When I played basketball at a very small college, once per year we would go and play a big, NCAA Division I school. The scores in those games usually weren't very pretty, as we were one of the small schools that those big schools would schedule as a "cupcake" game. Aside from the beatings we took, another memory stands out about when we played our DI game my first year: it was my introduction to hecklers. We were playing against Tennessee St., which isn't exactly the cream of the crop of college basketball, but whose team was still several levels above us. They had a pretty big arena, but hardly anyone was there for the game–except for a few guys who probably sat on the front row at every home game and made it their sport to heckle the visiting team. They were good, too. As our team was getting throttled (as I recall, they had nine straight trips down the floor when they hit a three-pointer on us), at least we had something to enjoy from the evening by appreciating the way their hecklers were making fun of us. They made fun of everything about us. They mocked our uniforms, called our coach "Physics Professor" the entire game, and would come up with different things to say to each of us. I wasn't an important enough player on our team to warrant many comments from them, but I still–16 years later–remember laughing at their only comment to me: "Hey #42...I can just look at you and tell you ain't got no rhythm."
I haven't thought about that night in quite a while, but it came to mind today as I thinking about something that happened a few days ago in my year-long experiment: I got a warning sign that I'm losing my rhythm. By this point in the experiment (now five months in), I've experienced how good the rhythms of praying that I've undertaken can be. They provide a method for constantly returning to God, and I'm realizing more and more how desperately I need that.
But there have also been bumps in the road of the experiment. I've had a good number of times when I've completely forgotten to pray. It's most often happened during the evening, and I usually don't realize it until I'm reading night prayers with my wife before going to bed. I avoided forgetting any times for a while in the beginning, but ever since the first time happened and my original streak ended, it's become more frequent.
So, forgetting one of the times for prayer certainly wasn't a first for me. But, for the first time, a few days ago I went to pray night prayers and realized I hadn't prayed at midday or evening that day, nor had I even thought anything about it. I've missed times here and there, but this was the first time that I'd missed two in a row. That caused me to think a bit about how I've gone, from planning my day around praying in these ways in the beginning of this experiment, to now being about halfway through the year and going from morning until night without praying and not even noticing that I hadn't done so. I think the answer has to do with what those hecklers told me: my lack of rhythm.When I began the experiment, I had a rhythm in the evenings of reading my prayers after I put my daughter to bed. But then, somewhere a few months into the experiment my wife and I made a good change and began alternating which one of us would be with our daughter at bedtime and which would be with our son. The rhythm changed, and so did my practices. I still remember to pray on the nights when I'm with my daughter, but–though I certainly enjoy the evenings when I'm with my son, I haven't adjusted my habits accordingly.
People who have practiced these things a lot longer than I have often talk about the importance of having a certain place and time for praying, so that it becomes a habit to be in that place at that time, and when we are–we don't even have to try to remember, but we'll just pray naturally out of custom. When we do something like that every day (or most days) it becomes a rhythm for us.
That's good to pay attention to, and it's also good to pay attention to the flip side of it. When there is some change to our daily routines, we shouldn't be surprised if our spiritual habits also get a bit out of rhythm. When we moved from the U.S. to Guatemala, I was seriously out of rhythm for a while, but after a while I settled into better habits than I had known previously. When we moved back to the U.S. a couple of years later, I was again out of seriously rhythm for a while, but–again–the habits came out stronger after some time. Major changes like that throw wrenches into the works of any good rhythms we may have established. The big changes in our lifestyles usually have big impact, and it may take a while for our habits to resurface in a new way after the changes have settled. I've been aware of that dynamic for a while, but this experiment is helping me to realize that it also comes into play with the smaller changes, like the adjustment in our routine of putting our kids to bed.
Whether the changes are big or small, and our resulting out-of-rhythm-ness is major or minor, I think it's safe to say we can go easy on ourselves. Yes, we want the habits to resurface, but the fact that you may feel like you've lost them in a period of change doesn't mean you no longer love Jesus very much–it probably just means you're out of rhythm for a while. Be merciful to yourself–with intention, they'll come back after some time, hopefully even in better ways than you knew them before.
The good part of this is that every time those changes to our lifestyles come, we have an opportunity to reshape our habits in new ways that are more conducive to the kind of lives we want to live and the kind of people we want to become.
Something I've prayed this week:
O God, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as surpass our understanding: Pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. (Prayer for the Sixth Sunday of Easter from The Book of Common Prayer)
[This is the 28th post from A Year of Living Prayerfully]