So how is Lent starting off this year? We’re three days into it, so we still have time to get focused or refocused at this early stage and to create as, Matthew Kelly calls it, “The Best Lent Ever” even if we’ve been slow on the draw. But really—how has it been going so far?
- Have we taken some quiet time away from the day-to-day madness for relational prayer with Our Lord?
- Have we identified, through prayer, what He suggests we do for mortification over the next six weeks?
- Have we begun actually implementing whatever it is that the Holy Spirit has placed on our hearts?
Or, are we still thinking about getting “around to it?” Have we been just a little too busy to engage in some prayerful discernment and to take those first steps on the way to creating some permanent spiritual improvements in our lives? Spiritual directors will caution us against becoming so busy that our prayer life suffers, or what a friend refers to as the “heresy of busy-ness.” Keep in mind that the evil one will set us up for failure in the most subtle ways. As our men’s group heard from Fr. Larry Richards a couple of years ago, the father of lies will create attractive situations for us to draw us away from God. Certain of these attractions can lead to sin of the worst kind, of course.
But there’s more at risk. We can be distracted from our relationship with Our Lord—from our prayer life—by the evil one when he appeals to what are arguably our higher, more pure motives. For example, if we need approbation and like being in the spotlight, he’ll encourage us to work harder for the accolades. If we pride ourselves on being self-reliant and over-achievers, he’ll entice us to go out and get more involved in daily busy-work to prove just how “good” we are in doing our jobs, carrying out volunteer activities (even at church), increasing our intellectual prowess, and more. It’s a cunning trick he’s always trying to play on us. And it leads to an incremental build up, so we’re not even aware of what’s going on until we stop, if we ever take time to do so, and reflect on where we’re going and realize how over-committed we are.
It’s easy to be over-committed in these times, especially for families with children at home—between making a living, spending some time at home as a family, engaging in school activities, extra-curricular activities and shuttling to and from them, we’re often near maximum capacity with only a minimal amount of time left to devote to spiritual activities. This also can be true for people who are empty nesters and grandparents as well—at the end of the day, it’s not uncommon to sit down exhausted, wondering where the day went. The evil one will present us with many, many opportunities to distract us from growing in our relationship with the Lord and getting to know Him better—and some of these opportunities will be for potentially good causes. Only by prayerful discernment, at times augmented with some candid discussion with a spiritual director and/or a confessor, can we make the decisions that God wants us to, for His Greater Glory.
Which leads me to the main point of this post: This Lent, we ought to consider the maxim that “Less Is Better.” No, that does not mean that we should minimize our prayer, penance and almsgiving practices this Lent! Rather, we might benefit from a tighter focus on just what we ought to do. In my coaching of executives and managers, one of the things I’ve found that stacks the odds in favor of success is to focus on a few key objectives with clearly identified metrics for success (metrics for success answer the question, “How are we going to know it’s working?”). This is more of a rifle shot approach than a shotgun approach. Make some progress on the initial, key goals, and then and only then, add in another goal or two. We all have only 24 hours in the day, and we all have limits to the energy we can devote to any and all matters we need to address. So what one or two things is God calling each of us to really work on this Lent?
As well, what approach to prayer and meditation will we use this Lent? Keep in mind that, at Lent, the Catholic book publishers and video producers come out of the woodwork with offerings to help us have a better (or “the best”) Lent, in addition to standard favorites such as the Divine Office and Magnificat, etc. Any one of the many available Lenten prayer products could be of help to us. Consider, for example, the Little Black Books, Dynamic Catholic’s “The Best Lent Ever,” Bishop Barron’s Lenten reflections, “40 Days to Mercy” from the MIC group, and we could go on and on.
But—getting back to the point of this post—we can be overwhelmed with Lenten prayer approaches and reading materials if we aren’t selective. We actually could end up spending more time reading multiple Lenten prayer pamphlets or e-mails than we do talking with, and listening to, the Lord. The bottom line: we each might benefit from finding one approach we like and sticking with it, leaving adequate time for relational prayer this Lent.
Don’t let the evil one throw you off your spiritual game. Get focused—stay focused—and have your best Lent ever!