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How to pray & grow with family demands pulling at me?

December 20, 2010 by  
Filed under Family Prayer, Fr. Bartunek, Prayer

Dear Father John, between caring for my four young kids and husband, running my household, and working a part time job, I sometimes find that prayer time gets pushed aside again and again until it’s almost non-existent (or only on Sunday mornings). I need some help prioritizing my prayer time and making my faith a larger part of my everyday life. Any suggestions?

This can be a particularly difficult challenge during the holidays. I am sure our readers will have some suggestions for you, as you are not alone in facing this challenge. Here are a few ideas for you to mull over.

First, keep the goal in mind. Taking specific times out of the day just for prayer is a means for deepening our friendship with Christ. The deeper that friendship, the more all of our activities take on a supernatural tinge, becoming ways of serving, loving, and praising God (which is what we were created for, and what gives us lasting happiness). We are shooting for a mature spiritual life that enables us to live every moment of the day in God’s presence. So the goal is a seamless integration of activity and prayer, of service and contemplation. Understanding this and remembering it may help reduce some of the tension you feel and free you up, interiorly, to accept the limitations of your schedule and its necessary demand for flexibility. But embracing flexibility doesn’t mean jettisoning your daily God-time! As the Catechism reminds us (#2697): “…[W]e cannot pray ‘at all times’ if we do not pray at specific times, consciously willing it.”

Second, be creative. Sometimes the obstacle isn’t so much getting time to pray as not knowing what to do in our prayer time. If that’s the case, look for some advice on how to pray. You can also weave prayer into your daily rhythm by making it a family thing. Prayer before meals, a prayer before taking a trip in the car, a prayer before going to bed – accompanying your children in these prayers allows you both to pray and to teach them to pray, without crowding your schedule. Stopping spontaneously at a Church to visit the Blessed Sacrament and pray, together, for a sick family member is another example, or praying a decade of the Rosary together with your husband before going to sleep.

Here is some more advice on family prayer. I know a woman with nine children who lights a candle in the living room (near an image of the Sacred Heart) whenever she has an important prayer intention. The candle becomes a kind of extended prayer throughout the day. Just seeing it reminds her to say a prayer in the silence of her heart. Find ways that work for you, remembering Christ’s promise that “the one who seeks, always finds” (Matthew 7:8).

Third, seek quality over quantity. You may be entertaining some unrealistic subconscious assumptions about how much time you “ought” to spend in prayer. For example, maybe at some point (after a retreat, for example) you made a commitment to spend at least 20 minutes in prayer every morning, pray the Rosary every afternoon, and read the Bible for 15 minutes every night. But then reality showed up, and circumstances made it impossible. So you simply gave up and didn’t do anything. A better reaction would be adjusting the commitment (for example, ten minutes alone with God sometime in the morning, and one decade of the Rosary sometime in the afternoon), or adjusting the circumstances.

If you really can’t fit a daily God-time into your schedule (five or ten minutes alone with the Lord, just to open your heart to him and look into his heart), you can be sure that something is wrong; you are over-committed. Daily prayer should be as necessary as daily food and daily sleep.

Yours in Christ, Father John Bartunek, LC, ThD

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college, he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller, "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". His most recent books are "Spring Meditations", "Seeking First the Kingdom: 30 Meditations on How to Love God with All Your Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength", and "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions". Fr. John currently splits his time between Michigan (where he continues his writing apostolate and serves as a confessor and spiritual director at the Queen of the Family Retreat Center) and Rome, where he teaches theology at Regina Apostolorum. His online, do-it-yourself retreats are available at, and he answers questions about the spiritual life at

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  • larrybets

    I can sympathize. I on the other hand, only have one child. That being said I have a very demanding job, wife and child to take care of and all the stresses and concerns that come with married life. First off, your marriage, and this is going to sound awful, is a means to help to sanctify you, within your state in life, same with the job. I highly recommend a book by a Carmelite brother called “Practicing the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence. Great advice for maintaining that presence of God in all that we do.

    Secondly, and this is for those of you that really want to develop a deeper loving and friendship with our dear Lord, get up earlier. Yes, I know I get up early enough and I work hard all day and I am tired and I’ve had to sacrifice all my time for my wife and children, which by the way can be a wonderful way to do little acts of love for our Lord, not that I succeed at this to well, but I do try. You have to be creative and you know what, you will make the time if you really want to. And ask God to help you. Ask him to arrange things for you so that you have the time, in his awesome grace he will help you.

