Sunday’s Mass readings were all about prayer–winning battles through prayer, supporting each other in prayer, and never giving up. I love encouraging people to grow in their prayer life! But today I want to ask a question that might seem odd to you: Can you pray too much? There are three ways in which I believe you can.
Don’t let prayer keep you from living out your vocation
Again, this might confuse you. Haven’t I said before that prayer helps us live our vocation better? That’s true. But you still need balance. If you are a stay-at-home mom with small children, you should not be spending hours a day alone in your room praying. If you are the father of a young family, you should not be spending most of every evening at Church. If you are a college student, you should not normally miss class to go to adoration. St. Francis de Sales, instructing lay people in Introduction to the Devout Life, wrote, “Do not spend more than an hour thus [in mental prayer], unless specially advised to do so by your spiritual father.”
God gave you your vocation. He works His will through it. There may be a time later, after the kids have grown older, or you are retired from your job, when you can spend hours a day in prayer. But unless you are called to religious life, that is not God’s plan for you for most of your life. Live the vocation you have, not the one you don’t.
Limit your daily vocal prayers
The Rosary, the Divine Mercy Chaplet, the Liturgy of the Hours (Divine Office), the Guardian Angel Prayer … You could easily fill your day with vocal prayers. They may each be good and powerful in themselves, but are they good for you?
Like your physical energy, your spiritual energy is limited. If you spend it all on vocal prayers, you may find your spirit is exhausted at your mental prayer time. You will be unable to meditate properly, just as if you had watched too much TV or spent too much time on the internet or in conversation. Fr. Thomas Dubay writes:
The excessive multiplication of vocal prayers… can likewise impede growth. There are people who get into a set habit of adding litany upon litany, devotion upon devotion, to the point where they leave little or no time for God to give what He wants to give.
When I was a an OCDS postulant, we were discouraged from adding any devotions to those the Rule of Life imposed. We were obliged to pray Morning and Evening Prayer, part of the Rosary or a Marian litany, and examine our consciences daily. I used to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet often. I stopped doing so–not because it wasn’t a good and effective prayer, but because I wanted my metal prayer to thrive.
St. Teresa of Avila cautions that some people have committed themselves to saying so many vocal prayers in a day that they race through them without a thought, and even let these prayers interfere with the first experiences of supernatural contemplation God is giving them (see Way of Perfection, chapter 31).
Prayer is more than talking
Some people, St. Teresa goes on to say, think they are not praying unless they are talking. They misunderstand the meaning and purpose of prayer. In this case, it isn’t really that they are praying too much, but that they are talking too much. They don’t realize that prayer is to be a conversation between God and the soul. As you grow closer to God, you should do less talking and more listening. You need to cultivate interior silence. Believe me, what God wants to say to you is more important than what you want to say to Him! He already knows your needs, so don’t think that more words will attract more of His attention (see Matthew 6:7-8).
Make your life a prayer
Instead of these mistakes, seek to make your life a prayer. Cultivate interior silence throughout the day. Try to think of God and the saints as you do your work. Make acts of faith, hope, and love. Open your heart to receive His will and His grace at every moment. Let there be an exchange of life and love from morning till night.
Then carve out thirty to sixty minutes daily to be alone with Him. If you can, do this first thing in the morning, so you can reflect back on it throughout the day. Offer Him your day and ask Him to remain at your side.
You don’t have to fill your life with dozens of spiritual practices in order to be holy. Sometimes your spiritual life, like your wardrobe, needs to be pared down to essentials. Leave room for the Holy Spirit to work.
Share with us: How do you balance mental prayer and vocal prayer, or a set prayer time and y0ur duties?