I promised you a very different follow up to my entry on why young adults don’t pray. You probably imagined a list with amazing tips to pray more. But the more I thought about it, and the more I talked to friends, I realized this is the entry I needed to write for today.
Reading is my beautiful escape and comfort. I read to know that I am not alone. I read to live a thousand lives all at once. It is a great pleasure to devour a book – to be transported to other worlds, to explore all the secrets of a story, to be intoxicated with the ardor to change the world. A good book is both portable magic and a marvelous companion, for it amuses me and attends to the cares of my soul. But, for me, there is nothing easy about reading a book. I find myself reading all sorts of magazine articles and online essays, but giving my full and undivided attention to a book is a different matter.
As much as I enjoy burying myself in a book, starting a new one can become a task in itself. It took me three weeks to psych myself up to read John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars. My friend Jenny gave it to me for Christmas last year. I was in between books and decided to give it a chance. I stared at the it for a week. I finally got tired of looking at it and I moved it to my night table. It called my name for ten days, but I was too busy reading Wired Magazine on my smart phone.
By the time I started to read it, I could not put it down. I wept and I wept. Occasionally, I smiled. Often, I sighed. The book moved me and transformed the way I see people living with terminal illnesses. I knew something like that would happen, for the book came as very highly recommended. Every time I stared at it, I knew the future-me would thank me for reading it. But the then-now-me sought gratification elsewhere.
My struggle is not limited to new and trendy reads. Something similar happens with many classics. I bought Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 in 2005. It took me eight years to pick up the darn book. Today, it is among my favourite books of all time. The struggle is real. It happens with almost anything that was not written by J.R.R. Tolkien or J.K. Rowling. My agony over starting a new book stems from the perfect storm of procrastination, lack of discipline, and fear of committing to new things.
The torment is not limited to reading. It includes all sorts of things that will help me to grow, to develop, and to mature. In my struggle, there is a specific pattern that I follow. It might be subtle, but it goes something like this: I think of an activity that needs to be done, like laundry. I visualize and assess how much time, work, and energy it will take. Suddenly, I am overtaken by lethargy. I delay the chore and instead decide to check Facebook. Two and a half hours later, it’s time to go to bed.
My friend Channing (yup, I've got a friend named Channing, but he's not the one who played Magic Mike on the big screen) calls this sort of struggle an anchor – the resistance we feel the moment we think of a project that we don’t want to do or want to delay. Let's take the laundry example. I know doing laundry is good; I like to wear clean clothes. When I am feel tempted to wear less-than-clean clothes, I know Mom would give me a headlock if I ever tried. So, I know that doing laundry is a necessity. My brain recognizes it as such, but, after assessing the task, I suddenly find myself Googling Black Friday memes or watching Zee Frank’s YouTube videos. When my thoughts return to doing laundry, I feel a bit of inertia or fatigue. I might even feel listless and blah. Something similar happens when I attempt to start reading a new book.
I know I am not alone in this struggle. A large percentage of young adults have issues with procrastination and delayed gratification. If you ask me if I would rather have fruit or cake one week from now, I will usually say fruit. A week later when the slice of cheesecake and the kiwi are offered, I’ll definitely go for the cake. You know the drill: You want to eat healthy. You know you have time to go to the supermarket to buy fresh produce to make a tasty and hearty salad. But you decide to check Instagram and thirty minutes later, while you are still on the couch, you choose to order a pizza. The slips are frequent. You put off reading the great book, or watching the fascinating documentary you've skipped on Netflix a hundred times, in order to watch another episode of Suits. You know laundry, reading, and prayer are priorities, but you skip them for now and promise yourself that they will get done tomorrow.
I have come to see that this mix of procrastination and a lack of discipline is the main reason why young adults don’t pray, or why we pray very little. This is also why we pray about what is comfortable and familiar, but are afraid to go deeper into the Heart of Christ. I know that in order to read and pray more, I have to make better choices. I need to go to bed early in order to wake up early to pray. But using my smart phone less can sometimes seem like a futile exercise. Why would I ever want to use your smart phone less? I can't get to places without Google Maps. I can't win arguments without Wikipedia or IMDb. I don’t know a single phone number by heart. You know what I mean. You're probably reading this on your phone.
But if I want to read and pray more, if I want to wear clean clothes, I need to put the phone aside. I need to make and commit to the tough choices. I need to learn to start thinking more about the future-me and less about the now-me. I have to to put away my childish primal human predilection for pleasure and novelty, so to trick myself into doing what is best for me and for my relationship with Christ. It is all about showing up; the book will take care of the magic. All I have to do is to open a space for prayer – whether I schedule it or I recycle an unused corner of my schedule – for God takes care of the rest. All I have to do is get started. I know my heart will be delighted and transformed.