How to (give up coffee and) add more Hours to your Day

Last winter, when we returned from our long trip to Florida, I noticed that we were propelled into life in rapid motion. Everything seemed to be moving way too fast. Indeed, there were several crises, many of them urgent and pressing. From the time we got home, early in the third week of January, until the last week of March, I was in our pediatrician's office at least once a week, often many more times. He was a frequent caller at my home. And then there were the specialists to whom he was referring us. They were several and varied. With all this activity came the stress that illnesses visits upon mothers, but also, I noticed a severe interior stress--a straining almost to the breaking point. All these phone calls--and the visits to radiologists, orthodpedists, phlebotomists, cardiologists--all of it was just so much relentless noise to this introvert's spirit. Then, the first week that I didn't visit my pediatrician, my father-in-law was admitted to the hospital. The ICU is not a low stress place. I was more than fraying at the edges. I was unravelling at an alarming pace. I needed time to slow and I needed to quiet my soul. I wanted to stop living in fast forward and to begin to live intentionally again.

During this time of intensity, I did two things that I credit for saving my sanity: I gave up coffee and I returned to praying the entire Divine Office. Neither was my stated Lenten sacrifice. They both just happened as a graced gift of God.

I was very much out of my rhythm and feeling the lack of control that comes with a large family whose members are all suddenly needy at once. I recognized that I need to manage my stress better.  I resolved to return to the practice of praying the Liturgy of the Hours. While it was counterintuitive to add this to my "to do list," I knew from prior experiences that this was not a "to do," it was a grace infusion. I trusted. And I set out with a very deliberate, very disciplined plan.

Unlike times past, there was no nursing baby this time to sit with me and pray, to remind me with those most melodious "chapel bells" that it was time again to pray. This time, the bells were programmed into my iPod (a low tech early generation iPod touch with some real scars of its own). The bells on the alarm can be set to sound like church bells. {{Funny aside: I left my iPod at home one day recently when we met two families in the woods to enjoy the bluebells. As we were sitting in the sunshine, I was completely befuddled when I heard "my bells" chiming. Apparently, I'm not the only Catholic mom who uses this method to call herself to prayer. It was my friend's iPhone summoning her!}}

First thing in the morning, I seize that Heroic Moment. Here's where I'm honest and admit that it's not all that heroic for me. I'm totally a morning morning and relish the opportunity to see the sun rise outside my closet window. Yep. My closet. My exercise bike is in my closet and that's where I go for the first forty-five minutes of every day. My bike was a gift from my father, nearly 13 years ago. It is well loved. I pray the Invitatory, Morning Prayer, and the Office of Readings, while pedaling hard and long. on my iPod is my companion throughout the day. I listen and pray and pedal and start my day with energy and focus and an infusion of much needed grace. 


When I am finished, I've usually burned close to 300 calories;-). Oh, and I've prayed the psalms, the Old and New Testament, and read spiritual reading from the greatest spiritual leaders throughout time. The Liturgy of the Hours is rich with scripture, particularly with psalms. The Catechism describes the prayer of the psalms as the great school of trust in God. When I return to the psalms throughout the day, I am reminded to trust and to give everything to God. In a time of life that is full of pressing demands and unexpected crises, this is a message I need to hear from Him all day long.

Before my prayer time, alone in my closet, is up, I've prayed for the intentions of the Universal Church, for my own intentions, and for you. I think that is a very good--and very simple-- use of 45 minutes. Then, I shower and dress for the day. Usually, no one is yet awake. 


My husband is a television producer-director. He is conscious of "hard breaks," usually commerical spots that are already programmed into the broadcast. Whether the on-air talent is finished or not, that show is going to go to break at the pre-programmed time. When I was nursing babies, my spiritual director encouraged me to think of every time I stopped to nurse as a call to prayer. That strategy worked beautifully for many, many years. Now, I need my chimes. I've grown to think of my preprogrammed chimes as my hard breaks. Throughout the day, the chime of the bells compels me to stop what I am doing and redirects my efforts towards God. The effect of this intentional stopping is to slow time. Instead of the hours skittering away, the habit of intentional stopping for prayer focuses me.

