Are you praying too much?

posted in: Prayer and Virtue | 21
File:Millais Victory O Lord.jpg
Victory, O Lord by Millais (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons).

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.

Connie Rossini

Share with us: How do you balance mental prayer and vocal prayer, or a set prayer time and y0ur duties?

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Hi, I'm a Catholic writer and homeschool mother of four boys. I practice Carmelite spirituality. Check out my Books page for publications to help your whole family grow in holiness.

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21 Responses

  1. Michelle

    Connie, one of the things I love about your posts is that they are simple and to the point. With 8 children and little time, I can really take this one to heart.

    I sometimes look at what I did with two children and that is not realistic. I try to apply quality over quantity when it comes to vocal prayer. There are many times when, like The Little Flower, I can only muster an Our Father and Hail Mary. I know that God accepts them with pleasure.

    I pray best in the early morning before everyone wakes up.

    Thanks so much.

    • Connie Rossini

      Thanks for the encouragement, Michelle. My posts have to be simple, because I’m a busy mom too! I have a phlegmatic tendency, so I am finding that simpler is less overwhelming for me. The less I need to think about, the more at peace I am. Someday I hope to get back to praying first thing in the morning too. It just doesn’t work for me yet. Have a great day!

  2. Ruth Ann

    At this point in my life, retirement, I still have responsibilities, but I also have more free time than I did when working. But whether retired or working, I did carve out significant time for prayer. I rise early, before everyone else, to pray for about an hour. I do something similar for about 40 minutes in the evening after dinner, and my family knows it’s time to leave me undisturbed, except if an emergency arises, and that hasn’t been a problem. Most days I go to Mass as well.

    I manage to get to my responsibilities, too. When I was young I was able to accomplish more than I can now, because I seemed to have endless energy and was organized and efficient. As I age my energy has diminished, so I have to make sure essentials are done, but I don’t sweat the small stuff.

    Since childhood I have been able to think about God and say little prayers, like “Jesus I love you,” throughout my day.

    I believe that making prayer a priority has actually helped me stay balanced and get things done. I can’t explain it, but it’s true.

    • Connie Rossini

      Ruth Ann, you are so blessed to have that much energy! My mom is like that. She can (still) get more done in an hour than I do all day. I think most people raising a family have a harder time sparing as much time for prayer as you have. But you made it a priority, and that makes a real difference! Keep being an inspiration to the rest of us.

  3. brooke

    Loved this Connie-
    I needed to hear this at a time in my life when I feel like I am growing in (and loving) mental prayer but often feel guilty about not saying rosary, mercy chaplet…
    Sometimes I feel like mental prayer is indulgent? Thanks for your thoughts and encouragement!

    • Connie Rossini

      Brooke, that reminds me of the heresy of quietism. It was rampant in Spain in the 16th century (if memory serves, I didn’t fact check this just now), so some people suspected Teresa of Avila’s writings were heretical. Among other things, the quietists believed it was wrong to desire their own salvation, because they saw that as too selfish! Doing God’s will can never be self-indulgent in itself. Of course, our motives must be purified over time, but that happens in mental prayer. So if you want to be less self-indulgent, make sure you don’t miss it! And if you’re experiencing consolations in mental prayer, enjoy this time. It will likely be short.Once God has you hooked, He’ll make it tougher. 😉

  4. melanie jean juneau

    insightful, filled with common sense. God startled me by using my infants to bless my soul with a flow of spiritual love just as I was bemoaning the fact that i hardly ever managed to find ant solitary prayer time. It was a miracle that He managed to break through my self-centered spirituality

      • Connie Rossini

        Thanks, Melanie.I’m really happy with the site design. Now the temptation is just to fiddle with it too much. Regarding your other comment, our kids can sometimes be our best teachers, can’t they?

    • Ruth Ann

      Your comments about children reminded me of two things. A priest giving a retreat for men who were fathers told them this: A sanctuary lamp could be installed near their infant’s crib, because God is dwelling in the soul of that child who is perfectly innocent. Also, when my daughter was a baby, I would often stand next to her crib as she slept, and it seemed to me to be the holiest of moments. I imagine many mothers have that experience.

  5. pattimustard

    Oh thank you so much for this post! I’ve only just begun to discover the joys of mental prayer. I struggled for a long time with saying lots of verbal prayers. Now my verbal prayers are few and I spend time listening and responding to God from my heart. The time passes so quickly. An hour in the quiet of the morning passes like just a few minutes, but it is a very special time. I would like to develop some sort of quiet time with God at the end of the day too, but it’s hard to quiet my inner self and focus after a long day’s work and stresses. Any suggestions?

    • Connie Rossini

      Patti, I agree it’s harder to focus at the end of the day. That’s why I suggest that people do their mental prayer in the morning, if possible. I would do an examination of conscience each night before bed, just going over the day as you might prepare for Confession and laying your sins at Jesus’ feet. You want your focus to be on God’s mercy, rather than your sinfulness, so you don’t get discouraged. Blessings on your prayer journey!

  6. Shelly Smith Ard

    I love the Rosary, it is my favorite as well as the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I would like to spend more quality time praying but with 3 of my 6 kids still young and we home school I find it very difficult. In the morning after a restless night with my youngest I am so tired that I want to continue sleeping. In the evening I am mentally exhausted and just want to relax with my kids watching some tv. I find myself feeling guilty if I don’t spend the time with Our Lord in prayer and fasting but I also know these young years pass quickly and I will be alone one day to give more in that area.

    • Connie Rossini

      Shelly, I hear you. My boys are 11, 9, 7, and 2. Of course, we homeschool too. Besides that I am running two blogs and writing a book! I usually pray just after the boys go to bed about 9. It’s not the best time for me mentally, but it’s the only one I can manage regularly right now.

