Is your prayer life stuck in a rut? It’s time to reconsider your habits. Developing healthy prayer habits can make all the difference. Here are some important practices and habits I’ve learned in recent years–I wish someone would have taught me these when I was a boy. But it’s never too late to learn or to develop good habits.
These are the 11 essentials that have transformed my prayer life – and could do the same for yours.
1. Go to bed on time the night before.
Morning is the best time to pray. A good 15 to 30 minutes of morning mental prayer places God first, helps you to avoid sin and practice the virtues throughout the day, and it lays the groundwork for praying without ceasing throughout the day.
There’s also a chance that your house will actually be quiet in the morning, which will help.
But to pray well in the morning, you’ll also need to be well-rested. And this means going to bed on time the night before. (Or you’ll be sleepy like these Apostles.)
2. Get up early.
Set your alarm early enough so you can have 15 to 30 minutes of quiet morning prayer. And the moment your alarm rings, get up. No excuses. No snoozing.
Make this your very first prayer of the day: a spiritual offering to God of your sacrificed sleep.
Get up every day like this for a month and it will become a habit.
3. Then drop to your knees and pray a morning offering.
As soon as you’re up, get down . . . on your knees and pray a morning offering. There are many versions. It only takes a few seconds, but consecrating your entire day to God is an important and easy way to begin each day. Here’s what I pray:
“O my Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, I offer you all my prayers, works, joys, and sufferings of this day, for all the intentions of Thy Sacred Heart, in unity with the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass offered throughout the world, in reparation for my sins, and for all the intentions of the Holy Father. All for the Sacred and Eucharistic Heart of Jesus, all for the Sorrowful and Immaculate Heart of Mary, in unity with Saint Joseph. Amen.”
4. Morning Mental Prayer for 15 minutes.
You’ll need to decide when the best time is to do this, but for me, it’s after I’ve showered and dressed so that I’m now wide awake.
Find a place in your home that’s quiet and pray here every morning. Another possibility is to stop at a church or Eucharistic adoration chapel on the way to work or after dropping the kids at school.
Spend 15 to 30 minutes in quiet prayer. Prayerfully meditate on the Scriptures (my Sacred Art Series Holy Gospels, pictured below, is perfect for this) or a spiritual writing from one of the saints, such as St. Francis De Sales’s Introduction to the Devout Life.
As an easy-to-remember template for your prayer, there’s always A.C.T.S.: Adoration. Contrition. Thanksgiving. Supplication (petition). And if you’re new to mental prayer, have no fear. Here are some suggestions for getting started.
5. Pray at least once every hour of the day.
For many of us, whole chunks of the day–or whole days!–pass without so much as a glance toward God. I recently read this suggestion and was astounded both at its simplicity and the fact that I’d never heard it before.
Form the habit of turning to God at least once every hour of the day. This can be as simple as glancing at a crucifix or holy image, saying “Thy will be done” or “Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner,” or “Come Holy Spirit,” or reverently saying the name of Jesus.
6. Memorize some psalms. Pray them at specific points throughout the day.
Until recently, I had never memorized any psalms. Now that I’ve memorized 4 or 5, I’ve found that it’s quite easy to recite each one at specific points during the day.
For example, recite a certain psalm every time you get in your car. Recite another as you walk from the parking lot to your office. Another when you head to the restroom or wash your hands. You get the idea.
And once you have these psalms memorized, they also provide excellent material for meditation throughout the day.
To get you started, here are some of the psalms I use.
Psalm 1: “Blessed is he who walks not in the counsel of the wicked . . .”
Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd . . .”
Psalm 24: “The Earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof . . .”
Psalm 27: “The Lord is my Light and my salvation, whom shall I fear . . .”
Psalm 42: “Vindicate me O God and defend my cause against an ungodly people . . .”
7. Embrace the Cross.
Every day includes sufferings and annoyances. Some are big; others, small. Don’t let these go to waste! Unite them to Jesus’s sacrificial death on the cross and lovingly offer them to God. This is another way to pray without ceasing.
8. Embrace silence.
Don’t turn on the radio in your car. Shut off the music and the TV and any other background noise at home. Embrace the silence. If we want to hear God, we must first listen.
9. When you’re restless, turn to God.
St. Augustine famously said that our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.
How many times each day do we check our phones? What if, instead, we turned to God in these moments?
Or maybe when you’re restless, you turn to something else for comfort: Shopping. News. TV. Food. Drink.
Do we seek pleasure in things? Or in God?
Instead of turning to things, let us turn to God. Throughout the day, if you feel restless, turn to God. Ask for His grace. Ask for His love. Ask for His peace. “In God alone is my soul at rest.” Psalm 62:1.
10. Nightly Examination of Conscience.
Each night before getting ready for bed, place yourself in the presence of God, and quietly examine your conscience. In your mind, run through the Ten Commandments and the Seven Deadly Sins and consider where you fell short. Do an Act of Contrition. If any of your sins were grave, resolve to go to Confession.
Even better, do this nightly examination of conscience with your spouse (and kids) as part of Compline, the Church’s Night Prayer from the Liturgy of the Hours.
11. Say three Hail Mary’s as you place your head on the pillow.
This is a traditional Catholic practice and is a fine way to end your day. Just as your first act of the day was a prayer, so will your last be.
And just in case this night turns out to be your last, through your Hail Mary’s, the Blessed Virgin Mary will have you covered: “Pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.”