This post was originally published on the Integrity Blog.
First things first.
It’s a phrase I tend to associate with cleaning, like getting the most annoying tasks out of the way.
Recently, though this simple phrase struck a new chord with me. It was one of those moments when previously disconnected thoughts formed a coherency in a single and succinct phrase.
I was driving to work one morning. It was one of those mornings when my routine had just fallen into place perfectly, like a really satisfying putting together of puzzle pieces. I woke up without hitting the snooze button. I drank two cups of coffee leisurely wrapped up in a blanket. I did a harder-than-normal workout and ended up on the floor drenched in sweat. I took a shower and prepped my lunch and made my breakfast and hopped in my car. My lessons planned ahead of time, I drove to work feeling ecstatic on endorphins and ready to crush another Monday in the face.
Instead of turning on the mindless celebrity news morning radio show that I “treat” myself to on my commute, I flipped the switch from FM to AM. I felt sophisticated enough to listen to NPR like a cool adult. And I ended up turning the station to a pastor’s talk on prayer.
Needless to say, the words really struck me as simple and profound. Prayer, this man said, was not a coming to God begging for another problem to be be solved or a meaningless “thanks so much Father for a new day” blah, blah, blah. Prayer is acknowledging the mightiness, power, and ultimate sovereignty of God over all else and joyfully and intentionally submitting my will to His.
He pointed out that even when the Israelites were in a really tight, awful, and horrible place, they never started their prayers with “Father, please save us from horrendous demise” or “We could really use your help, right now please”. They didn’t pray with nagging. They purposefully submitted their own will to God’s sovereignty and offered up their plight to Him,because He literally knows best. He literally is in control.
It got me thinking: wow, that is not the way I pray.
Honestly, folks, it got me thinking that I really don’t pray very much at all.
I am super routine oriented, diligent and precise, eager to succeed and driven to work. I deepen my mind in reading and I physically go to Mass. But the state of my mental prayer? The state of my authentic and heartfelt prayer life?
I like all these cute flowery quotes on Instagram about love and surrender and I have a stack of books on my shelf about the road to perfection but...shit. My prayer life is, and always has been, weak. I know I can’t possibly be alone in this. I want to get better, I want to pray, I tell myself I will. But I don’t.
Why don’t I pray like I am supposed to? Why don’t I do what I know is necessary for the state of my soul?
Simply because, I discovered, I don’t put first things first.
I never forget to eat. Ever. It’s built into my day. I do it three times without fail. I never forget to exercise. I don’t always like doing it, but I do it because I absolutely fall into tiredness and sluggishness without it. I don’t forget to check Facebook. I don’t forget coffee. I don’t forget many things, because I make those things a priority.
I do the things I chose to make time for. There really isn’t guesswork about it. Either I make things a priority and I do them. Or I don’t.
I’ll be the first to admit that I make excuses for why I don’t pray like I should. I’m busy; I’ll get around to it. I’m calling bullshit on myself. I’m not too busy, and I won’t get around to it because things like that are never done at all unless I intentionally mean to do them in the first place.
How dare we say that we have time to feed our physical bodies during the day, but not time to reorient ourselves to the Triune God that asks us to strive for greatness and virtue.
How dare we say have time to browse social media, but not time to open our Bibles and reflect for five freaking minutes on the Word of God.
How dare we make time for everything else in the course of the day, but we leave out the most basic and essential element of our human existence because…we just never got around to it
Prayer does not have to be long, profound, complicated, or time consuming.
Prayer can be short, sweet, simple, and five minutes long. If the Israelites can make it a priority during legitimate captivity and torture, well so can we in the midst of our *busy* lives.
They say you have as many hours in the day as Beyonce. Well, I have as many hours in the day as any mystic, theologian, martyr, or saint that has ever walked this earth. They weren’t anything special. They just knew to put first things first. And they didn’t order or structure their days around what they felt like getting around to doing. They had their priorities straight, and if they can do it, so can I.
It’s an attainable, truthful, and immediate change that we all can make. Here’s to putting the real first things first, and I really mean first.