In his attempt to discourage the faithful, Satan will often tap into the idealism of those who have chosen to pursue a special and dedicated spiritual path. In effect, he will tempt them with a false piety by sowing the thought that they have not done all they could do, that if only they would do more, pray more, fast more etc., they would have better results, or that other souls, or that the world would be in better condition.
Not only do such a thoughts seem pious, but, in fact, such thoughts have some roots in reality. Our finite abilities and capacities mean there will always be more that we can do, more that can be accomplished. Frankly, commitment, for limited creatures like us, can always be expanded in wider directions! And this how Satan discourages the devoted and dedicated soul.
But the trap is this, when you could always do more, you have never done enough! And thus discouragement and the sense of being overwhelmed sets in. Presuming that the call to pray more and more is from God, the vexed soul starts to experience God more as a task-master and slave driver, than as a savior and deliverer. And this is just where Satan wants us: discouraged, angry and fearful.
Therefore, it is important for the dedicated, yet scrupulous or afflicted person to consider, along with a spiritual director, a path and prayers that can reasonably be said, given one’s state in life. And, having done so, to pursue that path steadily, not allowing Satan to discourage them by guilty thoughts and false piety, which says they should do more, and more.
In this regard, St. Ignatius, in the Spiritual Exercises advises the faithful: Age quod agis (Do what you are doing). In other words, stay the course, hold fast and be constant to an agreed-upon, and reasonable spiritual program.
St. Francis De Sales says in his Introduction to the Devout Life, addresses a similar concern when he writes: The practice of devotion must be adapted to the strength, to the occupation, and to the duties of each one in particular…Tell me please, whether it is proper for a bishop to want to lead a solitary life as if he were a monk, or for a working man to spend all day in church like a religious. Is not this sort of devotion…unorganized and intolerable?
St. Augustine also says in his Letter to Proba: More things are accomplished in prayer by sighs and tears, than by many words.
St. Paul does say that we should “Pray always” but by this he means that we should seek the gift to be in living conscious contact with God all through the day. He does not mean prayer in the sense of having suspended all other actions or neglecting other duties.
And thus one should pray daily, but other duties ought not be neglected, including duties to yourself, to sleep, work, family and communal involvement etc. Prayer is to be integrated into our lives, and by God’s grace support us in our other duties. It will be helpful to speak with a pastor, spiritual director or other wise soul to ensure one does not neglect prayer, but neither is one scrupulously anxious of never having done enough.
Each day, having prayed, serenely move to the other duties of the day and do not be unsettled by discouraging thoughts from the devil that you ought to pray longer and with more words. The Lord knows your heart, and your desire for deliverance, and for holiness. And when thoughts occur that you ought to pray more and more and in often burdensome ways, simply say, “Jesus, I trust in your love for me.”
Sweet hour of prayer! sweet hour of prayer!
Thy wings shall my petition bear
To Him whose truth and faithfulness
Engage the waiting soul to bless.
And since He bids me seek His face,
Believe His Word and trust His grace,
I’ll cast on Him my every care,
And wait for thee, sweet hour of prayer!