Working Toward Godliness

O Lord and Ruler of Life, take from me the spirit of idleness, despair, cupidity, and empty talking. Yea, O Lord grant that I may see my own sins and not judge my brother. For thou art blessed forever and ever. Amen.

This ancient Lenten prayer has been posted around my house this year. I've found it to be a good one over the long haul. At first, I read it and thought it a nice prayer, easy to memorize and entirely usable for Lent. Then, it began to seep into me.

Take from me the spirit of idleness, despair, cupidity, and empty talking. Idleness? Dear Lord, I have eight children who still live at home and are all still homeschooled (except for the infant who is attached to me twenty-four hours a day). How in the world can I be idle? Ah, but I can and I am. When I sit at the computer and mindlessly click away while I nurse the baby, I am idling my brain and, more importantly, my spirit. After a few weeks of praying this prayer, I have found myself spending that nursing time with one of the spiritual books I chose just for Lent or in the quiet of my room, rocking with a rosary, or next to a couple of children on the couch, reading them a good book. Yes, please, take from me idleness. Take it and don't let it creep back in.

What about despair? Honestly, I don't often feel very despairing. But I've noticed it in my household. The spirit is here. This prayer is for my children — particularly my teenagers — who are all too often held captive by feelings of despair.

 Cupidity is a desire, usually for things. For me, the Lenten discipline is to take good care of the things I have, to be very careful with home maintenance. I don't desire things but I also don't outwardly appreciate what I have the way I should. This is a great big house, with lots of people in it and lots of people have lots of "stuff." There is no excuse for it to be poorly tended. I have been given much and much is expected. I do not desire more; I desire to do more with what I have.

And empty talking. This really is why I was drawn to this particular prayer. There was a time when women at home were drawn to chatting away over the backyard fence or meeting each other for coffee in a restaurant or wiling away the hours attached to a telephone with an extra long cord. These are not my temptations. I have no fence, I no longer drink coffee and I'm not all that fond of the phone. No, my temptation is captured in a screen. Lord, save me from email and message boards. Save me from hours and hours of philosophical and theological conversations that actually draw me away from You and lead me outside your will.

I cannot live my vocation if my time is taken with idleness and empty talking. Even talking about motherhood, homemaking, and God himself can be empty talking if I talk (or write) about it and I neglect to do it. Time on earth is finite. The days of childhood are numbered. Distracted mothers are a curse to their children.

There is a place for online support and fellowship. It serves a purpose and can be a blessing. But I also think that the devil drives the information superhighway. He claps with glee when moms log on. Lent is a time of discipline. Ascetism is about growing in self-discipline. This prayer helps me to see how I must order my time and my attention. Quiet stillness is a good thing. Idleness is not. Concern is a good thing. Despair is not. A home to grow in is a good thing. Chaos in that home is not. Encouragement and support in my vocation is a good thing. Empty talking is not.

Layer by layer, we peel away the things that stand between ourselves and godliness. We make more time for and pay more attention to the good things. And we leave behind those things that are not.

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