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Excessive Prayer Struggle – How do I Find Proper Balance?

January 27, 2014 by  
Filed under Excessive Prayer, Fr. Bartunek

Dear Father John, I have been actually struggling with the examples mentioned [on another post] concerning “excessive prayer” that results in neglect of responsibilities. I've had such difficulty in this area as justifying doing so is easy to do. What would you recommend as a proper balance? I am very protective and almost selfish about having my personal time in solitude with our Lord. I have also been seeing my day activities (as a teacher of autism) as service to God, a sort of “mission” and that easily translates into prayer in action. However, as far as all the educational classes and homework that goes along with it, for 2 years now, I’ve been extremely neglectful of these seemingly meaningless responsibilities and find myself in prayer rather than study.

Finding a healthy balance between time dedicated solely to prayer and time dedicated to the fulfillment of the duties of our state in life is an ongoing task. No single formula will work for everyone. And no single formula will work always and everywhere for an individual person. An image that may help is a gymnast on a balance beam. The gymnast must adjust her balance with every step she takes. Just so, as we travel through our earthly pilgrimage, moving through various spiritual seasons and varied life circumstances, the proportion of time we spend solely in prayer will also vary. I hope that you find this initial answer to your question comforting. On this issue there is no mathematical certainty to be found, so we shouldn’t feel pressured to find it. It’s a topic that should frequently come up in conversations with a spiritual director or mentor.

In your case, it seems that you are living a healthy balance. You are able to find Christ in your work, and you are also conscientiously seeking his face in personal prayer. That would seem to indicate that you are basically living in tune with the Holy Spirit. I would guess that your struggle stems from something else – namely, the relative value of different responsibilities. Not all the duties of our state of life have the same weight or value. Think of a mother of a large family in which many of the children are still young. Certainly, it is a duty of her state in life to keep the home clean and ordered. But it is a higher duty of her state in life to attend to the physical and emotional needs of her children. For a certain period in that family’s history, or for certain periods during the year, direct motherly attention to the children may have to trump some secondary household chores.  For another example, think of a busy parish priest. The needs of his parish are far beyond his capacity to meet them. And so, he will have to make a hierarchy of priorities. Some real needs that fall under the umbrella of his duties may simply have to take a back seat for a while if he is going to be able to fulfill the more important and urgent needs (including his duty of daily praying the Liturgy of the Hours and celebrating the sacraments).

Getting back to your situation, it seems that the extra classes and homework you refer to are secondary duties. If giving them less attention isn’t inhibiting you from the actual fulfillment of your teaching duties, then neglecting them in favor of more prayer could be just fine. In other words, if those duties are really just formalities that have no substantial impact, then you may not need to give them much attention. Yet, if neglecting them will, in the long run, diminish your effectiveness as a teacher, put your teaching credentials in danger, or lead you to fall behind in essential knowledge of developments in your field, then you may need to start biting the bullet and dedicating some more time to that ongoing formation. If your neglect in this area is something that has been gnawing at your conscience consistently over a fairly long period of time, I would recommend seeking guidance explicitly, both from the Holy Spirit (asking for light to discern what his will is for you in this regard), and also from a wise and prudent friend or mentor.

In the end, loving God through actively fulfilling his will and loving God through spending time alone with him in prayer are two sides of the same coin. They are not really opposed to each other, but they complement each other. As the Catechism puts it: “We pray as we live, because we live as we pray” (paragraph #2725).


Art: The Angelus, Jean-François Millet, 1857-1859, PD-US, Wikimedia Commons.

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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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  • patricia

    I love this post Father because I have been feeling guilty by putting prayer first and sacramental life first before family and school. I go to Avila so I can really complement my prayer life with the spiritual theological studies. My husband is a tv watcher I am a prayer book reading reflective person always has been since I am bored with TV but unfortunately is a big thing in in my husbands life. I also go to school for Mental health counseling and play therapy and now I see it secondary for prayer has to come first in order to have an effective ministry apostolate build and grounded in Christ. I have recently signed up for two days to help at a soup kitchen run by our church parish serving the homeless. I find meaning grace and insight from this. This takes more time out of school study. I also. Help grade college papers for my sister in law kind of like a side job. I realize you need to have a balance grounded in Christ in prayer. I pray before I study or work or help out in the soup kitchen. I see the value of making my life as much as I can one prayer to God remember I always just want to do his will. Like Mother Mary. I call on the saints for everything including knowing the balance in prayer. I have a spiritual director and confessor and he was a professor so he really knows my dilemma but he knows I am seeking out always the will of God which I believe if we seek it with sincerity we get the answers we learn the balance of prayer and work and study. I belong to the Cursillo movement in which there is a balance of piety, prayer, study and action, ministry and apostolate in the church in our lives. All this however has to be grounded in Christ as he grounded his ministry in the Will of God the Father and love of God the Father and Love for God’s children all of us. This too is what we are called too every soul. Prayers and Gods blessings

