Posts in Devotions
Tell God What’s On Your Mind

We sat in the car, driving along route 22 in Pennsylvania. It had been a long week and I wasn’t sure if my son had had a particularly good one. With a new school  and having to make new friends, I wondered how everything was going.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” I said.

And the rest just flowed. We talked about new friends and old, about navigating a new school building and about what kids were like. The conversation didn’t last long but it was just what the doctor ordered. The father-son “pulse check” was complete.

This is a strategy we can also use in prayer.

By starting our prayer time with a personal inventory, a sort of check-in, we are laying it all out there for the Lord. Sometimes we feel a certain way and that bleeds into our devotional time. I find that telling God what’s on our mind is just as valuable. 

The end-of-day Ignatian examen is a genius way to complete the day. Let’s not ignore the power of the start of our day and the many things on our minds at that time of the day.

When you take stock of your thoughts, you accomplish three things:

  1. You become aware. By sharing your thoughts with God, you are then more mindful of what’s bothering you, what preoccupies you and what is lingering in your head.

  2. You become grateful. We are so fortunate to have a God who wants to know us personally. He wants us to share what we are thinking and feeling. This produces gratefulness. We are not alone.

  3. You learn to surrender. Sometimes, our thoughts are quite strong. At other times, we can just let them go and move on. In either case, we learn to offer up to the Lord what we carry into prayer.

After all, what we are thinking is often what we are feeling.

As an example, I might say, “God I’m thinking about the day ahead and I have some anxiety...” Or, how about, “Lord I’m thinking of my mom’s friend who is very sick.” Both examples are on my heart (feelings) but also on my mind (thoughts).

The Bible isn’t absent on this point. Romans 12:2 speaks of this feeling-thought dynamic:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The process of renewing our thoughts takes practice. Many of us, I’m speaking from experience, can let thought patterns develop over decades. These are hard to change. What I’ve found, with years of practice, is that a daily sharing with God of what I’m thinking is the best remedy for unhealthy thoughts.

I realized in my late thirties that I had a very primitive view of God. He was the professor grading my life with a red pen. I could never measure up to His high standard. This thought pattern took years to unearth. Thankfully, it only took a few years to reshape.

Saint Teresa of Avila also speaks to this. She says, “It isn’t good to let our thoughts disturb us or worry us at all.”  St. Thomas More contributes this advice, “Occupy your minds with good thoughts, or the enemy will fill them with bad ones. Unoccupied, they cannot be.”

Our thoughts matter to God. Why not begin each day’s devotions with a sharing of them with the Lord?

Four Things You Should Pray About Today

What should I pray about?

That question is very real and one that I imagine many of us (secretly) ask. I know that I do. Seriously, what should I pray for when I see a car accident on the side of the road? What should I do when my mom tells me that her neighbor has fallen and been rushed to the hospital? You get the point.

Then, there are smaller things. Last week, the freezer in my fridge stopped working. Not stopped as in “hot” but more like turning-ice-cream-into-soup kind of stopped. Being from New England, this is tantamount to a cardinal sin. I cried a bit inside when I had to throw away the half-full containers of Cookies and Cream.

Forgive me Lord. Next time, I’m going to offer it up and consume both containers rather than sending them to the trash can. That’s the right thing to do.

I digress.

Should I pray about the darn freezer? Does God care about that or is it too small? Maybe he’s working on climate change or immigration. I wouldn’t want to be a pain in the rear end with something as puny as my freezer.

Hear what I’m saying?

So what should you pray about? Here are four suggestions:

  1. Yourself. This is more of a “praying for” type scenario. You should pray for the grace to desire God more. It’s good to pray for the courage to follow Christ more faithfully. There is value in asking God to turn you into a saint. In other words, be selfish so that you can be more for others. Check out St. Paul’s advice to Timothy, “Attend to yourself and to your teaching…”

  2. The condition of the Church. If the Church is Christ’s body, we want it to be healthy. I don’t know about you but I see a bruised, limping community, struggling to follow Christ. I see leaders who have lost their fire and followers who have (often) only a slight knowledge of the faith. We are all at fault and our weakness should grieve us. It’s good to pray for the renewal of the Church.

  3. Those that don’t (yet) believe. Do you pray for your neighbors on your block? How about your coworkers? There’s no shortage of people to pray for when it comes to those that don’t yet know Christ. Look around. Don’t leave out the folks who live closest to you. Sadly, these may be in your own family. Don’t give up on them and pray too for the grace to be a good role model to each one of them.

  4. The raw needs of those close to you. You get the call that your sister’s mother-in-law has had a setback in her battle with cancer. That’s real! Your friend just found out that his job is being eliminated in two months. These kind of situations happen all of the time and they deserve your heartfelt prayer.

We could add a ton of other items to this list but you get the point. Consider these four things in your daily quiet time. I suspect you’ll be glad you did.

If Your Prayer is Simple, That’s a Good Thing

How simple is your prayer? This question is particularly valuable for those starting out and for those highly mature in the spiritual life.

  • The “starter” just wants to be with the Lord, spending time simply with the One who they are falling in love with.

  • The “veteran” has a simple prayer life as if a grandfather is spending time with his grandchild- the time together is enough.

My graduate class this semester is dealing with this tension- how simple should prayer really be? It’s a fascinating topic and one that my students are (appropriately) wrestling with. It’s something I wrestle with too! At times, I want to engineer more feeling, more emotion and more clarity. At other times, it’s cool to just present myself to the Lord.

Be compassionate with yourself when it comes to this tension. Depending on the season of your life, the level of simplicity will correspond. The key, not surprisingly, is to keep showing up day after day. The Lord will do the rest.

Make the Sign of the Cross

In this recent video on YouTube, I shared a story of a Protestant friend of mine. We walked into a chapel and I blessed myself with Holy Water, making the sign of the cross. Unfamiliar with this tradition, he thought it was odd to dip one’s finger into the water. I showed him that there was nothing magic about it.

Rather, making the sign of the cross was an ancient practice. Anyone could do it.

The sign of the cross is also a wonderful way to begin or end your time of prayer. Think of it as a bookend. Without the bookend, the novels will fall over.

This week, try slowing down and making the sign of the cross. Enjoy it. Savor it. Recognize that God is present and that you are taking special note of that fact.

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?

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.

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.