Try Starting Your Prayer With a Question

Starting lines matter- a lot. They give us an objective beginning to whatever we are doing. This applies to our prayer lives as well.

There are probably hundreds of different ways to begin your time of prayer. These might include:

  • Making the sign of the cross

  • Reading a particular Bible passage that is meaningful to you

  • Repeating a phrase or mantra

  • Gazing at a religious icon

One thing that I’ve been trying lately is to simply take note of how I’m feeling. Do I have a knot in my stomach? Am I feeling at ease? Is something worrying me?

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This “self inventory” is particularly important when we are going through a difficult or stressful time. Our family has recently been dealing with the loss of a loved one. Very difficult stuff. You want to start the day with a spring in your step. Instead, you feel a brick on your chest when you wake up… the stress of it all.

St Teresa of Avila said this, “Before prayer, endeavor to realize whose Presence you are approaching, and to whom you are about to speak. We can never fully understand how we ought to behave towards God, before whom the angels tremble.” In other words, take note of how you are approaching God, feelings and all.

Silence is not Rejection When it Comes to Prayer

We had planned to move for two years. When our oldest graduated from high school, we would put our house on the market and head west. She graduated and the sign went up a week afterwards, out front of our home. We visited schools in the new town. We picked out our new church.

Then, something odd happened- silence.

Our house didn’t sell. Our new schools didn’t materialize. We had to think of Plan B and C. All the while, we prayed and asked for God’s providence over our lives. We doubted ourselves. We resolved to choose obedience rather than our own path, hoping that that would bring joy.

It didn’t. Instead, it produced confusion and a touch of resentment. Why God can’t you answer us? What are you saying in the midst of your silence?

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Months later, I would learn that God’s silence, while frustrating, wasn’t rejection. It wasn’t a withholding of love. Rather, it was God waiting for the right time to reveal something, to teach something. Over time, it became less about clever planning and more about faithfulness. It became more about being present in the now and not obsessing over the future.

God’s silence wasn’t rejection. It was simply a way of communicating that I didn’t understand at the time it was happening.

Mike StPierre
Three Ways to Get More out of Church Feasts

This week has been chock-full of feast days, from the Sacred Heart to Saints Peter and Paul. Much of the time, these feasts come and go without much reflection on our part. Save for a decent homily (which is  hardly a guarantee), it can be easy to lose sight of each feast.

My recommendation is to utilize the following three (and boy, are these simple!) steps when the Church provides a feast day:

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  1. Do some online research. Whether it’s over at SpiritualDirection.com or a basic Google search, there is plenty of material to bring you up to speed on a particular feast. Don’t overdo it but give yourself five minutes to brush up on your saint or feast.
  2. Utilize art. On the Feast of the Sacred Heart, I was able to find some beautiful modern images that really spoke to me. If you are a visual learner, this step will be particularly helpful. You might download the image to your phone wallpaper or share it with others on Facebook.
  3. Ask the particular saint to pray for you. This isn’t saint-worship. Rather, it’s similar to asking a holy aunt or uncle to pray for you. Their holiness can move mountains. Why wouldn’t we ask a saint to do the same? 

There is so much richness to the Church’s liturgical calendar. With just a bit of intentionality, your faith can be augmented by the calendar.

You Need Alone Time

In this episode of Praying Well, I talk about the serious need that each of us has for alone time. Call it thinking time, time with God, or interior time- breaking from the everyday pace of life has never been more important.

The Why of Alone Time

Rather than filling all of your time with others or with the noise of technology, each of us needs alone time. Here are just a few of the “why’s” behind alone time:

  • Because our world is increasingly noisy due to social media and technology
  • Because solitude is elusive, scary and looked down upon (i.e. it’s not seen as “fun”)
  • Because Jesus himself took time alone to pray (see Mark 1:35)

The When of Alone Time

If you’re not sure when you can actually get some alone time, try the following:

  • Early in the morning
  • During your commute to work
  • When you are running errands
  • Late at night
  • When you are working out
  • When you are outside in nature

I know, some of you may be saying, “Mike, you don’t understand. My days start early and end late. There is literally no down time!” This is a lie we often tell ourselves. You have 15 minutes that you can carve out for God. I do too.

Is Alone Time Prayer Time?

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This is an important question. Just spending time in solitude is not necessarily prayer time. For example, you could be out and about, running errands and listening to sports talk radio all the while. That’s time by yourself but probably wouldn’t constitute true alone time. 

Rather, quality alone time with God integrates prayer with time. For example, you need to weed your garden and you say a prayer at the start of it, thanking God for nature and the beauty of the outdoors. Then, while you are working, you are thinking of spiritual things and talking to God. This might be out loud on interiorly. The key is that you’ve “located” your time within God’s providence. It’s His time. You are participating in it. A quiet atmosphere helps. Things don’t have to be totally quiet but less noise is always a good thing.

Following Up

You’ve read this post and you’re already thinking of the busy details of your day. Still, you want to incorporate more alone time in your schedule. What to do? I suggest scheduling your alone time with God right now. Is there a 15 minute block that you can pencil in and just “be” with God? Even a small window of time can be helpful.

The Difficulty of Daily Prayer

Imagine yourself sitting in church. The pastor asks a simple question, “How many of you have had a quiet time, alone with God, at some point in the past week?” 

A couple of hands go up. Most remain firmly tucked under the thighs of the parishioners. Eyes dart to the floor, uncomfortable. 

Let’s be honest- most Christians don’t have a daily time of prayer with the Lord. Many don’t even go to church on a regular basis- that’s for another post for us to discuss. 

The fact is that too often, we rely on our own willpower to muster up prayer. Over time, this is simply not enough, becoming overmatched by the hectic pace of our schedules. 

What we need is the following: 

  • A daily system (i.e. ritual) of prayer (I recommend the ACTS formula) 
  • ...which then creates spiritual momentum
  • ...that results in confidence

In this week’s video, I unpack this situation a bit further, plus I have a special invitation for all of you: 

Clearing out the Clutter: False Notions of Prayer

Last week I cleaned out my gardens. I should quote the word “gardens” as they are nothing more than 3x3 boxes of weeds. At least they were. Now, they are gleaming boxes of dirt, waiting for new flowers to be planted.

My son and I had to first pull the huge weeds followed by a ritual activity with a hoe. As you can imagine, this is hardly a popular call to arms for the helper. For me, it’s just something that needs to be done in order to let new things grow.

Think of your prayer life- is there clutter that can use cleaning? Are there weeds that need to be pulled?

Many of us, myself included, have incorrect notions about prayer. The Catechism of the Catholic Church, a rich resource for Christian teaching, says this about our misperceptions about prayer:

  • “In the battle of prayer, we must face in ourselves and around us erroneous notions of prayer. Some people view prayer as a simple psychological activity, others as an effort of concentration to reach a mental void. Still others reduce prayer to ritual words and postures” (2726).

For some, prayer is thought to be nothing more than mindfulness, dwelling on our breath and being aware of our surroundings. While a good start, this isn’t prayer as the person of God is not involved in the activity.

For others, prayer is thought to be a process of clearing the mind until one thinks and feels nothing at all, a sort of psychological bliss. While St. John of the Cross hints at contemplative prayer as being beyond thoughts and feelings, he never abandons the fact that prayer involves two who are in love- God and the disciple.

Finally, as the Catechism states, some view prayer as merely a set of ritual hoops through which to jump. Think of the rapid-fire Rosary prayers... not bad but often missing the point of communing with God.

Each of us is susceptible to false notions of prayer. The key, like a garden, is to continually ask God to prune out what doesn’t belong. Then, new things can grow and God can do wonderful things in us.