The recent ice storm in Augusta, Ga was a unique occasion. As over a ½” of ice settled on limbs through the day and into the night, the branches started coming down, and Augusta came to a screeching halt as most of the city lost power. It was at this point that a neighboring family had a branch knock out their power, so they moved into our house at 1 am to share the heat of our fireplace and remain safe from the massive oak adjacent their lot. Between our four kids, their three kids, neighboring kids and our in-laws from many directions (one of the beauties of community life!) there was chaos. People were everywhere, dishes were everywhere, kids were everywhere, and yet, a surprising tranquility pervaded the rooms and the hearts of those present. Jesus provided the grace we needed during a busy, hectic time!
I mention this story, because it contrasts starkly with many other times where I experience far less intense situations, but I am plagued by anxiety and tempted to harden my heart, as I greatly desire to ‘downshift’ life from fifth to first. At these times, I am no longer willing to give Jesus everything because I am torqued in many directions; I yearn to provide for myself and take control, to lead myself to ‘peaceful waters’ instead of letting God be God [Ps. 23].
As Lent speeds past at record pace, two words, prevailing themes come to mind – busyness and anxiety. Apparently, this is a shared theme, and I have by no means ‘cornered the market’ on being a busy person. Many people lament their hectic schedules; so much so that it predominates conversation, and I learn firsthand how many of my relatives, friends and coworkers really suffer from a lack of reflection and tranquility in their life as I listen to them share. Seriously, how long has it been since you have heard those two words – “I’m busy?”
As we are exhorted by the responsorial psalm today, to refrain from ‘hardening our hearts,’ it might help to examine our busy lives, the hectic pace of our waking hours. Pope Benedict spoke about one of the great saints not too long ago, Bernard of Clairvaux. St. Bernard was an extraordinary man, even for a saint! And he was keenly aware of the Christian need for peace and quiet time with the Lord. Pope Benedict preached, ‘it is necessary to pay attention to the dangers of excessive activity, regardless of one’s condition and occupation, observes the saint [referring to Bernard], because – as he said to the Pope of that time, and to all Popes and to all of us – numerous occupations often lead to “hardness of heart,” “they are no more than suffering for the spirit, loss of intelligence and dispersion of grace” (ll, 3).
I bet most people can relate to this hardness of heart, this suffering of spirit, loss of intelligence and dispersion of grace! What is to be done then? Is it not the Lord who has called us into this life we lead? We certainly cannot get rid of our children, or abandon our job, or deprive our children of quality opportunities! Priests and ministers, single persons, and religious suffer privations as they stretch to meet the needs of hundreds and too often thousands. So visions of Martha and Mary from that famous gospel passage are dancing before my eyes, and the obvious questions beckons….If Martha does not do the work, how is it going to get done with Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet? [Luke 10:38-42].
Most of us will be required to hustle and bustle around, taking care of things while searching for meaning and purpose, but we must bring Jesus back before our lives because our actions simply don’t bear fruit without Jesus. We cannot be truly present to those around us without Jesus. We can do nothing good without Jesus! And we certainly cannot minister to those in our care without Jesus. It is so important to be aware of the temptation to harden our hearts because what we see and what we witness in our lives is only a tiny part of the spiritual reality that is taking place through faith in Christ Jesus! Our actions and the condition of our hearts matter!
So, for all you mothers out there who are ready to make me walk the plank, I offer a practical exhortation from our scriptures today because I know that finding quiet time in prayer can be impossible! Yes men – it can literally be impossible!
- “Come let us sing joyfully to the Lord.” My wife prays through song in a way I cannot understand. She turns on the radio at home, or sings quietly or participates in song at prayer meetings and allows music to put her in the presence of Jesus. She has found a key spiritual connection in her busy routine! Put those ITUNES to work! I have seen the Missionaries of Charity pray the rosary as they mop the floor. If Mother Theresa’s nuns can pray and work, so can we.
- “Let us acclaim the Rock of our salvation.” Practice the presence of Jesus. We might not have the time to pray for an hour, but everything from breastfeeding a child to running a ten minute errand in the car can be a time to sit with Jesus and acclaim him as the Lord of our day. He knows the desire of your heart, and you will be measured by your love! Love Jesus as you find small ‘cracks’ in your day where you can remain in his love. One helpful way to pray is to find a line and repeat it throughout the day. For example, ‘come Holy Spirit be Lord of my life during this day.’ Anything that refocuses us and builds a connection is good!
- “Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving” Have you placed prayer in a box that is too small? Think outside the box! Be creative! How blessed are you when a child gives you thanks for anything! It is wonderful! Share with Jesus and let him know how thankful you are for the many blessings you have received. Take every opportunity you can to be thankful as it expands the heart and works against hardness. All of these suggestions might not look so good on paper, but practicing them keeps your desire for Jesus alive. The heart remains supple, and does not slowly grow lukewarm or frustrated and hard.
- Pray for opportunities to pray. St. Theresa of Avila warded off anxiety by a supreme confidence in Jesus’ ability to answer prayer. She knew that she was lacking, but she also knew that God would give generously if she asked in earnest according to His will. Practice this confidence and let Jesus know what you need.
Jesus was always surrounded by people. There were times where his men could not eat because people were coming into their ‘space.’ There were times were he was sad, and in need of prayer with the Father, and yet his ‘heart was moved with pity’ and he put his desire for solitary prayer to the side to follow a stronger desire – to minister to us! Jesus was busy! His life was hectic! He was always in demand! But we know that he always brought his presence, and ‘he calmed the storm.’ As you can see, I don’t have all the answers to a busy life and a busy lent, but I know that you can ask Jesus today, and he will lead you to peaceful waters in the way he sees fit for you because his plan is specific for you!