Hectic Schedules & Quiet Reflection

Today is the feast of St. Clare of Assisi. Since she is often depicted holding a monstrance and is a testimony to the power of the Eucharist, I thought I would share again my experience with the gift of Eucharistic Adoration.

In January 2007, I became a Eucharistic guardian at my parish, which is blessed to have perpetual Eucharistic adoration. This hour each week in the True Presence of Christ has been an incredible blessing in my life. The reflection and prayer time has been the inspiration for much of my writing. I distinctly remember going to Eucharistic adoration one morning a few years ago with a sincere desire to be still and listen. I usually have too much “noise” in my life and I wanted to offer up my burdens in prayer to our Lord, ask for help, and patiently listen for his response.

My mind remained calm and peaceful for only a short period of time before the usual cacophony of annoying voices in my head began to sound off. Why hasn’t Jesus answered me yet? … I wonder if my 9 a.m. meeting will go well. I have a million e-mails to answer… “I wonder what’s for dinner.”

I was in the chapel for five minutes and I was already in trouble!

Rather than give in to frustration, I decided to think about my actions and examine where I was falling short. I said a quick prayer and asked for guidance as I replayed the events of the previous months in my mind. What I realized as I recalled the highly caffeinated and frantic pace I had been keeping, was that I was acting like the worka­holic I thought I had rid myself of years ago when I converted to the Church. Instead of enjoying the quiet prayer and reflection I so dearly love early each morning at my home, I was filling that time with work on the Integrated Catholic Life, answering e-mails, and doing research on my first book.

The Jesuit daily examen that provided me brief moments of prayer and reflection throughout my busy day had been crowded out by meetings, calls, and other excuses. The laptop had been getting pulled out right after the kids went to bed rather than my usual 9:30 p.m. That eclipsed the time when my wife and I usually enjoyed some quiet moments together. I felt like I was racing toward a cliff and I needed a course correction.

Quiet prayer was not working, and reflecting on my recent hectic schedule left me feeling deflated. So I decided to focus on my spiritual reading to look for inspiration and help. I have found great comfort and wisdom over the years in the writings of Francis Fernandez and his wonderful series of books In Conversation with God. I turned to the meditation for that day in Volume 3, which is on the dignity of work. The light bulb went off for me a few minutes later as I read the passage I so desperately needed:

“Work should not take up so much of our day that it occupies the time that should be dedicated to God, to the family, to our friends….If this should happen it would be a clear sign that we are not sanctifying ourselves through our work, but rather we are simply seeking self-satisfaction in it.”

Father Francis Fernandez

I had al­lowed myself to think that my hard work in my professional career and service to the Church was always for others, when perhaps one of my motivations had been for my own self-satisfaction. It was hard to admit, but I think there was some truth to it.

I circled back in my mind to how I had begun my hour of adora­tion when I asked our Lord for help. From the gift of self-awareness he gave me in reflecting on my recent behaviors, to the realization that I need to make some changes and the epiphany he revealed to me in the writings of Francis Fernandez, Jesus absolutely answered my prayer that day. He gave me all that I asked for and everything he knew I needed. After that hour, I knew I would have some hard work and a lot of prayer in front of me to make the necessary changes. I needed to restore peace and a sense of balance.

The problem of noise, distractions, and losing sight of what is truly important may be a common problem for many of us, and I fully recognize that I will be addressing this issue for the rest of my life. It is difficult in today’s world to find peace, but I am committed to asking the Holy Spirit for help and guidance to reach this goal whenever I lose my way. The experience rattled me as my overactive brain would not allow me to be calm. I knew I needed to make some changes but was not quite sure where to begin.

The weeks following this experience were a combination of main­taining my typical fast pace, snatches of inconsistent prayer time and infrequent reflection on how I had gotten so far off course. Then I got sick. I had to cancel my meeting schedule for a whole week, as well as a few speaking events, and was forced to work from home as I regained my health. In retrospect, I now recognize the hand of God in this forced “retreat” and this was a warning to slow down a bit.

My crazy schedule had been forcibly addressed and a few valu­able lessons had been learned about not ignoring my health, but I was still struggling with the noise issue as we were approaching Ash Wednesday. I had still not decided what I would give up for Lent when I joined my family for Mass that evening and was pondering the usual dilemma between giving up sugar or coffee. Then I heard a riveting homily from our parochial vicar, Father Henry. He talked about removing the obstacles between us and Christ during Lent. He challenged us to examine what was getting in the way of a stronger relationship with him and to give up those things during Lent.

The light bulb went off and I realized that I desperately needed more quiet time. I would never have peace and a return to the rich prayer life I once enjoyed unless I eliminated my distractions. So, I gave up radio, TV, and unnecessary computer time during that Lent, and have minimized these distractions as much as possible since then. The change has had an enormous impact on my life!

Before you decide that I’m nuts and this is not doable, indulge me for a little longer. I am in my car more than ninety minutes each day. By turning off the radio and enjoying the silence, I have turned formerly unproductive time into wonderful reflection and prayer time. Eliminating most TV has helped me reconnect to my spiritual reading in the evening. I have eliminated unnecessary computer time outside of my work and Integrated Catholic Life editing responsibilities, and I have carved out more meaningful time with my family.

All of this is helping me more fully live up to the commitment I made in chapter three regarding my priorities in life. I must have been dense not to have done all of this sooner! The peace and stronger relationship with Christ I crave is getting nearer every day. And I am determined to get there with the help of the Holy Spirit.

What have I learned from these experiences? All of my hard work is meaningless if it is not given up for his greater glory instead of my personal satisfaction. I have learned that I am not Superman and I need to be careful about overscheduling my life. The commotion and hectic pace of the lives we lead aren’t going away. But our reactions can improve our spirits and our relationships with our Lord. If we make regular, deliberate efforts to unplug from the chaos (however necessary and productive it might be) and reconnect with God in prayer and silence, that may perhaps be the best use of the scarce time we have.

My pride often gets in the way, but during that Lenten season I was taught valuable lessons in humility. I was reminded of how comforting it is to seek the intercession and help of our Blessed Mother. Finally, I know I was made for heaven and not this place. I may always be stumbling toward peace and my final destination, but at least I am on the right path and moving forward. And that is a good place to start.

*Adapted from Along the Way: Lessons for an Authentic Journey of Faith with permission of Liguori Publications and Randy Hain.

Image credit: Photo by Francesco Alberti on Unsplash

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