Transform Your Life By Changing Your Habits This Lent

by Lent

The day passes you by and the prayer time you wanted to spend with God never happens. Kids, job, spouse and other important demands seem to push out the time you wanted to spend in prayer. You are exhausted from the day and you just want to “veg” out, so you reach for the dopamine hit by starting to scroll through social media. After the scrolling, the time you wanted to dedicate to growing spiritually is gone. You think when you get done with the project you are working on, when your work slows down, or when the kids grow up, then you will have more time to devote to your faith. Does any of this sound familiar? Regularly and consistently giving time to God is a struggle for many Christians. We all know we should give God more of our time, so why don’t we?

St. John Paul II said, “Those who say they don’t have time for prayer, are not lacking time, but love.” “Not lacking time, but love.” Ouch! Talk about taking the gloves off!  At a deep level, we know there is some truth to what he is saying, even though we don’t want to admit it. We might want Jesus to be priority number ONE, the greatest love of our life, the true Alpha and Omega.  In the abstract, that sounds great, but in reality, we have trouble translating that desire into the concrete reality of our messy, hectic and busy lives. It’s hard, like really, really hard. What if there was a way to translate that desire to regular and consistent actions? There is!!  But before it gets easier, it is first going to get harder. 

How do we get from the person we are today to the person God created us to be? We need to consistently make one good decision at a time. Our wills are easily influenced and malleable; therefore our wills need to be trained to pursue the good. It is not just a matter of choosing good over evil, but the higher goods over the lesser goods. The more we are able to choose these goods in our life the easier it will be to continue to choose these goods. A concrete example of this might be your exercise program.  At first, it is really hard, but once you start doing it, it gets easier. The opposite is also true. The more you choose vices or the lesser goods over the higher goods, the more you will want it and the harder it will be to choose the greater goods.

When the Lord first started to prompt me to spend more time consistently with Him in prayer, it was laughable how easy it was to choose lesser goods over Him – mindlessly surfing the web, watching a movie, finding something else to do, but thanks be to God, that is no longer the case. As God helped me strengthen my will,  the opposite occurred. I felt weird when I didn’t make time for God. In short, the more I chose God, the easier it was to continue to choose Him. 

So that is good news for the future, but what about right now? Here it might be helpful to look at the Saints. 

Is there anything we can learn from the Saints to help us consistently choose the higher ordered goods of life, like daily prayer? Yes! We can learn from how they lived. 

Scheduled Prayer Time 

Many saints scheduled their prayer time to ensure the distractions and demands of life did not take them away from their time spent with God. Whether it was the saints praying the Liturgy of the Hours at certain times of the day, or church bells calling others to prayer, or how St. John Paull II would pray his rosary around 11 a.m. before his audiences. Many saints did not allow the day’s whims and demands to dictate when they were going to pray, but they built their schedule around their “appointments” with God. 

The research backs up this helpful practice in achieving the goal of regular spiritual discipline. When you schedule the time and place you are going to practice the new habit, research shows you have a 53% greater likelihood of accomplishing the goal. What time of the day and location will you pray? If finding a time and place is too hard for the variety in your schedule, try habit pairing. Pair an existing habit with a new spiritual habit. For example, after brushing your teeth, pray your Morning Offering. National speaker, Fr. Larry Richards is known to say “no bible, no breakfast.” Fr. Larry suggests pairing your bible reading with breakfast. St. John Paul II would pair the Rosary with his daily audiences. One helpful tool in scheduling your prayer time is the Discipulus app. Discipulus is unique because it is not just a prayer app, but a complete discipleship app. It helps you grow in all areas of being a disciple. Discipulus offers reminders to act as “church bells” calling you to practice your spiritual disciplines. When life gets busy, Discipulus’s reminders help you to remember the most important relationship in your life. 

Rule of Life

Many Saints committed to a Rule of Life (regula vitae- the Latin word regula is the root of our English word “regular”) or regimen that helped them form spiritual habits to live a happy, holy and well ordered life. Some of these plans were very elaborate and detailed and some were not, but most of these plans for their spiritual life had a few key elements in common.

  • Prayer – this would include the sacraments and forms of penance
  • Study – growing in knowledge of who God is and how he wants us to live 
  • Virtue – overcoming sin in order to enjoy the freedom to love God and others well
  • Mission – putting faith into action through daily acts of charity, i.e., Spiritual and Corporal Works of Mercy

These common practices of the saints formed a plan for their life that, by God’s grace, helped them become fully alive in Jesus Christ. But it wasn’t as if they mastered all of these disciplines on Day One. God met them where they were and slowly overtime, like the Grinch experiencing the power of the Christ child being proclaimed in the Whos’ singing, grew their hearts and transformed their habits. If you are not sure where to start, Discipulus offers a framework for your “Rule of Life” based on the lives of the saints, and gives you freedom to choose the specifics. On day one, the app will open up the treasury of the Church’s spiritual tradition in an easy and accessible way, so you can choose different prayers and practices to live a happy, holy and well-ordered life. As your heart grows and the practice of your spiritual habits become more consistent, you will have opportunities to move up in incremental degrees where more elements of the spiritual life open up and the time with God increases. These different degrees are important because it helps meet people where they are, and like a spiritual coach, guides them to a greater commitment to God and a deepening into His heart. So what plan do you have to live the spiritual life on a consistent basis? 

Accountability

Some saints had a spiritual director to give them support and hold them accountable. Many saints came from religious communities or had friends in the faith that stretched them beyond what they thought possible. From the founding of Christianity, Christians had other Christians to support, encourage and challenge them to live for Jesus: St. Paul and St. Barnabas, St. Ignatius and St. Francis Xavier to name a few. Even the Lone Ranger had a companion on adventures, so who can you invite to journey with you?

The research backs up accountability as a helpful tool in achieving your goal of regularly practicing your spiritual disciplines.  It shows that one of the greatest indicators of reaching your goals is having a supportive community to journey with you, and keep you accountable.  Specifically it shows that it isn’t just letting someone know your goals for change, but sharing weekly progress reports with each other.  

An  easy way to do this is by using the community features Discipulus offers. The Discipulus app has a “Progress Screen” that gives you an overall score and a score on each of the spiritual disciplines. This score isn’t a grade on whether you are a good or bad person; it represents how well you are practicing the habits God used to form the saints. We nicknamed this the “Humility Screen.” It takes humility to see the truth of how well or poorly you are doing. In life, it is easy to judge yourself as doing better or worse than you actually are. This screen gives you an honest, objective assessment. The progress screen is also shared with your community. The score isn’t used as a scoreboard where there are winners and losers, but an opportunity for honesty and transparency where you can help each other grow closer to God. As the research shows, when we share our progress reports with our accountability group, we will be more successful in achieving our goals. 

Will you follow God’s call to take the next step to be a saint? You could just live this Lent like any other Lent by giving up something and maybe adding some extra prayers. Or you could try something different by taking small steps toward transforming your life that will last well beyond Lent and Easter. Small steps will change your habits for the rest of your life. Discipulus allows you to start out small and make incremental changes. Overtime, those small changes will become new habits and as you form those new habits, your priorities in life will change and your relationship with God will grow. The Saints didn’t become saints overnight. It took them a lifetime. Will you start your journey to becoming a better disciple today?

Catholic prayer app

Lent emails Catholic

2 Matthews, Gail, “The Impact of Commitment, Accountability, and Written Goals on Goal

Achievement” (2007).

Psychology | Faculty Presentations. 3.

https://scholar.dominican.edu/psychology-faculty-conference-presentations/3

Image: Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash

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