It should come as no surprise that my faith is important to me. I write about my faith. I teach it to children and teens on a regular basis. I talk about it with both friends and strangers (at their request, usually). Most people would call me devout, and while there are many who I would consider to be more faithful than myself, it is without pride that I admit that prayer plays a significant role in my life. I strive to become holier and my relationship with God is the most important relationship in my life, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need work. I am not perfect after all.
I am one of those lucky people who work at a job that they love. More importantly, I believe that I have the opportunity to improve our world through my work. I am blessed to be able to bring Christ to others- to the children of our Religious Education program, to the teens in our Youth Group, to the adults who come to my office for faith formation. I bring Christ to them, and they are Christ for me.
I love my job, but that doesn’t mean it is always easy. In fact, this past week was one of the most demanding weeks of the entire year. Every summer, I coordinate and implement our Vacation Bible School program, a five-day summer camp for the children of the parish (as well as any other children who would like to join us). The hours are long, and there are few opportunities for rest throughout the day. When the last camper leaves, I sit down to an hour or more of additional prep work before I can finally go home and spend the remaining hours of the day with my family. Once my son John is asleep, there is enough time for dinner before bed. With a 6am wake-up, early nights are a must. I am practically asleep before my head hits the pillow.
Nearly every night last week, when bedtime finally rolled around, I dutifully went through the steps of my before-bed routine before falling asleep. By Wednesday night, I was so exhausted that I found myself engaged in an interior battle regarding my need to brush my teeth and wash my face (in case you were wondering, the less sleep-deprived part of my brain won out). On Thursday night, as I meticulously checked off the steps of my face-washing routine, the interior debate was about my night prayers.
Every night, I pray Night Prayer before bed. It only takes a few minutes to complete, and the changing psalms keeps me on my toes. It’s usually the very last thing I do before informing Andrew that I’m ready for bed, and as such, it’s one of the last steps in my before-bed routine. As I washed my face, I found myself trying to justify skipping Night Prayer for the evening and substituting it with three Hail Mary’s (prayers that are always said with John before he goes to bed for the night). I reasoned that it would just be for one night, since the end of VBS was right around the corner.
I had nearly convinced myself to skip Night Prayer when a very uncomfortable thought inserted itself into my head. Though I was willing to skip Night Prayer, there was not a single other step in my before-bed routine that I would ever really consider skipping. I would never not brush my teeth. I would never not remove my make-up. I would never not wash my face with cleanser and warm water. I would never even consider dropping my five minutes of pleasure reading before closing my eyes. I would never consider skipping one of these steps, but I would consider skipping prayer?
I was most struck by my reluctance to skip my face-washing routine. While other people might object to skipping brushing my teeth (for instance, my husband), the steps of my face-washing routine were more about personal preference. I like having a clean, make-up-free face before I go to bed- it makes me feel good. And because it made me feel good, while saying Night Prayer could be cumbersome from time to time because of my exhaustion, face-washing seemed more imperative than even prayer.
I was shocked by how easily our priorities can become disordered if we are not mindful of our decisions. We are weakest when we are tired, hungry, upset, and I was definitely tired that night. In the face of exhaustion, even the most devout might find themselves tempted. It’s easy to skip something “just once.” You tell yourself that you’ll skip Night Prayer, or your daily rosary, or daily Mass, “just once,” but before you know it, Night Prayer, rosaries, and daily Mass are no longer part of your regular prayer life. Without even being fully aware of it, your priorities change. Your prayer life becomes shorter and shorter, until it finally disappears altogether.
It’s easy to skip something just once, or just a few times, especially in times of weakness. It’s much harder to reincorporate those things into our routine after they’ve been missing for a while, even after things have settled down in our lives. As I stared at my reflection in the mirror last Thursday night, I knew what kind of decision I was making. Though it seemed like such a small thing, to skip Night Prayer for just one night, I knew that in the long run, making such a choice would be a horrible decision on my part. My faith, my prayer life, my relationship with God, should be more valuable to me than anything else. It should certainly be more important than a silly bedtime routine. And if I’m not willing to set aside even part of my nightly face-washing routine, then I certainly should not be willing to set aside the most important thing that I do each night.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!