Almost three months ago, I set out on an experiment for this year: that I would follow my own advice which I've made available to the world in Live Prayerfully to its farthest reasonable limit by praying in each of the three ways described there (with other people's words, without words, and with my own words) every day for a year. I had quite a streak going. Until yesterday.
One of the methods of praying with other people's words that I describe in the book is a practice that I've become very attached to over the last few years, fixed-hour prayer, which consists of pausing at set times of the day to pray with words that have been passed down to us, including psalms and the Lord's Prayer. The way I've presented it in the book is pretty common, with four times to pause and pray each day: morning, midday, evening, and night.
There's no question that there was quite a bit of fudging that has factored in to my being able to say that I'd kept this streak up for three months. It wasn't unusual for me to forget to pray my midday prayer, for example, until 4 or 5 p.m. Or, particularly with praying without words: multiple times, when I laid my head on my pillow to go to sleep at night, I realized that I hadn't done it at all during the day . So I tried to be aware of God's presence as I fell asleep and I let that count for the day.
The biggest fudges were two days when I didn't realize my neglect of praying without words as I laid my head on my pillow, and it only occurred to me when I looked at my clock around 6:00 a.m. the next morning. I rationalized, "Well, as long as I lay here for a minute and pray without words before falling back asleep and I haven't yet prayed morning prayer, I can still count this on the books as being for the previous day."
The fudges got me by until yesterday, when I pulled out my midday prayers around 1:00 p.m. and realized that I never said morning prayers, and I knew the streak was over. I had a bit of disappointment initially, but then was glad to think back through things as the day went on and pay attention to what has happened.
In the beginning of the experiment, praying in these three ways every day–including pausing at the four times each day, was such a big change from my normal routine that I spent a good deal of time thinking about how I was going to do the praying even before it was time to pray. There was anticipation involved. I had to find routine places, times, and methods for making it happen. I knew that praying without words would be the most difficult of the practices to find time for each day, so I was in the habit of taking the first opportunity that presented itself during the day to practice it.
I can look back over the past few weeks, though, and notice how those things had changed. The anticipation wasn't really there anymore. Rather than planning and feeling like I had my foot on the gas pedal in this experiment, I was coasting along. Rather than taking the first opportunity to pray without words, I was leaving it for the end of the day more often, which was resulting in the necessity of more fudging for the sake of keeping my streak going. The coasting continued until missing yesterday's morning prayer got my attention enough to help me realize what had been happening.
I realize that, in one sense, the entire streak is a bit silly. When I started the experiment, I admitted that–for this year–I was setting myself up to live as an intentional legalist, and I was okay with that. The purpose of the year-long experiment is to push my own advice to its limits and give me some things to write about; the purpose of the experiment is not that I'm encouraging anyone else to pay this much attention to how long their streaks last.
But on the other hand, for myself, I'm becoming fond of this brand of intentional legalism (or as Robert pointed out, perhaps it's better termed as methodism). I've not crossed the legalist line in the sense of thinking that God is disappointed with me because I forgot morning prayers yesterday. But the positive side is that without having publicly given myself these "rules" for how I would pray during these years, I would probably be doing as I had done in every previous year of my life: not making any plans ahead of time about how I would pray, not looking for the opportunities as they present themselves, and therefore not praying as often, and–much more importantly–not living as prayerfully.
So, on to a new streak.
Something I've prayed this week:
O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen (Prayer for the Second Sunday in Lent from The Book of Common Prayer)
[This is the 23rd post from A Year of Living Prayerfully]