Posts in Devotions
Five Things You Can Do For Lent (and why they matter a whole lot!)
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Ash Wednesday begins on March 6, 2019 and for millions of people around the world, this means something- action. All of us want to put our faith into action and Lent is the perfect time to do this.


People will begin a 40 day sprint towards Easter and will either give things up - a sort of sacrifice- and also try out new things. It’s also a wonderful time for humility, a time to acknowledge that our prayer lives are rarely what they ought to be. As St. Josemaria Escriva said, “You don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and as soon as you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!’ you can be sure you’ve already begun.”


I figured it would be interesting to connect five actions you can take during Lent to my upcoming book, The Five Habits of Prayerful People. I wrote The Five Habits in order to provide a virtual toolbox of strategies for prayer. It’s designed for the busy person in mind.

Before we link the book with Lenten action, let’s remind ourselves why Lent matters in the first place. Lent comes from an old word meaning “lengthen”- as the days get longer, the sunlight returns and we inch ever closer to Easter. Since Easter is all about Jesus triumph over the cross through his resurrection, Christians have, for thousands of years, practiced a sort of “retreat” during Lent. This looks like, not surprisingly, a series of actions designed to help us get ready for Easter. 


Lent is a fitting time for self-denial.
— Pope Francis

If you “do Lent right”, you’re more likely to enter into the deeper mysteries of the season and as a result, draw closer to Jesus. As Pope Francis said, “Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt."

The problem of course is that we get distracted, tired or bored during Lent. The things we resolve to give up can become a distant memory if we’re not laser-focused on the task at hand.

Ok, let’s now match a strategy with each of the Five Habits:

  1. Habit of Passion and Pursuit >> Begin to enjoy five minutes of pure silence each day. Start with one minute each day for a week. Each week, add a minute to your silence. Invite God into the stillness.

  2. Habit of Presence >> Look people in the eye. When you are in public and in passing or when you are one-on-one with someone… work to give them your full attention.

  3. Habit of Preparation and Planning >> Choose the tools you’ll use during your morning quiet time. This will likely be a Bible and journal. Besides that, what else speaks to you? An icon? A crucifix? Identify and group the tools you’ll use. Place them somewhere that you’ll have your daily quiet time.

  4. Habit of Persistence and Perseverance>> Install a quote that inspires you in a place you’ll see it. This might be a quote from a saint or a Bible quote. Put the quote inside your journal or Bible. Or, have the quote framed and placed in a spot where you’ll see it often.

  5. Habit of Pondering>> Take one day off from technology each week. This is the single most powerful strategy I’ve used in the last five years. Step back from your phone and give God one day a week to break through the noise of digital stimulation.

These strategies really work. More significantly, they matter a whole lot. They contribute to a more prayerful life and collectively will help you to slow down. When we slow down, we are more present and it’s much easier to find God in everyday life. 


Quick Win: Learn the One Phrase that Will Transform Your Prayer


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Is It Selfish to Take Time To Pray?

Maybe you’ve heard of it? Exodus 90 has taken the Catholic world by storm in the past year. A program for men to practice ascetic routines, prayer and fraternity, Exodus 90 has become synonymous with “I’m serious about my faith”.

I was at a recent event and one of the attendees was on day 33 of Exodus 90. At one point, he broke off from the group in order to find a chapel and pray. I was impressed. It wasn’t as if he got up in front of everyone and made a scene. Rather, he used the free time in the meeting schedule to head off and pray.

When was the last time that you broke off from the pace of your day to pray?

This “breaking away” can feel very selfish. What will people say? Will anyone notice? How will it be interpreted?

A bit of context here: Jesus took time for prayer. Luke 5:16 says this about the Lord’s time management, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”

We could end here and just leave it at, “If Jesus did it, I can too...” This would be reasonable.

But how about some other practical bits of advice? Here are three that come to mind:

  1. Don’t think that everyone is watching you. The man I was with at the meeting? I doubt that anyone even noticed that he was gone.  The same goes for you and me when we take a few minutes alone to pray.

  2. Many good things in life can be seen as “selfish”. Eating healthy foods is selfish and also something you should do. Working out is selfish and also something you should do. Getting 7-8 hours of rest is selfish... you get the point.

  3. Sometimes you just need to get away. As you build spiritual momentum, God will impress on you the times when you just need to get away. 

Is it selfish to pray? Sure. Does that mean that it’s something to avoid? Hardly.

