I’ve had this thought for a while now, but only recently felt compelled to put it out there.
“Prayer is a luxury.”
Even as I thought that, I thought about another reality:
“Prayer is a necessity.”
I posted these thoughts side by side recently in a Facebook post: “Prayer is a luxury. Prayer is a necessity.” Just like that. Then I left to go about my day, hoping people would understand my meaning and see into its depth.
But when I returned later, it was apparent I’d confused people.
“I think you mean ‘prayer isn’t a luxury,'” wrote one friend.
“I’d sure like to fix that typo,” said another, who apparently had been left with the weight of what she thought was a pretty serious error.
Only it wasn’t an error at all. It had been quite intentional. I immediately began to feel sheepish that I’d not offered enough explanation, assuming people would read my mind. So I decided it deserved some rumination, to explain more fully what is, by all accounts when read rightly, a rather paradoxical statement.
I want to be clear.
Simply put, the juxtaposition meant exactly what I thought seemed obvious but obviously was not: Prayer is both luxury and necessity. It is, in essence, a luxurious necessity, and a necessary luxury. It’s both, and more.
It would not be wrong to say what my friends thought I meant, that prayer is not a luxury, in the sense that we are dependent on our conversations with God, every day. Prayer is the way we stay in relationship with the One who gave us life. It is communing with our Beloved. Without prayer, we are essentially ignoring the One who loves us most in this world. No truly vital relationship thrives thus.
So prayer isn’t superfluous. It is very necessary.
But I’d also contend, still, that it is also a luxury.
Let me drill down even more.
As my life has changed, and my schedule has allowed a little more time for intentional prayer, I’ve come to really appreciate that in order to have proper time to pray, I need prayer space. And in order to have that space, there must be time allotted for it — time not taken up with something else more urgent. And as this time has been given to me in larger doses during this season than in the past, it’s occurred to me that having enough “free” time to devote to prayer is, in a very real sense, a luxury.
When I have this time, and can go deeper with God in this way, on a more regular basis, I am more at peace. Days that I don’t have this time, peace more easily eludes.
Despite having more of this time, this luxury, there are days it’s not there. Things come up, my family needs me, and the time to go deeply with God fades. Those days, the luxury doesn’t seem to be offered, and I have to accept that. But it only makes the prayer time on those days when it is all the more apparently a gift.
And again, I come back around to this: prayer is a luxury, especially in the sense that having enough time to really give it time is.
Certainly, I didn’t feel this as much when I had five little kids. It’s not that I didn’t pray, but the deep absorption in prayer was hard to come by. I remember feeling extremely sad at Mass when my attention could not be sustained long enough to concentrate on the readings and homily. Though I wouldn’t wish away my kids’ existence, I yearned for the kind of soul food that was right before me, but that I could not easily access. In a way, I perceived those who could access this as at an advantage. They were in a season of luxury regarding prayer and being able to reflect deeply on spiritual matter.
And now that I’m closer to that, I have noticed the difference. The days I have enough time to pay close attention to God, to try to align myself with his will, to really reflect on his Word and try to apply it to my life, seem to be the best days.
But the mother working three jobs to make ends meet? Or a dad working a job so intense that he simply cannot make the time for God he would like, this is a suffering of sorts, and a lack. It’s true that we can pray anytime, even when we don’t have time. Indeed, our life can be a prayer. In that way, prayer isn’t luxurious, it is the very thing we breathe. But being able to really dial down — that kind of prayer time that for many is exceedingly elusive — really does seem rare.
The kind of prayer I’m deeming a luxury is the kind the sisters at the Carmel of Mary Monastery in Wahpeton have at their disposal every day. Their prayer lives, you could say, are extremely luxurious, yet in every other way, their lives are very austere.
What I’ve discovered in having been given this luxury, at least for this particular season of my life, is that becoming aware of how much of a luxury it is, I am inclined to make that prayer be as much in the service of others as myself. The more I recognize the spaces for prayer that I have and utilize them, the more my prayer expands to include more than just what is contained in my small, nearby world.
Maybe that’s why the sisters spend so much time praying for others. They recognize not everyone has access to the luxury that is theirs every day, because of the sacrifices they have made, so their lives become an offering of prayer for others. It is beautiful, is it not?
There are times I recognize that when I am afforded this more luxurious prayer time, I am in a sense carrying others with me; others who are living a different kind of life, one more of survival, when the kind of prayer I’m able to indulge in at this phase of my life is simply not possible.
I know God hears their prayers just as clearly as he hears mine. Perhaps he pays even more attention to theirs. I don’t know how long I’ll be allowed the space I have now to devote to prayer. But I do see it as a gift, and I want to accept and use this gift while I’m able, and to use this time, as much as possible, to lighten the loads of others.
When my children were young, the Adoration chapel was an elusive thing. Right now, I have access to it, and it is an incredibly fruitful thing. But it’s still a luxury.
So, that’s it. I’ve concluded that prayer is a luxury. The kind of prayer, anyway, that I thirst most of all for, and that I wish everyone had access to, and that I haven’t always been able to habituate, and may not always be able to. I recognize I’m in a phase in my life of deeper prayer, yes, of luxurious prayer. I could always make more of this luxury, and I hope to. That is the challenge — to name it and then claim it.
A luxury. A necessity. Both…and….
Hopefully that explanation helps satisfy the concerns of those who thought I’d simply made an unfortunate typo. No matter, I’m grateful for this beautiful chance to spend quality time with my Lord, and hope that if you are grasping for more, it will be given you as well.
Fittingly, I’m heading to the Adoration chapel tonight. How might I pray for you?