Posts in Simplicity
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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The Jesus Prayer: What is it and How do you Pray It?

A few years ago, a friend of mine recommended that I pray “the Jesus prayer”. I had shared my struggle with a lot of negative self talk and she thought that the Jesus Prayer would be a helpful antidote.

To my surprise, it worked.

Before I go any further though, let me share some details about the Jesus Prayer. It’s quite powerful and could be a powerful asset in your prayer toolbox.

What is it?

It’s very simple and you can pray it anywhere, anytime. Some people use prayer beads but they are not mandatory. The prayer is this:

"Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

It’s been called “essential” to spiritual growth by a number of the Church Fathers. The Jesus Prayer is considered a means of praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Since one names Christ as Lord at the very start of the prayer, it is thought to be quite Biblical.

A Biblical Prayer

One can reference Acts 4:12, “. . . for there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved”, Luke 1:31, or Matthew 16:16-18 to name a few. The New Testament is rich with examples of people who call out to Jesus in need of healing or simply seeking answers to life’s difficult problems.

By praying the Jesus Prayer, we return to this tradition in a direct way. It humbles us and reminds us of our complete need of Him. As a prayer it is so beloved by Eastern Christians that it is said to be the most recited prayer after the Our Father and the Hail Mary.

Is it Just Another Mantra?

While some prayers are a means of reducing our stress, the Jesus Prayer is much more. It does not seek to empty the mind but to fill it with the merciful presence of Jesus.

Helpful Articles

If you’re not convinced yet that the Jesus Prayer is effective, here are some wonderful resources that I can recommend:

Helpful Videos

The Impact of the Prayer

In my life, the Jesus Prayer has been a great gift. I use it regularly as a way to focus my mind and heart. I will pray it to start the day, to calm me down in the middle of the day and even at random times while running errands. I find that it’s “pure”- I didn’t come up with it and each word is charged with a heart turned towards God. I can put myself second and God first when I pray the prayer.

Do you have to pray it out loud? Not necessarily. I typically do not. Try it out and see if it can be another component of your prayer life. If you’re like me, you might also become an advocate of the Jesus Prayer.


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What to do When You Feel Inadequate in Prayer

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I recently spent time with a friend who said this, “I’m just not very good at prayer.” This stuck with me for days and I’ve thought about it ever since. My friend is a devout Catholic. He loves his faith and serves the poor in very public ways.


How could a man who has such a strong faith not have confidence in his own prayer life? This very question haunted me for years. In fact, it provided the impetus for my upcoming book The 5 Habits of Prayerful People. I found myself as a freshman in college and teaching myself how to pray.  I was the one asking, “how could I, a Christian for many years, not be comfortable with prayer?”


Can you relate to this? Do you feel inadequate approaching God in prayer? 

 

For Catholics in particular, this question reveals a deep issue. It’s not that Catholics don’t have faith- Lord knows they do!  Rather, it’s the living cultivation of a personal relationship with the Lord that is tough sledding for many. Protestants, more versed in the process of encounter with Christ, tend to learn how to pray more than Catholics. While Catholics say a lot of prayers, many fail to go beneath the surface. As a result, the many recited prayers fail to take the believer deeper and lack stickiness.

 

Pope Francis’ emphasis on encounter is a breath of fresh air and might help more Catholics with their understanding of prayer. In Evangelii Gaudium (2013), he said this, “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.” (For other fantastic quotes, refer to Aleteia’s post.)


That doesn’t mean that a phrase alone (i.e. encounter) will teach someone to pray. What it may do it help us better understand that we need an encounter with Christ in order to form a prayerful relationship with him. That personal encounter with the Lord then moves us to love others with greater compassion and sensitivity. 


I was very fortunate as a teenager. Some very good friends, Protestant Christians, took me under their wing and discipled me. The faith-foundation provided by my parents then flourished. These friends brought me on a retreat and gave me the opportunity to come face to face with Christ. I was invited to make a decision- live for myself or live for Him. I chose the latter. Barely knowing the commitment I was making, I made a small gesture towards God. Since then, as you can imagine, everything has changed.


