Soul-Sucking Jobs and the Rule of Life

“I don’t know what my work schedule will be like next week.” It makes me a little sad to hear this. At first, I didn’t think much about it, but as I encounter more people who sincerely desire to grow in their spiritual life but are feeling stuck, I am starting to evaluate it a bit more. And before I say much more, allow me to state plainly that I guilty of this myself, so know that what I say here is targeting the man in the mirror.  The truth is that most of us are dissipated, inconstant, and easily distracted. Unfortunately for some people, part of this isn’t even their fault.

Short Attention Span

Image result for wikimedia distracted

Diagnoses of Attention Deficit Disorder have increased significantly in recent history and it doesn’t take much observation of your average American to realize that we have a serious attention-span problem.  Truly, the causes and responses to ADD really deserve their own focus, but I bring this up to call your attention to one factor that is related to the topic at hand.

As my compatriot Jordan pointed out last Saturday:

We can become so overwhelmed with the vast number of possibilities that… we either become paralyzed into inaction or we just become really, really bad at doing any of them.  Unlimited possibilities usually breeds poor decision-making. We are incapable of enjoying one party or event because we’re too busy thinking about what we’re missing at the other party…We lose interest in one subject or job because we’re too busy thinking about the other”

Whatever balance of nature and nurture might lead to ADD, I am confident enough to say that our culture’s overwhelming number of options is a significant contributor on the “nurture” side of the equation.  I say this with some experience of it myself: I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder as a child in the early 90s and have lived with it both with and without the help of medication.  Let me assure you that there is a tangible difference in my ability to focus, my symptoms, if I am faced with too many options.  Regardless, simply from understanding human nature, we know that repeating actions over and over create habits and that habits can become a key part of our character.  Now, struggling with distractions is one thing, but repeatedly choosing to distract yourself, choosing to think about where you could be instead of where you are, will create a habit of being distracted – and that can become a character trait, and a disordered one at that.

A Dissipated Life

What if it isn’t just your mind that is always in a different place? It’s one thing if at any moment your mind could be in one of a thousand places – anywhere but where you are.  It is a whole new level of ‘distracted’ if your time could be spent anywhere; if from day to day, week to week, you aren’t quite sure where your whole body will be and what demands will be placed on your day.  To some extent, times like this are not only inevitable, but even desirable.  Most human beings have at least some desire for adventure and the prospect of being pulled into sudden new demands seems promising.  It can even temporarily relieve that malaise that we moderns seem to be afflicted with.  But, left unchecked, it comes with a steep price. Irregularity makes it much harder to develop good habits and we need good habits in order to become good people.  It also makes it easier to develop bad habits, particularly habits of simply surrendering to impulses and desires like eating, drinking, and seeking pleasure without carefully considering kind and amount.

frustrated_man_at_a_desk
“You want me to come in to work when?!”

This is what I was hinting at with my opening line.  I’ve found that having an irregular work schedule makes it harder for individuals develop good habits.  I’ve heard many a time that it was hard to get to mass, hard to pray, hard to avoid a particular temptation, and even hard to have a healthy social encounter because an unpredictable work schedule interrupted a planned event, consumed an entire weekend, or left someone simply too tired to keep their eyes open at a designated prayer period.  The truth is that mankind does want adventure, but they also want regularity.  Really, we want a peculiar mix of the two.  I’m not sure where I heard it, but I was once told that we can see God’s concern for man’s mixed desires in the fact that we have a yearly cycle with variations of seasons.  The same season all the time proves monotonous, but never knowing what will come next proves nightmarish.  Man must have routine – at the very least, he must eat, drink, and sleep in a way that resembles a pattern if he is to stay alive.  To thrive, man usually needs some form of a rule of life – a guideline and routine designed to enhance discipline and keep priorities as priorities.  If a significant portion of your daily life, your job, is outside of your control or even your prediction, this can be seriously difficult.

So how do we deal with it?

That’s a tough question because making a living doesn’t always afford us the luxury of choosing a stable job.  Let me clear that I am not condemning the idea of alternative work schedules that allow the employee to design their hours and work week – such a design allows the employee to craft the optimal routine for themselves.  My concern here is the work arrangement where chaos is more or less forced upon the worker.  I find that this is harmful to the human person, and I’m not the only one.  Yes, I would encourage social change in this regard, but that is a large-scale and long term project.  For the moment, let’s consider what can be done by the individual in that situation. Some of this can also apply to those with regular work arrangement (or no job) who haven’t had a rule of life yet.

So what do you do if you find yourself in that situation? Here are a few ideas:

  • First of all, you have to accept the idea that a rule of life is not only a good idea, but basically necessary for living out the Catholic Faith.

 

  • You also need to make that truth personal. You need to accept that idea that it is worth it for you personally to seek some kind of discipline in your life.

 

  • Pray.  Seriously.  Spend at least a half hour in a chapel when you decide to create your quasi-rule-of-life. Mentally tell God (or, if your alone, even out loud) about every demand that is placed upon you.  Ask him to grant you a sense of priority and the ability to respond to his inspiration in the midst of all these demands.  Express your desire to love and serve him and to let his light influence every area of your life.  Don’t be afraid to ask him to provide a job or way of making a living that is more conducive to growing in your faith.

 

  • Write down major obligations you wish to keep up. Be realistic, but keep it a little challenging.  Consider which spiritual practices you most want to keep up in your hectic life.

 

  • Sunday Mass – I recommend looking up and listing out all the times available in you area. Post the times and locations somewhere visible so you can reference it when your weekend schedule gets crazy and you only have a few hours to spare.

 

  • If you can, outline a general plan for each day of the week – try breaking it up into segments (Morning, Midday, Evening) or even into hours. This may take some adjusting over time.

 

  • Especially if your schedule is unpredictable, attach the most important needs to something you know you will do almost everyday. For example: eating, sleeping, television (be honest, even on busy days, most of us end up watching at least a little bit as a breather).

  • A quick prayer (longer if you can), when you wake up and when you go to bed, whatever time that is.
  • Things like grace before meals, or stepping it up to a whole devotion before a meal (e.g. a rosary or divine mercy chaplet).
  • I highly recommend a prayer before sitting down for some entertainment (e.g. the Come Holy Spirit, or a prayer of your own words asking for moderation and prudence)
  • Perhaps requiring yourself to do a certain amount of reading/study before allowing yourself an episode, a movie, or a game session.

 

  • Use Technology wisely: set reminders on your phone with your alarm or calendar app. I also recommend the Magnifcat app, which has a feature that reminds you to pray at specific times.

 

  • Be patient with yourself. A rule of life is an ideal that is often interrupted. Keep striving for it and adjusting it to make it realizable, but don’t be too scrupulous about it.

 

  • Seek advice. If you have a spiritual director, confessor, or particularly disciplined friend, ask them to help you tweak your own plan.

 

Think I left out something important? Have some questions? Please comment below. Don’t forget to share, tweet, and like it if you found this helpful. God Bless!

Posted by Fr. Albert

Fr. Alexander Albert is a priest of the Diocese of Lafayette. He was ordained a priest in June of 2016 after receiving an M.A. in Theology from Notre Dame Seminary. He currently serves as the Parochial Vicar for St. Peter's Catholic Church in New Iberia, Louisiana. He takes an interest in Spiritual Theology and has his own blog, Albert The Ordinary, where he posts homilies and analyzes movies.

Website: http://www.alberttheordinary.com