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Is My Life Too Busy for Contemplation?

Can I live a contemplative life of prayer and devotion to God in the midst of life’s distractions? Is a professional career, raising a family, and engaging in social activism incompatible with the life of the Spirit?

For many, the answer may seem obvious – whether in the affirmative or the negative. Throughout history, there have been monastic communities that assumed a certain distance from the cares of “the World.” Such cloistered communities retreat from the demands of profession, family, and politics, to nurture a life completely focused on God.

On the other hand, there is a strain of Christianity that insists that the only true worship of God is through whole-hearted engagement with the culture around us. This is the evangelical doctrine of the Reformation, which sees work and worship, inward prayer and outward engagement with society, as cut from the same cloth.

So who is right? Is God best served by single-minded devotion to a narrow path without distractions? Or does God call us to sacrifice our private contemplation so that we can be of service to others?

These questions are very alive for me right now. My family and I are in a season of great transition. We’ve got a young child at home, and another is due any day. I’m in the early stages of a career as a web developer, and working very hard to develop my skill set. Between small children at home and both parents working full time, our plate is very full. There’s not much room for the activism of my twenties, nor for the long stretches of contemplation and prayer that I once took for granted. Life is very busy now, and it feels right to prioritize livelihood and family during this season.

I feel like I am where God has called me to be. There’s not another path that I can imagine for myself at this stage in our family’s development. Yet, as I focus on making it through this season of young children and providing for family, it would be easy to let go of the life of prayer and service entirely.

I don’t want that to happen. As full as my life is, I still yearn to make space for the life of the Spirit. I want to practice awareness of God’s presence. I want to hear Christ’s guidance and allow his will to actively shape my life. But the spiritual practices that served me well in less busy times are insufficient to guide me now. In the years ahead, I will need to cultivate what William R. Callahan called “noisy contemplation.”

If you’ve been following my latest blog posts, you know that I’m experimenting with the Episcopal liturgy, making it my own and incorporating it into a daily practice of prayer. I’m looking for ways to practice a contemplative, even “monastic” spirituality, in the midst of my life as a busy worker and father to young children. Rather than setting aside large chunks of time for prayer and worship, I’m seeking ways to allow prayer to permeate my life. Is it possible that all my activity, from playing with our children to developing web applications, could be directed as acts of devotion to God?

The apostle Paul enjoined the church in Thessaloniki to “pray without ceasing.” Since that time, many followers of Jesus have attempted to do just that. For some, it has taken the form of cloistered monasticism or the lifestyle of professional clergy. Yet many others have found their vocation to “pray without ceasing” in the midst of busy lives, engaged with the world. This is the society of discipleship that I wish to join.

I cannot produce such a life of prayer. I need the Spirit to pray in me, interceding in my heart with sighs too deep for words. I’ll do what I can to open myself to this gift. Through simple practices of daily prayer, intercession, and community worship, I am inviting God to fill my whole life.

What does this life of prayer look like for you? Have you found ways to invite God into the midst of your busy day? What does it mean for you to “pray without ceasing”?

Related Posts:

The Kingdom of God is Not A Meritocracy

How Can I Stay Awake in an Age of Distractions?

  • Mary Linda

    My go-to query is “Do all aspects of your life bear the same witness?” When I am living my life as a prayer/praying without ceasing, I can answer a clear “yes”. Often, my answer is no because something is out of balance. When I make more time to pray and attend to listening, the out of balance things (like the rare occasion when I follow a television show or, procrastinating about an arduous ministry task) find their rightful order in my life (apply myself to the task, drop the tv show) and I feel closer to my Guide. Being anchored in community helps because I’m always being called back and reminded of my intention to live in God.
    It was really helpful to me when I read about the Hindu ideas about phases of life. Putting the name “householder years” to the busy life stage of growing family allowed me to see it as part of a continuum of faithful living with different opportunities and challenges.
    with love,
    Mary Linda

  • charlesburchfield

    //Is it possible that all my activity, from playing with our children to developing web applications, could be directed as acts of devotion to God?//
    It is possible that all your activity, Every Breath You Take, is now, always has been now and will be forever an act of ‘Devotion to God’ whatever that means to you. I think I see it as such in your blog and from what I know of you. You, and everyone, has or will have, enough time, diverse experiences of living life on life’s terms, suffering, dying on this planet and you have, or are shortly to arrive at, become enough mindful of the fact that God will never leave nor forsake you. Nothing you do can get you closer to that reality. This does not mean all anxiety will leave you I think.
    There are some things you can do to get a felt sense of well-being much as what had you if you had a happy childhood in my humble opinion. Living daily with a blessing of such well being May include the necessity of taking many things off your plate. You might try getting used to doing nothing and enjoying it. Just know that you exist in his presence and always have. You literally carry Christ Consciousness with you wherever you go and it is the very atmosphere around you!! You have enough peace of God to give it away to others always!! You have become sanctuary for others in my humble opinion. The distractions I experience these days are kind of like temporary insanity. At my core there is always a refuge in the Sanctuary. the trick is to remember to go there in my mind and heart when I am distracted by the hubbub of life. And when I am tempted to leave and fear disconnection I do a simple remembrance of the fact that God loves me and always has and will never forsake me. Lately I have been helped enormously by repeating the 23rd psalm. Line by line the reality of God in my life as Shepherd, as creator, as friend, as God line-by-line. In my most anxious moments and my most depressed this has helped so much to bring me back to know the Shalom of God deep in my heart. Fears Abate and and feel I am loved.


    Remember that your child(ren) and wife are very much included in “the least of these”.

  • The questions you have posed, ” Is God best served by single-minded devotion to a narrow path without distractions? Or does God call us to sacrifice our private contemplation so that we can be of service to others?” present a false choice in that neither offers a life that rises above human effort. God’s call to humans is and always has been “hear my voice.” In the Old Testament, His call was, “Now therefore, if you will obey my voice and keep my covenant…”(Exodus 19:5) The first stipulation of that covenant is, as Jeremiah stated, “…in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them, ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God…'” (Jer. 7:22-23) What are we to do in the New Covenant? “Today if you will hear His voice, harden not your hearts as in the day of provocation…” (Heb. 3:7-8) I must also add that this “hear” and “obey” share meaning. “Hear” is more than registering that a sound has made our ear drums vibrate. Obedience to what we hear is a vital part. “Obey” carries the connotation that what we are obeying is the word of God we have heard.Life in God starts and ends with “By every word proceeding out of the mouth of God shall man live.” (Deut. 8:3) To this end is Jesus named The Word of God in Rev. 19 and the Word in John 1. Thus He can say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6)