AREWP Day 5: Permanence

January 18, 2008 | Motherhood, Prayer | 15 comments

[AREWP stands for “A Reckless Experiment With Prayer.” This is part of an ongoing series about bringing peace to my daily life. You can read the other posts on this subject here (scroll down).]

Whenever I’ve tried to implement a new routine, a better system for control and organization of my household, it seems that invariably I have to go out of town or have some other life-altering event come up immediately afterwards. And woe be to the people who are anywhere near me at those times, because I always get ridiculously stressed and whine endlessly about how these events are going to derail my plans. I’ll snap at my mother-in-law for getting the kids down for nap a half hour late because she spent too long at the park, or moan the entire trip to Houston about how this out-of-town visit is going to just demolish the new routine that I worked so hard to create. Looking back, I had a surprising amount of angst about things as minor as bedtime getting pushed back or breakfast being at a different time than usual.

In this past week of creating yet another attempt at a routine, I think I finally understand why I felt so unsettled by such little schedule deviations: because they were my anchors.

I think the goal with every routine is to create structure, to get as close as possible to the way humans have always lived, with hard stops around which we can structure our days. Naptime being at 2:15 wasn’t just important because that’s when the kids needed sleep, but because naptime was my hard stop, it was my anchor. Along with breakfast time and dinner time, I used the beginning of naptime to provide structure to my days, to cue me to begin a different phase of the day, a different set of tasks, a different mindset. And when naptime (or breakfast or dinner time) got off track, I was adrift. That structure that I so desperately craved could be demolished with something as simple as eating brunch instead of breakfast one day.

As I’ve gone through my week, thrilled that this crazy experiment with prayer has been working so well, I realized at some point that I’m not on edge about these things anymore, about some event coming along to derail it all. If I found out we had to go out of town tomorrow I would honestly be fine with it, I wouldn’t freak out about it messing up my precious routine. What’s different?

In every other attempt to get organized and establish a routine, I’ve used fleeting worldly things as my anchors, my cues to transition from one part of the day to the next. It’s no wonder then that something as simple as a cold virus or an overnight trip could leave me without anchors, without a routine, picking up the pieces of all my big plans.

But prayer is something I can always do.

My prayer book fits in my purse, so whether I’m here at home, on a plane, in the hospital, visiting family out of town, in a hotel, out running errands, on a bus — wherever I am — I can always say Lauds, Matins and Vespers at roughly the same times, every day. Unlike all my other routines that revolved around fleeting events specific to this phase of life, there is no foreseeable reason why I couldn’t keep this same basic routine, praying the Liturgy of the Hours, every single day for the rest of my life.

That’s one of the reasons I have a really good feeling about my odds of keeping up with this: it’s not only about praying or organizing or establishing a routine. It’s all of that, and more. It’s a radical re-thinking of the way I approach life. It’s about finally admitting after all these years that my way isn’t working, that if I had it all figured out I wouldn’t spend so much time feeling behind and overwhelmed; it’s about trying to get as close as possible to living as we’re designed to live, with daily and seasonal cycles directing how much I attempt to get done; it’s about living on God’s time, sacrificing large portions of my to-do list in order to balance periods of work with periods of rest; it’s about trusting that God will give me the grace to make up for time “lost” in prayer and rest, that if I just trust in him it will all get done (though God’s definition of what “it all” involves may be different from mine); and it’s about forcing myself to turn to God often, to pause to ask for his help before embarking on each new phase of the day.

This week has been a tough week: I’ve been up with the baby multiple times each night, unable to nap during the day, and my two toddlers seem to have been replaced by half-human, half-robot superbeings who can demolish the house in the time it takes me to blink. And yet here it is, Friday afternoon, and I actually feel pretty calm. I’m annoyed about the cereal being dumped out on the newly vacuumed carpet and the bowl full of macaroni and cheese landing face-down on the kitchen floor, but I don’t feel overwhelmed. For the first time in a long time, I don’t feel behind on anything. My to-do list was smaller this week to make sure I left plenty of time for prayer, but what was there did get done. (And, honestly, I probably didn’t accomplish any less than I used to, it’s just that I accomplished 100% of a smaller list instead of 60% of a larger one.)

