As part of our health insurance, they bribe, er, encourage us to stay healthy and active. So the other day (in order to earn “points” for the program) I was reading an article about beginning a workout regimen. The advice given was good—things like how to make your exercise a habit so that you can stick with it when life gets busy, how to pace yourself, and the importance of making a plan. Then it began to get a little weirder. It spoke about how I should give thanks each morning for the opportunity to participate in the regimen and journal about my feelings about walking, and referred to my “relationship” with exercise. I thought, “Are we talking about working out more? Or praying?”
While I probably won’t be thinking about my relationship with exercise over the next few weeks like they want me to, I should be thinking about my relationship with God these days, especially as we enter the second half of Lent. What does my daily prayer life look like?
Developing a daily prayer life is actually not that different from exercising. One of my friends recently ran the Nashville marathon, and I joked at the time that I couldn’t imagine running 26.2 miles unless something was chasing me. I’ve never been a runner, and I’ve never had a desire to run.
But a few weekends later I decided to try. …And I think I almost died. Now, part of it was that I probably was too confident and bit off more than I could chew. Don’t worry, I didn’t try to run 26.2 miles. Not even close. But I wasn’t ready for even the small distance I tried to do. And I failed—at least in my mind.
As I failed, tons of emotions, blame, and past wounds surfaced. You’re lazy, you’re not good enough, why can’t you do what everyone else makes look so easy, you’ll never succeed, etc, etc, etc.
I thought later how similar the spiritual life can be. We tend to bite off more than we can chew, and then we fail. The Devil then uses that to convince us that we’re not good enough, we’re not holy enough, and why even try? We can never have a prayer life like the saints.
Well, that’s a lie. Being disciplined enough to have a healthy, daily prayer life is not easy. But you can do it. In fact… you have to do it. If you expect to fight the good fight and finish the race (2 Timothy 4:7), it’s only possible with daily prayer. Maybe you feel a little silly admitting that it’s hard or you don’t know how to start. After all, weren’t we made in the image and likeness of God? Weren’t we actually made for that relationship with God? Why is it so hard to pray? Shouldn’t it be like breathing? Well, there’s that tricky little thing called the Fall. And the effects of original sin mean that prayer requires some work and effort on our part.
So beware of the first trap: To have great intentions and possibly even make a few resolutions, but after a few days of failure, toss it all aside.
Instead, we need to set realistic goals. If we don’t pray every day, we shouldn’t decide to now try and pray for an hour every day. We should shoot for praying five minutes every day. Otherwise, you’re going to try to run that mile… and fail. You might think that five minutes seems to place the bar a little low. But is it better than what you’re doing right now? When you are able to pray every day for five minutes, you move to ten or fifteen.
Just like with exercise, we should schedule the time into our day—not waiting until we have time, but making time. If you don’t pray every day, set your alarm five minutes earlier tomorrow. If you actually get out of bed five minutes early, you’ll have time to talk to God about the blessings of the day, the petitions of the day, and your possible struggles of the day. In addition, you’ll have conquered what St. Josemaria Escriva called “the heroic minute”—the moment your alarm goes off and you’re tempted to push the snooze.
This morning I failed to be heroic in that first minute of the day. I didn’t push the snooze button … I woke up enough to reset my alarm for twenty minutes later! And as a result? My morning prayer routine had to be shortened. I could beat myself up about it, or I could try to be heroic tomorrow.
“To win the battles of the soul, the best strategy often is to bide one’s time and apply the suitable remedy with patience and perseverance. Make more acts of hope. Let me remind you that in your interior life you will suffer defeats, and you will have ups and downs—may God make them imperceptible – because no one is free from these misfortunes. But our all-powerful and merciful Lord has granted us the precise means with which to conquer … All we have to do is use them, resolving to begin again and again at every moment, whenever necessary.” (St. Josemaría Escrivá)
Tomorrow I will begin again. And little by little, with the help of God, we will begin to see results of this spiritual workout routine.