Level up your prayer life

February 1, 2023 - 12:00am -- Living City

By Susanne Janssen

For many of us, our days are hyper busy and there isn’t as much time for prayer as we might want. How can we keep the kingdom of God alive within us?

Focolare founder Chiara Lubich’s insights on the close link between prayer and life can help.

Our Christian life doesn’t need to be compartmentalized into hours when we live out our faith and others when we do less-noble tasks. Are we not always children of God?

And is not service to our brothers and sisters—studying, cooking, working, being with friends—all aspects of how we give God’s love to others? With this attitude, our life is nourished by our prayer, and our prayer is nourished by our life.

Praying constantly

Jesus said, “Pray always and do not give up” (Lk 18:1). Chiara Lubich was asked at a meeting of families in April 1989 how to put this Gospel phrase into practice in our everyday lives as laypeople.

She answered: “Pray always. How can we do this? Especially in the whirlwind of everyday life?

“We can do it by making all we do an act of love for him, adding, if possible before each action, especially when it is something important, ‘This is for you,’ as some of the saints taught.”

“‘To pray always’ does not mean that we should say more and more prayers, but that we should direct our soul and our whole life to God: study for him alone, work, struggle, suffer, rest and even die, for him.”

This is essentially a call to transform the world through our work. “We should carry out every action as well as we possibly can, because we know that it will be a continuation of God’s work of creation and of Jesus’ redemptive action, so that God’s plans for the world may be fulfilled,” Chiara says.

“It is especially through this way of praying that we fulfill Jesus’ command to pray always.”

Life as a continual prayer

In 1987, a young mother asked Chiara how someone who has to juggle job duties, family and household chores could find enough time for prayer. It is a feeling that many of us can relate to: time passes, life is short.

We don’t want to waste time, but how can we find union with God when our life is determined by tasks and chores that we need to perform? Chiara’s answer is consoling.

“The desire to pray is already prayer,” she says. “Wanting to pray but not being able to do so is already prayer…

“In fact, when we think about how we can live out Jesus’ instruction ‘to pray always,’ the only way to do it is to offer up one action after the other—there’s no other way.”

God receives these actions, done out of love while living well as a spouse, mother or father.

“I would advise everyone to get into the habit of saying the short prayers that are called ‘arrow prayers.’ It helps a lot to say: ‘My God and my all,’ ‘Mary my hope,’ ‘Mary, Queen of peace,’ ‘For you, Jesus’... and all the other beautiful phrases we can say to Jesus, Mary and the saints. These are things we can say in a flash, while the soup is cooking for example... And so we go ahead.”

In addition to this, a desire in our heart to pray might lead us to find the right moments too. “Someone who wants to pray, sooner or later will find the time, because we always find time to do what we truly and ardently want to do.”

Three ways to pray

On another occasion in 1989, Chiara drew inspiration from St. Francis de Sales on how can we make our daily work become continual prayer.

“St. Francis de Sales… says that there are three ways to pray.” Firstly, “there is vocal prayer, such as saying the Hail Mary, the Our Father, the Glory Be, and so on. I’m speaking here about personal prayer, not liturgical, communitarian prayer, which has its own beauty.”

A second way of praying is spontaneous prayer, which comes especially after having lived as a committed Christian for a while. Chiara chose the image of a plant and its roots: our roots are in God, while the plant is our interior life.

“It is only by loving our neighbor that the roots go deeper, and the stem shoots up to unfold in union with God.”

She gave the following advice: “If you are united to God, you talk to him. You tell him about all you are doing. You explain your problems. When you suffer, you complain to him. When you’re happy, you rejoice with him, and you give him everything. You entrust your loved ones to him, and your plans.”

This would come spontaneously to a person who feels union with God, just like with a close friend, a brother or sister or a spouse: you want to talk to them and tell them everything.

According to St. Francis de Sales, there is a third way—a way that he calls “living prayer.”

“It means offering God all our actions by saying, ‘For you, Jesus,’” Chiara explains. “This walk is for you, Jesus; this lunch is for you’—because we need that too in order to live, to keep going…”

Everything has equal value if lived out in this way.

Perfect for our time-poor times

Chiara considers this especially suited for our hectic times. In the past, “people thought that the world and the universe were fixed, immovable. People had to find God through the stars, through flowers, so there was contemplation, peace, union with God, moments of recollection and prayer in church, in front of the Blessed Sacrament.”

Nowadays, she noted, everything changes rapidly, and this is even truer today than 34 years ago: we are connected and constantly online, but have less time for contemplation.

Chiara saw this as an invitation to get involved. “Everything you do—at school, in the office, in the factory—is all part of building up the world with God the creator, helping the world develop. However, we have to build it up knowing that we are participating in the creative work of God.

“Therefore, our work is sacred work. We are like the arms of God the creator, who keeps building up the world.”

She concluded: “Simply saying ‘for you’ to God would give value only to the spiritual side of things, and perhaps you’d be less committed to doing them practically and perfectly…

“Instead, if you know that not only the spiritual part, but also the concrete part becomes prayer, because you are the arms of God the creator who is at work, then work becomes sacred, it is a prayer.”