As many of you already know, I used to be a Franciscan friar.
The friar’s life is one marked by living out vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience revolving around a schedule of work, play, and prayer. Interestingly enough, I happened to live this radically different lifestyle in the same city where I had my first job as a “normal” married man. (Well, normal enough at least to no longer sport a shaved head, long beard, and gray monk-looking outfit).
Although there are some pretty obvious differences between the two lifestyles, it’s still possible to look beyond 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 current life 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 run a business and financially support a growing 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 as I was as a friar. And as far as obedience goes, well, I think the friars get off easy on that one; family life can at times 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 (and I’m assuming 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” - a set of prayers taken from the Psalms and 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 seven or eight 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.
Now, I am not saying that lay people should be praying the five daily Liturgy of the Hours (though they are very beautiful and a really uplifting practice when there is time to pray them!). There is an important lesson that we can learn from the friars in this, though, and it has to do with who we are and what we deserve.
It is so easy to forget that we are made by God to live lives of greatness! That we are created out of love, for love, and destined for a life of our hearts being infinitely fulfilled to their deepest most indescribable longings. Instead, we get swept up into the rush of our daily lives and start believing we are only as good as what we accomplish.
Instead of being “swept along,” we can take a stand against that lie and 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. And 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 can benefit from sitting down to spend a few minutes thinking about these questions. From there, 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 your 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? Your spouse and/or extended family? Friends? 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 get carried away by life.
“Life happens,” we think. But that usually means the loudest voice gets attended to first and most frequently. However, the loudest voice is not always the most important voice, and many times, our own voice is lost in the noise.
This is all very easy to say and 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 a week, then weeks turn into a month, then months float by to a year. Each day counts. And even miniscule changes have a cumulative effect and can eventually transform our lives!
I invite you to challenge yourself to spend a few minutes thinking about how you spend your time: what does your daily routine look like? Now ask yourself who or what you regard as your top priorities. Then consider whether those two things line up. In other words, are your priorities supported by your daily habits?
What are one or two small habits you can add to your daily routine this week to help you "prioritize your priorities"?
Need Help Forming Daily Habits to Support Your Priorities? Check Out These Resources:
Building Habits Course (available as part of the Integrated Life Membership)