Having had an encounter with Christ, I then learned how to have a daily quiet time. This was like water on a small seed. Things grew from there. Eventually I would learn how to be present to others, especially those on the margins of society. Still, it all began with an invitation to know Christ in a personal way. Not a bunch of rote prayers. Not another decade of the Rosary (although powerful in itself). It was a simple presentation of the Gospel message: God loves us, humankind is sinful, Jesus died for us, choosing Christ as savior. Today, I try to have a quiet time every day and it’s made all the difference. The simplicity of the Gospel unfolds each day for me and needs to be affirmed daily in my quiet times.


I can relate to my friend who expressed that he doesn’t feel confident in prayer. There are times when I don’t feel all that good at it myself. Sometimes, I feel like I’m going through the motions. Other times, I feel like I’m giving God scraps instead of my full attention.


Even still, I press on. This is the work of a Christian. Never having complete confidence in our relationship with Christ, we still understand that prayer is vital to our faith. The key is to keep at it.  Talking to God takes both faith and practice. Much of our tradition focuses on the former and neglects the latter.


When you feel as if your prayer life isn’t hitting the mark or is less than perfect, don’t give up hope. God wants your daily quiet time to be consistent and fruitful. When you have your next prayer time, savor the moment. What a gift it is to be in relationship with the living God!

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3 Ways to Build Spiritual Momentum
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Willpower is overrated.

While the American ethos will tell you that you have to bootstrap your way to success, the truth is that all of us have benefited from hidden advantages along the way.

  • My friend Gene grew up in Wyoming. He thinks that helped him get into a college in Washington, DC.
  • Another friend happened into a job at a school that paid for 100% of his kids’ tuition. 

You get the point. Each of us has had someone help us at some point along the way. In my mind, that gives us reason for gratitude. If you recognize those that helped you, you’ll forever be thankful for their friendship and assistance.

When it comes to prayer, another “help” is necessary but it doesn’t necessarily come from friends. Rather, it comes as a result of building momentum. I can remember, as a young father, taking my oldest daughter out sledding. The snow was bright white and the quiet it produced made for a perfect afternoon together. 



At one point I invited my daughter to sled down the steepest part of the hill. Not knowing anything different, she said yes and away she went. Faster and faster she sledded and with each foot further down the hill, I grew more worried. Momentum does that- it pulls you in a direction, often faster and further than you realize.

The sledding ended with a bit of parental relief and my daughter lived to tell about it. It taught me something important that day- the spiritual life, to end up in divine union with Christ, needs momentum along the way. 

How do you build spiritual momentum? And, how do you know when you’re swimming in that same pull of God?

I suggest three actions that can help you to build this momentum in your relationship with God:

  1. Commit to a daily quiet time with God. Of all spiritual practices, this is the most important. This daily “check-in” provides an honest conversation with the Lord. Like physical exercise, the daily quiet time has benefits beyond what takes place in 10,20, or 30 minutes of prayer.
  2. Get a spiritual director. I’ve never had a personal trainer but I hear they are amazing. What I have benefited from is a spiritual coach (or “director”) and the guidance has been invaluable. Each month, I make a visit to see him and always walk away with a wind under my sails. 
  3. Go to Confession at least once a month. This advice is one that took me at least 40 years to figure out. I’m not sure I can even explain it but let me put it this way: when you are clearing out the cobwebs of your sin, in an organized way, good things follow. This is what the Sacrament of Confession does for us. Again, momentum follows.

Let’s say that you commit to these three action steps and start to sense that God’s pull (i.e. intimacy in motion) is getting stronger. You’ll start to notice that you are in a good season of spiritual growth. This is momentum and it may look like any of the following:

– Your eye contact with others is longer lasting

– You hear homilies at Mass with more clarity

– You take more time, patiently, to read the Bible

– You linger a little longer as you are journaling each day

– Small things seem interesting

– You find yourself praying for others with a more earnest heart

You could probably add another ten things I’m sure! 

