Forty Days of Prayer

It’s that time of year again! It’s time to come up with what I’m going to do for about half of Lent before I inevitably lose self control and revert back to my normal way of life. I swear I’m not being overly dramatic. That’s legitimately what happens every single year. I’m always committed to whatever it is I’m giving up that year. I’m determined to make it all 40 days of Lent without cracking. And the first two weeks are usually pretty solid. I’ll be tempted to break my Lenten promise every so often, sure, but I don’t waiver. And then everything usually falls apart around week three. Okay, maybe I’ll just break my promise once. But once I’ve had a taste of it I’m done for. Here are some of the things I’ve given up for Lent in the past few years:

  • Social media apps
  • TV after 10:00 pm
  • Music while walking to class in college
  • Music in the car
  • Facebook, like, three times
  • Getting on my phone right when I woke up

My mindset was the same when deciding on all of these sacrifices. By eliminating these unnecessary distractions I’d be able to better focus on the things in life that were truly important, like my faith, relationships, work, etc. Sounds good in theory, right? The problem is that I’d either A) eliminate one distraction and then latch onto another, or B) fixate so much on whatever it was I was giving up until I couldn’t take it anymore. How about an example.

My freshmen year of college I had an unhealthy obsession with Facebook. I was on it ALL THE TIME. It was a problem. So much so that some of my friends more or less forced me to give it up for Lent. I eventually got on board with it and decided that it was a good idea for me to spend more time focusing on more beneficial things. I’d last maybe three days tops without breaking. I was so worried about how many notifications or messages I had. I had to check. And every time I did my friends would call me out. That didn’t matter much. I had no shame. It eventually got to a point where my roommate had to change my Facebook password. That was an easy fix. I’d just have a password reset sent through my email. When my roommate figured that out he changed my email password. He ended up forgetting that password and I haven’t been able to access that email account ever since.

Long story short, I learned absolutely nothing that Lent. And while that’s definitely my most extreme example, virtually every Lent since then has had the same result. My goal going into Lent every year was to come out of it a better person through my sacrifices or actions. Unfortunately that very rarely happened.

So what gives? What am I doing wrong? I always have good intentions every year. Through the first couple weeks I always feel like I’m actually getting something out of my sacrifice. I can actually see the improvement! But then I hit that three week wall. For whatever reason I just can’t sustain it. Like I said, once I give in just that once it’s all over. So what can I do differently?

I’ve had a few instances over the past couple months where I’ve had an idea of something I can do to improve, whether that’s spiritually, as a man, as a friend, or whatever. And no joke, this is the thought I’ve had every time…”Oh I’ll just wait until Lent to do that.” What? Why should I wait months to do something when I can start right now?! I think it’s partly because I’ve always viewed the beginning of Lent as New Years 2.0. If I missed out or didn’t follow through on a resolution, no problem! I can make up for it once Ash Wednesday comes around.

I think the true issue stems from the fact that I’m terrible about pushing things off. I can’t say how many times I’ve said to myself on a Thursday or Friday “I’ll start it on Monday.” That happens virtually every time I decide it’s time to start running again. And so when I come across an area of my life that needs work that attitude sets in. Oh, I’ll save that for Lent. The more I think and reflect on that the more it frustrates me. I can, and should, always be seeking out ways to be better. God doesn’t call for us to settle. He calls us to be the best we can be. And am I the best I can be right now? Absolutely not.

Another issue I’ve developed for myself is that I typically view my Lenten promise as an obligation. It’s something that’s expected. Obviously I understand the importance and significance of it. But it’s human nature for us to resist things we feel obligated to do. If I’m doing something I feel like I have to do, as opposed to something I want to do, chances are it won’t last.

That’s where I’m going to do things differently this year. I don’t want to settle on something that feels like an obligation. And I want to do something that is sustainable. I want whatever it is I do to go well beyond Lent. I don’t want to view Lent as a 40 day trial run where I can just cancel the subscription anytime I want. If I do that then what’s the point?

My focus has shifted more from giving something up to doing something each day. I think that’s where I’ll have the most potential for growth and for sustainability beyond Lent. I think there’s a lot to gain from giving up social media. But for me at least, once I add it back I’m back to my same old ways. I want to develop a new routine. I want to have a holy approach to life. I genuinely want to make a difference. I don’t want this Lent to be like every other year where my promise falls by the wayside at the first sign of trouble. I want Lent this year to be a springboard for change, change that lasts more than 40 days and pushes me to constantly look for ways to be better.

This Lent I’m going to ask at least one person a day how I can pray for them. Pretty simple, right? Sounds like something I should be doing already, right? You’d be amazed how much I get consumed with the distractions and chaos of my own life. I hate to admit it, but most of the time I’m praying other people don’t cross my mind. That’s the truth. I’m so laser focused on me, myself, and I and all of the struggles I’m dealing with that I often don’t even spare a second of prayer for other people. Don’t get me wrong, I have definitely have things in my life that need prayers. But after coming off my trip to El Salvador and meeting the people there I want to be more of a servant for Christ. I want to follow their example of love and selflessness. What better way to do that than through prayer?

I also need to be better at being present with the people I’m talking to, both in person and electronically. I’m TERRIBLE at responding to texts. Like, really terrible. I’m hoping this Lent will help me improve that. That’s because I don’t want to just ask people once how I can pray for them and then that be the end of it. I want to follow up with them, I want to strengthen my relationships and friendships with them. I can’t really do that if I’m not present and engaged.

I’m also hoping this makes me more aware of other peoples’ needs and struggles. I’m obviously not the only person that has difficulties in life. Every single person does. I’ve become so selfish and self absorbed that oftentimes I ignore or don’t notice what other people are dealing with. That’s something that I need to change. That’s exactly the kind of thing that I don’t want to revert back to once Lent is over.

I wish I could say I prayed consistently every day. Unfortunately that’s not the case. I make the excuses of being too busy or too tired. That’s why another Lenten promise of mine is to go to either mass or adoration every day during the week. This is something I’ve tried several times in the past. I’ll get in a groove for maybe two or three weeks before I eventually fall off (sound familiar?). But since my goal is to pray for at least one person a day I think it would help to be in a more prayer friendly environment. That’s also because I don’t want my prayers for people to just be in passing. I want them to be genuine, meaningful, and intentional. That’s more likely to happen in the adoration chapel than on my couch.

Something I’ve learned over the years is that accountability makes all the difference. So that’s one reason why I’m sharing my Lenten promise on here. I want people to be able to ask me how I’m doing with my promise. Share with your friends what you’re planning on doing and ask each other how it’s going. Support each other. Encourage each other.

It’s amazing how long Lent can feel sometimes. That’s especially true when you feel obligated to do something. Before I continue, I want to make it clear that I am by no means knocking giving something up for Lent. There’s so much value in making sacrifices in your daily life and giving up something that can help you be a better person. I think I just decided that I can gain more by doing something rather than giving something up.

It’s not going to be easy. I’m already dreading that inevitable wall. There will definitely be days that I don’t feel like reaching out to anyone or going to mass. But this year, for once, I’m excited. I’m excited to see my spiritual growth and excited to see the difference I can make. Lent hasn’t even started and I can already tell that I’m going to get way more out of this year’s promise than I did by giving up Facebook or TV.

Is it Ash Wednesday yet?

 

 

 

 

 

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