more distant from the Bible and church year itself – this is true.  But, the absence of this prayer practice has not inauggerated a new crisis of faith or increased my anxiety level to new heights.

And so, this little experience has left me wondering about the nature and purpose of prayer, the impact prayer has (or doesn’t) on the one who prays, and the nature of spiritual disciplines in general.  Perhaps my biggest loss in this past month has been a creeping rustiness in my Biblical knowledge and a distancing from the church year, but has my relationship with God been harmed?  Has my spirituality been impaired?  What do these things mean?

Any thoughts?

About Chris Duckworth

Spouse. Parent. Lutheran Pastor. National Guardsman. Political Junkie. Baseball Fan.
This entry was posted in Daily Prayer, Faith & the Church, Vocation. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Falling Away from Prayer

  1. David says:

    I know what you mean. It is hard to keep to a rigorous prayer routine. I have had the same troubles with morning prayer. Sometimes the mornings get very hectic and the first thing to go is the morning ritual.
    As to your wonderings about the effects prayer has on our lives, I think it is important to rmemeber that we are living in a society that measures results in short order. We look for quick returns on our investments of money, time and even discipleship. Perhaps the answer will come later rather than sooner, who knows. Your spirituality shows through in your writing and through the stories you tell about your family, church, and CPE.
    Good luck with the prayer journey. It is a discipline that takes….well….much discipline.

  2. PS says:

    As a person who has better intention than follow through, I’ll just say that the practice of the faith, ie having your faith shine through your actions, seems like the most important aspect of faith. However, there is something to be said for habitual practices to carry us through the bad times and the good times. I don’t think you’ll see much difference after a month, but there could/will be a creeping difference after awhile.
    Figure out the WHY you want a certain practice to continue or not continue.

  3. I am wondering if prayer needs to be so rigorous? Are we making it harder than it needs to be?

  4. Mary Sue says:

    Welp, I’m like you, ‘cept my ‘forgot to print it out’ was almost two years ago. When I went on pilgrimmage to DC, sure, I did a little praying, but it was much easier to leave my prayerbook in my bag.
    That distance from the Bible and the Church Year? It doesn’t go away. It gets wider. And I find myself gazing across a chasm in my memories, where a river of God’s Word used to flow, spilling scriptures into my thoughts at odd times of the day, and wondering what happened.
    Someone will probably say, “Ah, you’re just becoming a real Episcopalian, they don’t read the Bible anyway.” But there’s a hole, now, where my daily prayer and Bible reading used to be. And yet, it’s so hard to pick up that prayerbook in the morning…

  5. Lee says:

    I find it very difficult to maintain a regular prayer discipline too. In fact, I recently talked to me priest about this and he recommended (surprise!) the Daily Office. Of course, as other folks have mentioned, just sitting aside that 15 or 20 minutes in the morning (or at night if you’re really good and do MP and EP) is a lot easier said than done. Should I try and juggle my prayer book and Bible smashed between a bunch of people on the T in the morning? That seems to be when I have the most free time…
    As to the why, I’m reminded of something St. Augustine said about praying the Psalms that seems pertinent: he said that the Psalms teach us to praise God which is necessary if we’re to be fitted for praising God eternally. Part of what I take that to mean is that we don’t “naturally” want to pray (which is maybe part of the reason it’s so easy to fall away from) but it has to be learned and made habitual. But here below that’s a halting kind of thing for most of us.
    But then what do I know? 😉

  6. The Jewish Son says:

    For what it’s worth, here’s my input…For what you have chosen to do in life, keeping up your readings and prayer will probably help you to stay on top of your game. People will turn to you, and you never know when one of your readings or prayers will serve as inspiration for either you, those who seek your counsel or both.
    It may noy be relevant now with the chaplaincy program and dealing with a variety of faiths, and it may not even come up that often when you find yourself in the church setting, but the time when someone does seek you out and that piece of scripture delivers just the right message…then, you will see the value.
    Am I even close to on target or did The Jewish Son miss the mark?