The key in all of this is to begin today.

Don’t wait until tomorrow to let God “pull” you closer to Himself. Do one small thing today to make yourself open to His grace and mercy. You can do it because God can do it through you.


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A New Definition of Silence
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Silence is hard to find.  It’s either the noise in our head, the noise through our technology or the noise via our hectic schedules.

Some would say that silence is actually impossible since the absence of noise might be impossible except for a few remote spots on planet Earth.

If that’s the case, then how might we define silence in a prayerful way?  I describe it the following way, “the intentional and uninterrupted state that you choose in order to be mindful of the presence of God.”

Let’s break it down further:

-intentional: in other words, you choose it.  You take a few moments to be quiet and still.  This can be anywhere and anytime but it’s always deliberate.  Sometimes a quiet space chooses you.  You are going for a hike and the vista nearly arrests you.  It takes your breath away. 

-uninterrupted: in other words, there is focus.  This can be for only a moment but it’s a silence that captures your heart and your mind.  In this way, the silence isn’t forever but for a distinct period of time... and then it ends.  Its ending is either the result of your choice or the noise from outside that breaks the silence.

-mindful of the presence of God: in other words, the silence brings you into deeper awareness of God’s presence.  You become grateful for something- grateful to God.  You gain a new insight- an insight from God.  You process your heart and your thoughts- all so that you can be drawn further into relationship with God.

If silence is found in this way, through an intentional pause from the noise of the world, it can be discovered in ordinary moments.  As you go through your week, where will you choose to find silence and how will God use it to bring you closer to Him?

Noise, prayer, SimplicityMike StPierre
Be Honest- How Much Work Really Gets Done at Work?

A friend of mine recently decided to quit his job in the city.  His office was big.  His title was impressive.  His salary was more than enough for him and his family to live on.

What led to his leaving a cozy job?

It wasn't the money nor the responsibilities he had at work.  Rather, it was the soul-sucking nature of living in the burbs and having to drag his butt into the city each and every day.

He had had enough.  After prayer and more than a few long talks with his wife, he decided he was going to leave and pursue something very different.  

He hasn't looked back since.

Jealous?  I was when I first heard and then, with a smile, I congratulated him and admired his bravery.  If only others had the guts to do the same, I told myself.

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What Steve realized, long before he quit his job, was that he wasn't actually getting getting that much work done when he was at work.  

Be honest- how much work do you get done when you're at work?  I suspect that, if your job is anything like Steve's was, your day is full of any of the following time thieves:

-commuting to and from work (30-90 minutes)
-meetings (30-60 minutes)
-chit-chat (15-30 minutes)
-lunch (30-60 minutes)

A worse-case scenario could rob you of 150 minutes of your day- that's over two hours!  Tack on to the lost time of 150 minutes is the hard-to-measure moments that you lost due to distractions and being interrupted.  

That's not ok.

It's exactly why my friend Steve decided that he had had enough.  He's now doing work that allows him to focus, enjoy fewer meetings and work at his strengths.  Oh, and not having to commute into the city- that's the cherry on top.

If you're tired of these time thieves (as I am!), I suggest the following as an antidote to the problems of the modern workplace:

1. Attend as few meetings as possible.
2. Cultivate time, each day, to think deeply and focus, without interruption.  
3. Find quiet spaces during the day to do work.  
4. Create a personal workspace that you enjoy and look forward to.
5. Have as short a commute as possible.
6. Explore the possibility of working from home, 1-2 days per week.

I'm not saying that it's that simple.  But, it kind of is.  It takes humility to realize that and guts to stick to the simplicity of the whole thing.

Try any one of these six action-steps this coming week and let me know which one makes a difference in your time management and work.  I'd love to hear from you!