When a good friend proposed the idea of a weekly prayer group to our shared circle of friends, I jumped on the idea. My confession is that the eagerness I felt had less to do with the idea of praying and more to do with the thought of seeing this group of women regularly. We’re in a long-distance series of friendships, spanning two time zones and four states, and the prospect of having a particular reason to meet through video chatting every Tuesday thrilled me.
Since I first learned the concept of goal setting in fourth grade P.E. class, I’ve been obsessed. New Years, birthdays, beginnings of seasons, the first day of the month: you name the new beginning and I’m there crafting a page of resolutions, a bucket list or a series of S.M.A.R.T. goals around it. I like goal setting because it helps me manage my time in a way that aligns with my values, and it provides me with positive ends to work towards and a sense of accomplishment when I’ve met those ends.
The busier I become, the more I’m tempted to rush or even decrease my prayer time. But whenever I do this, I neglect the real purpose of my prayer: to set aside time and space to connect with or encounter God.
The works of mercy are loving acts of service and compassion directed towards the spiritual and material needs of our neighbors. At first glance, it may seem odd to include them alongside other forms of prayer, but we must remember that prayer and the Christian life are inseparable. The love of God that leads us into prayer is the same love that leads us to serve our neighbor. Consider the words of Jesus: “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39).
Fasting is a voluntary abstinence from something good, usually food. It’s a familiar spiritual practice for most of us, but it’s also a practice we tend to take up only during Lent or only when the Church tells us we have to. That’s unfortunate because fasting is, in the words of St. Basil the Great, a powerful “weapon of protection against demons.” Similarly, Christ tells his disciples that certain kinds of demons can only be cast out by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29). With this in mind, we should want to be well-practiced at fasting and have this form of prayer in our spiritual arsenal at all times.