    • Diana Marie Winkler

      I am going through a season in my life where I do spend more time in daily reflective reading and prayer. As I think of that as positive and helpful with my writing I still have that ” nagging” in my mind that the floors didn’t get mopped or the furniture dusted like I used to do it on a regular schedule. I am enjoying the quietness of my life that staying close to God gives me in the readings and writing. After reading Father’s response it has given me helpful insight to not let the ” guilt” distract me from doing what it is I am supposed to do for the Lord at this time in my life.

      • LizEst

        I think this is why Christ taught His disciples the importance of praying always. Prayer can also be carried out in our actions and in offering them up to the Lord. In this way, the floor mopping and furniture dusting becomes a prayer…and the more they are done with perfect love of God, the more perfect the prayer becomes.

        God bless you, Diana Marie…and Patricia, too!

        • patricia

          Thank you I do include prayer in my chores and events. I seem to want to pray more and more it’s like I am getting addicted to praying to God. Has anyone felt like this. Prayer is a huge part of my life as well the sacramental life. It seems there is never enough I can do for God.

  • Jeanette

    Finding that healthy balance between prayer and our duties in life can be challenging. It took me awhile to figure that out. I used to be distressed interiorly when my plans for prayer were upset, or when I was on vacation and couldn’t go as frequently to Mass and pray like I usually do…it was because I loved to pray. But the Holy Spirit has been working on me. If someone interrupts my plans for prayer, I realize that interruption is the Will of God and I attend to it in a more relaxed attitude. The vacation part is a more difficult scenario…like just recently I came back from Germany visiting my daughter, son-in-law and new grandson. I didn’t have one minute of solitude to pray except for Mass times but I realize that to be present to others was the Will of God for me at that time…and offered up, it’s prayer. It is helpful to think this way, I believe.

    My household duties take a back seat to prayer but most things eventually get done and I am happier to have that order in my life…prayer, the Sacraments, spiritual reading and parish commitments being the most important. Of course my husband and family are also important. Besides, what stops us from praying during our household tasks? I try to say ejaculations or even the Divine Mercy Chaplet during tasks where thinking is not the main focus.

    In the recent past, I really had a problem with feeling distressed interiorly if I couldn’t pray as much as I desired but I believe the Holy Spirit has helped me balance my priorities a little better. We can certainly pray to the Holy Spirit and get direction from our spiritual director for such balance in our life! God bless!

    • LizEst

      Thank you Jeanette. You certainly have a good understanding of this. God bless you! Please say a prayer for me. Thanks.

      • Jeanette

        Certainly I will. Please say one for me too. Truly you are a blessing Liz!

  • Elizabeth Fatinikun

    Prayer is not only when we kneel down to pray or stay in adoration(both are great) however, if you have to do a certain work say as a student or any professional or in fact anything that is required of you and it so happens to clash with the time set out to pray,(eg divine mercy at 3pm) : unite the work you are doing at that time with the divine mercy prayer,and then do that work with the same diligence,patience,solitude,calmness etc as you would say your prayer and then offer it to God.. This too is a great form of prayer.

    A brother shared this with me,when I also was concerned about my overwhelming school work not leaving me with enough time and energy as I would like to say my prayers. Thought I shared this.
    Ps: my first time commenting 🙂

    God bless

    • Estefania

      I like this advice, I will keep it in mind. God bless!

  • Estefania

    Thank you F.John! I think this is great advice for any of us. I am a relatively new mom with what seems to me to be a million things on my plate. I happened to stumble upon this post today and God willing, it will help me a lot.

  • Connie

    This is a great article Fr. John, I have seen the title for while and now finally read it. A very small book was given to me inspired me in my activities and prayer life, The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence.

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