Is Lent Stressing You Out?
 
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It’s Lent once again and you’ve probably made anywhere from 2-3 Lenten “resolutions”.  Catholics have a love-hate relationship with these kinds of Lenten activities.

 

On one hand, we feel excited about doing something new for and with God.  We secretly feel that maybe, just maybe, this Lent we will draw closer to the Lord.  Will this be the year when I have a breakthrough?  Will this year be any different from previous years?

 

On the other hand, it can feel like drudgery.  The fasting bothers us.  The alms giving only reminds us that we aren’t that generous in the first place.  By the time Easter arrives, we are more relieved than anything. 

 

The other weird part of Lent is that we are, most of us anyways, pretty awful at making resolutions.  Think of the last New Year’s Resolution that actually stuck past February 1- I thought so.

 

I’m no different.  Some years during Lent have gone really well, others not so much.

 

This year, I’ve decided to give something up that’s a bit out of the ordinary: podcasts.  Hear me out.  I drive a lot of carpools each week, getting my kids to and from school  and sports practices.  There’s a lot of time in the car and sometimes it feels like a part time job. 

 

To fill the space, I listen to podcasts.  A typical week might offer me 20-25 podcasts.  I listen to casts about politics, sports, productivity, faith and everything in between. 

 

So far, my Lenten sacrifice has been difficult but good.

 

A bigger question is whether your Lenten sacrifices are stressing you out.  Are they?  What’s behind that stress?

 

  1. A bit of friction might not be a bad thing. This might show you that you’ve been “soft” in the months (years?) leading up to Lent.  It might also be God telling you to sacrifice a bit more and to hang in there.  Sacrifice isn’t meant to be a cakewalk after all.
  2. You may have set yourself up for failure.  Is your Lenten sacrifice unrealistic?  Have you taken on more than 1-2?

 

My advice would be to sacrifice only one thing for Lent.  The key though is to make it a meaningful sacrifice.  For me, it’s podcasts. For you, it may be something else. 

 

Finally, it’s ok to make a “mid-game adjustment” during Lent.  Pray for the wisdom and discernment to know what God wants for you to do during Lent.  After all, a Lenten sacrifice is a means to an end, not an end in and of itself. 

 
Should You Pray if You Feel Like a Phony?
 
 
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Phony people are everywhere.  They live in your neighborhood.  They sit in the cubicle next to you.  They go to the same church as you.  They put on a mask and pretend that everything is better than it is.  Inside, they are just as insecure as the next person. 

Let’s not be too critical though- each of us is a phony at some point. 

You may not be 100% phony.  It may only show up once in a while.  Like when you’re in a meeting and want to sound smarter than the next guy- phony.  Or, when you’re having someone over for dinner and you want to impress- there it is again. 

Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk who stands as one of the most significant spiritual figures of our time, called BS on phoniness.  He discussed it using the phrase “the false self”.  To Merton, there is the person you are, ultimately found in God’s love and mercy for you.  This is the person you must discover and embrace. 

The phony you (and me!) is where we get into trouble. 

Merton put it this way, “Every one of us is shadowed by an illusory person: a false self. This is the man that I want myself to be but who cannot exist, because God does not know anything about him. … My false and private self is the one who wants to exist outside the reach of God's will and God's love — outside of reality and outside of life. And such a life cannot help but be an illusion. … The secret of my identity is hidden in the love and mercy of God. … Therefore I cannot hope to find myself anywhere except in him. … Therefore there is only one problem on which all my existence, my peace and my happiness depend: to discover myself in discovering God. If I find Him, I will find myself, and if I find my true self I will find him (New Seeds of Contemplation, 1961, pp. 34-36).

Whether you feel like a phony today or it’s a general awareness that you have, the question remains: how ought you to pray when you know that you’re being phony?   

Think about it- when we are phony, we least want to pray.  It’s our ugliest place to be.  Yet, in some ways, it’s the best condition through which we should pray.   

Phoniness can be a blessing.  

If we can place it before God, acknowledging how we feel- fake, plastic, incomplete, God can do wonderful things with it.  Beneath it is a raw desire to draw close to the Lord.  Beneath phoniness is something beautiful and that is who we are in Christ- beloved by God. 

This is the ultimate journey: going through phoniness to our truest self in God- beloved. 

So should you pray when you feel phony?  Absolutely.  Simply close your eyes, talk to God from your heart and pray for the grace to be real with God.  Pray for the grace to accept yourself, where you are today at this very moment.  Embrace that.  Offer that “you” up to the Lord and pray that God does something extraordinary through you and in your moment of vulnerability. 

Faith, Motivation, prayerMike StPierre
The Spiritual Benefits of Journaling
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Do you have a habit of journaling?

I’ve been using a journal for about a decade.  Initially, it started with the old fashioned scientific notebooks that cost less than $1.  I would write one page per day and try my best to capture the day’s events.

