AREWP Day 5: Permanence
[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).]
Whenever I’ve tried to implement a new routine, a better system for control and organization of my household, it seems that invariably I have to go out of town or have some other life-altering event come up immediately afterwards. And woe be to the people who are anywhere near me at those times, because I always get ridiculously stressed and whine endlessly about how these events are going to derail my plans. I’ll snap at my mother-in-law for getting the kids down for nap a half hour late because she spent too long at the park, or moan the entire trip to Houston about how this out-of-town visit is going to just demolish the new routine that I worked so hard to create. Looking back, I had a surprising amount of angst about things as minor as bedtime getting pushed back or breakfast being at a different time than usual.
In this past week of creating yet another attempt at a routine, I think I finally understand why I felt so unsettled by such little schedule deviations: because they were my anchors.
I think the goal with every routine is to create structure, to get as close as possible to the way humans have always lived, with hard stops around which we can structure our days. Naptime being at 2:15 wasn’t just important because that’s when the kids needed sleep, but because naptime was my hard stop, it was my anchor. Along with breakfast time and dinner time, I used the beginning of naptime to provide structure to my days, to cue me to begin a different phase of the day, a different set of tasks, a different mindset. And when naptime (or breakfast or dinner time) got off track, I was adrift. That structure that I so desperately craved could be demolished with something as simple as eating brunch instead of breakfast one day.
As I’ve gone through my week, thrilled that this crazy experiment with prayer has been working so well, I realized at some point that I’m not on edge about these things anymore, about some event coming along to derail it all. If I found out we had to go out of town tomorrow I would honestly be fine with it, I wouldn’t freak out about it messing up my precious routine. What’s different?
In every other attempt to get organized and establish a routine, I’ve used fleeting worldly things as my anchors, my cues to transition from one part of the day to the next. It’s no wonder then that something as simple as a cold virus or an overnight trip could leave me without anchors, without a routine, picking up the pieces of all my big plans.
But prayer is something I can always do.
My prayer book fits in my purse, so whether I’m here at home, on a plane, in the hospital, visiting family out of town, in a hotel, out running errands, on a bus — wherever I am — I can always say Lauds, Matins and Vespers at roughly the same times, every day. Unlike all my other routines that revolved around fleeting events specific to this phase of life, there is no foreseeable reason why I couldn’t keep this same basic routine, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, every single day for the rest of my life.
That’s one of the reasons I have a really good feeling about my odds of keeping up with this: it’s not only about praying or organizing or establishing a routine. It’s all of that, and more. It’s a radical re-thinking of the way I approach life. It’s about finally admitting after all these years that my way isn’t working, that if I had it all figured out I wouldn’t spend so much time feeling behind and overwhelmed; it’s about trying to get as close as possible to living as we’re designed to live, with daily and seasonal cycles directing how much I attempt to get done; it’s about living on God’s time, sacrificing large portions of my to-do list in order to balance periods of work with periods of rest; it’s about trusting that God will give me the grace to make up for time “lost” in prayer and rest, that if I just trust in him it will all get done (though God’s definition of what “it all” involves may be different from mine); and it’s about forcing myself to turn to God often, to pause to ask for his help before embarking on each new phase of the day.
This week has been a tough week: I’ve been up with the baby multiple times each night, unable to nap during the day, and my two toddlers seem to have been replaced by half-human, half-robot superbeings who can demolish the house in the time it takes me to blink. And yet here it is, Friday afternoon, and I actually feel pretty calm. I’m annoyed about the cereal being dumped out on the newly vacuumed carpet and the bowl full of macaroni and cheese landing face-down on the kitchen floor, but I don’t feel overwhelmed. For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel behind on anything. My to-do list was smaller this week to make sure I left plenty of time for prayer, but what was there did get done. (And, honestly, I probably didn’t accomplish any less than I used to, it’s just that I accomplished 100% of a smaller list instead of 60% of a larger one.)
The reason I originally called this a “reckless” experiment was because I supposedly did not have one more minute in my day to devote to prayer. I could have proven to you on paper that my life (as well as my family’s lives) would be thrown into chaos if I set aside even a few extra minutes to devote to God. Needless to say, I’m thrilled that so far I’ve been proven wrong — very wrong. Everything that needed to get done got done. We could all feel God’s grace working. Our house was a peaceful place to be (well, as peaceful as it gets with three little kids). As it turns out, putting a reckless amount of trust in God was exactly what I needed to do.
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