Developing a fall-back position when it comes to prayer

By Peter Oliver, Olive Branch Marriage and Family Ministry

Prayer. It is so important, especially when you are in a crisis such as are experienced during a separation and divorce. However, there is a problem, crises have the effect of throwing us off course. When it comes to prayer, this often results in giving up.  Developing a fall-back position can help with this dilemma.

Before I touch on the idea of a fall-back position as it relates to prayer, it will be important to say a few words about the discipline of prayer.  A fall-back position only makes sense in relationship to a living prayer life.

A living prayer life is better understood in relationship to consistency than quantity.

When I entered the junior seminary a thousand years ago, we were encouraged to adopt an hour of personal prayer each day.  Throughout my life I have wrestled with this ideal. I have found that the fruitfulness of my prayer is not so much related to achieving an hour of daily prayer but rather in developing a rhythm of prayer that can be sustained on a daily basis.

Here is an example of what I mean. A few years ago, I ran into a number of brick walls that knocked me down – a cancer diagnosis and a job termination. When combined with years of clinical depression these obstacles presented formidable barriers to daily prayer, but I also recognized personal prayer was essential to recovery. I reminded myself, consistency will be more important than quantity and my prayer life took on this form: do just ten minutes of prayer a day and include some exercise.

I know, it’s not flashy but a living prayer life need not be flashy.

In the beginning, praying for ten minutes a day and doing some exercise was not always achievable but it represented a pattern that I could reasonably hope to practice on a daily basis. But what about the days I could not realize the modest goal I had set for myself?

This part is even less flashy.

I told myself, on days when you cannot bring yourself to spend ten minutes praying, commit yourself to saying the Hail Mary slowly and thoughtfully at least once in the day and walk for one minute on the treadmill. This is the fall-back position I spoke of at the beginning of this reflection.

A fall-back position does two things. First, it prevents you from slipping ever deeper into the “I-can’t-do-its.”

The reality is, you have prayed and your relationship with God has benefited from your expression of love.

The second thing a fall-back position does is it tricks you. In my case, the thoughtfully prayed Hail Mary often turned into a thoughtfully prayed Hail Mary followed by listening to one of Bernadette Farrell’s hymns on YouTube. It seems silly but it is effective.

Today my prayer life is much more robust. It includes journaling, spiritual direction, and significantly more sustained periods of prayer, but I continue to find it important to have a good fall-back position. That position has become fuller, and I don’t need to draw on it as often, but it is invaluable when the need arises.

If you are going through a marital separation and looking for a listening ear, contact Madeline Oliver at Olive Branch Marriage & Family Ministry or 306-361-9318.