lent: improving prayer and spending time intentionally

Below are our goals for this Lent.  We've both approached our sacrifices in different ways, but for both of us it comes down to being more intentional about how we serve God (which is, I guess, what Lent is all about). 

gen's perspective:

Last night, I fell asleep on the floor of Patrick's room during his bedtime routine. I don't know whether it was the dark room, the rhythm of the rocking chair, or Dalton's low voice naming our usual intentions, but to be honest, it happened the night before last night too. Patrick's bedtime routine is the time when we have our most consistent and focused prayer time, and I missed all of it.

I feel fully alive when I'm actively engaged in intentional prayer throughout the day. I know this, and yet I always seem to return to the rote recitation which characterizes most of my habitual prayer life. I have prayers I say when I get in the car, when I go to bed, when I hear something horrible. That would seem to indicate that my prayer life is thriving, or at least existent, but I have to tell you that very more often than not, this "prayer" is nothing more than a mental box I've checked- get in the car, snap seat belt, turn on ignition, pray.

I've been vaguely aware for a long time that this is not just inadequate- it's damaging to my relationship with God. St. Teresa of Avila says:

"A prayer in which a person is not aware of whom he is speaking to, what he is asking, I do not call prayer however much the lips move...anyone who has the habit of speaking before God’s majesty as though he were speaking to a slave, without being careful to see how he is speaking, but saying whatever comes to his head and whatever he has learned from saying at other times, in my opinion is not praying.  Please God, may no Christian pray in this way.”

This is the part where I hang my head in shame. It's also the part where I'm going to try to do better. When I asked Dalton what he would be focusing on this Lent, he instantly said, "prayer." We independently came to the conclusion that we need to pray better, and we especially need to pray better as a family. We are choosing to say a rosary each afternoon, before we get swept up in the dinner and bedtime routine. Ideally, we will pray the rosary together by taking a family walk in our neighborhood, a practice we started when I was pregnant with Patrick but discarded with his birth.

One of my first memories of the rosary comes from a family vacation to the mountains. We traveled with another family; the parents were my dad's coworkers, but the rest of us had never met them before. I vividly remember one afternoon on the trip when the family excused themselves from the playing and cooking that was happening and went to pray the rosary in their minivan. I felt a mixture of curiosity and relief. I didn't want to stop reading my book, get out of my hammock, and go pray the rosary, but I still felt strangely jealous. I remember that after that, my family would pray the rosary together from time to time, but unless I was the one who suggested it, I would huff and pout until about the third mystery, when I would begin to feel ashamed of myself and actually begin to pray.

My love for the rosary really began in high school, and the beads beat out my pain, longing, and fear in rhythm through some of my more difficult times. I found that having a habit of praying the rosary brought out the colors of the mysteries- more vivid and detailed each time until I could almost watch the scenes like a favorite movie.

 It has been a very long time since I've been in that habit. If Kath had confessed to me that she had a dismal prayer life and wanted to do better, I would be gentle with her. (This would probably never happen, as she has an exemplary prayer life, and this just one of her many wonderful qualities that I want.) I would suggest that she approach prayer as a conversation with her best friend. If she's tired, say she's tired. If she doesn't know what to say, say that. That kind of honestly and openness is the beginning of real prayer and real relationship. Then you can give structure to the conversation with traditional prayers such as the rosary.

So this Lent, I'm planning to take my own advice. I'm going to pray with my family, and pray with my heart. If you have an intention, please send it my way.

kat's perspective:

There are a number of things I should probably give up this Lent.  But I have a tendency to try to do way too much at once and then by the end of Lent I can’t even remember half of the things I said I would do.  One time I didn’t give up anything at all and just said I would DO something instead of give something up; I ended up eating way too much chocolate (because in previous years I had given up sweets), not really being disciplined about the thing I said I would do, and by the end of Lent feeling like I hadn’t even had a Lent to get me to Easter.  I’m someone who really needs to make a list of practical ways I can offer up my sacrifices so that I can stick to that list and not be too hard (or too easy) on myself when I’m faced with temptation.

There are two things I decided to focus on in particular this Lent - food/money waste and time waste.  

1. Food waste—Jonathan and I are still trying to adjust to going from two salaries a year to one.  Unfortunately, I’m still living like we have two salaries.  The way I buy groceries is one of the most apparent illustrations of this.  I often go to the grocery to get what I want to make for the week (I try to meal plan for the week so that I don’t have to take frequent trips), but then I usually end up going back later in the week for a bag of chips, or a carton of ice cream, or some bacon that I can make for breakfast on a random day, etc.  It usually means I eat more than I should, and I almost always end up breaking our grocery budget for the month.  

This year I am going to stick to one grocery trip a week - I’m going to buy everything I need for that week’s meals, snacks, etc. and not go over a budget I’ve set for the entire month.  If we’re missing an ingredient, I’ll improvise and do without.  And if that means at the end of the month we’re just eating a ton of red beans and rice or meals that have been sitting in my freezer for weeks, we’re going to do it.  I’m tired of going over budget and I’m tired of feeling like my food purchases are frivolous.  Hopefully this will allow me to be in solidarity with those who don’t have the luxury of going to the grocery whenever they want/need.

2. Time waste — This is my biggest struggle lately, especially when it comes to using my phone.  I often pick up my phone absentmindedly when going from activity to activity, whether it be in the car on the way to dinner with my family, or at a stop light, or even in between conversations with people.  What ends up happening is that I get so distracted by whatever’s on my phone that I don’t end up getting the things done that I want/need to get done.  For example, if I try to go from prayer time to picking up my phone to trying to do the dishes or laundry, what usually ends up happening is I pray, scroll through my phone, and then Miriam wakes up from her nap and I didn’t end up getting the dishes done at all.  I want to be more intentional with the way I use my time, particularly time on my phone.  So this Lent, I’m only going to be on the phone (unless it’s with family, texting Jonathan, work, etc.) at designated times throughout the day.  Each day will vary based on our schedule, but I hope to make time in the morning to pray and plan out phone usage as well as map out the other activities I hope to do that day.  It’ll be time set aside for scrolling, updating social media, etc., instead of just getting on in between this or that activity.  Hopefully it will result in less wasted time and more intentional living.

When I was in college, a friend introduced me to making a schedule for the week/each individual day, so that each activity was done intentionally instead of absentmindedly.  I think this is what made the saints become saints.  They never did anything halfheartedly.  Every activity was spent intentionally and offered as a prayer.  If this is something you think could benefit your daily living, I invite you to take a look at a schedule template I’ve made here.  If you want the actual file, feel free to email us and I’ll send it to you personally: