How long should you pray each day?

How long should you spend in mental prayer each day? This is a complex question. The answer depends on where you are in your spiritual life, as well as your vocation and life circumstances.
For someone who is just starting to devote daily time to conversation with God, any time spent in mental prayer is better than none. But you do want to make it meaningful and spend enough time so that you can progress in union with God. 
Years ago I joined the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, the branch of Teresa of Avila’s order for lay people and diocesan priests. Since the Carmelite charism is prayer, that was the main focus of our formation. Our teacher counseled us to aim for 30 minutes a day in sustained mental prayer, but to start with 15.
At first, it was difficult to fill those 15 minutes. My mind wandered constantly. I repeatedly glanced at the clock. Using a method of meditation on Scripture helped. Over time, prayer became easier. By the end of a year, I was able to pray for 30 minutes. Distractions were still a problem, but filling the time was no longer so difficult.
Fifteen minutes is a reasonable goal for most lay people who are just starting out. Sometimes with lots of distractions a 15-minute prayer time might yield only a few minutes of heartfelt prayer. It might take five minutes just to set aside your other thoughts so that you can begin to focus on God. You do not want to stop when your prayer is really just beginning. But if you cannot manage praying for 15 minutes, pray for 10. If you cannot manage 10 minutes, pray for five. Any heartfelt prayer is better than none.
What about people who have already been praying for some time? If you can manage to pray a bit longer without compromising your duties, I would encourage you to do so. St. Francis de Sales counseled lay people not to spend more than an hour in mental prayer. Any more than this and job or family is likely to suffer. Of course, a retired couple may have many more hours free than a family with young children or a working parent.
If you are already praying an hour and feel drawn to doing more, try to say little prayers throughout the day as you do your work and serve others. Pray the rosary as a family. Make an examination of conscience every night. Always keep in mind that the Lord works through our vocation in order to sanctify us and those around us.
Prayer should never get in the way of duty, or of family just spending loving time together.
The amount of time you should spend in mental prayer will change as you mature in faith and as your life situation changes. Wherever you find yourself now, be generous with God. Give him enough time to work in your mind and heart. Then when he does, give him a little bit more in return for all he has given you.
Connie Rossini is a member of St. Peter Parish in Omaha. She is co-author of The Contemplative Rosary just released by EWTN Publishing and author of four other books on Catholic spirituality.
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