Quite a few months ago, a group of missionaries were driving home from Mass at St. Mark’s in Clarkesville and couldn’t find anything good on the radio. No one had an ipod connector in the car, but luckily we found a stack of CDs in the center console. After some discussion, I picked out a mixed CD with “You Are Loved!” written on the front in black sharpie.
The first couple tracks on this CD were the basic Christian songs you hear on the radio, some Chris Tomlin, some Third Day, etc. I really don’t have a prejudice against any of these artists or songs in particular, but after living at a retreat center for several months by this point, we were looking for something new. Song aftter song got a veto from someone in the car and in a matter of minutes we were on track 10, a song now affectionately known as “Give Up Things.”
Almost miraculously, I didn’t press skip after ten seconds. This was something new. It wasn’t the music that caught my attention. The guitar leads with a couple basic chords, and the only other instrument is the distinct “chee” of an egg shaker that must be somehow hooked up to a microphone. There are background singers, which I can only assume are also those responsible for the electric egg shaker, and a short, cheesy bridge. In fact the whole thing is a little cheesy. The chorus sings “I will walk with You in the desert. Say my prayers and give up things.”
But still by the end of the song, we were all singing along and listened to it on repeat the rest of the way home. We joked about the ridiuclously vague lyrics, “say my prayers and give up things.” But the more I thought about it , I realized this is a pretty good description of how my life can be sometimes.
As missionaries we pray. A lot. We pray personal holy hours (an hour of personal prayer) and Liturgy of the Hours (a prayer of the Church) every day, plus intercessory holy hours a couple times a week. Then, we pray before we do just about anything: eat, work, drive, sleep, talk, etc. We get pretty close to St. Paul’s advice to pray without ceasing. And we give up a lot of things by choosing to follow God’s call to be a missionary. This year we were asked to give up romantic relationships for a year to focus on our relationship with God. We give up personal space in sharing our rooms, we give up our weekends to serve retreat, and sometimes it can all seem like a lot.
Then I remember. This life is not about “saying my prayers and giving up things.” It’s about a relationship with a person, who I am so in love with, I want to talk with Him all day, and I would sacrifice anything for Him. Lent is long and by now, many of us have lost that Ash Wednesday zeal. We ask, “Why did I think it would be possible to give up sweets AND desserts!?” or “How am I supposed to pray a rosary EVERY SINGLE day?” You may even feel like you’re just saying prayers and giving up things because you have to or for no real reason at all. Take heart, let’s persevere in our prayer and fasting and remember the WHO when we struggle and want to ask WHY.