Prayer: Quiet Discernment for Living Well

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.

Surprise, surprise; she’s just like me.

After having a big conversation with my husband tonight about various little concerns about my eldest daughter’s character, I had an interesting revelation. Many of the things I see in my seven year old, I can also see in myself. For example:

She so social; she has a hard time amusing herself (I go stir crazy without friends).

She doesn’t know how to be alone and enjoy the silence (I’m always on the phone).

She lacks focus; she’s always flitting from thing to thing (I’m the queen of being distracted and leaving things half done).

She’s rebellious and gives attitude; she can be so hard to deal with (ahem! I can be that way myself, just ask my husband).

You get the idea.

You know the saying that we are most critical of the faults in others that we share ourselves? Well, I think it’s true for our attitude to our children as well. It’s a good thing to be aware of, because as their primary examples, our best bet is to work on ourselves. Especially as we are the only ones we can change anyway.

So I tried to think how this applies to me, how things I want for my daughter are also things I want for myself.

I remembered how when she was little she would spend hours pouring over a workbook, whereas now she prefers to run around with friends. I remembered how I used to study for hours, and write papers, and teach classes to other moms. I remembered how much I like learning, and how I haven’t been prioritizing this part of me lately. I remembered that part of me is a scholar.

I thought about how easily the word “bored” comes out of her mouth, and how she so often needs to be amused by others. I thought about how easily I complain about things to friends, and how I need their presence to cheer me up. I thought about the time when I knew better how to be alone, how to draw on interior resources of prayer, so that I could reach out to others with a smile and brighten their day. I thought about the part of me that is spirit.

I recalled how easily she drops things and runs to the next, and how easily I make excuses for doing the same myself: “I forgot,” “I was distracted,” “It’s too hard,” etc. I recalled a time when passion drove me to do things no matter how hard, to brave rain and snow, even windstorms, perhaps or the point of folly, to get where I wanted to go. I recalled the part of me that is brave.

So I guess I want for my daughter what I want for myself: to be wise, spiritual, and strong. To be a caring, cheerful person who boosts others up, instead of dragging them down. To be someone who knows how to work and contribute to the world. To be self-sufficient and secure in being herself. To be humble enough to listen to others without pride rebelling at every suggestion for improvement. To be someone who knows how to enjoy her own company, and to delve into the riches of her interior world.

So I guess tomorrow, instead of escaping working on my own growth by stressing about my seven year old’s imperfections, I’m going to try to remember all that is good and beautiful in her, and encourage it. And I’m going to try to work more on becoming the best me I can be, even though it can be hard.

One thing’s for sure; working towards the beautiful goal of improving myself is certain to be a lot more satisfying and rewarding than criticizing others, even if they are my kids.