AREWP Day 1: Priorities and sacrifice

— UPDATE BELOW —


[AREWP stands for "A Reckless Experiment With Prayer." This is part of an ongoing series about bringing peace to my daily life. You can read the other posts on this subject
here (scroll down).]


This morning I looked at my calendar and realized that a childhood friend is going to be in town today, and she’s swinging by this afternoon for a visit. I bit my lip a little bit when I realized: she’ll be here for Vespers (Evening Prayer). My husband won’t be home yet, so it will be just she and I and the kids.

For a moment I went into a frantic “What do I do?!” mode. We’ve been friends since we were eight years old. In recent years we lost touch but are now rekindling our friendship since she’ll be in my area more often for the next couple of years. She has always been a deeply spiritual person but is not religious and doesn’t believe in organized religion. Last time she checked, I felt the same way (except that I wasn’t spiritual…in fact I was kind of a militant atheist). Let’s just say that sitting around and listening to me read psalms and Bible verses aloud for 15 minutes is not what she is expecting to do when she comes over.

People who are the #4 Google result for socially awkward person do not handle situations like this well.

As I was fretting about whether to postpone Vespers, to just start the experiment tomorrow, to violate the first rule I committed to and do it hours earlier before she arrives, a thought popped into mind out of nowhere:

This is where spoken priorities become actual priorities.

I don’t know where that came from, but it’s true. Priorities don’t become priorities by talking about them. They become true priorities by inconveniencing yourself to make them happen. Even if it means that you might look odd or foolish in the eyes of a childhood friend whose opinion you dearly value.

— UPDATE —

When my friend arrived we were both exhausted from long days. It’s been so long since we last had a chance to really talk, our conversation was a bit stiff at first. After some hemming and hawing, I finally laid it out. Not knowing where to start, I decided to just be completely honest and tell her why saying these prayers were important to me, and let her know that I was worried about her reaction because she was such a dear friend and I valued her opinion so much.

As we walked around the house lighting candles, I told her a bit about my conversion and how much I appreciated her sharing her own spiritual beliefs with me back when I was an atheist. In the breaks between each reading I would tell her a bit more about the Liturgy of the Hours, and pointed out that thousands of other people in our time zone are reciting these exact prayers right now. She listened attentively throughout the 10 or 15 minutes it took to go through it all, and if she was bored or uninterested she sure hid it well.

Not only was it not weird, but it’s exactly what we needed.

Our conversation had been stiff before, but me sharing something so personal really broke the ice and helped us move past surface-level chit-chat to really delving into the topics that were most dear to us.

I am so, so glad I didn’t skip it. I will remember this lesson next time I’m tempted to push prayer aside for fear of what other people think.

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  • Anonymous

    You don’t strike me at all as “socially awkward” but, just remember this, if your friend is truly your friend, she will understand that you need to interrupt your visit for a little bit. Yes, she’s coming in from out of town and probably has limited time to spend but, if she didn’t think you were worth spending her time with, she wouldn’t be coming. All you’re asking for is fifteen or twenty minutes while she’s there at your house. Maybe you could give her a pile of pictures to look through or let her read your blog if she’s not been keeping up while you’re praying. I’m sure there’s something she can keep busy doing. Playing with your kids, reading to them, making herself some tea, catching up on any phone calls she needs to make. You could simply explain that this is part of a commitment you’ve made and you need her help and understanding for a few minutes so that you can honor your commitment. I’m willing to bet she’ll understand and be happy to accomodate your needs. She won’t think of you as foolish at all.

    I’m praying for you right now.

  • Christine the Soccer Mom

    Jen, you never know. She might have gone through a spiritual awakening, as well. (One that includes seeing the benefits of “organized religion.”)

    And you might be #4 for “socially awkward person” but that’s only because you were brave enough to admit it. I’m so socially awkward that I was terrified of speaking to friends in public when I was a child. I’m only mildly better now. :)

  • tonia

    I just found your blog through wittingshire.blogspot.com
    I am going to have to spend a few hours here reading…I’m so intrigued by your story!

    Love what I’ve read so far. Thanks for sharing your life.

  • Sarah

    This reminded me of a thought I had the other day. I was reading in our local paper about a home that was built with a “mediation room” for the homeowners, who are Buddhist. This was taken with a grain of salt, but if the article was about a Catholic family who had a family alter, it would seem weird, archaic and probably wouldn’t even be published.

    This is how I feel sometimes when someone “catches” me praying the rosary while pushing the stroller on a walk, or reading a faith-based book while having a coffee at a restaurant. If it was anything BUT Christianity, it would be considered open-minded, and modern, but since it is Jesus or Mary on the cover of the book, and not a yin/yang symbol or Buddha, or even (God-forbid) a pentagram, it is deemed old fashioned and, possibly, close-minded.

    I applaud you for doing what you have to do and the decisions that you make. I know that it is tough, but maybe you are being put in your friend’s path this afternoon for a reason, to be a witness.

    Good luck and God Bless!

