Watching the Clock

In the years since I have been ordained I’ve always made it a practice wherever I’ve lived to designate a special area for prayer. Usually this area is in a corner of my bedroom. I have my “prayer chair” there as well as a small table on which I keep my Breviary, various scripture commentaries, a candle, and sundry other items. One of the items that I added about ten years ago was a small digital clock someone had given me. I use this clock when I’m at prayer—especially in the morning—to make sure I don’t lose track of time. A few weeks ago I noticed that the display on the clock was getting dimmer and dimmer, so I knew it was time to replace the batteries. 

Now resetting this clock has become increasingly problematic the past few years. When I first got it, I was able to reset the time by pressing my finger on the display. Unfortunately over the years, the screen has become less and less responsive to my touch. And after replacing the batteries, I couldn’t reset the time no matter how many times I touched, pressed, pushed, or manipulated my finger on the screen. It occurred to me that it might be time to replace the clock, but since it had served me well for ten years, I just let it sit for a few days to see if it would eventually respond to my touch.  

Now I have to say that while initially it wasn’t a problem that I couldn’t reset the clock, after a few days it did begin to bother me. I liked being able to glance up when I was reflecting on the scriptures and know how long I had been at it. I took a certain pride in the fact that at times I thought I had been praying for 15 minutes only to glance at the clock and realize it had actually been 25 minutes. At other times, of course, I would glance at the clock only to realize that what I thought had been 15 minutes was only 5 minutes.

After about a week of praying without knowing the “right” time, I had a sudden insight that perhaps I had turned what was initially a convenience, into a “measure.” Further, it occurred to me that God might be trying to tell me that the time I gave to God in prayer shouldn’t be measured or timed. It should be God’s time. And it should take as long as it takes. Timing my prayer not only wasn’t being very respectful of God, but more importantly it was turning what should have been a relationship into a duty. 

A few days after the above revelation, I was telling another priest about it. He suggested that perhaps I needed to re-think how I approached my prayer time. Then in passing he said: “And you know you might want to try using a stylus to reset your clock.” He then gave me an extra stylus that he had. And when I got home, voilà—problem solved. I was able to reset the clock. The other problem remained, though, of checking the time during my prayer. I ultimately decided that the clock could stay, but that I would only check it once during my prayer time. So far this seems to be working, and it has made me more conscious of the fact that prayer is time with God, and that since God is more concerned that I pray, than with how much time I spend in prayer, perhaps this should be my goal too.

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