I hope you’ll all forgive me, but today I’m going to share a bit of personal experience in response to a student question.
How do we balance academic studies with prayer time?
As I thought about this question and how to answer it, I couldn’t help thinking about my own college experience and my life now as a wife and mother. Let me tell you a story.
A few years ago on Pascha–my first one as a mom–I spent most of the night struggling with an almost one-year-old who didn’t want to sleep and didn’t want to be awake. She cried and fussed. She was hungry and cranky. She didn’t want me to put her down, and she didn’t want me to hold her. It was trying, to say the least, and I kept feeling like I was spending more time attending to my daughter’s (perfectly age-appropriate) needs and struggles than I did experiencing Pascha.
I remember thinking then,
Oh, this is why people become monastics. This is what they mean by married people being tied to worldly cares.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not complaining about being a mother and wife. There are amazing joys and huge spiritual blessings in being married and having children–from the everyday joys of hugs and kisses to the bigger joys of seeing my kids grow in faith and learn to love. There is something especially blessed about teaching children to pray, even if it means you have to stop every thirty seconds to remind a three-year-old what word comes next or, more likely, that it’s “time for praying, not for playing.” Marriage and child-rearing offer constant opportunities to put our faith into action–there is always someone hungry to feed, naked to clothe, sick to care for, and lonely to comfort–and there is lots and lots of room for lots and lots of repentance. Constantly. But it is also true that the married life carries with it many unavoidable worldly cares that the monastic life does not bear–bills and budgets, kids’ schooling and activities, jobs, family obligations, keeping house, the many-headed hydra that is laundry in a house with children, noise–lots of noise. In my own limited experience, at least with small children, this doesn’t always leave lots of still, quiet time for still, quiet prayer.
The point of this blog is not to tell you how to find peace and prayer in the married life, but to help you know how to make time for prayer while you’re a student. So why am I telling you all this about kids and marriage? Well, for everything there is a season, and many people have reminded me that our lives have many seasons, some full of peace, others of turmoil, some full of joy, some of sorrow, some full of rest, others of activity. Each of these seasons, if we are open to God’s grace working in them, can bless us, challenge us, teach us, and perfect us.
So I’m telling you a little about the season of new marriage and new family life, assuming that many of you may soon join the ranks of nine-to-five work, diaper changing, and mortgages, to challenge you to see the season of your life you are in now, your college life, as a season of peace and preparation. Believe it or not, now is probably the closest you’ll get to monastic peace and silence while you are young short of joining a monastery for good.
Yes, you are busy, but you set your schedule. Make time for prayer and silence. You are being blessed in this season of your life with a kind of autonomy that you didn’t have as a child in your parents’ house and that you will not have again, at least not in the next season of your life. Do something with it. I look back upon my college years now with gratitude, thanking God that I had a spiritual father who expected me to do something spiritually productive with my time and friends who were struggling on that same path. Go to as many services as you can. Memorize your morning and evening prayers. Read Scripture and spiritual books voraciously. Talk about spiritual things with your OCF friends. Say the Jesus Prayer. Ask the important questions. Learn the hymns of the Church. Make space in your life for God while you are in this season of your life, a season in which, glory be to God, your most pressing worldly cares are your final exams.
I encourage you, especially during Lent, to see college life as a time of freedom and as an opportunity to till the ground of your heart so that prayer can blossom forth in preparation for whatever the next season of your life may hold. Every season will have its “something” that Satan will try to use against us to keep us from seeking after our Lord and falling in love with Him–right now, it’s probably homework. If you feel weighed down by the burden of your academic load and its demands, remember the words of Mother Gavrilia of blessed memory,
One thing is education: that we learn how to love God.