    I have to be in work at 7:30AM and I have about a 30 minute drive in traffic, and I love to sleep, so this one is a toughie so you have to be diligent. I get up an extra hour early so that I can pray the Divine Office, The Rosary, and Mental Prayer, whatever the case may be. When I know my wife is settled and my daughter has her needs met, then I slip away for 20-30mins for some mental prayer. I listen to spiritual audio books on the drive in traffic to work. But whatever I do, and I had to learn this from my Spiritual Director, is no matter what my wife asks of me, even if I am in the middle of a real heart to heart with my Lord, is if I hear my name being called I pull myself away from whatever praying or devotion I was doing, and immediately take care of the request, and that often times I offer up, as if it was God himself who was calling me.

    Trust me it is not easy, it would be nice to just say everyone leave me alone for an hour, but you know what you can do it. It might not be a great time for you because it is early in the morning or late at night and you would rather be sleeping or you’re distracted, but it is worth it.

    When you love someone you want to spend time with them and so with our dear Lord’s good grace and mercy if you seek enough and ask for his help he will give you the time you need to pray and get to know him better.

    It takes a little while and some real creativity. Seek and you will find. I hope some of this helps. Praise be Jesus and Mary!

  • Donielle

    I’m a mother of 7 children and the oldest is eight. What I have found to be helpful is turning your everyday routine into a prayer. Give every moment to Christ. We as parents have an advantage we are given the opportunity daily to live out the corporal works of mercy in our own home with our spouse and children. Feed the hungery, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked. What parent doesn’t do that daily? Now turn it into your pray. Do it with great love and before you know it your life becomes a joyful prayer.

    • Becky Ward

      Great advice Fr. John!

      Here’s a link to a great little book. In one of the first chapters Fr. Caussade talks about the life of the Holy Family and the ‘sanctity of the present moment.

      Whether one is changing diapers, playing chauffer, cook, nurse, teacher, etc… this is God’s will. You might devote a little extra TLC to those chores you like the least and offer them to Jesus….but know that there is NOTHING more important than building family, nothing.

      It only takes me a few minutes with my grandchildren at Mass to remind me why I got so little out of it for so long………’s all but impossible to pay attention to anything when you have little ones to watch!

      I DO keep a candle burning near an image of Jesus………..and I find it very helpful………He knows our struggles.

      You might also pray for the help of the Blessed Mother…….she’s “Been there done that!”, and there is no one who can lead a soul straight to Jesus like she can!!

  • Stephen Mc Elligott

    Thank you Lord Jesus for this post. I have certainly felt called to read this today. As a soon to be father and married man with many commitments lately this post is just the advice I was looking for.

  • Thad

    What great advice and guidance. I struggle with perfectionism and often find myself abandoning my intentions to…fill in the blank…when it doesn’t flow the way I imagined it ought to have because reality gets in the way. But reality is the real gift and prayer.

  • Shirley

    I grew up saying the Morning Offering to cover all of my activities during the day. Working in the Nursing profession,rearing 5 children, and caring for aged and ill members of our extended families,drew me in much deeper, with little time to enjoy long periods of prayer. Practicing the Presence of God, became the way for me. Recalling that God is always with us, and recognizeing Him in the little and big things as they occur,offering them to Him in thanksgiving/petition. A quick thought tells Him a lot. Picking an hour during the daily routine, and simply offer it to Him, doing the best you can to accomplish your work or play, etc….everything that it contains out of love for Him, makes that a ‘holy hour’. Short aspirations frequently said, keep you mindful of God’s presence, and give Him praise and honor. Just simply say “I love you”. After a while, constant prayer becomes very easy and comforting,encouraging you to search for and find a time apart.

