As many of you know (and can read about in my bio section) I used to be a Franciscan friar. The friar’s life is one marked by living in vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, revolving around a schedule of work, play, and prayer. I happened to live this radically different lifestyle in the same city I now work as a “normal” married man (normal enough at least to no longer sport a shaved head, long beard, and gray monk-looking outfit). There are some pretty obvious differences between the two lifestyles. It’s possible though to look through these differences and find underlying similarities. Finding these similarities has been really helpful to me in my own life, while also providing a wealth of material for therapeutic intervention.
First of all, the vows themselves have not completely disappeared. While no longer “vows” in the strictest sense, I find in my life now the three principles of life symbolized by the knots I used to wear on the rope around my waist. Poverty is meant to open our hearts to trusting in God’s providence. I now have to run a business and financially support a household, but there is no less need to rely on God to ultimately support me. Chastity is meant to order our hearts in ways that are proper to our relationships and states in life. By this definition, I am expected to be as chaste now I was as a friar. As far as obedience, well, I think the friars get off easy on that one. Family life can be a lot more demanding than religious life.
More recently, I have been struck not with the similarities between the three vows and my life now, but with the necessity for the structure and order that marked the life of the friar. Friars are not monks, and their life is not quietly contained behind the closed doors of a monastery. Friars are, in fact, extremely busy. You can imagine that New York City friars are even busier than most. For this reason, there is a structure built into the Franciscan life that orders a friar’s priorities and how he spends his time.
Friars pray the “Liturgy of the Hours.” These are a set of prayers taken from the psalms prayed five times a day. They mark the hours of the day for a friar (and all priests and religious). The day starts off with a first prayer, then some quiet meditation time, then the second prayer followed by Mass then breakfast. A period of work is set up in the morning until lunch, which is followed by the third prayers. Then afternoon work, holy hour and evening prayer (the fourth set), then dinner. After dinner there is personal time, followed by the fifth and last night prayer to end the day. Each prayer may only be 5 minutes, but they act as guideposts to mark the day. There might still be 7 or 8 hours of work accomplished, but they are accomplished in a relaxed, mindful, purposeful way. There is no confusion of priorities – when the bell rings for a certain prayer, all work stops.
I am not saying that lay people should be praying the 5 daily liturgy of the hours (though they are really beautiful and a very uplifting practice when there is time to pray them). There is an important lesson that we can learn from the friars though, and it has to do with who we are and what we deserve. We are made by God, to live lives of greatness. We are made out of love, for love, destined for a life of our hearts being infinitely fulfilled to their deepest most indescribable longings. It is so easy to forget this, and get swept into a daily pattern feeling like we are only as good as what we accomplish.
Instead of “being swept,” we can take a stand against this great lie. We can purposefully choose how our day will progress. Of course there are curveballs (as there always are even for friars), but we can for the most part choose how to schedule and spend our day.
In order to know how to spend our time, we need to think about what deserves our time. What is your work? What is your personal time? Who is important in your life? Everyone’s answers will be different, but everyone should sit down and spend a few minutes thinking about these questions. Then you can create a schedule for yourself that incorporates and expresses these priorities. Are your kids most important to you? Do you feel they are the whole reason for going to work? Then make sure you have time scheduled during the week when you are actually enjoying time with them. What about prayer? Friends? A spouse? What does your schedule now communicate about your priorities. The work everyone has to do can be confined to its proper time, the time you choose to give it, and nothing more.
When we don’t sit down to make a purposeful schedule, we are swept along by “life.” “Life happens,” we think, but that usually means the loudest voice gets attended to first and most frequently. The loudest voice is not always the most important voice. Many times, our own voice is lost in the noise.
This is all very easy to say, but very hard to do. I’m not exactly offering a Copernican discovery here. The real insight though is how scheduling, structuring, and ordering our day – each day – can have such a massive impact. One day turns into week, then weeks turn into a month, then months float by to a year. Each day counts. The great thing though is that small changes will have a cumulative effect and can really transform our lives.