I was not so naive as to think I would make it through Lent without a few bumps in the road to cosmic enlightenment. But I was surprised such a seemingly simple goal – praying 10-15 minutes a day – became a struggle so soon.
After the initial excitement and sense of satisfaction that came with allotting time to meditate each day (not to mention the joy of discovering some good, old-fashioned spiritual nourishment as a result), I have slipped into an unexpected state of apathy.
There have been a number of factors that have disrupted my prayer life over the years – anger, disappointment, sadness, stress and busy-ness being a few. For me, however, indifference can be far more problematic than these other challenges. Though these other sentiments can be painful, they are dynamic, passionate feelings, whereas indifference is often lukewarm.
Imagine any broken relationship. What hurts more: the other person feeling bitter toward you or the other person not caring at all? Disinterestedness or a lack of enthusiasm about the idea of God tends to bother me more than feeling upset with God.
So what is the solution? The older I get, the more I value discipline. To me, it is impossible to understate the value of showing up. I once had a conversation with a friend who was baffled by my attending mass on weeks when I did not feel like going. While my decision to go was probably based more on my attraction to routine, I think there is also something to be said for firmly committing to things that are good for us, even and especially when we do not want to do them.
How could this not be the case? If I only ate healthy food when I was in the mood, my diet would be abysmal. If an athlete only trained when they felt inspired to work out, they would probably never even scratch the surface of their potential. If I only worked when I wanted, I would not be able to hold a job.
Father Robert Barron once cited Winston Churchill’s famous “If you’re going through hell, keep going” quote to address the importance of persevering during spiritually dry periods. As I indicated before, dispassion can be as insidious as “going through hell.” That said, Churchill’s solution may work in both scenarios.
James Clear, a writer, entrepreneur and weightlifter I admire, shared an anecdote about a conversation he had with an Olympic coach. When he asked the trainer what separated the world’s greatest athletes and the rest of the population, he responded, “At some point, it comes down to who can handle the boredom of training every day and doing the same lifts over and over and over again.”
Boredom. Apathy. Disinterestedness. They may not sting like anxiety or sorrow, but I have found Churchill’s solution helpful when any of these seep into my spiritual life. Keep going. Though this Lent has already brought a few days with little to no desire to pray, I have yet to miss my 10 minutes. While my meditations these days surely were not as enjoyable as others, I never regretted having done them.