Lent is here, and as with most things, the reactions to it vary. Some people view it with excitement, rather like a mini New Years…a forty day challenge to free oneself from poor habits, gain more self-control and discipline so they can live better and be happier. Others respond to the challenge to increase prayer, fasting and almsgiving with a sense of dread…the ominous idea of dying to oneself overwhelming them, and making them want to seek refuge in a binge of Netflix’s and chocolate cookies. Maybe most of us are a mix of both…always struggling between the pull of instant gratification and the discipline required to grow and make long term gains.
But what are these three cornerstones of Lent, the season of preparation for the great feast of Easter, all about anyway? How do prayer, fasting and almsgiving lead to a better life?
In this post, I will share a few thoughts on the first one–prayer–since I went to a great talk in prayer at our parish mom’s group today. Normally, I’m busy homeschooling my kids in the morning, but today the brilliant sunshine pulled us outside, so we decided to go and have some gym time at the playground.
As we moms sat sipping coffee, nursing babies and feeding toddlers snacks, Father gave us a talk on prayer. He recommend reading something inspirational to turn our minds and hearts to God, and to help us ponder areas in which we could grow and improve. This reading can help us find God’s presence and start speaking to him from our hearts, as children to their loving father. We can then prayerfully discern how we can best live our daily lives, asking for God’s guidance and wisdom, and the grace and strength to do what is best.
This is where the will comes in: the follow through of the resolutions we have made in our prayer. Without this willingness to take action, all our inspirations would be just pretty thoughts. St. Josemaria said:
Love is deeds, not sweet words alone.
So while Christians are sometimes accused of “wasting” time in prayer, or only living for the next world, a true understanding of prayer reveals that the purpose of prayer is actually to help us live well and love well, here and now. To do God’s will in our lives means embracing our personal circumstances with gratitude and trying our best to always grow and improve in how we live, so that we can also help improve the lives of those around us.
Prayer is taking time to listen to the voice of our conscience, and asking for the strength to follow it, even when it’s hard. It’s not something for once or twice a year on a special day, but an integral part of being human, something for every day.
My sister sent me a great article called “If you’re too busy for these 5 things, your life is way more off course than you think. In it, the author emphasized the need for regular discernment about the important things in life. He described how a tiny initial error of two degrees ultimately led an airplane to crash into a snow covered volcano over Antarctica, killing all its passengers. In our lives, we can get off track in little ways that lead to huge problems later. Quietly pondering how things are going each day, and slightly adjusting out sails, can help prevent us from blundering into disasters we never intended to meet.
Prayer helps us live intentionally. It helps us to respond thoughtfully, instead of just reacting emotionally. In his excellent book, Perfectly Yourself: Discovering God’s Dream For You, Matthew Kelly describes how prayer can help “lengthen our fuses” and make us more patient and able to practice self-control. Prayer can help us find the good in difficult situations, and to endure more pain than we imagined possible. It can also help us savour the good, true and beautiful in life. For me, writing poetry is prayer, because it helps me ponder things in my heart, and to share them.
Chances are, if you’re spending some time unplugged from screens, thinking about your life and the people who matter to you, you are praying, whether or not you even realize it. It could be while you’re jogging the sea wall, looking out at the ocean. It could be while you’re folding your children’s clothes or doing dishes. It could be while you’re painting, writing, or listening to music. When we enter that temple within us, that timeless place where we connect with eternity, we are praying. The fruit of that prayer should be a renewed vigour for living well, for getting up and trying again after we fail, a humble desire to live and love better, and to pursue our dreams with courage.
May your time in prayer this Lent help you establish a deeper link with the still, small voice within you, so you can live a more fulfilling life, and daily strive to become the best version of yourself.