Online Book Club Week 6: To-Do List vs. Prayer List

The Prayer List by Jane Knuth - online book club

Editor’s note: Jump into our online book club! We’re reading Jane Knuth’s The Prayer List…and Other True Stories of How Families Pray. This week we focus on chapters 16–18. Learn more about the book club here.

Dean, my husband, asked me if my prayer list wasn’t just another to-do list, and I said, “Of course not. At least, I hope not. Well…no. I’m sure it can’t be. The irony would be extreme.”

You see, my everyday to-do lists are what keep me focused on getting things done. They also give me purpose. If a thing is on my list in the morning and has a nice sharp line through it by five in the afternoon, then it is a sign that I had a productive day. I can look at my list of scratched-out tasks and proudly say to myself, “I did stuff. My life was worthwhile today. I am not lazy. There is less to do tomorrow because of all I did today. I deserve my keep and a nice bed.”

But my prayer list is another matter. My prayer list says this: “Take a moment to think about these people and situations. Lift their troubles or hopes up to God and rest them in his lap. Love them by focusing on their needs for a space of time, instead of on my needs. Then detach. The outcome is not mine to decide. Success, accomplishment, and finality are not part of prayer. Do not worry about something that has been given to God.”

Most of the time, I keep these two lists separate. But not always. The irony raises its amused head when I write “pray” on my to-do list.

Then, I laugh at myself. Laughter usually calms down irony.

The Prayer List Discussion Questions

  1. Is prayer something you do? Is it something you get done?
  2. Would you be the same person if you did not pray?
  3. Is your family defined by prayer in any way? How would your family be different if you did/didn’t pray together?

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About Jane Knuth 10 Articles
Jane Knuth is a longtime volunteer in the Society of St. Vincent de Paul in Kalamazoo, Michigan. In 2011, Jane’s first book, Thrift Store Saints, was awarded first place from the Catholic Press Association for Popular Presentation of the Catholic Faith. Her latest book is The Prayer List. She also writes a monthly column for The Good News, the newspaper of the Diocese of Kalamazoo.


  1. For me, daily prayer is mostly about making space for God to act and me to notice. I usually start with a reflection (e.g. from the JesuitPrayer website or a page-a-day prayer book, or the Examen) to focus and quiet my spirit. If God interrupts at any point I stop and pay attention to whatever God is doing. If God hasn’t interrupted by the time I’ve finished the reflection, I wait. Sometimes it’s just being open and waiting, or just being with God, but often my heart hears whatever it is that God means to say, and we talk. It’s much more about God’s initiative than mine. I would definitely not be the same person if I didn’t do this every day, and take to heart and try to put into practice what I understand in prayer.

  2. Mary Ellen, the way you describe the back and forth between listening and talking to God it feels like a conversation I would have with a friend. This is a lovely way to pray.

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