No screen time. No sweets. No retail therapy. No alcohol. These were just a few of the 22 disciplines that I agreed to undertake when I said “yes” to the Exodus 90 spiritual program. The result was 90 days of self-denial and spiritual enrichment that would draw me closer to my friends, my family, and my Lord.
It all started at a Christmas party. I was chatting with a friend who had completed his Exodus the year before, and he was explaining to me why I should consider it.
“You have to commit to a daily holy hour,” he said.
“That's good,” I replied.
“And read through the Book of Exodus each day.”
“You can't have any desserts.”
“Uh-huh,” I nodded, putting a forkful of chocolate cake into my mouth.
“There's also weekly fasting. Plus no beer or wine, no tv, no movies, no video games, no social media, no surfing the web. And your coffee has to be black.”
“Hmm, okay. So is that it?”
“No.” His brow furrowed. “You can only take cold showers.”
I froze. He felt my apprehension. “I know it sounds tough,” he continued, “but just think of the day you're finished. What it'll feel like. When I woke up Easter morning last year, I felt like a new man.”
“Yeah, I guess...”
Part of me had already dismissed Exodus. But another part of me, envisioning the end as my friend described it, was really, really interested.
It took me a week, but I came around. I was fully onboard. The program was set to begin mid-January, 90 days before Easter. Myself and eight other men formed a local fraternity, which is an essential part of any Exodus 90. Like other Christian communities, our new rule of life couldn't possibly be lived out alone. Without the support of our fraternity, and specifically designated “anchors” with whom we were paired up and expected to communicate regularly, any kind of prolonged success wouldn't be possible.
Each man in our fraternity had his own reasons for participating, his own particular sins and attachments that impeded him from growing closer to God. In Exodus 90, we saw a pathway, a concrete plan to devote more time to prayer and our families. It was a means of bettering ourselves and an opportunity to pick up our cross daily and follow Jesus.
Like most men, I felt great after Exodus Day 1. By Day 10, I was going strong. At Day 20, I was still fully engaged. Yet by the time Day 45 came around, I'd hit a wall. I was in Mass, receiving the ashes on my forehead, and a thought drifted through my mind: I've just finished one Lent and now I have to start another
. The weight of all that time ahead of me felt oppressive. Sure, there were some disciplines I liked doing, but there were enough of them I didn't, and quite frankly, I wasn't keen on doing them for another six weeks!
I was in a personal valley. But it was at that low point when the simple truth became real for me: if I was going to make it to Day 91 with any kind of success, it wasn't going to be from my strength or willpower. It was going to be solely from the grace of God, through prayer and the Sacraments. Ultimately, success wouldn't be because of me but because of Jesus working through me.
And work through me He did. More than any other discipline, I drew the most strength from my daily holy hour. It was too difficult for me to commit to an unbroken hour, so I'd spend half of it praying the Rosary and the other half meditating, usually in front of the Blessed Sacrament. More often than not, I would finish my dedicated time of prayer feeling refreshed and emboldened to press forward.
The weekly meetings our fraternity held were also a great source of strength. We would often gather for a holy hour then move on to a member's house. There, we would talk about the challenges and successes we encountered the previous week and discuss practical ways of improving for the following week. Needless to say, nobody kept all of the disciplines flawlessly, all of the time. It was empowering to know that, despite your shortcomings, you were pointed in the right direction and could rely on the other men's prayers to sustain you along the way.
In my opinion, part of the point of Exodus is to have its standards so high that perfection is near impossible. In failing to achieve the disciplines perfectly, it forces each man to humble himself. Like life itself, failure is a feature of Exodus, not a bug.
Around Day 60, Exodus turned into something totally unexpected. With the outbreak and subsequent response to COVID-19, the world, at least in part, joined in our Exodus disciplines. Self-denial was incumbent on everyone, whether they desired it or not. Live and televised sports vanished. People weren't able to purchase whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. Polls indicated that people were praying more. The sense of fraternity among many grew stronger. Everyone was taking part in video chat meetings, and our weekly fraternity meetings were no different. Sure, it was not the same as meeting in person, but we, like everyone, had to make do.
Staying away from non-essential news was particularly difficult for me. It was already something that I had struggled with – wanting to be on top of things and in-the-know – but the pull of endless COVID-19 updates, the live press conferences with politicians, the opinions of everyone inside and outside the Church was often too difficult to resist. When I'd started Exodus 90, I told my wife, “Just fill me in on anything I need to know in the news and in the Church.” And that arrangement worked fine the weeks before COVID-19. But by the second week of the pandemic, I was often the one to say to her, “Hey, did you see that stat? Did you check out that headline? You gotta see what they wrote in this article...”
To be sure, it wasn't just the news. I lapsed in other disciplines as well. But overall, by the time I reached Easter morning, Day 91, I felt I had achieved what I had set out to accomplish. I'd offered up my mortifications, having endured each of them with varying levels of success. I was able, however meagrely, to weaken my attachments to earthly things – things which impeded my total gift of self to God and to my loved ones. I had made some progress in the lifelong pursuit of trying to unite my flawed will with God's perfect Will.
Exodus 90 was a journey to remember. As my friend had promised, I woke up Easter morning feeling like a new man. Exodus made me a better husband, father, and a more committed follower of Jesus. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't extremely happy to jettison some of the disciplines – goodbye, cold showers! – but the experience of the last three months has inspired me to continue offering up as many sacrifices as I can for the sake of myself, my family, the Church, and the world.
For more information about the Exodus 90 spiritual program, please visit: exodus90.com.