Posts in Prayer
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.

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.

My Morning Routine

Morning routines- we all have them. Even if you feel as if you’re not a morning person, you probably have a set of things that you do each morning.  

Ordinary things, like brushing our teeth and having breakfast... these fill our day if we just notice them. You may even have an evening routine too. 

One of the most significant topics in The 5 Habits of Prayerful People  is that of morning routines. A morning routine, if designed well and with an eye towards prayer, can change your entire day.

By practicing a strong morning routine, you’ll build spiritual momentum. 

What does yours look like? In this post, I thought I would share with you what my typical morning routine looks like as of May 2019. Here goes: 

  • 5:30am Wake up and use the bathroom

  • 5:35 Prepare the coffee and walk the dog

  • 5:45 Pour the coffee and feed the dog

  • 5:50 Morning devotions (Daily Mass readings, read 5-7 blogs, write in DayOne journal, close eyes for five minutes of silence; pray the Litany of Humility)
  • 6:30 Wake up everyone for school
  • 8 Attend morning Mass

That’s it. It’s not magic and it’s not fancy. What it is is intentional and happens nearly every day. Some days, like when I return from a business trip, I need to spend extra time with Cary and the kids in the morning. But most days, this routine is where my day begins and it works really well for me. 

The Ordinariness of Your Routine 

This is an important thing to mention.  On most days, my routine happens and I don’t have any kind of mystical experience. There are so many factors that contribute to this, including:

  • Tiredness

  • Distraction

  • My family up early and moving about

  • Sleeping in

  • Waking up in a hotel for work and having to recreate normalcy

  • Spending too much time reading the news

  • Feeling bored

  • Feeling sad

You can probably relate. The thing is that the human dynamic is complex. The point of the morning routine is to gently push back on all of these factors, practicing your devotions and as a result, compensating for a lack of will power. As I say in The Five Habits, will power is overrated. Spiritual momentum, that’s where it’s at. 

By designing a morning routine that fits your personality and the unique way that God has wired you to pray, your entire day will benefit.