When you tell a joke, you don't make people wait for the punchline. Right? That same rule of timing should apply to keeping your promise to pray for someone. Go straight for the pay-off.
Okay, that's a little extreme; you can't always stop and pray in the moment. But we should treat those promises with at least as much urgency as we treat trying to get a laugh.
I can't tell you how many empty prayer promises I've made over the years. Sometimes, it's because I offered reflexively, without really paying attention. Sometimes, it's old-fashioned laziness. But it also has to do with thinking I don't have the time I need to pray for someone properly, time to lay out the details and then pray on it good and hard, coming up with different ways to explain there’s a situation that needs attention.
Enter my guardian angel to smack me upside the head and say, "You're Catholic, moron! You don't need to give a soliloquy. You have two millennia of prayers to choose from. Pick one and make it an offering on behalf of whoever made the mistake of asking YOU to pray." I'm sure my guardian angel doesn't really think in rude terms like that, but it wouldn't surprise me if he did once in a while, given his assignment.
Saying simple prayers with purpose
And so, I've arrived at the next in a long line of very obvious things it has taken me way too long to figure out: praying for people doesn't have to be a production number (I have a song about it, if you'd like to hear it or see the lyric video).
There's a lot of power in a single, sincerely offered prayer. I remember hearing Fr. Larry Richards talk about his habit of assigning a single Our Father as penance. I like that, not simply because of the brevity, but because it takes that whole sense of prayer as punishment out of Confession. You know what I mean. Being told, "Say 10 Our Fathers and 10 Hail Marys" can sound like being told to write, "I will not misbehave in class" 100 times on the blackboard when any chance to say either of those prayers should be considered a privilege
I’ve never tried it, but slowly focusing on a single Our Father sounds like it could be a very rewarding experience, especially in the context of reconnecting with Himself after Confession. And it's not just the Our Father that has that kind of solo-shot reputation. Perhaps you read in the National Catholic Register about the Pittsburgh jogger whose single Hail Mary made a big difference in a lady's life after he spotted an ambulance outside her house.
Keeping promises quickly
Fr. Larry and the Pittsburgh jogger are just two examples of how effective prayer doesn't have to mean staging a pseudo-liturgy featuring yourself as a tongue-tied celebrant. Our traditional prayers are more than appropriate for any number of in-the-moment situations. Saying just one, with sincerity, can make all the difference...certainly more of a difference than completely ignoring your promise to pray.
As another noted Larry—the Cable Guy—might say, when it comes to prayer just "Git 'er done." As soon as you promise to pray for someone, grab your first chance to sincerely offer up a Golden Oldie on his or her behalf. You don't need a big build-up.
You'll be done in less than a minute and you'll have avoided an empty promise.