Anything that’s good for us has a level of self-reference but that shouldn’t stop us from doing it. Give yourself permission to get alone with God and together, get on the same page. You’ll be glad you did.


Quick Win: Watch this Video about Morning Quiet Times


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What to do When Prayer Feels Stale
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All of us get into a rut. I know that I certainly do, especially when it comes to prayer. 


Like many other things in life, routine can build momentum but it can also contribute to monotony. A friend of mine, Allan, once told me that he tweaked his workout routine every few months. The reason? To avoid getting so routinized that the enjoyment of working out gets lost. 

Your prayer life is no different. 


How do you know when it’s time to change things up? Here are some easy indicators:

• Prayer feels stale. 

• You have no desire to pray.

• Other people are annoying you.

• You are more distracted than usual.

• You feel disinterested.

• You have been using the same tools for several months.


Now, let’s say that you experience three or more of these indicators- take note of that. Then, ask yourself what you’re prepared to do about it. After all, you can’t face burnout and then just ignore the warning signs.


Imagine for a second that your body was giving you signs of a heart attack- you would take swift action! 


Your prayer life, your intimate relationship with God, deserves the same urgency. Don’t panic just because you sense burnout and your prayer feels stale. Everyone I know who is serious about his/her faith goes through some level of this. As the saying goes, “it’s part of the process”. It’s not bad, especially if you notice it. What would be worse is to lack all spiritual sensitivity and just go through life without any attention to prayer.


Yet, this sense of needed change is not one to barge into. Rather, it takes a discerning heart and a willingness to make some changes. Give yourself permission to make some edits to the way you pray. 

These edits might include:

1. Picking a different time to go to Mass.

2. Using a different daily devotional book (if you use one).

3. Modifying your prayer corner at home.

4. Listening to sacred hymns as you begin your time of prayer.

5. Finding beauty in icons.

6. Flipping your morning prayer time to evening.

And on and on...

In meditation we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in others...
— St. Charles Borromeo

The key, as with many other things in life, is to make some effort to be present to God over and over again. The way in which you pray is essential to this. Rather than letting your prayer life simply fade out, try something new. 

The Holy Spirit often takes us through dry patches in prayer. St. Charles Borromeo said this about prayer, “We meditate before, during and after everything we do. The prophet says: ‘I will pray, and then I will understand.’ This is the way we can easily overcome the countless difficulties we have to face day after day, which, after all, are part of our work. In meditation we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in others.”

This is not to be misinterpreted as if we can make it all happen by our own effort. Hardly!

I like this brief meditation from St. Mary Magdelen de Pazzi who said, “Prayer ought to be humble, fervent, resigned, persevering and accompanied with great reverence. One should consider that he stands in the presence of a God, and speaks with a Lord before whom the angels tremble from awe and fear.” (Emphasis mine)

Prayer isn’t easy. It takes practice and perseverance. Yet, what a beautiful opportunity we have- day after day- to make ourselves wholly present to God. 


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How to Create a Prayer Corner in Your Home
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I had the pleasure of attending an event for over 15,000 college students earlier this year. While the workshops were fantastic and the vibe electric, two things stood out for me and they both had to do with spaces for prayer.


One was a large room that was transformed into an Adoration Chapel. With chairs arranged as they would be for a church (i.e. straight ahead), an altar was placed in the front of the room with the Blessed Sacrament exposed. A large crucifix was hung and a nice backdrop established. To the right and left of the altar were separate prayer areas with specially lit artwork. The idea was that you could pray in a number of different ways in this space. See my photo below to get a better feel for it.

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The second prayer space was mentioned briefly in one of the keynotes. The speaker mentioned that he had recently moved to a larger home that offered two walk-in closets. Not needing one of them, he converted it into a “chapel”, outfitted with pews that he found on Craigslist from a Baptist church. His point: if you’re serious about prayer, why not dedicate some space in your home for it?


When I got home, I realized that a tiny spot in my office might work well for a prayer “zone”. You can see the photo below, with Ace the Fierce Guard Dog opening up the Word!

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 I’ve realized three things about this prayer space:

• It’s an excellent “teacher” for my children. When they see the area, they know that it’s not an ordinary space.

• It gives me, as a visual learner, a focal point. While most of my prayer is eyes-closed, I love the items in my space and they remind me to stay focused.

