How Writing Can Improve Your Prayer Life
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As I write, I’m preparing for a trip to Africa. By the time you read this, I’ll be sleeping under a mosquito net somewhere in Uganda. I could be going over my packing list one more time or making sure that my immunization list is complete.

Instead, I’m writing.

To my left on a comfortable chair is my dog, Ace. A loyal companion, Ace is nearly always at my side. Safe to say, he’s coauthored more than a few blog posts in the past year. He is a quiet editor and rarely criticizes story or syntax. He does occasionally chew on his paw.

My “office” for the next 15 minutes is my porch. A decent cup of coffee to my right, an iPad in front of me and an ugly green writer’s table- these are my tools. The table is small and my wife will probably have “repurposed” it by the time I return from my trip.

I look out the window. A rabbit is having breakfast on the front lawn. My neighbor’s truck is missing, a sign that he’s gone fishing (again). I’ve been up for an hour. Walked Ace. Brewed coffee. Said my prayers. Wrote in my journal.

Now, I’m at the writer’s table. I don’t want to be here or maybe I do. Writing for me is like exercise. If I think too much about it, it simply won’t happen. Instead, for me, it’s best to just dive in. Not that kind of dive they call a “pencil” jump. Rather, a headfirst-make-a-splash kind of thing. I’ve never been a great swimmer and my diving reflects that.

Still, I’m in the water. Ace relocates to another spot on the porch.

Most of the time, I’m writing under a cloud. The cloud is flooded with tension. Shall I write only about prayer today or add a pinch of productivity? Will my readers be turned off? What if this generates more ”claps” on Medium? What if it produces crickets?

Writers know that this cloud follows them. Sometimes it is generous enough to open up and bring about a clear sky. For me, most of the time, it just hangs around. I know it’s there. I simply need to write and pierce its presence. Screw you, I tell the tension. I’m writing and that’s that.

With my first book set to come out in 2019, my writing habit has paid off. The writer’s table. The affable canine. The habit. I still don’t think I’m any good at it but at least someone, a real publisher, does and it willing to put a cover on the thing. Part of me hopes no one will read it. I tell my parents that, by my third book, that’s when I’ll get good at it.

Writing has become a part of my life.

It’s still hard. I never wake up wanting to do it. I still feel like I’m a pathetic writer on any given day. But I press on. There are more words to write and more thoughts in my own head to clarify. I’m a selfish writer. I’d say I write about 90% for myself and the rest for the reader. At least I’m honest about it.

Surprisingly, I’ve found that writing helps with prayer.

There are too many similarities to make here. Suffice it to say that both need discipline. Both are about playing “the long game”. Neither gets noticed by the outside world. Both bring clarity to your thoughts and heart. Neither is glamorous. Both slow you down. Neither requires a special place. Both produce peace of mind.

The two also play nice together. Interestingly enough, my prayer and my writing have become intertwined. I journal (writing) as part of my morning prayer. I pray as I’m struggling to write. Lord, what am I really trying to say here? I mutter when the words don’t come out right. The prayer and the writing, they find a way towards one another. When people aren’t comfortable talking to God out loud, I tell them to write out their prayers. Game-changer for most.

Writing makes you a better pray(er) and I’m grateful for both practices. 

Which can you try today? 

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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Two Experiments That I'm Trying Related to Silence

We have a lot of silence in any stretch of 24 hours. After all, we sleep in silence which accounts for 6-8 hours. It’s the rest of the day that’s a challenge. We battle two types of noise when we’re awake:

  • outer noise (either physical, i.e. sounds or digital, i.e. technology-related)
  • inner noise (the inability to focus and think deeply)
If silence is lacking, then grace is lacking
— St. Maximilian Kolbe

I’ve been experimenting over the past few months with ways to make silence more manageable. I confess that I occasionally find silence difficult. This is coming from an introvert who enjoys time alone. It’s still hard for me.

Silence is something that I want to be more comfortable with. My sense is that it’s good for me and as I prepared for this post, I found that I was not alone.

  • Thomas a Kempis said, “In silence and quiet the devout soul advances in virtue and learns the hidden truths of Scripture”.
  • St. Maximilian Kolbe said, “Silence is necessary, and even absolutely necessary. If silence is lacking, then grace is lacking”. 

I suspect that the rise of technology is a keen contributor to our struggle with technology. In a spare moment, it’s become muscle-memory to grab out phones and do… whatever. We just feel as if we should be checking.  Email, Twitter, Social Media, new wallpaper downloads, clearance sales, anything at all.

And that makes silence all the more difficult. After all, it can’t hold a candle to the exciting lure of how many likes yesterday’s Instagram post garnered.

But, and here’s the key- what if silence could measure up? What if it were actually more valuable to our spiritual lives than anything that could possibly be on our phones? 

Two Silence Experiments

To better handle my own struggle with silence, I've been trying two experiments. First, I’ve been practicing a Digital Sabbath once a week. Usually on a Sunday, I will try to avoid using my phone or computer. You could call it “old school Sunday” as we break out the books with real paper and spend more time outdoors. It feels somehow nostalgic and … right. It seems to have put my week in perspective nad made a difference. While in the first few months I dreaded the Digital Sabbath, I now look forward to it.

