AREWP Week 12: Refocusing

[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).]

I’ll just come out and say it: last week was a disaster.

Between a teething seven-month-old, a teething 20-month-old, and disastrous setbacks with potty trainwreck training my three-year-old, it was a really rough week. I had not only fallen behind on laundry and other housework, but the stack of unopened mail on my desk seemed to be somehow breeding and growing larger by the hour, and every time I tried to catch up on email I just felt like crying and legally changing my name to Sisyphus. My husband was helping as much as he could, but it didn’t seem to even make a dent in all that had to be done. I was so overwhelmed that I kept forgetting to observe my prayer times. I felt like I was drowning.

One of the emotions I felt most strongly throughout the flameout of last week was simply surprise. “How has this happened?” I kept wondering. Things had been going to amazingly well ever since I started praying the Liturgy of the Hours. I’d had other tough weeks since then where I didn’t fall off track with prayer and maintained a sense of peace even throughout tough days. I kept wondering what had changed, what it was that derailed not only my prayer life but the wonderful sense of peace I’d found in daily life. After about the third or fourth time I forgot to pray one of the major hours because I was distracted by something else, I finally realized:

My mentality had totally, fundamentally changed.

For the first couple of months that I structured my days around the Liturgy of the Hours I never forgot to pray, because that was the purpose, the very center of my days. To give you some specific examples, here is a glimpse into my mentality throughout the past few months when thinking about what I needed to do the next day. Let’s use examples from Thursday evenings, when, say, vacuuming the living room and mopping the kitchen floor were on my to-do list for the next day:

WEEK 1: “Tomorrow my goal is to serve God first and foremost. I will observe the universal prayer times of the Liturgy of the Hours — even when it’s not convenient for me or what I want to do — and thus anchor my days with prayer. No matter what else happens, these prayers will get said. Hopefully the structure of having my days guided by set times of turning to God will help me accomplish the other things I’d like to get done, like vacuuming the living room and mopping the kitchen floor.”

WEEK 8: “Tomorrow my goal is to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, but I really need to make sure I vacuum the living room and mop the kitchen floor too.”

WEEK 10: “Tomorrow my goal is to vacuum the living room and mop the kitchen floor. Oh, yeah, and I need to remember to pray too.”

WEEK 11: “Tomorrow my goal is to vacuum the living room and mop the kitchen floor.”

I was so amazed at the practical benefits of having my days revolve around prayer that I slipped into the mentality of seeing those practical things as the end I was trying to achieve — and it all fell apart.

The reason my house was so much more clean and orderly after I started praying the Liturgy of the Hours was not because I’d found a great organizational routine. It was because the way I approached daily life had fundamentally changed. Praying Lauds, Matins and Vespers at their scheduled times was a great exercise in obedience to God: it was never convenient to stop what I was doing and get out the prayer book. It always involved setting aside something else I felt like I should be doing. But in making these little sacrifices I was reminded, three times a day, that life is not about what I feel like doing, that I need to let go of what I want to get done and foster only a calm trust in God.

The grace and peace that entered my life after I started living this way set off a domino effect where everything else fell into place. The order that these prayer times brought to my days meant that housework fell into a gentle rhythm, and it was easy to fall into a routine without even having to think much about it. As I mentioned here, since my working hours were cut down to make more time for prayer, I had more energy to pick up the pace in the times that I did work. To my great delight, the result was a cleaner, more orderly house.

But then the temptation arose to take a shortcut: I loved having my household running so smoothly, so I began to elbow God aside and focus on that alone. As I showed in the example above, the thought process of “Tomorrow I will pray; and vacuum and sweep if it’s God’s will” drifted into “tomorrow I will vacuum and sweep; and pray if it’s Jen’s will.”

This weekend I was reminded of a quote from Pope Benedict that I excerpted in greater detail in my first post about scheduling my days around prayer:

When God is regarded as a secondary matter that can be set aside temporarily or permanently on account of more important things, it is precisely these supposedly more important things that come to nothing.

[Excuse me for a moment while I go tattoo that on my forehead…OK, I’m back.]

At the end of last week I felt like everything was in shambles. I felt like there was no way I could ever catch up on all that I had to do and regain a sense of peace in my daily life. With a laser-like focus on all those important practical matters I needed to take care of, I sat on the couch with my head in my hands, feeling crushed under the weight of it all. I looked at all the notes scribbled on my to-do list, on the disaster area that was my living room, and thought, “I can’t do this.” And in that moment I realized: it’s true. I can’t. I can’t do it all. I need to let go.

And when I did just that, when I set aside my to-do list and stopped asking myself “How can I get X, Y and Z tasks done tomorrow?” and started asking myself only, “How can I pray tomorrow?” I felt a weight lift from my shoulders, and knew that I was back on the path to peace.

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Enter the Conversation...

