When I was in my 20s, I had the privilege of spending time with several religious orders like the Franciscans, the Jesuits, and the Divine Word Missionaries. There, I got to witness firsthand the prayerful lives of the seminarians and the religious brothers.
I was able to partake in their daily routines like waking before the crack of dawn for morning prayers. Some individuals woke up even before the rest of the community got up so that they could spend some quiet time with the Lord, praying quietly on their own. It was such an awe-inspiring experience to find myself amid young seminarians up in the early hours of the morning, on their knees, praying fervently, drawing strength, and seeking guidance from God to carry them through their busy day ahead.
Note that these seminarians would joyfully work late into the night, studying and praying, and then still manage to do it all over again the following morning! There, I recognized the importance and the impact of starting the day with prayer.
I was in the military for several years so getting up early in the morning is a familiar routine. I know that being awake in the dreaded wee hours of the morning can make even the nicest officers groggy, crabby, and grouchy. But when I lived with the different religious groups in their seminaries and novitiate houses, I was quite fascinated by what I observed. A busy daily routine, schoolwork, homework, plus service in the kitchen or whatever other duties can get anyone tired, sleep-deprived, and even crabby in the early mornings. But not these seminarians and religious brothers. During my stay with them, I felt nothing but true joy circulating in the air, and it was the kind of joy that was just all around, spreading like wildfire in the novitiate, even in the early hours of the morning. The “Good Morning!” greetings from the seminarians and the novices came with a smile. I could feel the genuineness of their greetings. They radiated the joy of the Lord and it was contagious. As the day went, whether the brothers were serving in the soup kitchen, cleaning their homes, serving at Mass, or studying Scripture, they amazingly stayed full of energy. They were so joyful to do the work they were doing, no matter what that work was and no matter how early it was in the morning.
From Transactional to Transformational
By observing the seminarians and religious brothers I lived with, I came to realize something. For these future Church leaders, praying is not transactional but transformational. They begin each day knowing that they have a purpose in life. They know exactly why they get out of bed in the morning and their prayers enabled them to keep the alignment between their calling and their daily work. Their prayers were not about transactions—where the conversations went something like, “Lord, I will do this but please help me do that.” Their prayers were conversations with God that led them to a day of constant transformation, transforming not only their personal lives but the lives of those around them.
Serving and Leading Joyfully
One early morning, I asked one of the seminarians how he felt about waking up early on a daily basis. He smiled and replied while we stared out the window, “Look outside. You see all those cars on the highway this early in the morning? Those are the people we have to serve and they are up already.” He paused for a few seconds and then quoted something in Latin: “Servite Domino in laetitia!”
It is a quote from Saint Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei that means “I will serve God joyfully!”
Peanut Butter and Prayer
Now as a family man with two kids, my wife and I devote not necessarily an entire holy hour like what I experienced in the religious setting, but at least the first minutes to God, thanking Him and asking for His guiding hands and to give us a full charge for the day. We start the day with prayer and service, going to the kitchen and preparing the kids’ school lunches, and preparing for the busy workday ahead. Spreading peanut butter and jelly on toast might not always be the most prayerful task but when we keep our focus on the reasons why we do it, like caring for our family and raising godly children, the mundane task becomes meaningful.
Starting the day in prayer helps us align our motivations and actions with God’s will. We are able to kick off the day in a more structured, more meaningful, and a more positive way. Evidence from psychology research suggests that positive emotions such as joy, gratitude, and interest, lead to a positive tone that tends to be long-lasting that we can carry out through our busy days. So why not start the day with positivity and a reassurance that God is in our hearts, our thoughts, and our actions? Before our day spirals into survival mode, let’s first get into the intentional mode that prayer brings us to. Why not start the day inviting the calming presence of God into our lives? Making time in the morning to pray gives us not only get a head start on our day but also the opportunity to reflect with intentionality on God’s calling in our lives. Daily prayer can serve as that calibration process where we get to visualize our daily actions, ensuring alignment to the goal of doing God’s will.
“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).
The Gospel of Mark tells us that our Lord Jesus got up early in the morning to go off to a solitary place to pray (Mark 1:35). That time of prayer was followed by a very productive day where He went preaching throughout Galilee, casting out demons, and healing the sick. No matter how long, busy, and tiresome our day will be, Jesus has shown us how important it is to start off with prayer. As the sun rises from the horizon, we humbly offer up the day on bended knees, ready to bend our will to align with the will of the One who has called us to arise.
About the Author
BJ Gonzalvo, Ph.D., is a psychologist and a veteran born and raised in the Philippines (now residing in Washington). His writing, where he often integrates culture, psychology, and spirituality, has appeared in Northwest Catholic, Busted Halo, FilCatholic, and Mind & Spirit. He is the author of Lead Like the Saints (Paulines, 2019) and Gift of Kapwa (2022).