  • La gallina

    I can’t wait to hear how things go. I would be feeling the exact same awkwardness if I were in your shoes right now. I don’t exactly shout out to the world “I believe in Jesus now and you should too!!” (I’m not always sure what is the best way to show my faith without being annoying.)

    BUT back in my religion-hating days I would have actually admired a friend who stuck to her guns about God. If I had gone to a friend’s house back when I was uncomfortable about Christianity, and she said she was going to say a prayer etc. with her children while I was there, I would have respected her a lot for not being intimidated by me.

    Some of the opinions I’ve respected the most were from people who weren’t afraid to speak out calmly and bravely when I was smirking at their “silly religion.”

    I remember a close friend during my partying, anti-Christianity days saying that she always loved Jesus and felt close to him because of a childhood experience she had had. I’m sure I didn’t respond in a very encouraging way. (“What?!? That’s weird!!” was probably what I said.) But her words have stayed with me for years. I alway respected her for that and was moved by the tenderness of her statement.

    I think it was those small bits of faith that people shared with me over the years that finally got through to me. So you never know what impact you may have on your friend. She knows where you’ve been and what you used to believe, and will respect you all the more for it.

  • Abigail

    Jen, I’ll be praying for you at Vespers today (central time, right?). Be brave!

  • cliff

    Jen, you are up to #3 on Google!

  • elizabeth

    I haven’t commented before, and there is so much I want to say to you (like, namely, “Thank you!! You have no idea how your blog has helped me. It’s been like a port in a storm for me.”) but I’m most interested in how AREWP turns out for you. I’m particularly interested in the, well, particulars of your experiment — are you setting an alarm to tell you when to pray? what are you doing with your kids while you’re praying? are you stopping what you’re doing and praying on the spot, or will you be going into another room or some other designated prayer space? out loud or just moving your lips? As a very recent revert to the Catholic faith, I can’t get enough of these Catholic blogs and I truly thank God for them.

    As far as your non-religious friend, I’m coming up against that dilemma a lot lately. I wish I could agree with the sentiment that your true friends will understand. I have shocked and disappointed a few friends — and family members — in the past few months, and I know one would say, “well, then they weren’t really *true* friends,” the fact remains that I got up the courage to tell them what is going on in my life and for that act of bravery I’ve gotten comments like, “You know I’m vehemently anti-Catholic” and “I could never be friends with a Catholic” and even “You need to see someone about this — it’s not healthy.” I really don’t know how my relationships with these people will turn out, but it hurts, terribly. I’m not spiritually strong enough (yet) to hold my head up high and tell myself I don’t need unsupportive people like this in my life.

    I’m sorry, and I wish I were more positive, like the commenters who have more productive advice for you. I eagerly await an update from you. I pray you had a lovely time with your friend and your vespers.

    And, sincerely, thank you again for sharing your journey with us. Yours was one of the first blogs I found when I started looking for blogs with both Catholic and family content. I too am a former career-minded feminist who never in a million years could see myself happy to stay home with my daughter and see my former secular ways as empty and even destructive at times. I have more people to tell about my newfound love of the Catholic faith and I just hope I can continue to find strength online.

  • Jennifer F.

    Thank you all for your comments!

    Elizabeth –

    I can relate to SO much of what you write. Back when I first converted (though I wasn’t “officially” Catholic yet) I got a life-threatening blood clot during pregnancy and was subsequently diagnosed with a serious blood clotting disorder that is exacerbated by pregnancy (I blogged about it some, see the July 2006 archives).

    Because of this, well-meaning friends and family members (mostly atheist/agnostic) were more bold about directly asking what form of contraception I was using, and whether my husband was going to have a vasectomy or I was going to have my tubes tied. I will leave it to your imagination as to the details of the reactions I got when I answered that we planned to follow Catholic teaching on contraception. People treated me as if I had joined a cult. I’m kind of surprised they didn’t have one of those “interventions”.

    All that is to say, I can very much relate to your situation. Please feel free to email me any time. And thanks for asking those specific questions, I will address them in a future post.

  • Christine the Soccer Mom

    I just saw the update. I’m glad it went well! :)

  • elizabeth

    Updated comment:

    Brava! Look what your faith in God and your faith in your friend yielded! I’m so inspired by your bravery. I’m sure you gave your friend much to think about. I wouldn’t be surprised if your example works on her heart and you find she has lots of follow-up questions for you in the weeks to come.

    Keep me in your prayers, if you have any to spare: I’m going to confession for the first time in 20-some years tomorrow night. I’m terrified!

  • shelray

    Admirable and couragous decision on your part – God Bless.

  • Anonymous

    I love this and am thinking of incorporating it into my lenten efforts. Are you using a full Liturgy of the Hours breviary or the Magnificat or something else? How do you mark your “hard stop” to do this? Very inspiring,thank you.

  • Red Neck Woman

    Jen! I’m so glad that it went well. (I have to say that you know so I don’t sound too socially awkward myself when I tell you that you’re up to #2 now. [grin])

    BTW….I really am thrilled that things went so well with your friend.

  • Tres Angelas

    Update: thanks to the link in this post (I assume), as of today you are the #1 Google result for “socially awkward person.”

    That’s funny.

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