Puttering Prayer

The rhythm of my prayer life is always interesting to watch: the ebb and flow of rich, fruitful prayer that at times transforms to periods of dryness; the ability to come easily to prayer and stillness that is then interrupted at times by periods when prayer feels hard. Over the years, I have learned to be gentle with myself about my prayer life, knowing that over time the rhythm will change as the Spirit moves my relationship with God deeper.

boxesI would dub the season of my prayer life right now a period of “puttering prayer.” “Puttering prayer” is a phrase shared with me by a Georgia friend and colleague, Sr. Marie, indicating a time in which one simply gives oneself permission to “putter” and when feeling called, one turns his or her attention to God in the moment and then carries on with the day. Sr. Marie shared how this prayer is very helpful in times of transition or grieving.

This past year was full of transition and unknown. It is not that I stopped praying throughout this time, but the mental exhaustion from all the change and day-to-day survival caught up with me and changed my prayer. I found that I simply could not sit down each morning for my normal foundational prayer period. When I did, my mind would run through my list of worries, or I would be overcome with grief about leaving our old life behind.

Remembering the wisdom of Sr. Marie’s “puttering prayer,” I decided to lean into that prayer practice. Each day I set about to accomplish a small task that would help us in the transition to a new city—unpacking a box, straightening a closet, finding a pediatrician, finding a new restaurant to try, locating the closest grocery store. I gave myself permission to take the space I needed for my mind to rest. I knew there was no way I could sit down to a lengthy meditation on Scripture or a lengthy period of silence with God. I did not have the mental energy for the intensity of that kind of prayer.

What I needed was the comfort of God that is found mirrored in sharing life with my husband—the comfort that comes after ten years of marriage, knowing we are sharing space and in each other’s presence, but we do not always have to have intense conversation. We can simply putter around the house together, accomplishing small tasks, playing with the kids, cooking together, or reading next to each other.

God found me, as God always does, in the middle of my puttering—a welling in my heart of gratitude for the gift of a home, an acknowledgement of my sadness at missing a dear friend in Georgia, relief as another prayer was answered, an inspired moment in realizing the potential of our new city. Puttering prayer helped my mind rest and experience God through the quiet work of my life.


  1. Becky as I read your last 2 posts, on detachment and puttering I can see myself in both. I resolved the noise problem by buying a pair of ear protector that construction workers use. They are a blessing from God!!
    Love your posts, keep up the good work we all need a boost at sometime(s) in our chaotic world.

  2. I didn’t really understand the word ‘putter’, but having looked at various definitions on the web, it is probably a derivative of ‘potter’, which would be more commonly used here in England. “Pottering Prayer” works well for me!! Oh – and thank you for the helpful post!

  3. in the words of C.S. Lewis “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You, too? Thought I was the only one.” Thank you for your beautifully written insight.

  4. Thank you so much for putting into words how I have felt so often. I have learned to rest in the arms of God during those times but I still needed to hear it expressed so succinctly and clearly. Blessings.

  5. This is a great and welcome concept and a name for what I’ve experienced at time, too. Thanks for the great insights, Becky. And for holding a mirror up to reveal the holiness of ordinary life in ordinary family life.

  6. I have experienced this inability to pray during times of extreme stress as well, so this was a welcome post – I’d thought there was something wrong with me for not being able to pray and connect with the Divine when I needed Him the most. My friend Carol counseled me to allow the Communion of Saints to pray for me and on my behalf at such times – reassuring me the ability to pray would return, and she was right. Thank you for this post.


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