I am a person who appreciates routine in the way most people appreciate that first real meal after a day of fasting. To paraphrase Scripture: blessed are those who hunger and thirst for a color-coded calendar and well-organized to-do list, for they shall see God. It was this desire for order that led me to create a corner of my home set aside for quiet prayer and reflection as a kind of launch pad for everyday life.
For several months, I woke up early and packed my husband’s lunch while I waited for the hot water to brew for my French press coffee. I changed into my gym clothes while it brewed for just the right amount of time. And when it was finished, I’d take my happiness in a mug — my proof of Jesus’ love for me — and curl up in my chair in the corner by the window. I worked through devotionals and spiritual texts, I honed in on books of the Bible I’d never explored. I took notes and took my time, lingering over long passages and doodling quotes that echoed deep in my heart. That kind of prayer felt good and holy and impressive.
And then I got pregnant. Suddenly, getting out of bed before noon was a monumental task.
My mother and grandmother told me they had “felt tired” their first trimesters, so my expectation of early pregnancy was that I might need an afternoon nap, but otherwise, life would carry on as usual. In reality, I felt like I’d taken a time machine back to my sophomore year of college, except without the fun parts. I existed in a perpetual hangover. When I wasn’t at work or at the gym, I was asleep.
All of my routines fell apart, especially the morning ones, especially prayer, and I felt completely untethered and out of control, so I begged the Holy Spirit for the strength to just get my butt in the chair. I resolved to drag myself out of bed and make myself available to the Lord every morning. It was my frail attempt at getting back to some level of normalcy in a life and a body that felt far from normal.
Most mornings I just sat down and hit “play” on a list of worship music I’d collected over time on Spotify and Grotto Network playlists. For the most part, this morning ritual looked a lot less like “prayer” and more like a bleak attempt at staying awake as I nibbled on toast and sipped low-acid, half-caf coffee.
I felt guilty about this and I told my spiritual director as much. Sister Joan is a retired Dominican Sister of Peace. She is deeply rooted and profoundly spiritual. She takes the business of heaven seriously and everything else she holds lightly in open hands.
Sister Joan suggested that maybe this was exactly what I needed in that season: to learn to receive, to embrace smallness, weakness, and dependence in a world that praises self-sufficiency, independence, and control — all qualities I tend to value over the ones I was being confronted with.
There is a season for everything say the Byrds (and the Bible), and I believe it to be true. If you find yourself in a season marked with suffering of any kind, or are wrestling with exhaustion or grief, illness or feeling overwhelmed, here are some simple ways to maintain a connection with God when regular prayer seems impossible.
Surrender the day
I’m more of a “seize the day” kind of girl. I prefer to give God my plan and wait for Him to get on board. Hard times tend to confront us with the reality that our plans are generally half-baked at best, however, and they bring us back to a place of reliance on God and others.
On the days when sickness, depression, anxiety, or grief weigh so heavily on your heart you can’t muster the strength to get out of bed, surrender the day. Lay it down at the foot of the cross, and then lay it down again when you brush your teeth, and again when you put on your shoes, and again when you get in the car. Surrender the day, your life, your ideas of how life should be and who you should be over and over again, as many times as it takes.
I’m a big believer in the idea of everything in moderation — even moderation. I know all the words to “Oceans” by Hillsong, and “99 Problems” by Jay-Z. Both of these anthems are incredibly useful in times of struggle, but two things seem to be in short supply when my body, mind, and spirit are weary.
The first is consolation — a deep and abiding sense of God’s presence. Cue the worship tunes and stock up on travel packs of tissues because things are about to get emotional, y’all.
Second, lest we drown in our Church-music-induced tears, we need a kick in the rear to get moving, even if that means simply brushing your hair for the first time in over a week. This is when a playlist of tried and true motivational hits comes in handy.
Get to Mass
We are soothed by the familiar. How many times have you gone to your favorite coffee shop or restaurant and ordered the exact same thing? I rest my case. We are comforted by ritual and routine (I’m looking at you, Taco Tuesday). What’s more universally familiar and routine than the Mass?
I’ve traveled all over the world and the one thing that has never changed is the flow of the Mass, even when I don’t speak the language. In no other space of our lives are mind, body, and spirit so connected. We sit, stand, kneel, taste, touch, speak, hear.
When everything feels out of control, nothing is more centering than the Mass, even when I’ve been too exhausted, heartbroken, or sick to fully participate.
Real life will sometimes leave us feeling like a boat without a motor, unmoored and out of control. Even in these seasons of suffering, we can maintain a sense of peace and joy knowing we have an anchor for our souls, a tether to the basics of life this side of heaven.