Don’t Stifle the Good

Right now I’m going through a phase that involves making some changes and finding new rhythms…spiritually and otherwise. (Hmmm…funny that it happens to be the middle of Lent.) Changes can be hard for those of us who struggle with perfectionism or are naturally high-achievers (Ahem…). It’s hard, not because we don’t welcome the change and betterment, but because we don’t tend toward moderation. For some strange reason we tend to only think of improvement on a large scale, missing the opportunity to make a one small and gradual change at a time. We like hitting the metaphorical “overhaul” button.

It’s probably an issue of pride. I’m finding that just about every fault seems to be rooted in pride. Perhaps we are actually lacking in the virtues of patience or temperance too; I’m not exactly sure. But what we are effectively doing is setting ourselves up for failure. We are stifling the good that could begin to take root with the passionate desire for complete transformation. I’m reminded of Voltaire’s aphorism:

“The better is the enemy of the good.”

One interpretation of his meaning is that when our mindset is “perfection or bust” we bust; and we miss the chance to accomplish a more moderate good. In trying for unrealistic goals, we often never get going or don’t make it very far. Had we tried instead for a more attainable end, we would have been successful in cultivating a lasting good, which we could then build upon later. 

I think that we need to embody G. K. Chesterton’s famous phrase: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” The thing of it is that we actually become the people that we want to be by practicing who we want to be. That means that we are going to start off doing a poor job of things and learn, by doing, how to make things better. Remember, practice makes perfect; we don’t get to perfection without a lot of practice.

This goes for both the secular and the sacred. We don’t decide to become healthy and instantly have no cravings for sugar and lots and lots of bread. We don’t decide to start practicing mental prayer and immediately (or ever) become St. Catherine of Siena, experiencing ecstatic visions with Christ. Change takes time, and the joy of important changes is only experienced over time. I’m learning this (slowly), and I’m trying to embrace the pace of implementing grace-filled incremental changes so that I don’t stifle the good that God wants to cultivate in my life.

Need a kid-paced Stations of the Cross routine?

I love the tradition of praying the Stations of the Cross on Fridays during Lent, and I love doing it in our home around our prayer table. Sometimes it’s just our family, and other times it’s us and another family or two after sharing a simple soup super. But those of us with lots of young kids can find instituting the practice of praying the Stations (and other prayers) a bit daunting. It’s hard for them to sit still for that long when they are at young ages. They just don’t have the attention span and patience (especially in the evening) for the full blown version.

We have all littles (6 and under) right now, and I really desire for them to embrace this beautiful prayer practice and have it grow with them. So, a couple of years ago I created a kid-paced routine for praying the Stations — pieced together from various resources and practices I had observed other families doing. I use the children’s book The Way of the Cross as the guiding resource, which was a gift from godparents a few years back. It is so beautiful!

My kids love this routine. It can be as short as 10 minutes, which is often just the right amount of time when kids are young and learning to adopt this prayer practice. When you start small, it is easy to build on a practice with time and let it grow with your family. We want our children to love prayer — not be overwhelmed by it. After all, loving should be the goal of all of our prayers anyway.

Our family and friends have really enjoyed this routine, and I’m sharing it with you — just fill out the form below and you will get a PDF copy to use in your home. God bless your family’s Lenten journey!

 

Copyright 2018 Jessica Ptomey

Fasting 101

As we begin the season of Lent there can be a lot of chatter about fasting, and we want to guard our hearts against missing the point entirely. It’s good to give up the things in our lives to which we tend to become attached. It’s not a bad thing that we give up social media, television, desserts, shopping, etc. We can all agree that in the course of a year we have probably packed a great deal of *stuff* into our lives that needs cleaned out. But if we mentally check a “fasting” box and move on, then we are going to miss the point of our fasting — to miss God’s idea of fasting — this Lent.

The point of fasting and prayer is to be able to hear God’s voice and do his will. It is good to fast from things that we are attached to so that we will be attached to God instead. It is also good to fast from things that take our time so that we have more time to spend with God. But it can be easy to get caught up in the spiritual practice of fasting and miss the point of it, which is to hear God’s voice…AND then do His will. What is God’s will? What kind of direction should we look for from Him when we fast? What is He going to say to us?

One of the readings in the Liturgy of The Hours for Ash Wednesday is from Isaiah 58. In this passage, God pretty explicitly lays out what His idea of fasting is and what kind of result it should have in our lives. Look at verses 6-7:

“This rather is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking free every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.”

Pretty clear, right? But let’s break it down a step further. If we are fasting with ears listening and hands ready for the Lord’s work, then we are going to personally hear God tell us: Continue reading “Fasting 101”