If your pastor asked you how much time you spend in prayer every day, would you be embarrassed to be honest about it? How much would you have to do to feel proud about it? These are sort of odd questions, but I think they can work fairly well as a stand-in for how much is too little, and how much is too much. If you’re a little embarrassed about how little you’re praying when no one is watching, then start with 15 minutes a day – that’s what your pastor is going to tell you anyways. If you’re feeling proud about how much you’re praying, maybe just stop it (or ask the Lord to deliver you from the disaster of spiritual pride). St. Paul said we should pray unceasingly and, if you’re doing a really good job at that already, maybe go join a monastery. I can suggest a few. Okay, really one.
As Catholics we have many different methods of prayer that we’re familiar with. Where to begin building a prayer life depends a fair amount on what you conceive prayer to be. The most helpful concept for me has been to view prayer as a way of spending time with God in the way you would spend time with another person. There are different ways to do that, but some are more important than others for the sake of your relationship. So, for your 15 minutes of prayer, make that completely undistracted time, kneeling in front of a crucifix (or in a chapel, I’m just assuming we’re all doing this early in the morning at home), just talking to God about the things you need to talk to Him about. If you’re not sure what those are, just sit there quietly for that period of time. If you live with someone else around all day, 15 minutes of undistracted, focused conversation with them is actually kind of a lot. Then the quality of your conversation can degrade into little snippets throughout the day, but having that baseline conversation can keep you feeling united in spite of that degradation (insert spousal relationship analogies here).
Really, though, you should be doing 30 minutes a day, and an hour would be next level. Over time I have personally found a few spiritual exercises to be indispensable. How long they take can vary, but I shoot for about 30 minutes in the morning. First, I have a cup of coffee. Then (or concurrently) I read one chapter of scripture and usually some commentary on it. I pick one verse to write down in a journal and think about for a while, and I may jot down a few thoughts or questions. Then I do a quick review of how my previous day went, writing down whether or not I did my normal prayer time, make sure to mention any moments I did something I shouldn’t (many of my entries are about how often I yelled at the kids inappropriately and whether or not we reconciled, etc., etc.). This brief (like 5 minutes) examination can really make preparation for confession a breeze. Also, if you can get scrupulous like me, be disciplined about keeping this to five minutes only – constantly dwelling on how you’re a screw up isn’t exactly a recipe for success here.
Then, after that, I set a quiet timer on my watch for fifteen minutes, kneel, and have my undistracted prayer time with the Lord. Getting up early seems to be the only way to do this consistently, and sometimes I still have to make it up later in the day depending on how things are going with the smaller members of the household, but it’s doable. Then, at some point later in the day, often while driving or pushing a stroller, I pray a Rosary for whatever intentions I have for the day, or for whomever I’ve promised to pray.
Alright, so that’s daily, but we’re training for the marathon of eternal life here, so we have some weekly things to consider. Once a week, pray for an hour (this is your long run), doing some of the same exercises as you do during your daily 15 – 30 minutes (including the coffee). If you happen to attend the same parish I do, sign up for one of the hours in the adoration chapel that works for your schedule and doesn’t inconvenience anyone in your family except you, if you can swing it. There is one night a week I pop melatonin about 8:00 p.m. to help me get the job done on this one. If you have a friend you can rope into this, it becomes a lot easier to keep yourself accountable – and you have the added bonus of being able to cover for each other when you have to miss. If this seems like too much now, that’s alright, we all start by walking a 5k. Also weekly, OBVIOUSLY GO TO MASS on Sunday. You can go more often, but you know, you said you were starting from zero – or maybe I did – anyway it turns out I can go on for a long time about all this and this is way more rambly than I thought it would be.
Monthly, go to confession, or immediately if you’re conscious of having committed a mortal sin. This is an area of frequency I know I need to improve upon, but this seems to be the healthiest timeframe for me – not so frequent that I’m obsessing over every mistake I make each day, and not so infrequent that I can’t remember the important things for which I need to make amends.
I am not a spiritual master, and this is just a blog, but I’ve always been convicted by the following line of thought, “If as Christians we really believe ____, shouldn’t we be doing a lot more ____?” In this case, if we really believe that our relationship with God is our most important relationship, shouldn’t we be spending a lot more time with Him? It’s ok to take baby steps, but it’s not ok to give up entirely. At least with baby steps you can rest confidently that you’re headed in a good direction even if you’re not there yet.
So, the TLDR:
• 15 Minutes undistracted prayer
• 15 or so of other spiritual exercises (Scripture, Examination of Conscience, Rosary)
• Go to Mass on Sunday
• Make a Holy Hour
• Go to confession
For All Time
• Never give up. Never Surrender.