The reason I originally called this a “reckless” experiment was because I supposedly did not have one more minute in my day to devote to prayer. I could have proven to you on paper that my life (as well as my family’s lives) would be thrown into chaos if I set aside even a few extra minutes to devote to God. Needless to say, I’m thrilled that so far I’ve been proven wrong — very wrong. Everything that needed to get done got done. We could all feel God’s grace working. Our house was a peaceful place to be (well, as peaceful as it gets with three little kids). As it turns out, putting a reckless amount of trust in God was exactly what I needed to do.

15 Comments

  1. SteveK

    This has been a great series. Thanks for sharing it with everyone.

  2. Christina. B

    I am so glad to hear your REWP is working out for you. I was wondering why it was deemed reckless…now I know.

  3. veronica

    WOW.
    I am following along, a lurker coming out to say that your experience is incredibly inspirational. Something so simple and yet, something that I have always said “later” to, prayer.
    Thanks for the nudge I needed to rethink my personal and material anchors.

  4. Tausign

    I applaud you on your β€˜AREWP’. Just to see if I understand let me restate.

    Your prayer life is now causing you to β€˜anchor’ on God instead of worldly routines and structures. (Did I get that right?) Therefore, the sought after PEACE does not depend upon a day that must be rightly ordered with few snafus…but rather it is the PEACE that is sustained DESPITE the confusion and crosses that are bound to snag you all the days of your life.

    BRAVO, Jen!

  5. Anonymous

    Very cool. Fr. D.

  6. Anonymous

    Hi Jen, great post. It takes me back to the days when my kids were small and I remember how I felt like I was treading water. All my energy went to staying afloat. I realize now what a gift that was-kids force you to live your life in the moment, every single moment. Once I accepted that and worked only to maintain I let the natural rhythm of life take over-I felt like a medieval farmer. That’s why in reading your post it occurs to me that the LOTH honors that natural rhythm. It makes sense of those activities and gives them new meaning. I’m trying LOTH this Lent. Thank you for doing the experiment and letting us use your data! Queenie

  7. Elizabeth...mommy...etc

    A BEAUTIFUL POST. I enjoy how vocal and open you are about your faith & actions & reactions to yourself and God throughout your day. keep it up. AND…if you really are looking for a way to help organize your life…I’ve just started this: http://www.flylady.net. If it looks ridiculous to you, read a little bit about it and how to “get started” with baby steps…maybe it won’t look so ridiculous then…but it still might. πŸ™‚ I just thought I’d let you know. I am on day 4 of the “babysteps”. But really, I know that your post was little to do with organization and everything to do with your faith in HIM. πŸ™‚ recklessly in agreement…elizabeth

  8. Therese

    Last year was the first year that I felt like my mothers rule was pretty successful. I knew that it was because prayer was my guide like you. I think that prayer must help us in our vocation and that is why it is such a good anchor.

  9. Jess

    This has nothing to do with this particular post but I wanted to tell you that I recently found your blog and I have really found it thought-provoking and engaging. I was raised an evangelical Christian and I chose to abandon Christianity as an adult. I have been seeking for a long time and I’ve looked into several faiths, most recently Baha’i. It never crossed my mind to study Catholicism simply because it seemed like an even more patriarchal and outdated version of Christianity and well, that is just what I chose to leave behind.

