Wednesday, January 4, 2012

When People Interrupt Your Prayers

Yesterday a reader commented that a point in favor of praying with a real breviary--as opposed to an electronic device--was that family members were far less likely to interrupt one's prayers. Their questions about how soon supper will be ready, remarks about the weather, etc., will die on their lips when they see  that breviary in your lap. "Oops!" this person will think, "Mom (or Dad, or my spouse) is praying. What I want to say can wait until later."  Whereas they'll feel more free to interrupt if they think you're just surfing the internet or reading a novel on your Kindle.

Maybe that's how it is with your family. Mine just start talking to me without bothering to look at what I'm doing, so the distinction of real breviary vs. Kindle are often lost on them. Maybe if I were kneeling in the middle of the floor with my hands clasped, they'd realize something was up. But me sitting in a chair has no special significance, whatever I might be holding in my hands.

 I decided a long time ago to just accept the interruptions rather than go the route of, "I'm saying my prayers right now."  Since many of the interruptions really had to be dealt with right away, I often had no choice. As for the less urgent interruptions, I don't want the kids or my husband to think they had annoyed me with their remarks or questions.(also--most of my children are on the introverted side. So I don't want to do anything which would stifle communication. If the house were full of Motor Mouths my approach would  likely  be different.) So instead I answer them briefly ("your jeans are in the dryer"  "dinner's in half an hour" "yes, the snow is beautiful.") and return to the prayer. If their request requires more than a short answer from me ("Can you help me with this homework?") then I will say, "I'll be with  you in a few minutes." and finish the liturgical hour.

Since I'm not a religious or even a  third order member(with serious obligations to pray the LIturgy), I figure my primary duty is to them, not to my Office. If I were really craving uninterrupted prayer time, I'd go to my bedroom and shut the door.

That being said, I'm at a place in life where much of the time I can pray without any interruptions at all. So I guess getting interrupted a couple times a week just isn't that big a deal. When the kids were younger, interruptions were frequent, and as a result, my Office  was often left unfinished.

Another thing that makes accepting interruptions easy for me: interruptions don't throw off my concentration. I can  pick up where I left off and get right back into the "mood" of what I was praying. Lots of people can't do this. It's important to them to be able to finish the whole psalm, or the set of three psalms in the psalter, or the entire liturgical hour in one piece.

On the other hand, maybe I'm way too concerned about my family's feelings and not concerned enough about the integrity of the prayer. I mean, this is Liturgy, right? A priest can't drop everything in the middle of mass to  attend to someone's needs, then come back and finish the mass from wherever he left off. Perhaps it is better to train family members--insofar as they are mature enough to handle it--to leave you alone when you tell them that you are praying. There's a lot to be said for family members learning to recognize that your are praying, and that prayer is important. And the prayer is also something that you are doing --in part--for them.

This is just one of those issues we all stumble and bumble through as we juggle the active and contemplative parts of our lives. God knows we do the best we can.

How do you deal with family members, friends, co-workers, etc. who interrupt your  prayers?


  1. With my husband (we don't have kids yet) I usually just point to my breviary if I'm using it, or if I'm praying otherwise, I will stop and gently tell him "I'm praying." If it is my co-workers, I just stop and remember where I was, and start up again when I am able. I am a 3rd order Dominican, so I do have a requirement to pray the "hinge" hours of the Office, but as it is not binding under pain of sin, I try to use common sense with it.
    Jeanne G.

  2. My interrupters are 5 years old or younger, so they always have to take priority. And if I didn't let them, they'd follow me, find me and insist. :) But seriously, they don't take any notice of whether I'm sitting staring into space or using the bathroom ... why would praying be any different? Sometimes the interruptions need to be dealt with immediately, but even if they didn't, my kids haven't realized that yet. :)

  3. I have found that closing a bedroom door doesn't help me much; it just invites a lot of knocking. When my children were very small, I tried to find time to pray when they were in bed. Thus, I did not attempt the daytime Office at that time in my life. Now that they are older (youngest is 7) they respect a declared "prayer time" and won't interrupt unless there's an emergency.

  4. When my oldest was a toddler I found that she'd try to grab the holy cards I had tucked into the leaves of my breviary. So I bought her a bunch of laminated holy cards and it became a sort of game she'd play when I was praying. I'd redirect her to her holy cards and perhaps spend a few minutes looking at them with her and naming all the saints. Sometimes I still do that with the current little ones, though since I'm now using my iPhone almost exclusively, the laminated holy cards now reside in a little bag in the table beside my bed. When they come in and find me praying they often ask for the cards.

    If I'm praying somewhere other than my room I often recite the psalms aloud and that way they can hear that I'm praying. If they have an urgent need, I'll pause and take care of it. Often I'll ask if it can wait or tell them I'll get to whatever they need after I'm done with my prayers.

    The nice thing is that when I pray aloud the kids often join in and help recite the antiphons and responses.

  5. I was relieved and thankful this morning when my 9-year-old Interrupter got my "shhh" signal, peeked over at what I was reading, and said, "Oh, you're saying your prayers" and then WALKED AWAY! (It was nothing urgent; he was just feeling chatty. And a few minutes later, when I was done, I indulged him in that chat.)

  6. You mean you don't have to kneel to do Breviary?! (Load off)

  7. Heavens no!
    If you want to do the "official" postures, you sit for everything until the gospel canticle, then stand from there until the end. But that is not required when you do it by yourself.