For the last few years, I’ve shifted to a digital form of journaling.  Day One has been my go-to app of choice.  Day One is excellent for the following reasons:

1.  It’s multi-device.  I can write on my iPad, iPhone or on the Mac app.

2.  The UI is clean and modern.  Fonts are minimalistic and the overall feel is quite clean.

3.  Encrypted notebooks. Whether it’s via fingerprint or their Premium option to encrypt notebooks, Day One takes privacy seriously.

Journaling is valuable for anyone tending to their interior life.  It’s scientifically supported that, when you journal, the following occurs:

Your health improves.

Your stress decreases.

Related to prayer, journaling has a number of valuable benefits.

First, journaling gives you a sense of progress.  While prayer is not about “measuring”, it is important to build spiritual momentum.  An app like Day One shows you how many days in a month you’ve written in your journal and that feels good (or, not so good!) to watch your trends.

Second, journaling gives you an excuse to show gratitude to God.Through what you write, you can express the many things for which you are thankful. By bulleting your items, you will likely realize that you have more things to be thankful for than you had previously thought.

Third, when you relate journaling to spiritual direction, its value becomes even more evident.  Rather than wondering what God has been doing in your life in the past month, you simply look at your journal and summarize it for your director. 

How can you incorporate journaling into your daily routine? 

 

Mike StPierre
A Simple Formula for Praying for Others
 
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Praying for someone else is a core part of what it means to be a prayerful person.  It’s common, after all, for someone to ask for your prayers for them when they are sick or experiencing a hardship.

Still, most of us don’t know exactly how to pray for the person when prayers are requested. 

Be honest- the last time someone asked for your prayers, what did you do?

I reflected on this recently as a friend of mine is going through a tough time.  I’ve done all I could to help but I’m at the point where prayer is now my best response to him.  

Here’s the two-part formula that I’m using with my friend and recommend for you as well:

  1. Pray big.  This is an overarching prayer for God’s will, for God’s timing and for happiness and health.  It looks like this, “Lord I pray for Joe, for him to have peace in his heart, for his needs to be met, for better health, etc.”. (I would of course leave off the etc.!)
  2. Pray small.  Here is where many of us struggle- praying for very specific needs.  For my friend, it might look like this, “Lord for Joe I’m praying that he find a job within the next two weeks.  I pray that it’s something that he’s excited about.  Maybe it’s in a school or at the local college, I don’t know but you know Lord.  I’m asking that you give him what he needs Lord and soon.”

You can see that by praying “big” and “small”, you’re covering your bases.  It’s a faithful and strategic way to pray and gives your heart and mind the space to let God do the work.  You’re doing your part, for sure, but you’ve positioned your heart to communicate to God your needs and the needs of your friend.  

Try it out and see how you like it and how it works.

 
The Scariest Prayer You Can Pray
 
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Remember the last time that you prayed a formal prayer in church.  Maybe it was the Our Father or the Hail Mary.  Now think of a time when you prayed, in private, for something general like for God’s will to be done or for God to receive the glory for something.

These kinds of prayers fill our days.  They form a sort of ‘percussion’ for our faith, a backdrop for us to go deeper in relationship with the Lord.

It’s sort of like being married- I tell me wife that I love her every day.  I tell her everyday that she’s beautiful (ok I may have forgotten one day last week!) and I call her to check in when I’m in the car.  These small pleasantries are important.  They are like a beat that is in the background, forming a type of foundation on which the song plays.

But they are skin-deep.  These are not the kind of let-me-look-you-in-the-eye conversations that allow for deep contact.  Necessary, yes, but as for depth, not so much.

No, the scariest prayer is found far beneath the surface.

By scary I don’t mean creepy.  I don’t mean mystical.  We’re not talking about something that spooks you.  

Rather, a scary prayer is one which is raw.  It’s a request for something very specific.  It’s scary because you’re putting yourself out there, naked before God with your request.  The request itself is revelatory, showing a degree of your desperation or even your faith.

One of the best jobs I ever had was to be a dean of students in a school.  You saw everyone at their worst- a student who lied, a teacher who said something they shouldn't have, a parent in conflict.  There were no pretenses, only a raw situation in need of the truth.

I don’t know about you but I resist these kinds of raw-truth prayers.  They scare me because I’d much rather live on the surface.  Because of my sinful nature, I’d much rather hang in the shallow water, exchanging small talk with God.  You know what I'm talking about right?

Hey God what's up?  (high fives here)

You good? 

Everything's fine... I'm pretty busy today

All good here...talk to you next time (person walks away)

This kind of small talk isn’t all bad.  It shows that you're familiar with God but it’s not where real growth happens.  To go deeper, you have to show yourself and this is vulnerability before God.  This is the cry of the heart.

As St. Augustine said, "Many cry to God, but not with the voice of the soul, but with the voice of the body; only the cry of the heart, of the soul, reaches God."  This is risky, heartfelt prayer.  This is plunging beneath the surface in order to love Christ more fully.  Sometimes we think that we are being needy before God and then we settle for the surface.  