  7. Don says:

    A while back you wrote about your daily prayer discipline, which included Luther’s morning and evening prayer. You inspired me to include this in my daily routine and I have found it very helpful. Saying the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer, Luther’s Morning Prayer, and singing a verse of my favorite morning hymn (Holy, Holy, Holy … early in the morning our song shall rise to Thee …”) is a great way to start the day. Llikewise in the evening it is a peaceful and spiritual way to end the day, prepared for a good night’s sleep, freed from the cares of the day, focused on what is really important – our relationship with God.
    I would like to thank you for inspiring me to bring this prayer discipline into my life, and I pray that you will once again find a way to include prayer in your daily routine. With all the stress you are facing every day at the hospital, you need to remember your need for self-care, and daily prayer is certainly part of that.

  8. Much thanks to our Jewish brother for reminding us of the nature of prayer and its inspirational possibilities. I think we dichotomize our spiritual disciplines and practices – those that we practice for ourselves and those that we practice for and alongside others. What if our practices are more complicated than that? Our devotional practices in the morning probably serve a secondary purpose for ourselves sometimes but a primary purpose for the woman we counsel at 2:30 that afternoon. She needs to hear the comforting word of God we experienced earlier in the day. I don’t want to functionalize our prayer practices or use prayer as a means to an end (as LZ cites here http://lutheranzephyr.typepad.com/main/2007/01/prayer_a_means_.html) but prayer is also just that sometimes.
    With that in mind I want to affirm the other part of LZ’s prayer practice that he forgot to mention. We have continued to pray Luther’s morning prayer as a family (when we’re all downstairs) before LZ heads out the door to the train. Just as in LZ’s worship post from a year or so ago (which I can’t find anywhere) in which he shared with us that worshipping with children reminds us that worship is not just about us — our big girl has learned a prayer practice (even if it’s more about standing with mommy and daddy by the door, straightening or making more crooked the framed prayer on the wall, or even watching TV out of the corner of her eye…).

  9. I hear a number of questions in your final questions; here’s how I answer them.
    Why do we pray, recite formulas and read Scripture? Is it for the edification–or is it for the praise of God? I’d say both/and rather than either or but I think the accent is on the first, not the second.
    Has your relationship with God been harmed by you ceasing the pratice of praise? Well–God’s not hurt by it…
    As I’ve said before–and as you’ve disagreed –it’s about the repetition. And not just the repetition over weeks but years and decades. The Scriptures and preeminently the Psalms shape us, guiding and molding us into the Mind of Christ.
    I know it’s not easy to maintain the routine. *Trust me.* With my schedule I can count on two days (when I drop G and H off at daycare) where morning prayer simply won’t gt done unless I set my alarm at a truly ungodly hour–and God knows that I need the sleep. So on those days–today being one of them–it doesn’t get done and I don’t feel guilty. I just go back to the routine tomorrow…
    As I see the issue, it’s less about what harm is done by not doing it and more about what good is being done by doing it, be forming yourself as the sort of being that praises God by nature. And, as EC said, witnessing to the Good News thereby. G is three and a half and she has the Short form of Compline from the BCP memorized because it’s what we do for bedtime prayers. What she knows is that this is simply what we do it’s who we are and–God willing–it’s who she will be too.
    Lee–don’t juggle; get one of the sets with the readings bound in. I’ve been doing the Offices on trains and buses for years now with one of those…

  10. Gary Spornitz says:

    Jesus said that we were to love God with all our being, and to love others as we love ouselves. Prayer is important to personalize the relationship With God. It is the direct link in which we are able to praise God and humble ourselves by realizing deeply, His majesty and awsome power. Not praying removes an opportunity from ourselves WHEN PRAYER IS DEEPLY MEANT and not just repetition of a formula. Jesus’ entire ministry was about sincerity and absoluteness. Praying formulas probably is not as efficacious as being in real communion with God. It is kind of like sitting behind the wheel of your car parked in your driveway without turning the key, wondering why you’re not getting anywhere.
    Just a thought.

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