• It uses an otherwise unused space. I was just going to install a bookshelf for envelopes and extra paper supplies. What I now have is an attractive area to meet with the Lord.


Here’s a homework assignment: look around at your home. Where can you establish a prayer corner? What special items can you include in your corner? Some ideas might include:

• A Bible

• An icon

• A small plant

• A crucifix

• A relic (no stealing one from your local church!)

• A holy image


Ok ready to make your prayer corner? Go for it! I bet that you’ll find, as I have, that it amplifies your prayer life and provides a wonderful example to those with whom you live.

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Can You Pray in 10 Minutes a Day?
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What can you do in just 10 minutes? 

I did a quick inventory from the past week and came up with a few answers:

Change the sheets on the bed

• Unload the dishwasher

• Steam clean the kitchen floor

• Call my parents on the phone

• Iron my clothes for the following day

You could probably create a similar list if you had to. It’s actually kind of amazing when you think about it. Much of the time, I tend to underestimate what can be done in just ten minutes

A question I’ve been thinking about lately relates to this. Can you build a meaningful prayer life on just ten minutes a day? 

The answer surprised me. 

Let’s compare prayer to physical fitness. If you asked the same question, (Can you get fit in just 10 minutes a day?) would you get the same answer? Yes and no. And, it depends.

Yes, you could get fit (or at least more fit) by dedicating 10 minutes every day for brisk physical activity. Do this over and over again and you’ll have built a steady habit of fitness. Will this propel you towards olympic competition? Most likely not.  Will you develop six-pack abs in just 10 minutes a day? Perhaps...

Now turn it over to prayer and the 10 minute question. Will you become a saint by giving just 10 minutes a day to the Lord? Probably not. It will likely take you more time and a lifetime of devotion and service. But can (here’s the six-pack abs element) you build a strong foundation of prayer in just 10 minutes a day?

I think you can.

Prayer is not so much about minutes but about routine and momentum and honest dialogue with God. If 10 minutes can help you with that routine and stronger relationship with God, it might be just the thing to focus on in the coming month.

You can do a lot in just 10 minutes a day. God can do even more than we imagine in that same block of time, given over to him faithfully each day.

To be clear, this is not about speed or about rushing through prayer. While Jesus did recommend brevity (Matthew 6:7), it’s of course good if you can spend more than ten minutes in prayer. We’re talking about the basics and about foundational habits. Saint John Paul II said, “Become a saint, and do so quickly,” but he didn’t mean that we ought to hurry when we pray. Rather, he meant for us to sense the great love God has for us and respond accordingly.

I’m mindful too of this quote from St. Alphonsus Maria de Liguori, “He who prays most receives most.” Give God your 10 minutes and let Him do the rest. Over time, these moments will expand and then spill over into the other minutes in your day.


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A Resolution Worth Keeping
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I can’t imagine a year starting without a sense of hope. Hope for better fitness, hope for a simpler lifestyle, hope for new breakthroughs at work.


Psychology Today reports that many people start off the year with great optimism but, sadly, find it fading away just a few weeks later.


It’s not as if the resolutions themselves are bad. Who wouldn’t want to have 6-pack abs or more financial margin?


Rather, it’s that we often lack the structure needed to truly activate a new habit. In the case of prayer, it’s really about three things:

Visualization: the most important question I ask people when we talk about prayer is this, “If you could take 5 minutes to pray, what would that look like?” There is great power in imagining yourself alone, in a corner with a Bible in your lap. Or, alone, in a Church with your eyes closed and no one around. You get the picture. The key is to have a picture for yourself. This is like putting your handprint into cement- it leaves a mark.

Rituals: more than just routines, rituals are repeated actions with God in mind. A morning prayer ritual is different from a morning routine like brushing your teeth. A morning prayer ritual might include a phrase, a quote, a reading, a journal, etc. The ritual forms a mindset of “something bigger is happening here”. The ritual, as Fr. Ronald Rolheiser says, “carries you” when you don’t feel like praying.

Momentum: with a prayer time visualized and then rituals being put into place, God will build spiritual momentum in you. This momentum is vital for God’s insights to show up, God’s messages to be heard and God’s nudgings to be felt. It’s often after the fact that you see that God had been at work. Momentum makes this possible.


Can you imagine a daily prayer time in your new year? For me, the routines are in place and my foundation is steady. Now, it’s time for me to ask God what He wants to do next.


Maybe it’s time for you to do the same.

 

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