13 Responses to “AREWP Week 12: Refocusing”
  1. Louise says:

    I can completely identify with what you’ve found to be true…I also am much more productive, and find real peace, when I spend more time in regular prayer and when I go to daily Mass. The day is more structured, I honestly feel like I have more time, and God is the center of my day, instead of the tasks I have to complete — the tasks which seem so important today and are forgotten by tomorrow when the new to-do list is made.
    I am so thankful to you for sharing this “ARWEP” journey with us, Jen…reading your testimony has changed the way I structure my days (when I’m focused!) and, therefore, the way I structure my life. :)

  2. Marian says:

    I couldn’t get the whole tatoo on my forehead! (Unfortunately I’m sure my thigh would provide adequate space…)
    Here’s yet another post that makes it seem as if you are somehow snooping inside my mind. My thoughts have apparently been running in the same veins as yours lately. Thank you for writing your thoughts on this.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for revealing so much of your struggle for our benefit — sounds like my life, complete with good pointers! :)

    I’m praying for you!

    Kristen J

  4. Tune says:

    Thank you for this post! I can completely relate to your struggle and how I am also struggling in this matter as well. I think I am up for renewing my LOTH devotion.

  5. Abigail says:

    Ah! I’m in this place also this week. Where did all that Lenten peace disapper? Oh, because my Lenten prayer life has also disappeared in the span of one-post Easter week. I’ll be painfully climbing back on that schedule this week as well!

  6. Kiwi Nomad 2008 says:

    Hope those teething two soon get their teeth! A friend was here at home the other day and was pleased to be getting more sleep again, now that her baby had finished getting a few teeth.

  7. Jen says:

    I want to start off by saying I love, love your blog. I love this post (and my name is Jen as well, so that may have something to do with it). What I enjoy most is we both seem to be struggling with the same thing. My prayer life has been a disaster as of late, and I keep “trying” (and I use that term lightly) to put prayer back into my daily life as though it’s a supplemental thing. An added benefit. I had a horrid day today, right from the time I woke up (I’m also trying to potty train a three and a half year old with no success, home school a first grader, keep busy a four year old, and losing sleep with a teething, nursing 15 month old) and I fell apart by dinner. I lost my temper and like you, held my head in my hands at the kitchen sink and told Him, “I can’t do this”. And I can’t. I can’t do any of this, but I get cocky when I have a good day when I’ve been faithful to my prayer life, and say, “Hey, thanks for the help, but I’ll take it from here.” Then I fall flat on my face. I think I’m going to follow suit here and try the Liturgy of the Hours. It’s something I’ve been pondering for some time. I’ll keep coming here to see how you’re doing as well. Thanks so much for your writing. I lurk here a lot but don’t post much. Your words and experience are very helpful and encouraging.

  8. Andrea says:

    I have really appreciated your posts about LOTH! I just started it at the beginning of Lent and discovered your blog at that time. Its been SO helpful to read your experiences! I am hoping your words will inspire me to put prayer back in its proper place- top priority. Thanks for sharing!

  9. Anonymous says:

    I identify completely with you.
    One thing that helps to be aware what it is important is “death”.
    These days I have heard about some deaths, like a mateĀ“s mom of one of my children, I have asked myself, really what is the important thing in this life? My work? My little things? My “have to do”?
    That is sad but helps to awareness.
    Thanks Jennifer for sharing your life.

    Martha B.

  10. Kelly @ Love Well says:

    Here, once again, is a post that totally intimidates me. (Yet I’m commenting anyway. I’m fearless like that.)

    Your observations resonate with me, Jen. We so often try to shoe-horn God into the free moments of our day — instead of making him the unmovable foundation.

    The first thing has to be the first thing. Thanks for the eloquent and witty reminder. I love the AREWP series.

    (How do you pronounce that, by the way? I hear it “are-werp” in my head.)

  11. Jennifer F. says:

    Thank you so much for all your comments! I hope to reply in more detail to some of them soon, but one quick note…

    How do you pronounce that, by the way? I hear it “are-werp” in my head.

    In my head I pronounce it “arwep”…which is wrong. I guess it should be “arr-oop,” which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue. Leave it to me to mispronounce my own acronym. :)

  12. CherBear says:

    Those last two items are exactly what I’ve been doing this week! Sitting on the couch wondering how I’m going to get it all done and pushing aside my prayer time! Last night I couldn’t sleep for the umpteenth time in a row and finally decided to get my Bible out and have some prayer time to quiet my mind. I wasn’t asleep immediately, but it wasn’t long after.

    Thanks, also, for checking out my blog. I rather suspected you or your husband must be a web designer since yours is so cool. Now I feel compelled to do a really good job since someone with credentials might actually see my blog!

  13. Janet says:

    I’ve found the whole AREWP series interesting… I can see how difficult it is to do this sort of thing when you’re home with kids, but at least you have some theoretical, possibly minimal control of how the day goes. I’m trying to work this into a workday that starts when I leave the house a little before 7 and I get home at 5. If I don’t do the laundry, cooking, cleaning, shopping, etc., in the evenings, they either won’t get done or that’s what I will spend all day every single Saturday doing. (And in some cases it just wouldn’t be possible to wait.) I’m single and live alone so asking for help isn’t an option.

    Alas.

    But reading about your experiences did inspire me to get the one-volume Christian Prayer (I’d had the Shorter CP and it didn’t click with me.) Now I try to do the Office of Readings and sometimes Midday Prayer at lunch, and then Evening Prayer before bed, which is later than it’s supposed to be… but as I read in one guide to the LOTH, for the laity it’s all optional, so if you do it imperfectly (for example, EP at 10:30 instead of dusk), it’s still better than not doing it at all.