Thursday, 30 July 2015

Beach Days and Prayer: An Update on Habits in Formation

Summer's here, and my routines and habits are being sorely tested! There's nothing like camping, company, and beach days to throw things delightfully out of whack. So where does that leave prayer?

Some things have stuck a little more than others. I've discovered that with habit training (which is what this life of prayer is, among other things) it's pretty hard to introduce a whole bunch of habits all at once and expect them to stick from the start. I may be trying to do only "one thing" - pray more - but each intentional moment of prayer throughout the day is, in a sense, its own habit. And with establishing new habits, the common wisdom is: one at a time.

So where have I been sticking the most to my pattern of prayer?

Morning prayer
In a way this has been the least consistent time of prayer. Getting up at different times, in different places, with different people around has meant that I haven't been sitting down in my cozy blue chair before the world around me gets going. The prayer book that I have been using as a guide for my morning prayer times hasn't been used as much. (It's pretty big, so I didn't take it camping with me.) I also usually like to build in time for reading Scripture with my morning prayer. (I like to get my daily bread first thing, if I can.) But with a more relaxed routine, that hasn't been happening as often in the mornings either.

What has been sticking though, is that stirring in my heart in those first moments of waking - O Lord, let my soul rise up to meet you as the day rises to meet the sun. This day is yours, and I am yours. Some days this leads into a focused time of prayer and Scripture, if I've gotten up before the rest of the house. Some days I pray as I get ready ready for the day, showering and dressing, seeking to clothe myself with Christ and consecrate myself and my day to him. So it's been looking different, but the desire is the same. And if desire is such a thing that can be trained (and I do believe it is), then I think I have created a consistent habit of desire when it comes to morning prayer.

Midmorning prayer
This is the prayer the children and I do together with our morning snack. When we are home in the mornings, this almost always happens. The children help remind me! Which brings me to two important things about habit training:

1. It's easier to stick to a habit when it's linked to another daily ritual (in this case, a regular snack).

Linking a new habit to an existing one is a great way to ensure it "sticks." It removes a whole level of having to remember. It ties the new habit to something already anchored. It strengthens the new habit by supporting it with embodied actions. Now I can't sit down at our homemade harvest table for a morning snack without thinking about praying together. This is also the time we read a Bible story. It's now a package deal - snack, story, prayer. It's just what we do, and the kids don't let me forget it!

2. It's easier to stick to a habit when it's done in community (in this case, my own kids).

Forming new habits with others may take a little more work at first, but the community reinforcement is invaluable. If one person forgets, doesn't feel like it, or gets off track, there are others to help keep things going. Sometimes the momentum of the community is the only thing dragging me along (MOM! We forgot to pray!), and I'm thankful for it. We keep each other moving in the right direction.

Noon prayer
This is a habit that hasn't been firmly established yet. Most days I forget. I'm probably just distracted at this point. Or maybe it's just a matter of letting other habits get established before tackling this one. I don't have a wall clock in the kitchen. A simple thing, but it might help. High noon hands - time to lift my own in thanksgiving. Either that, or a little sign or sticky note by the kitchen sink to remind me to pause and praise.

Afternoon prayer
Here's another one I haven't gotten the knack of yet. I think it's partly because afternoons can be so unpredictable, especially in the summer. I've "tied" this prayer time to the kids' quiet time. If we're in our regular routine, it's much easier for me to take a few minutes and re-root myself in the Vine. There is still a struggle in those precious moments of quiet to silence the distractions and pull of the computer screen. To be sure, there is always something to attract my attention. But, realistically, this is often the only opportunity I have to go deeper into God's word for a few minutes, seek God's wisdom for the needs of the day, or put pen to paper. When I've done that first, I find my interactions with people afterwards (yes, sometimes on social media) are more meaningful. I find my activity around the house to be more productive and purposeful. When I prioritize prayer, other things fall into place, are put in proper perspective, and are filled with renewed purpose.

Supper prayer
This one is fairly consistent, if short. We thank God for providing and pray a blessing over our meal before we begin. Sometimes the adults pray, sometimes it's one of the kids. When the meal is over, we read a portion of Scripture before the kids are excused from the table. Right now we are reading the daily psalm excerpt from my prayer book. (It's easy in that the reading is printed right there for each day of the year.) Other times we've gone slowly through a book of the Bible together. The bones of this habit are there. I'm not sure how it may develop in the future into more of a family devotional time.

Evening prayer
This is another one of those still in formation. It all depends on how much brain power is left when my head hits the pillow! It has been a great help to process the day in the light of prayer, instead of fruitless worrying or replaying. I find the desire is usually there - the movement of the spirit toward God before sleep. Especially after a trying day, I can repent, release, and rest.

So that's how it's all been working out in the day to day. I'm encouraged by the habits that are sticking, because I'm seeing fruit! I still have a long way to go, and a lot to learn. This is more to do with the framework than the content of prayer right now. This is nuts and bolts stuff, but it matters. I am making opportunities for encountering the living God. I am training my heart to seek him. I am tuning my ears to hear his voice. He is not far off, no indeed. He is right here in the middle of it all, wanting to weave his life with mine.

The closer I stick to him, the more I see him everywhere - in the lively discussion with summer guests, and the quiet sunset over a campground, and the roll of waves as the children roam the beach. One of the rewards of prayer is how this sweet communion spills over into all of life, infusing it with colours of grace and making the ordinary sing with holiness. Thanks be to God.

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