By Erich Wallace
Great to be back again, but shucks, this last month was busy. I’ve been coaching the high school boys’ soccer team the last couple months, on top of working full-time, trying to run some youth ministry events, and all the while attempting to have a little bit of a social life. It’s been difficult and exhausting, but it’s also been rewarding and life-giving. In the midst of it all, though, something has suffered: my prayer life; and in the midst of that, this question recently came to my mind: Do I really put Christ first in all of this?
I’ve noticed that I can go a while without praying that much. Don’t get me wrong, I do make some time each morning to sit down in the quiet and to try and spend some time with the Lord, or at least act like it, but those times haven’t been that long recently. I’ve kind of been relying on my Sunday evening Adoration hour to get a more focused, deep time of prayer, but when you’re a self-diagnosed narcoleptic (like myself), you can’t really depend on that. And, when I don’t get regular, extended periods of prayer in, I start to believe in those little lies that Satan puts in my head, and more and more I rely on myself rather than the Lord to battle them and my soul gets a little… crusty. Can you relate?
How do we get around this? How do the people that have extremely busy lives (college students, high school students who are involved in everything, parents with young children or adolescents, people living their single life generously, priests, and pretty much everyone in our society) make time to slow down and actually put Christ first? How do we get out of our sins and into that life of being the “living water” for others? Is it really possible?? Well, because of the countless examples of all those holy men and women we celebrated on All Saints’ Day, we know it is. So… how do we do it?? I’ve got a few ideas:
- Get up 10 minutes earlier than you normally do, and spend time in prayer. Seriously, this is a game changer. If you are getting up and are always rushing through your morning routine, you will simply be going through the motions before you know it and not connecting with the Lord (I know because I’ve been there). And…it’s going to be much harder to pray as the day gets going and the responsibilities start. I recommend having some reading material to accompany your prayer in the morning. The Bible is always good, but a good spiritual book is also great to help kickstart your prayer and to avoid just dozing off (tips for my other self-diagnosed narcoleptics). Connecting with the Lord early in the day will help you put Christ first.
- Frequent the Sacraments, especially Mass and Confession. As Catholics we are called to attend Mass every Sunday, so this should be a no-brainer, but if that’s not a regular practice in your life, give the effort to make it one. God didn’t make Mass an obligation for His sake, but for ours! He knows we need that spiritual nourishment from receiving Him in the Holy Eucharist. I’ll be honest, I don’t always go away from Mass feeling like I got a ton out of it, but I know, when I receive the Eucharist in a state of grace, that I am receiving Christ and that He is changing me. Also, go to Confession regularly. I know, Confession is scary. I go quite a bit, and it’s still scary almost every time, but it’s so beautiful. I either leave with clarification about some of the struggles I was going through and realize I was making a mountain out of a mole-hill, or I leave feeling refreshed and forgiven. Confession is a Sacrament of healing, and we all need healing. Being nourished by the Eucharist and healed by Confession will help you to put Christ first.
- Focus outward, not inward. I’m not gonna lie, this one is tough for me. First off, mornings can be very hard for me, and for some reason I oftentimes wake up and just feel like my sins are the first thing that hit me in the face. I mean, sometimes they should be because I need to deal with them, but other times I feel like I’m just not engaged mentally and like Satan is waiting for me to wake up so he can ruin my day right off the bat. In turn, I become very self-focused. I start the day thinking about how I can make it through the morning having to do as little work as possible, not playing with the kids or setting up projects for them (I’m a 4K teacher’s aide in the mornings), and just hoping I can avoid any type of sacrifice or discomfort. But, when I enter my prayer time and read something inspirational, it usually directs me to the fact that there is so much more joy in focusing on loving others than on trying to get out of doing work. It helps me to focus outward, on love, rather than inward on myself. That brightens my day and helps me to put Christ first.
- Fast from a little something each day. Look, let me be frank in this portion, there can be spans of days where I go through and rarely say no to my appetite, but there is great power in fasting. I’m not even talking about going through the whole day without eating, or even about doing the two small meals and one regular sized meal (it would be great if you/I did but…). I’m talking as little as having a sparkling water instead of a soda, having milk instead of a sweet creamer in your coffee, saying no to that extra dessert. When we say no to ourselves for the sake of Christ, it frees us up to love Him and others better because it gives us grace to be masters over our flesh. When we are masters of our flesh and can put other things before our own desires, we are truly free to love. Loving is putting Christ first.
- Hang out with people who put Christ first. We become who we spend our time with. If the people around you are trying to put Christ first in their lives, eventually, you will too.
That’s what I’ve got for you this month, guys. Let me make it clear that I can suck at doing these things well and get stuck in that crusty-soul mode for a while, so you’re not alone if you’re not a pro at them yet. But I pray this blog can help you and I to do them a little better and can help us to put Christ first a little more.
Always remember: “Be patient with God, and be patient with yourself.” If we open ourselves to the Lord, He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil. 1:6).
Blessings on your Thanksgiving! Prayers for ya’ll,
P.S. More tips and tricks that help you put Christ first: wearing moon shoes, holding kittens, using Aunt Jemima light syrup, making up nicknames for people, adding an “o” onto people’s names, speaking Polish, watering plants, singing karaoke, skateboarding, doing accents, wearing velcro shoes, going outside in winter, and memorizing all the words to All Star by Smashmouth. Get on these things. 😉