Learning to Pray (or, why I gave up my “quiet time”)

Early Morning

For a while, my mornings looked like precious sleep. After a long night of waking every couple of hours to a hungry baby, my husband would fetch her up out of the cot one last time and they’d head downstairs for some play on the sofa together, watch the sun come up.

Exhausted, I’d settle back into the warmth of the duvet, spread myself out in our small double bed, and enjoy that extra hour of sleep – the wondrous kind when you know you won’t be needed, that someone else is taking care.

My day then would start when the little bundle and her Dad re-climbed the stairs together, she hungry for my milk. The light was coming in the window already by then and I’d pull her to me, and then, when she was sated, we’d get up together, find clothes for the both of us, fold blankets, tidy up the chaotic remnants of the night.

These days, we’ve swapped roles, him and I. Now he’s the one rousing in the night to settle her. And I groggily pull myself out of bed while it’s still dark outside when baby girl is no longer content to sleep, and we tread the same path towards the sofa that she did with her Far all those months.

Together we watch the sun rise, because it’s still winter enough to catch it, and she plays with the rocking frog and the squeaking giraffe, and I lean back against the pillows and listen to a podcast, a short one, that guides me into the day in prayer and thoughtfulness. It begins with bells and it ends with a blessing which I join in with.

And this, this is the extent of my quiet time these days. We make it through one short devotional, a few pauses for quiet, and then baby girl is wanting to practice walking again and she’s making a beeline for the kitchen and shouting loudly for toast or porridge or cheese scones.


In the church culture I grew up in, the health of your faith was directly linked to the length and depth of your Quiet Time. Read the bible passage, study it and analyse it from all angles, in its original context. And then pray your ACT – adoration, confession, thanksgiving. Oh and remember to pray for others. Preferably with a prayer journal, and a bible so underlined and highlighted that anyone could see your advanced spirituality as soon as it slipped open.

We asked each other the question, “how is your quiet time?”, and we meant “how connected do you feel to God? are you learning? are your growing? are you walking forward with hands open?” But it came out this way. And so I learnt to judge myself accordingly. For years I thought I was terrible at prayer. When the question came I’d mumble a response about having good and bad days and quickly move on, hoping no one discovered just how long it had been.

As I grew older though, I started to suspect I was been deceived. Surely God knew I wasn’t a morning person, that I suck at structured disciplines? Surely there was more to drawing close, to entering into his presence, than this rigid approach?

I started noticing the way my mind stilled when I was baking, my fingers rubbing butter into flour, hands mixing in currants and figs and jagged dark chocolate chips. I watched how my thoughts would sing when I was walking in the forest or through the fields, sleeping baby in the buggy. I hummed as I sat at the bus stop watching the people go by, smiling at the ones who looked my way.

Whirling Dervish

“Prayer is more than saying prayers at set times. Prayer, according to Brother David, is waking up to the presence of God no matter where I am or what I am doing. When I am fully alert to whatever or whoever is right in front of me; when I am electrically aware of the tremendous gift of being alive; when I am able to give myself wholly to the moment I am in, then I am in prayer.” – Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World.

I’m discovering slowly the full breadth and depth of prayer. It feels like an entire world that I have only taken mere steps into yet, but the freedom of realising that this is prayer, and yes this too is prayer, and this can be prayer too…

The mantle of guilt I’d been wearing is being lifted from my shoulders, and instead I am being taught that prayer is a dance – a dance with the divine that spins and twirls me through my day, a lively ceilidh when everything is chaotic; a gentle waltz when all is calm.

This is prayer when I laugh at baby girl’s new found kicking skills as we chase the ball through the flat on wobbly legs. This is prayer when I hang the washing out in the cold sunshine on the balcony and smell Spring in the air, feel awed by the sun’s ability to bleach my whites beautifully clean again. This is prayer when I muster up the patience to gently gather my angry crying girl into my arms and rock her back to sleep, even as I huff and puff to myself. This is prayer when I sing He’s got the whole world in his hands in a quiet whisper-song as she feeds from me.

“There are real things I can do, both in my body and in my mind, to put myself in the presence of God… At the same time, I am aware that prayer is more than something I do. The longer I practice prayer, the more I think it is something that is always happening, like a radio wave that carried music through the air whether I tune in to it or not. This is hard to talk about, which is why prayer is a practice and not a discussion topic. The best I can do is tell you how it works for me.” – Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World.

There’s enough guilt comes with being a mother already, to keep hanging on to old guilts from before. I’m done reading articles that tell me the only way I can stay connected with God through this season is to rise before my child. That means before 4am this week. I call bullshit. Partly because I am very certain that my increased sleep deprivation will in no way bring more honour to God.

Also because I’m discovering another way, a way that fits me better. And maybe you’re a morning person and you embrace and love structure in your life. And so enjoy those early morning quiet times! If they feed your soul and fill up your bones with strength and life, bless you in those dark sacred moments.

Me, I’m going to keep practicing this new dance Spirit is teaching me. The one that seeks to be awake more once my feet hit the floor each morning, the one that has eyes to see and ears to hear. The one that is fed and revived and strengthened by the unstructured, surprising mess that is this mama’s prayer life with a baby.

There are still practices I want to cultivate. There are rhythms to this dance that I want to pick up. They can become “the stitches that keep the quilt of prayer in place” (Barbara Brown Taylor again).

Mostly I just want to learn how to give myself fully to this dance, to embrace it without fear of getting the steps wrong, or of looking foolish at the start. And above all, I want to get to know my dance partner better, feel his hand on my back as we move to the music, see the smile in his eyes as we spin through this life together.