      I don’t think God wants you to feel guilty, but He does long for you to spend time with Him. The Imitation of Christ would be great. Start with 15 minutes and work from there. However, you want the main part to be a heart-to-heart conversion with God, rather than just spiritual reading or an intellectual exercise. I have lots of other posts on prayer that may help you. Just use the search in the sidebar. God bless!

  7. Ryan Close

    Dear Connie Rossini,

    Thank you for the site. I have been studying Mental Prayer and the Three Ages of the Spiritual Life for a few months and just found your site. It really helped me confirm so much of what I was reading.

    I don’t have a traditional priest who understands these things so can I ask you a question about the subject of this post?

    This year, just after the Divine Liturgy on Holy Saturday, I made a Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary. My wife delivered our third child early the next morning, on Easter Day. We missed Pascha but we have a wonderful little girl. I found myself saying the Rosary that day and feeling that I should say the Rosary every day of my life. This isn’t something that Byzantine Christians ordinarily do, but I feel called to it.

    Since that day my spiritual life has really grown. Eventually I added prayers from the Spiritual Warfare Confraternity, the Auxilium Christianorum, and the Meditations and Hail Marys for the Seven Sorrows because of the protection and promises that are attached to these devotions.

    About three weeks ago I set my alarm an alarm for 5:30 and began working out and then going to the chapel at the Catholic Church near my work for prayer. I just grabbed my prayers, printed on printer paper, and my copy of the 1st volume of St Elizabeth of the Holy Trinity that I use as material upon which to meditate and headed into the chapel. I would pray the Rosary and one of the other fixed prayers I mentioned above and had time for about 15 to 20 minutes of mental prayer. Then I began to show up at the chapel at lunch and do one of the remaining fixed written prayers and have another 30 minutes of mental prayer. In total I might have an hour and half of prayer in the day, then short family prayers for my children in the evening and a little prayer before bed with my wife for about 10 minutes.

    So, considering the subject of this post, I know it is a few years old, should I eliminate some of these fixed prayers. I know of the problem of devotion creep, and want to avoid it.

    The Rosary seems pretty basic, and since I pray it in church most days I can get an indulgence for the faithful departed. The Angelic Warfare Confraternity prayers, though I am not enrolled, are for chastity and purity, which is important for my situation. The Auxilium Christianorum prayers are for protection against demonic attack for me and my family. Lastly, the Seven Sorrows comes with pretty amazing promises. So I don’t know what to cut out.

    Can you give me any hints?

    • Connie Rossini

      Ryan, it sounds like you are managing to do plenty of mental prayer right now as well. We all have different circumstances, so I can only really give you general principles to work from. I think it’s great that you’re praying on your lunch break as well as in the morning. I used to do that too. But I was single then and my time was more my own. Here are a couple of considerations for you: All prayer, even vocal prayer, should be ordered toward a closer union with Christ. As you grow in prayer–and my guess from your comment is that you are at or close to this point now–you will find your soul desiring more silence and simplicity in prayer. Don’t let the fact that you haven’t done all the vocal prayers you like to do keep you from sitting and gazing lovingly at Christ when this happens. Let your love move beyond words. Attachment to vocal prayers could be an impediment here. Also, what about your wife’s prayer life? With small children, maybe the Lord wants you to take over parenting duties for a brief time each day so that she can spend time alone with Him. If you were to spend less time in vocal prayer, would she be able to do mental prayer more regularly? There are many prayers with indulgences or promises. But if you have done the total consecration, you are giving all those away to others, right? Just try to keep a balance. If you had lots of extra income, you could give more money to the poor, but does that mean that as a father of young children you should be working all the time to earn as much as you can for the poor? I realize prayer is somewhat different. It’s just something to consider. I think there is a surrender of the will to God that goes beyond thinking about what indulgences we can earn–even if we’re earning them for others. If you reach a close contemplative union with God, one act of love for Him will do more for souls than all the indulgenced prayers you are praying now. I would not cut out the Rosary, but I would carefully consider the other prayers you mentioned. These are, as you put it “hints.” Now you need to take this to prayer and see what the Holy Spirit is directing you to do.

      • Ryan Close

        Thank you so much. I will carefully consider what you have said. I already discussed some of your thoughts with my wife and we are trying that out.

        One thing that I did not get across the first time, is that I have been doing mental prayer for about six months, just not as consistently and intensely as I have in the last month, and that is due to being inspired to wake up early and develop a robust morning routine.

        So what you are saying about the promises are that the graces associated with the higher levels of prayer are greater than the graces associated with certain devotions. Right? And since the Lord desires intimacy in prayer with his people, giving up a vocal prayer to spend time with him won’t offend the Virgin Mary or leave us unprotected? Does this link up with St Therese of Lisieux’s “Little Way” and “Total Consecration”?

        • Connie Rossini

          You’ve got it! It definitely links up with the Little Way. I explored similar issues in Trusting God with St. Therese. All our little meritorious actions are just means to an end. Union with God is the end itself. We can easily start to put our trust in our devotions rather than purely in God. One of the big challenges for me was when I had to leave the Carmelite order, because I thought being a Carmelite was the way I was to become holy. It was confusing and scary to hear God seeming to say it was time to let go of my Carmelite commitment. That meant no longer being included in all the Masses and prayers of the order. And I wasn’t sure what that meant regarding the Carmelite charism of contemplative prayer. St. Therese said, “It is trust and nothing but trust that must lead us to love.” The Little Way is about trust from first to last. What is good in itself is no longer good for you, if it is outside God’s plan for your life. So this calls for a lot of discernment. I believe you can still fulfill the obligations of the Total Consecration without multiplying Marian prayers. Wherever Jesus is, you will find his Mother there too and vice versa.

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