**Disclaimer: the author makes no claim to having perfected the ideas and habits proposed herein. These are simply true principles that can help any of us grow, if only we will practice them diligently.**
Surely all of us, as we have scrolled through social media, have noticed quite a few posts with videos or images proposing “life hacks.” These little tricks supposedly make life less frustrating, more productive, and more enjoyable. Some of them are extremely clever and intriguing. I only wish I had the time in my busy schedule to experiment with them. But, I guess that’s the ironic point of these hacks: to give me a little more free time.
And, right now, lots of people are posting and talking about their new year’s resolutions. People want to be less frustrated, more productive, healthier, and wealthier. So, people begin new jobs, join fitness clubs, take up new diets, begin using new daily planners, and so on. In short, they begin looking for and employing life hacks for some of the most important things in life.
In the midst of this deluge of recommendations and flurry of activity, we need some advice on how to develop a spiritual life that is sustained, robust, and effective; and which brings joy and peace. After all, we are embodied souls, and we need to take care of the spiritual part of us as much or more than the physical and emotional part of us. That’s why I would like to recommend four really simple spirituality “hacks” for your new year. These are practical, helpful habits and tools that lay persons can use, developed and employed by four religious orders from the Church’s rich history.
The first hack is to create a schedule and stick to it. This Benedictine principle (Cistercian and Trappist, too, as Benedictine offshoots) serves to cultivate stability. Every person, whether married or ordained or consecrated religious, feels the importance of stability for themselves and the sake of their families and communities. While Benedictines strictly adhere to their schedule and rule of life, there are ways that laity can do a similar thing. Give up the snooze button on the alarm clock. Get up and pray at the same time each morning. Schedule family dinner for the same time each weekday evening. Set inviolable boundaries for the end of a workday.
The second hack is to practice the presence of God. This Carmelite principle, presented most simply by Brother Lawrence in the seventeenth century, helps people to recognize and encounter God in the average moments of their daily lives. The simple reality is that God is present to each of us in every moment of our days, and He wants to deepen our connection with Him. It is possible for any one of us to encounter the Lord in a profound way while taking a morning walk, studying math or physics, listening to a priest’s homily, gardening, washing dishes for a family of seven, and so much more. All we have to do is ask the ever-present God to be present to us in those moments.
The third hack is to discover the way(s) that God desires to work through each of us to impact others; the way that He sends each of us as missionaries to aid in the mission of the Church. This is the Dominican principle of giving away the fruit of contemplation. God always intends for us to be in human relationship after we have been in relationship with Him. Specifically, each of us is given talents, strengths, and gifts that can help make God’s presence real to other people. To make this effective, we can begin by learning our individual temperament. Then we can move to discovering our natural strengths areas. Finally, we begin to soar in the spiritual life by discovering the charisms that God has given to us to, the tools He intends for us to use in building up the Kingdom on earth.
The fourth and final spirituality hack is the daily examen prayer. This staple of Ignatian spirituality allows a person to assess his or her status before God, each and every day. If employed daily, this fifteen-minute exercise will tie together each of the previous three hacks. Many people prefer to undertake the examen in the evening or at night, but it is possible to complete a daily examen in the morning for the previous day. Sometimes, people will do an examen at lunchtime, simply reviewing the first part of the day. No matter when it is completed, this exercise will foster a thriving spiritual life, which will certainly have positive impacts in family, community, and professional settings.
These four practical and spiritual habits are pillars of the spiritual life that will bring someone toward joy and peace. Certainly, other devotions and practices can and should be added, such as the sacraments (Mass and Confession, specifically), the Rosary, spiritual reading, novenas, and litanies. Still, having these pillars in place will allow each of those other devotions to be more lively and fruitful. Now, we should have a better idea of how to “hack” 2023 for God’s greatest glory and for the good of the world.