    Anyway, I made a post on my blog about your blog and linked to here. My blog is private but if you would like to see the text of the post I am more than happy to email it to you. I always feel a little strange when I discover someone has silently linked or copied portions of what I have written on my blog and haven’t told me which is why I am sending you this comment.

    seccang@hotmail.com

  10. Amber

    This has been a fantastic series, Jennifer, thank you so much for sharing it. Your insight on anchoring your schedule to worldly things is spot on – not that I had thought of it before myself, but once I read it I had a definite “a-ha!” moment.

    I recently bought Christian Prayer too – I almost bought it right before I moved in July, but I thought that perhaps I would be asking too much of myself by doing that. I’m beginning to wonder if that really would have been the case. I’m experimenting with the book now, figuring out how the prayers work by praying Lauds and Compline. I plan to add Vespers this week and the Office of the Readings soon. Perhaps I will sit down tonight and schedule out some hard stops as well and just go for it.

    Thanks for the insights and encouragement!

  11. Jennifer F.

    Thank you all for your comments! I really, really appreciate it.

    Tausign –
    yes, you got it right. πŸ™‚

    Amber –
    one thing you may want to consider is setting aside the times that you will add a new hour (e.g. Vespers) and at first just use that time to learn about it. That’s what I did last week: I kind of half prayed Lauds, Matins, Vespers and Compline, but mostly I used the time to research and learn about how to do it.

    Jess –
    How cool! I would love to see the text of your post if you would like to email it to me (my address is on my profile). Thank you!

    Elizabeth –
    I love FlyLady, I could her book among one of the most life-changing books I ever read. It was the first thing that got me thinking about the necessity of routines. Thanks for the reminder. πŸ™‚

  12. bloodslides

    Hi!

    Just want to say I love your blog. I’m sure you’ve heard it before but as another former atheist, reading about your ‘journey’ (for lack of a less corny word) has been inspirational and encouraging. Keep it up πŸ™‚

  13. TwoSquareMeals

    This has been such a great series and has given me some thought for new routines to try during Lent. I feel like I am slowly learning that I can never control life, especially life with little kids, and that I really need to find that anchor to keep me from losing it.

    By the way, I am putting in a shameless plug here. I just wrote a post about contraception and motherhood that I would love for you to read if you have time in your new schedule. I know that you and I have different views on the subject, and I am seeking to hear some different sides of the issue. I would love to hear your perspective as a new convert to Catholicism and mom of three little ones.

  14. Kristen Laurence

    These posts have been everything I would expect from you – honest, inspiring, enlightening and beautiful. I love how you made a conscious decision to put God before everything else. It isn’t always easy to do, but your experiment reminds me that love is an act of the will. All we have to do is choose the good. You’ve done that beautifully here, and I hope you continue to inspire many, many readers through this blog.

  15. Anonymous

    Jen,

    I have been reading your blog a little sporadically for the last few months (thought I have moved your bookmark up near the top of my list now to check with much greater frequency!) and I wanted to tell you how inspired and encouraged I am by your (A)REWP.

    I too am a wife and mother (but also have various part-time responsibilities in- and out-side the home) and I can honestly say that my home is a physical disaster when it comes to organization.

    To add to that, while I have wonderful intentions, my daily prayer life has been virtually non-existent (except for you know, bedtime prayers with the kids, although that is at least something) for quite a long time now.

    I have decided I’m going to try a reckless experiment of my own and break out my Christian Prayer book, which I’ve had over 10 years, when I temporarily joined a secular Carmelite group but then had to drop due to–marriage and family–and I’m going to attempt a minimum of Morning Prayer, and Evening Prayer, and/or Night Prayer.

    I have only done it for 2 days so far….and WOW. Speaking the prayers aloud, whether alone before bed or with one or all 3 kids around, has been…I don’t even know the word or words to express: comforting, encouraging, satisfying, strengthening, familiar….all that scripture! It’s just so wonderful. As I read it I can feel almost a physical sense of change in my anxiety and my frustration, and an increase in joy!

    Anyway, thank you for the inspiration to let this lead my way into hopefully the peace (and routine and organization, etc.) that I seek!

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