The other day I stumbled across an article about healthy living that reflected a lot of these same ideas. The premise of the article was one we have all heard before: don’t diet, change your lifestyle. Again, we’ve heard this all before. But then it challenged the reader in a new way I hadn't heard before. It challenged the reader to choose one very small sacrifice and change just that one thing. Once that one small change became normal, change something else. Don’t worry about how small it is or how long it takes you. Don’t worry about whether or not you see ‘results’ right away. Just make sure it’s something you can be successful with. For example, if you are a soda drinker, just change that one thing. Change nothing about your lifestyle except that one thing. Once you cut soda out of your life for long enough that it’s not even a big deal anymore, than change one more small thing: go from eating dessert every night to just once a week. Again, once you have mastered that small sacrifice make another, and another, and another. It doesn't matter if it takes a long time because the idea is to change for life, not just punish yourself for a few weeks or months.
I found the article pretty clever, and applicable to more parts of our life than just personal health. During this season of Lent it made me especially think about prayer. In my work in ministry I hear a lot of reasons why people find prayer difficult: ‘I don’t have the time’, ‘I don’t know how’, ‘It’s not meaningful’ just to name a few. I think maybe part of the problem is that people who are just trying to establish a prayer life feel like they need to go from having no prayer life at all to being a full blown mystic in just a couple weeks. It’s no wonder they burn out after a few days.
SLOWLY, BUT SURELY
My proposal is this: let’s apply the theory of the healthy lifestyle article to our prayer lives. Don’t worry about how small or insignificant it may seem, just make one small change you know you can keep. Maybe it’s saying one Hail Mary while you brush your teeth. Maybe it’s making sure you pray before every meal. Maybe it’s praying one Our Father every night as you lie in bed. Whatever it is, make it small and attainable. Do that one small thing until it becomes a habit: don’t worry if it takes a long time, or if it seems insignificant in the meantime. When that becomes routine, add another change: maybe a decade of the rosary, reading the daily mass readings, or getting up 5 minutes early to pray. Again, keep it small and super attainable. If you make small changes a part of your daily routine, and keep piling them one on top of the other, then over time you will have made prayer such a part of your life that whether or not it’s meaningful, your knowledge of ‘how to’, and your lack of time won’t be issues. It might take a year, and we live in a world that wants instant results, but if you take your time this Lent could be the start of the prayer life you always wish you had.
Let’s not go on a prayer diet for a few short weeks this Lent, let’s change our prayer lives forever.
By Dominick Albano
Executive Director of Arise