The catch of course is that God wants our neediness to be whole.  He wants our prayers to flow from an acceptance of dependence and towards the broken pieces of our lives and the lives of others.

Let’s talk about what this looks like.  

  • Surface prayer might sound like this, “Lord God I pray for your will to be done, for healing to occur if it’s your will and for me to have a positive attitude.”  This isn’t a bad prayer at all.  What it is though is general and very much a prayer of deferring to God.  Again, that’s pretty darn good and certainly better than no prayer at all.  Still, let me show you what a scary prayer might look like instead.
  • A more risky prayer might sound like this, “Father I pray for a healing.  For the cancer to run out of her body, for it to be afraid of the healing that’s coming for it.  I pray this week for this to happen.  I won’t stop praying for it Lord and ask from my heart to yours, that you hear me and answer me this week.  I know that cancer is child’s play to you Lord and expect a miracle.”  Now that’s a bold and risky prayer!

Look at how specific the prayer is: for a healing, for speed of healing, for it to happen this week, for me to not stop praying, …expecting a miracle.  This is a person with some guts!  This is an example of praying well- putting your junk before God and knowing that, no matter how messed up you may be, God loves you just the same.  In fact, he's crazy about you, warts and all.

My hope for you, as you read this, is that you would search your heart.  What’s bothering you that you could get very specific with God about?  

Be prepared though- you’re about to plunge beneath the surface.  Rest assured, God is waiting patiently for you there.

 
Devotions, Faith, prayerMike StPierre
How the Bible Can Enliven Your Prayer
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I coach my son’s 8th grade basketball team.  We had a game recently and it was evident that we were not only tired but underhydrated.  The guys looked pale and just weren’t playing up to their usual standards.  The coaches kept telling them to get a drink, to take a breath and to keep adding water to their systems.

 

It struck me- the Bible is very similar for a Christian as water is to an athlete.  Without the proper hydration, the athlete will ultimately run out of fuel and begin to slow down.  For someone who wants to be praying well, the Bible is very, very similar.  It’s an essential helpmate to an active life of prayer.

 

Let’s look at some practical reasons for reading the Bible and including it in our prayer time:

 

1. Jesus read it.  Sure, Jesus didn’t have the entire New Testament nor did he have a “pocket version” with the handy strings to mark your spot (I love those).  Still, he was not only familiar with Old Testament texts but he had memorized more than a few of them.  It was a reference for him and one that he obviously held in high regard.

2. The Saints loved the Bible. Every saint, at some point in their lives, has drawn great inspiration from the Bible.  Consider the following quotes as examples,

  • St. Jerome, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
  • St. Gregory, “The Holy Bible is like a mirror before our mind’s eye. In it we see our inner face. From the Scriptures we can learn our spiritual deformities and beauties. And there too we discover the progress we are making and how far we are from perfection.”
  • St. John of the Cross, “Seek by reading and you will find by meditating. Knock by praying, and it will be opened to you in contemplation.”

3. The Bible is a Bridge to God.  No person, no matter how holy they may be, can go it alone.  We need one another and we need a map to get to heaven.  The Bible, alongside Sacred Tradition, is our map.  It serves as a bridge to holy living.  Ask someone who is holy what they read each day and they will likely pull out their Bible.

 

With these reasons for why the Bible is so important for a Christian, how can you use it when you pray?

 

For me, it looks like this:

1. In the morning: when I have my quiet time, one of the first things I read is the Daily Mass readings.  Depending on what’s featured for that day, I’ll either look at:

  • The Old Testament reading
  • The Psalm
  • The New Testament reading

Note that I rarely look at all three and I don’t use a physical Bible. I usually go to www.usccb.org and read the Mass readings on my iPad.  While I have two master’s degrees and a doctorate, I’m just not sharp enough to contemplate three separate readings.  Rather, like a laser beam, I choose one and focus on that.  It’s ok to choose one small snippet and read it over and over again.  The temptation here will be to read it very fast, especially if you’ve read it in the past.  Slow down.  Read it again.  Ask God to tell you what it means.  Turn it over in your mind.  See how it applies to your life. 

2. In the evening: right before bed, I pick up my leather-covered Bible that I keep on my dresser and I read a few verses of one Psalm. Right now, I’m working through the Psalms very slowly.  I might take a week on the same Psalm!  When it feels like it’s time to move on to another book, I’ll do that.  I keep it simple and just try my best to end a day with a small but good dose of Scripture.  It works for me.

 

You might use the Bible in different ways during your day and that’s ok.  The key, as the saints before us have taught, is to read the Bible as often as you can and figure out the “spots” where it best fits into your busy day.  

 

I think you’ll find that, like water keeps an athlete hydrated, reading the Bible keeps the Christian praying well. 

Quotes, rituals, prayerMike StPierre