Prayer is the least flashy of the three Lenten pillars. Fasting, almsgiving—it’s easy to count how many times you gave (or how many times you messed) something up. You can see, feel Lent happening. But prayer, I mean, what’s the metric? How do you measure the impact of your prayer?
That’s why I’ve always found prayer to be the lazy pillar of Lent. What do you have to show for it? What really looks different to set your Lenten journey apart from your everyday one? And plus, prayer is something we’re always supposed to be about, right? I mean, when that inevitable question comes around—”What are YOU doing for Lent?”—and all I say is praying more, doesn’t that leave the questioner thinking, “Man, how little does this guy pray on an average day?”
Then again, Lent isn’t meant to be a flashy journey. It’s not a Broadway production; it’s a contemplative walk through the desert. And while we’re called to be in community—to support one another on our common journeys to God—it’s not necessarily anyone’s business what I’m giving up for Lent or what the impact of that sacrifice will be.
Obvious, right? So, let me say a few words on why I am erecting my Lenten scaffolding around the pillar of prayer. Contrary to previous years where I cobble together some Lenten intentions on the eve of Ash Wednesday—usually high minded fasts that make locusts and sand look appetizing—I believe God has laid three important invitations at my doorstep, beckoning me into a prayerful Lent, a Lent of quiet stillness, of journaling and spiritual reading.
Wondering what they are? No? Well, I’m telling you anyway.
- I got married last August. (Awesome, right?) And while marriage brings with it a host of exciting life changes, I’ve found that I’ve not yet properly got my head around how it’s impacted my personal prayer life. It’s not that my wife doesn’t actively encourage me along the path of faith, but she can’t walk the way for me. And now that I have a constant companion to look to for support through the journeys of life—not to mention an entirely new routine—I must be that much more intentional about carving out private time for personal prayer.
- Since returning from my time of service in Bolivia and especially since moving to Baltimore, MD, I’ve been grappling with core tenets of Gospel living and how I can bring myself more readily into conformity with them. Things like simple living, being present to the poor and vulnerable, giving selflessly of time, talent and money—where is God inviting me to live the Gospel? Or, alternatively (and more likely), where has God’s invitation for me to live the Gospel found my own response wanting?
- Finally, and this brings the previous two together, a personal prayer life informs a communal life of action. Without one, the other is tremendously difficult. I used to scoff at people when they said an active prayer life was a credential to a successful life of service. It always sounded to my ears like a copout from people who didn’t really want to commit to the requirements of social justice. (Back to that issue of metrics.) But we think of heroes like Dorothy Day and Mother Teresa, who despite hardships, both in prayer and in community, anchored their lives of service and commitments to justice in prayer.
Maybe, then, there are metrics to my prayer: the amount of love freely given to the world. We’ll see how it goes.