First Key to Spiritual Growth: Taking Control of Your Life through the Virtue of Prudence
Are You Overwhelmed by the World?
When I talk to people about the obstacles they face in growing in their Catholic spirituality, one response that I get quite consistently is the problem of being distracted by the world. The world constantly clamors for our attention. Just think about
- All of the advertisements you are exposed to every day
- The constant bombardment of communication through media, "old" and "new"
- Demands of work and social responsibilities
- Changing cultural and legal morality that devalues life, marriage and freedom and overvalues material possessions, sex, and worldly success
- The desire of the heart that I hear from my clients and customers is to be able to shut it all out - just for a while - in order to focus on God. Do you experience that same desire for solid Catholic spiritual growth? I sure do.
That's why the first Key to Spiritual Growth for most people is to take control of their lives on a spiritual level and on a very practical level.
What Answer Does Saint Benedict Offer?
In the first century AD, Saint Benedict felt the same desire. He was living in the bustling city of Rome, going to school at the age of 19 or 20. Yet, he felt the draw to leave behind the wild life of his pagan school companions and to deeply embrace the more meaningful life offered by Jesus. Benedict left Rome to seek shelter from the distractions. Eventually this desire of his heart led him to found a religious order and build a monastery. Saint Benedict's monastery became a place of sanctuary sought out by many people who felt the same desire to shut out the world for a time in order to recenter themselves on Jesus.
Build Your Inner Sanctuary
Yet, Saint Benedict's famous rule and "Spiritual Exercises" talked more about the importance of establishing a sanctuary within your own mind and heart. Those of us who are called to serve in the world, not to the life of religious orders, are still called to focus on Jesus - to center ourselves on the Covenant. We need to consciously, deliberately build a sanctuary within our hearts. Here are four ways to build your inner sanctuary.
- Make a plan. Here's the main message of the first Key to Spiritual Growth: most of us fail to grow in our faith because we are not deliberate about spiritual growth. We allow ourselves to be swept along by life and we hope that "some day" we will "find" the time to pray or to serve those in need. The fact is, to succeed at anything we need to make a plan and to be very intentional in carrying it out. Start by identifying 2-3 areas of your life that you need to change in order to grow closer to God. More time in prayer? Getting rid of your pesky repeated sins? Then create a concrete plan to grow in those areas. This is exactly what I hope From the Abbey can help you do. Reading the articles in this series will help you identify the areas that you may need to grow in. So stay with me!
- Take control of your time. Don't let the distractions of this world kick your butt! Yes, there is a lot that dictates how we use our time - jobs, sports schedules, kids & family - but there are also a lot of influences that we allow to control our time. We don't have to. The key is to be deliberate about how you use your time. People who learn to exercise the virtue of prudence over their time are very often shocked at how much time they gain.
- Take control of your environment. I am a techno-geek. I love the Internet. I love Netflix (movies), Spotify & Pandora (music) and X-Box (video games). These tools of media technology are positive goods in many ways. But if I'm not careful, I'll easily give myself attention deficit disorder! I know I've over-indulged in media when I find it difficult to sit and read a book. So what are your distractions? Social media? Television and radio? Take some time to stop and observe your environment. What sources of noise distract you from your thoughts and from prayer? Now, I'm not one to tell you that you need to get rid of these sources of distraction completely. Like I said, they can be positive goods if they are used correctly. But you do have to take control of them. Assign and enforce regular time for quiet. Unplug. Turn it all off for a while. Be alone with yourself and with God. Your surprise here may be how much peace you gain in your life doing this for just a short time every day.
- Start small and build good habits. Growing a virtue (a good habit) is like building muscle. It is best to start small and simple, and then slowly add "weight" and intensity of the workout. If you start with too large a commitment, you're going to pull something! So begin by grafting new habits of prayer onto habits and routines you have already established (like praying over your morning coffee). Begin by making small daily commitments to prayer (1 minute before meals, 10 minutes after work). But do it - every day - until it becomes second nature. Then add to the intensity (saying a Rosary after work would take 15-20 minutes).
Begin Simply - But Begin!
Look, the good news is that the solution to our distraction is within our control. But it is a challenge, no doubt about it. Most people make the mistake of trying to tackle the challenge with a large commitment.
"From now on, I'm going to pray at least an hour every day."
Then they fail to make the commitment and they just quit.
It's important to remember that our primary call is to live our primary vocation - family life, ordained life or religious life. Our spiritual growth needs to integrate into our vocation. For most of us, our vocation calls us to be members of the "world." We are not called to completely shut it out. However, creating an inner sanctum to which we can retreat periodically helps us to stay focused on what is truly important - and can help us to nurture our spiritual growth on the road to sanctity.
So let me leave you with some simple, practical, powerful application exercises that you can use as a starting point:
- Begin your day in prayer - one great idea is to turn a morning habit into a time of prayer. I'm a coffee drinker. My morning delight is to linger over my morning coffee, usually reading or daydreaming. I have recently been challenged to use that time for prayer, to make a morning offering. What a simple way to begin my day focused on Jesus! I don't even have to carve out more time in my day than I already take. What morning habit do you have that can be overlayed with a morning habit of prayer?
- Be sure to take time to pray before each meal. Don't just say the "Bless us oh Lord" prayer (though this prayer is considered an official blessing of the Church and is important to say) - also take a minute of silence to refocus yourself on God.
- After your work day, don't launch right into your evening routine. Instead, take some silent time to build the wall of your sanctuary. Turn off the TV, radio and computer for a specific amount of time. Sit quietly. Use this time to pray, read the Bible, or do some spiritual reading. Or just sit silently in God's presence. End your time of silence with a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessings you received during the day.
- Before you go to sleep for the night, do a quick examination of conscience. An examination of conscience includes recognizing where you sinned or fell short of the goodness God expected you to do during the day. But it also include recalling the good that you were able to do and the grace and blessings that God gave you through the day. It may also include creating some goals for the next day. End your time of prayer with an "act of love" - just a statement to God that you love Him and desire to participate in His life.
What is Your Biggest Obstacle?
The first Key to Spiritual Growth speaks to a huge obstacle in the lives of many people - feeling a lack of time to pray and to grow in faith. Is this your biggest obstacle to growing closer to Jesus? Or is there something else that is getting in your way? Share your thoughts in the comments below! Your input may steer the direction of From the Abbey's programs.