A blog for Catholic men that seeks to encourage virtue, the pursuit of holiness and the art of true masculinity.
A Simple Lent: 5 Ways to Focus on What’s Important
March 4, 2020
Life is complex. As a husband and father, blogger, podcaster, full-time employee, and full-time graduate student, it often seems like the responsibilities I face continue to multiply endlessly, while the time allotted to accomplish them does not.
No sooner do I make progress in one area of life, than another domain for which I am responsible seems to spin out of control. It can be, to put it mildly, exhausting. And I know I am not alone in feeling this.
Despite my busy life, I continually long for simplicity. I am forever on a quest to, in the words of Thoreau, “simplify, simplify.” The fact that I have not yet gone insane or completely burned out is evidence of both the grace of God and that I have to some extent achieved this—though I have a long way to go.
Lent is an excellent time to examine our lives, take stock of our priorities, and reassess how we are spending our time. Here are a few things I have learned in my struggles to simplify and fight back against the chaos of life. Perhaps they can be helpful to you too.
The quest for simplicity begins with simply asking the question: “What is important to me?” If you can’t answer this question forthrightly, you will never achieve any level of peace. You will constantly be a slave to external demands that will leave you embittered and at the whims of everyone else. So decide what’s important, even sacred, to you. Draw a boundary around these sacred things and say No to anything that threatens to violate it. Don’t feel guilty for this, either. No is a tremendously powerful word.
For me, some of these sacred commitments in my life are faith and family. Without the foundation of prayer and worship, my life will quickly deteriorate. God, the Blessed Mother, the angels and saints—these come first in my life. Caring for my soul must come before anything else, or I will never be able to give of my self generously. For you cannot give what you do not have.
Immediately following this is my commitment to my family. Family time is important to me, and I often say “no” to good things that threaten that time in order to preserve as much time for those I love. God has entrusted my wife and my children to me in a sacred trust. They are my primary responsibility in life. I have heard far too many tragic stories of fathers who were too busy with everything else—even worthy things—and who neglected their families. As a result, their wife and children suffered and the consequences of those wounds continued generationally. I refuse to let anything violate this boundary.
2. Reduce Consumption
The average American sees approximately 4,000 ads per day. The point of advertising is for corporations to fabricate desires—to make otherwise content people discontent so that they will spend money. And it works tremendously well. If it didn’t, corporations wouldn’t spend billions of dollars each year doing it.
If you think you are immune to the power of advertising, think again. We are all susceptible to it, and it works on us unconsciously and subliminally. Many of the products we choose to consume are due to ads we may have seen months or even years ago that still linger in our subconscious.
Continually stimulated by advertising and filled with the desire it creates, it is almost impossible to be at peace. We find ourselves plagued by a restless discontent that we can’t really name. The only thing that seems to satisfy it, even temporarily, is buying something.
So what to do? It is nearly impossible to avoid altogether, but there are some things you can do. The most important thing is simply to acknowledge the power of a consumer culture and be aware of its affect on you. Next, Shut off your TV and spend less time on the internet. Stay away from Amazon and cut back on Instagram.
Fill you mind with all that is good and true and beautiful. Spend time in nature and connecting with loved ones. Sit with friends around the camp fire, play an instrument, take a walk. Do something creative rather than consumptive. Finally, give generously. The more you wake up to the needs of others, the less likely you will be to consume—and practically, you’ll be amazed at how much more content you’ll be.
3. Live in the Moment
We face two powerful temptations on a daily basis: to live in the past, or to live in the future. Both temptations should be avoided. There is only one moment in which we can live, and that is right now.
Living in the past too often fills us with regret about things we can no longer change. We find ourselves worrying about how things would be different if we had made better choices, or how much better our life would be if circumstances had been different. But even if we are remembering happy memories, it can still steal the joy of the present moment where life is actually lived.
Living in the future can likewise plague us with anxiety. We have no idea what the future will bring, and it is all too easy to allow our imagination to run wild with scenarios, most of them negative. This fear can paralyze us and keep us from making important choices that we need to make in the present. Fear is the root of many faults, and living too much in the future rarely produces peace.
The only moment God gives us is the present moment. It is the moment where God and his grace is found. It is the intersection of eternity and time where we make choices that will shape who we become. If we can learn to be content in the present moment, instead of continually trying to escape it, we can find God and his peace that passes all understanding.
4. Practice Gratitude
Gratitude is essential to a joyful life. Inherent in gratitude is humility and wonder at the graciousness of God’s gifts. It also contains awe at the recognition that all is gift. There is nothing good that does not come to us from the merciful hands of God. Gratitude is the polar opposite of entitlement. It is the recognition that we deserve nothing. We are owed nothing. Every breath, every beat of our hearts, is a privilege filled with grace.
G.K. Chesterton went so far as to say, “I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought.” A bold statement to be sure. Why? He adds because, “Gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
Gratitude also reminds us that real joy is rarely found in the extravagant things the world offers us. I recently read about a new $2 million dollar car boasting paneling made from wood that is thousands of years old. I really have to wonder if the new owner will experience real joy from this ostentatious purchase. Perhaps a temporary thrill, yes, but real joy (much less gratitude) I doubt.
Joy is found in giving thanks for the simple gifts of life. A beautiful sunrise. A loving smile from your spouse. A good cup of coffee. The fresh smell after rain. The more we can cultivate gratitude for these simple gifts, the happier we will be.
A simple practice is to write down three things each day that you are grateful for. Make it a habit, and the more you do it, the more you will realize that you are surrounded by abundance.
Prayer is the breathing of the spiritual life. The minute we cease to do it, we spiritually begin to asphyxiate. There is no better way to find peace in the midst of the storms and chaos of life than to pray.
Prayer gives depth to our spiritual life and draws grace into our souls. It gives us awareness of a heavenly realm where saints and angels are always at our sides, ready to help us in the trials of life. And it helps us remember eternal values when temporal responsibilities press in upon us. The sufferings of this life are short, but eternity is long. Prayer gives us eyes to see this.
This Lent, refocus your prayer life. Seek to deepen it and develop it. Cultivate consistency above all, regardless of what you feel. Prayer is not always an experience of ecstasy or sweetness, and even the greatest saints experienced dryness and even darkness in prayer. But regardless of what you feel, God is close to you—far closer than you can imagine. Rest in this fact. Hold the awareness of his presence with you always, and assuredly, you will find peace.
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