Next week and the week after, I will become less and less accessible, more and more grumpy, and if you push me, downright mean.
These next two weeks are “deadline” weeks in the Oklahoma legislature, or, as we affectionately think of them, living hell.
We have to vote on every bill that every House member managed to author, get out of the various committees and onto the House agenda. That means long days, longer nights, endless debate and mind-numbing exhaustion. I finish deadline weeks feeling like I’ve been drug by a runaway horse. So does everybody else. By the end of this two weeks we’ll hate our jobs and we’ll probably all hate each other, as well.
That’s how legislators do Lent in Oklahoma.
Once, years ago, I tried to give up swearing for Lent. If Lent happened when the legislature wasn’t in session I would have had a fighting chance. But after the third or fourth time I had to go to confession because I’d broken my penance, my pastor got exasperated and told me, “I want you to forget this and pick something you can do.”
I jokingly said, “Well, I haven’t killed anybody. Can I count that as giving up something for Lent?”
He was not amused.
Ever since then, I’ve tried to come up with Lenten practices that fit into my job. You know; things I can do while driving my car to work or when I’m standing in an elevator. That sort of idle time activity. I literally do not have time to pray during deadline week. When I try to pray before I go to bed, I fall asleep. When I try to pray in the mornings, I’m late for work. If I try to pray while I’m driving … well, I’m already tired and distracted, so that’s not the best plan.
One prayer I’ve found that I can actually do is called the Jesus Prayer. It goes: Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.
That’s an excellent prayer for deadline week. If you reflect on it, it’s sort of a mini Gospel in a few words. Anytime you’re in a pinch for time, or at a loss for words, I recommend the Jesus Prayer. It says everything you have to say in one profound sentence.
Another one sentence prayer I pray a lot during deadline week comes from Scripture: May the words of my lips and the meditations of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, my God and my Redeemer.
I pray that a lot before debate.
Then, there’s the Hail Mary: Hail Mary, full of grace. Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, mother of God, pray for me, a sinner, now and at the hour of my death.
The Hail Mary is a cry for help and an act of worship, both at once. It, like the other short prayers I use during deadline week, covers all the ground you have to cover to talk to God.
These quick prayers save my soul (literally) during times like deadline week. But there is another prayer that I’ve learned through the years. This one doesn’t have words, and yet it is perhaps the most eloquent. There are many days when my work is my prayer. I know that sounds odd, but I’ve learned that this can be the most profound prayer and act of worship any of us can do.
What I mean by that is that I am convinced that the most profound act of worship is simply doing what God tells you to do. If I can do my work in a manner that follows what God wants, then I am giving Him obedience, which is profound worship and prayer with feet.
I learned this during a time when I was getting blasted and battered in an ugly and personal way for passing pro life bills. (This was the time when I tried to convince my pastor that the simple fact that I hadn’t killed anybody should count as giving up something for Lent.) It was tough for me as a person and as a woman. But with God’s grace I was able to persevere, and in the persevering I experienced the Lord’s presence in a way that taught me an enormous amount about what prayer and worship truly are.
The best worship is doing what God tells you to do. The most profound prayer is obedience to God from the heart.
All the other worship we do — the retreats, meditations, hymn-singing, scripture reading, long reflective silences — are simply exercises to get us to that state where we can do what He tells us to do with willing obedience from the heart.
I am looking forward to a real Lent one day. I think it would be most edifying to have time for prayer, reflection and long hours in front of the Blessed Sacrament.
But this week is deadline week, and my Lenten practice may very well be once again, not killing any of my colleagues. I think that’s a fine goal for a pro life legislator.