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
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. trainwreck
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.