  • Zoeministries8

    Wow! Which one of us with a heart after God hasn’t struggled with this one! As a mommy of 3, I have found that this is one of those issues that never really gets settled for good. Life is full of changes, so what may work for us now may not work a month from now. I think the best thing for you to do is to gleen from all this great advise what will work for you. And as you try to implement certain things don’t get discouraged if it doesn’ t work for you. Remember God sees your heart and He is super pleased that you have a desire for more of Him. St. Paul’s advice to the Thessalonians in 1Thess. 5:17 is geat advice for us as well, pray without ceasing! I know what you are thinking “are you crazy? I told you I can barely find 5 minutes and your telling me to pray all the time!” This seems like an unreasonable request from Paul but it is not. All he is saying here is to make our life a prayer. I have found the best way for me has been to put prayer in with my everyday life. As I do the dishes, fold the socks, drive down the road in the car by myself, whatever it may be I try to remember to bring God into it. Trust me when I tell you this does not come naturally. I am constantly having to reign my thoughts in and focus on God. Somedays it is easier than others. Also I have a daily devotional of some sort that I make a priority with my tea in the morning to set my mind on God roght from the start! Anyway I hope this helps you some. And remember, as you are loving your husband and children, you are loving God! I will lift you up to God whenever He puts you on my heart. Blessings and peace to you!

  • Buergerboy

    I began on a new path 14 years ago when the Holy Spirit invited me into the spiritual room readied for me. I didn’t know how I was ever going to follow through with what was offered me. I became quite simple, however. I awakened 2 hours earlier than I ever had before in my life — set the alarm and got up long before I was required to in order to get ready for work. I prayed the Rosary and meditated on the days holy readings from the Mass of the day. I a word —– change. My life hasn’t been the same since.

  • joan

    I am filled with admiration for these people with so many and the various approaches to prayer! I have two children and they are 5 and 7. I would love to have more…The things I have learned (in addition to what has already been mentioned) are:
    1) Moderation and reasonable self-discipline – don’t make yourself sick or exhausted choosing your own preferred methods when God may desire something else.
    2) Using my family and work duties as a means of discernment – to the best of my ability I dismiss what contradicts those duties.
    3) I am very blessed to have a husband whose opinion I defer to when I am unsure. I know my husband loves me and is very wise, so I trust his opinions when I request them (unsolicited opinions are another thing!). Praying before hand for your spouse helps a lot when you have to resolve something or when you want their opinion. Sometimes I just had to tell him how overwhelmed I felt by something…
    4) Expect the unexpected. I have “missed” moments of grace because of my very narrow expectations, which God in His omnipotence disregards. I have shunned His blessings because I did not like the “package” they came in or the means of delivery. Usually the presentation was too humble or quiet for me to accept as God-given. “Interruptions” can be the most blessed events! Prayerfully “going with the flow” is very hard for me but sometimes the only way one can manage as a mother.
    5) I have learned so much by observing my own parenting and using it as a parallel for God’s patience, superior knowledge, or even (withheld) wrath…it helps me understand my place as a child of His, how much He must love us, and how annoying and self-sabotaging we must be in our refusal to listen to Him and insistence on “our way”! (does anyone else have a stubborn little boy who secretly believes he is a superhero?)
    6) God is eternal – the whole “time” issue is a human problem. Why this makes me feel better, I don’t know. : )

  • Kelly

    That is a beautiful answer Father. I too am a busy working mother of four. I have discovered the value of ‘active prayer’, and so I offer my laundry, my dishes, my housecleaning times (which I am not fond of after a very busy day at work), as special prayer intentions. Many priest friends of mine are the happy recipients of my ‘domestic’ prayers. I like to think that the Blessed Mother herself engaged in a lot of domestic prayers herself.

  • Gwendolyn

    What one mom told me and that I now put  into practice is to pray with your child (and your husband if he can). How about saying one decade of the rosary each night or doing a nightly prayer together at bedtime, reading one page of a child’s bible story every night, or saying 3 Hail Mary’s during your ride to work or while making dinner. Celebrating Feast Days- a special desert perhaps or  putting flowers in front of a statue of Mary, or making room for an outing to a shrine are all fun for children and make for a relaxed and happy mom and family bonding time. Then the whole family is being led to God. Also, I too recommend practicing the presence of God which is something we all can do. Pray to Jesus, lean on Him and bring your worries to Him, even your exhaustion if that is all that you have that day. I realized that I was falling into a lot of guilt and desolation because I could not live up to the prayer life I envisioned or the kind of person I hoped to be for God. This was just lies and an obstacle from the evil one that I continually fell for until I realized what was happening. Anything you can give to God each day is something. He does not carry a check off sheet. My children like to pray with me before bed and I find that a lot of talking and opening up comes that way- about what is going on in their lives- which is a grace every parent hopes for. Don’t get discouraged and remember, God loves you!

    • Dear Friend – great insights and encouragement. Thank you!

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