Praying the Liturgy of the Hours was a very good way for me to get into the habit of stopping intentionally to refocus my day. After several weeks of this practice, I wanted to add other devotions, but I could sense that it would be impractical for me to add additional prayer time to praying all the Hours. I wrestled with the dilemma for awhile on my own with Jesus and then I sought spiritual direction. 

My good and holy priest smiled when I explained the dilemma and reminded me that I was praying more hours of the Divine Office than parish priests are asked to pray. We talked a bit about which devotions best suited my spirituality and my state of life. And we came up with a new prayer plan. I kept the morning routine, but changed up the rest of the day.


The next time my iPod chimes, it's 10:00. By this time, Mike has cleared the bedroom and gone to work. I leave whatever I am doing and go back upstairs. iPod in the dock, I pray Midmorning Prayer while I make the bed and tidy our bedroom. This is usually under 15 minutes of prayer time, but it's a very effective booster shot midmorning. Depending on my household and how schoolish things are coming along, I might gather up my little brood for a morning walk. The iPod goes into the cup holder in the stroller. My littlest usually plops herself down to be pushed, and we go for 20-30 minutes, listening to and praying the rosary. There is a free app here and there are several beautiful versions of a longer sung rosary on CD here. Then, back home and back to work.

We usually say grace and pray the Angelus at lunchtime (the Regina Coeli during the Easter season) and there's an app for that. There are several apps, actually. The one linked is a very simple one that has a chime that rings at noon (it can be programmed to ring at 6 AM and 6PM, too). If you have a favorite Angelus app, please chime in and let me know.


The next chime goes off at 3:00, the hour of mercy.  There's an app for that, too. (And it's free;-) Back outside for about 25 minutes or so, depending on what I choose to use to pray the Chaplet. My favorite version of the  Divine Mercy Chaplet is  about 11 minutes longer than the spoken version. But even if I use the long version, that's only an 18 minute walk.  Usually, I just keep walking and praying. Somehow, being outside is really important to slowing time and the movement of my body helps my to focus.

If this moving and praying is liturgically incorrect, I beg the Lord's grace. I think of Jesus as my exercise companion. He goes along with me on bike rides and long walks. I'm not a monk. My religious community is a motley crew of children with incessant needs.  I need this outside break to my inside day and so do they. I need to move. This is where a 2:00 cup of coffee with sugar used to go. No more. I was never a huge coffee drinker. A cup in the morning, maybe, and then that 2:00 shot of caffeine. But with the increased exercise and the loss of sugar for Lent, all my desire for coffee evaporated. Vanished. Now I let God's mercy and the great outdoors fuel my late afternoon and evening. And I have found that our Lord is abundantly generous! 

The bells chime again at 5:30. Evening prayer. This one is tricky. Always has been. We might be driving at this time, or I might be making dinner. If we are in the car, an iPod port makes it easy to listen to my iPod and go right on praying. At home, earbuds in the kitchen work just fine. My prayer time is rarely still. It's almost always active. Honestly, I find it easier to focus when I'm moving, but I do worry on occasion that our Lord asked that we "Be still and know that I am God." (Psalms 46:10)  I try to get to Mass several times a week and I'm pretty still there...

While I cuddle my little ones to sleep, we listen to the rosary, if we haven't yet prayed it that day. Or we listen to favorite lullabies.  I love this time. There is a peace to watching them drift to sleep, accompanied by prayer and song.

Night Prayer requires no alarm either. This is a well-established habit. I am in bed and still. Often, instead of my iPod, I use this lovely book. (Ouch, that's an outrageous new price. I do wish they'd publish these books again. They are so beautiful and there's nothing else like them.) It's all the better if I pray Night Prayer with my husband. It's a beautiful, peaceful way to end the day. No coffee. Lots of fresh air and exercise. An abundance of prayer. Even the sleep hours are so much more effective that they are mysteriously multiplied. 

All good. All grace.

Above is the outline of a day gone well. It's the ideal. Some days are less predictable. Some days are cranky and out of sorts. Some days, it's all I can do when the bells chime to throw my apron over my head and whisper, "Jesus, mercy!"

That works, too. For me, I've found that the habit of constant reconnecting with the Lord is the "how" of living an intentional, striving-for-holiness life. It's a habit I mean to keep.