You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways. ~ Psalm 139:2-3
A few days ago, I began this series on developing a vibrant, faith-building prayer life with this simple observation: if you have no real prayer life, you also have no real relationship with God. To that end over the last three days I’ve been sharing my top five tips for prayer that don’t involve the discipline and discomfort of keeping regular quiet time for prayer. (Not that you should keep a regular quiet time for prayer. But realistically many of us just aren’t up to it.) Today, I’m going to share my fourth tip which builds on the three prior tips:
Use Your Wandering, Waiting Mind Well
Over the years I have found that one of the most effective ways for me to find time for prayer is to spend time with God while doing other things. As busy as we all are, inevitably we find ourselves doing things which don’t require our full attention. It could be standing in line, long car rides, waiting for something to start (or be done), cleaning, gardening, exercise or some other activity which doesn’t allow us to sit quietly and concentrate but does leave our minds free.
Personally, I’ve always been a day-dreamer. Other people tend to spend their mental free-time making lists, puzzling over problems, blanking out, thinking about work, worrying about whatever it is they worry about. Whatever your default mental wandering is, most of the ways we spend the mental free time that comes with waiting or engaging in mindless activities aren’t particularly productive. Some of them are downright destructive, in fact. It’s better to at least occasionally use that time to pray rather than worry, plan and daydream.
How you do this, exactly, is up to you. For me, simply saying, “hey God” and letting my mind wander from there is surprisingly effective. Other people will use their time to repeat a rote prayer. Or maybe bring what you usually spend your time worrying or thinking about and talk with God about it. Or you could use the centering prayer I wrote about yesterday.
This seems like a very simple idea – almost a “yeah, duh” sort of thing, but the power of this habit shouldn’t be underestimated. There’s a reason creative people frequently value seemingly unproductive activities like taking walks, staring at nature or engaging in mindless activities. The trick of these things is that it’s harder for your brain to keep up the sort of censoring and defensiveness that we’re prone to when it’s distracted by some other activity. Ideas you’d normally shut down or reject or resist without hardly realizing what’s happening have a chance to slip through. When you direct your mind towards God while it is in this mode, it allows you to bring that same power into your prayer life.
Using your mental free time to pray is also quite powerful because it brings God into the everyday humdrum of your life. And that’s where real relationships are forged. And as we know from many of our other relationships, our most profound relationship building moments with the people around us don’t usually happen on special occasions. They happen when we’re doing something – or nothing – together.
If you want to get a teen to open up, talk to them while you’re driving together. If you want to know what’s going on in a man’s life, help him with some yard work or in his workshop. Sitting and having a cup of coffee together is nice, but there is something special which often happens when conversation is happening alongside some other activity. Sometimes its the shared experience of what you’re doing. Sometimes it’s that too-distracted-to-self-censor phenomena.
Much like with my advice to expand your concept of prayer to include all of life, this habit grounds your relationship with God into the flow of everyday life. It makes it much less likely that your relationship with God will be a formal, forced or distant affair. Instead, it will take on more of the flavor of a relationship with a friend who knows they can drop by anytime and you won’t worry too much that your house is a mess. Or a spouse who thinks nothing of coming in to pee while you’re flossing naked. Real relationships are built through just this sort of transparent, shared everyday life. And that’s just what God wants with us as well.