How do I get my focus back?
Q: Dear Father John, As I have grown spiritually I have noticed that I don’t have the same interest and level of ambition for things in my life like I used too. For example, I used to work fairly hard at keeping the house clean, the yard well-kept, the car shiny, etc. This caused a lot of stress and yelling on my part, as I tried frantically to “do it all”. Then I began thinking that I was doing things for the wrong reasons. That God didn’t care about the house, yard, or car. Or at least not as much as I did. And that God preferred that I slowed down and became more patient, etc. I realized pride and ego were driving mist of my life. I started re-prioritizing and began spending more time on Scripture study, prayer, spiritual reading, adoration, etc. I also began ignoring “worldly ambition” as I saw that it was not leading me closer to Christ. The problem is that I feel adrift a lot of the time. I still have the same work and family responsibilities as before, and I do what needs to be done, but I don’t feel that desire to keep up appearances and to keep up with the neighbors. Without that drive I find myself getting lazier and lazier. And procrastinating more and more. I used to know what was important and what I should be working towards, but now it is all very hazy. How do I get my focus back?
A: The spiritual life has two main sectors. It looks like you have been moved by the Holy Spirit to focus fruitfully on one sector for a while. And it looks like now the Holy Spirit is nudging you to add some time and effort to the second sector.
Sector #1: The first sector is weeding out self-centered attitudes and behaviors. If you were being productive before, but doing it out of self-centered motives, you were certainly right to slow down so that the Lord could realign your heart. Your increase of time spent in prayer, spiritual reading, and other faith-centered activities created some space for God to give you a more Christ-centered vision of yourself, of Him, and of the world. With his help, you pulled up a lot of weeds that were choking the garden patch of your soul. But just like the parable in the Gospels, where a man sweeps out his house and gets rid of all the devils, only to have seven more devils find it later one and move back in (Cf. Luke 11), we all have tendencies to revert to self-centeredness if we only stay focused on that first sector. Besides, we also get bored.
Sector #2: Remember the passage when Jesus calls his Apostles? You can find it in Mark 3. He actually calls the Twelve aside, and he chooses them to be his Apostles, the Twelve. It’s the model passage for the call every one of us receives from Christ, in a unique and personal way. But the essential structure of the call is the same for each. It has two versants. Jesus sets aside his chosen ones, “that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mark 3:14-15). In this verse you find the answer to your question. You have responded to Christ’s call to “be with him,” to develop a life of prayer, to get to know his teaching, to spend time in his presence – sector 1. Now it is time for you to take up the baton of your mission as his ambassador in this world. He wants to send you out as his witness, his representative, his solder, to spread the light of his truth and to roll back the forces of evil.
Where to Go?: Where does he want you to go? Start close to home. Your first mission field is your immediate sphere of influence: family, parish, work, friends… How can you serve those people better? How you can place your gifts and talents at their service? How can you better mirror God’s goodness to them and help each of them discover God’s love, or if they have discovered it already, how can you encourage and help them to live more and more in accordance with it? You may also have an opportunity to bear witness in a wider scope, depending on the possibilities God’s Providence has given you.
What to Do?: What does he want you to do? You spread Christ’s light in three ways –the three W’s.
First your way of being. The poise, elegance, simplicity, kindness, balance, responsibility and humble charm with which you strive to do all your normal activities (chores, conversations, tasks…) can, with God’s help, send forth the “sweet aroma of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15).
Second, your words. Words are so powerful! We should always speak so as to help shed light, encourage, bring joy, avoiding all unnecessary criticism, along with gossip, detraction, and calumny: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Growth in this area will boost your entire spiritual life, and always give you more to shoot for, more ways to show and grow your love for God: “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well” (James 3:2).
Third, your works. As Christians, not a day should go by without our taking the initiative to serve someone in need, whether the need is physical, emotional, or spiritual. We are members of the Body of Christ – we are his hands and feet in this world. (A wise guide for this aspect of our mission in life is the traditional “works of mercy”, which you can find listed in the Catechism, here.) You may also experience a strong desire in your heart – which could be a call from God – to get involved in a specific ministry or apostolate. More and more often now, lay men and women are being moved by the Holy Spirit to take the initiative in the New Evangelization and put their talents and experiences directly at the service of the Church’s evangelizing mission. See Catholics Come Home or Pure Fashion, for example. These two new, creative (and effective!) apostolates were both started by lay people. In short, you are like St Paul. God has given you a vision of the light, and it has changed the direction of your interior life. Now you need to pray what St Paul prayed, getting ready for a new adventure: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” (Acts 22:10). As you begin to dedicate energy and time to developing this second sector – sowing new plants in the garden of your soul, not just pulling out the weeds – you will find once again the focus and the enthusiasm that you feel is missing. It is in loving – that’s what this is all about, loving more, loving as Christ loves, putting one’s own life at the service of others simply for their good – that the fire of your heart will be rekindled. And furthermore, your interior life, your “being with Christ” will also be affected. You will find that you experience more intensely your need for God’s grace. You will find a more fervent desire to encounter Christ and know him better. You will find that you have more – and more, and more, and more – to learn from and more to say to the Lord.
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