God is the friend of silence.
— St. Teresa of Calcutta

A second experiment has dealt with spontaneity. Whenever I’m driving somewhere and feel the slightest urge to pray or be quiet, I turn off the radio or podcast. I let the silence fill the car and flood my mind. I figure that this is either (simply) a good way to include more silence in my day or (and more importantly) a nudge from God to shut up and be quiet. Both are good.

These two experiments with silence are making a difference in my prayer life. When I have my morning quiet time, close my eyes and be still, the silence is a little easier. Because I’m “doing the work” during the week, the prayer muscle of my heart is more toned and able to receive the silence God provides. As St. Teresa of Calcutta famously said, "God is the friend of silence."

When it comes to silence, what works for you?


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How to Pray When You Live in a Small Space
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Space plays an important role when you are working on your prayer life. A friend of mine has a chapel in her garage. Another friend has a small corner in his room with a chair and a table with an icon on it. Wherever you live, your space will impact your prayer time.


My family is a classic example. We have four kids in a three bedroom home. Depending on the day, it can be pretty tight. With that said, I am very (read, very) fortunate to have an office in my basement that is rarely used by anyone else. I can retreat there for a morning quiet time and it’s been a blessing for many years. I’ve placed some religious art on the walls so that when I open my eyes, my mind and heart are jogged by religious imagery.


Not everyone has that. You might be in an apartment where space is tight. Or, you might be sharing a room with someone and half your space isn’t really “yours”. Maybe you have plenty of room but it doesn’t feel conducive to prayer.


So what can you do? Here are four suggestions:


1.  Carve out a prayer corner. One of the most holy men I know uses this technique. He has a chair, a small table and some religious items on the table. This is his sacred space each morning for an hour or more. You don’t need a lot of space with this approach.

2.  Transform a space that’s used for something else. Think: kitchen table. Your table is obviously used for meals but once a day, you could transform this into a spot for prayer. All you would need is a candle or small icon and your Bible. You could then make this your prayer spot. When you finish, simply return your tools to another spot and the table is ready for its next meal!

3.  Pray outside. If you absolutely cannot find a quiet spot in your home, you can pray in an outdoor space, weather permitting. A side porch or back deck is perfect for this. Typically, these kinds of spaces provide some background noise (but not too much) and the beauty of nature.

4.  Pray during exercise. If options 1-3 don’t work for you, get moving and use your fitness for prayer. While this isn’t relaxing, it will provide you with a focused means of prayer. I know many people who pray the Rosary while they walk and it works well for them.


The key in all of this is to pray regularly. By paying attention to your space, your prayer life will benefit.

Should You Download Another Productivity App?
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Another productivity app anyone? Maybe a new Markdown editor or todo app for your smartphone? Wait! Before you hit the download button, think again.

There is an upside to an app that works for you. There is also a downside to any app that steals your focus. 

I've certainly felt this. When my work tools are helping me get things done, it fees good. When I'm tempted to test out something new, there is a slight feeling of unrest. There really is a spiritual component to our work.

As Carl Pullein says, your apps should work for you, not the other way around. 

  

To save you time, I've tested out the latest version of Omnifocus (version 3.0) and it's quite strong. That doesn't mean that you should use it but you should watch the video. If you like the app, the OmniGroup is prepping for a May 30th public launch. 

Enjoy the review!

 

 

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About Mike St. Pierre

I teach people how to pray using simple online tools like blogs and video. f you’d like to be included in my regular email with tips and tricks for praying better, you can sign up here.

What Contributes to a Good Quiet Time?
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You sit down to pray and your mind is racing a thousand miles a minute. A sound bothers you. Your stomach rumbles. What was going to be a nice time of prayer is quickly slipping away...

Can you relate?

We’ve talked a lot about the components of a morning quiet time. There are tried and true “parts” to this ancient practice.

What we might take for granted, especially when it comes to morning prayer, are the other factors that can impact a morning quiet time.

I think of the story from St. Therese of Lisieux. During prayers in the chapel, another sister would make a sort of clacking noise which Therese found quite distracting. While at first an annoyance, she found a way to turn the sister’s peculiarities into something pleasant. Over time, she would look forward to the other sister’s noise.

By the way, I had a college roommate who snored like you can’t imagine. A train (snoring) literally came through our room each night! Unlike Therese, I didn’t have the virtue to see his snoring as a gift.

Back to the topic at hand- which factors contribute to your morning quiet time?

Here are four that stand out for me:

1. Sound. What’s going on around you? Are you alone? Is anyone else nearby? How about environmental sounds like birds outside or a train passing by... take note of these things.

2. How you are feeling physically? Are you hungry or tired? Does anything pain you? How is your posture? Take note of these things.

3. Temperature. Are you cold? Hot? Do you need to take off your jacket? Is your belt too tight? Take note of these things.

4. Desire. As you enter into prayer, are you feeling as if you want to pray? Does it feel routine today? Are you happy about this experience? Take note of these things.

We could add probably a dozen other things that impact your daily quiet time. The key is to take note of things, both inside you and outside of you. Then, as with all things, offer the moment and your heart up to the Lord. He will take care of the rest.