Use it or lose it!
I’ve heard this expression countless times in my life applied to countless situations.
The context I can probably speak to the best about this from experience is language. In my youth I was blessed enough to be able to travel and live across Europe; experiences that needed me to become somewhat proficient in a number of different languages. At one point I had a fairly good command of at least 5 languages beyond my native English. Over the years, however, as my need to use some of these languages has diminished, so has my ability to speak them.
Use it or lose it is also an expression often used in reference to muscle. Again, speaking from middle-aged experience, my increasingly sedentary life has also led to decreased muscle mass. I prefer to acknowledge this phenomenon by explaining that my weight has migrated from my cyclist thighs to my gut.
I think the same can be said of our spiritual lives – as we pray less and less, our spiritual life will have a tendency to atrophy.
Unfortunately, not many people see their spiritual life in the same vein as their physical or linguistic abilities. Many approach their prayer life like riding a bike; that you can hop on and off at will and the experience will always be the same. That said, if you haven’t ridden a bike in a while, I wouldn’t suggest the Tour de France (let alone just a stage of this fabled race) be the place to start up again.
Still, time and again, we hear of people abandoning their prayer life because they didn’t have a beatific vision during Grace Before Meals. Even the most holy of saints will tell you that prayer life takes work – work that isn’t always immediately compensated. Blessed (soon to be Saint) Theresa of Calcutta, herself, spoke about going through years of spiritual dryness.
As we turn the calendar on another year, many people (myself included) take this opportunity to make resolutions to change their lives for the better. The New Year’s resolutions that fail by the end of January will be the ones that set their sites on achieving the Champs Élysées or the Transfiguration overnight. The resolutions that will succeed in changing lives are the ones that see the journey is made up of many small steps.
If a renewed prayer life is your New Year’s Resolution, know that you are in my prayers. As you embark on this journey, I would encourage you to remain focussed on the small steps of the journey while always keeping the final destination in mind.
A great tool I would suggest is the Honor Your Inner Monk app for your smartphone. This app will provide you with 2 short daily prayers (morning and afternoon), needing between only 1 to 2 minutes of your time each. Always short, but always relevant, they are the small steps needed to take you through your grand tour towards heaven. If you are looking for a more challenging spiritual goal, I recommend either the Laudate app for daily readings and reflections, or the iBreviary app for a more comprehensive and monastic prayer life.