Posts in Devotions
You Need Alone Time

In this episode of Praying Well, I talk about the serious need that each of us has for alone time. Call it thinking time, time with God, or interior time- breaking from the everyday pace of life has never been more important.

The Why of Alone Time

Rather than filling all of your time with others or with the noise of technology, each of us needs alone time. Here are just a few of the “why’s” behind alone time:

  • Because our world is increasingly noisy due to social media and technology
  • Because solitude is elusive, scary and looked down upon (i.e. it’s not seen as “fun”)
  • Because Jesus himself took time alone to pray (see Mark 1:35)

The When of Alone Time

If you’re not sure when you can actually get some alone time, try the following:

  • Early in the morning
  • During your commute to work
  • When you are running errands
  • Late at night
  • When you are working out
  • When you are outside in nature

I know, some of you may be saying, “Mike, you don’t understand. My days start early and end late. There is literally no down time!” This is a lie we often tell ourselves. You have 15 minutes that you can carve out for God. I do too.

Is Alone Time Prayer Time?

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This is an important question. Just spending time in solitude is not necessarily prayer time. For example, you could be out and about, running errands and listening to sports talk radio all the while. That’s time by yourself but probably wouldn’t constitute true alone time. 

Rather, quality alone time with God integrates prayer with time. For example, you need to weed your garden and you say a prayer at the start of it, thanking God for nature and the beauty of the outdoors. Then, while you are working, you are thinking of spiritual things and talking to God. This might be out loud on interiorly. The key is that you’ve “located” your time within God’s providence. It’s His time. You are participating in it. A quiet atmosphere helps. Things don’t have to be totally quiet but less noise is always a good thing.

Following Up

You’ve read this post and you’re already thinking of the busy details of your day. Still, you want to incorporate more alone time in your schedule. What to do? I suggest scheduling your alone time with God right now. Is there a 15 minute block that you can pencil in and just “be” with God? Even a small window of time can be helpful.

The Difficulty of Daily Prayer

Imagine yourself sitting in church. The pastor asks a simple question, “How many of you have had a quiet time, alone with God, at some point in the past week?” 

A couple of hands go up. Most remain firmly tucked under the thighs of the parishioners. Eyes dart to the floor, uncomfortable. 

Let’s be honest- most Christians don’t have a daily time of prayer with the Lord. Many don’t even go to church on a regular basis- that’s for another post for us to discuss. 

The fact is that too often, we rely on our own willpower to muster up prayer. Over time, this is simply not enough, becoming overmatched by the hectic pace of our schedules. 

What we need is the following: 

  • A daily system (i.e. ritual) of prayer (I recommend the ACTS formula) 
  • ...which then creates spiritual momentum
  • ...that results in confidence

In this week’s video, I unpack this situation a bit further, plus I have a special invitation for all of you: 

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. 

Worried About a Boring Sermon or Homily?

Bad preaching is a real problem in the Christian church. Without understating the difficulty of delivering a message to a diverse audience, preaching is hard. Imagine giving a talk to both young children and senior citizens… at the same time. Not easy.

With that said, here’s a trick that I’ve learned when it comes to matching your prayer life with the routine of listening to a homily. During your morning prayer time, go over the readings of the day (for Catholics, this refers to the Bible readings that will be featured in the daily Mass). Read these slowly and let God show you what stands out. Then, imagine yourself delivering the homily or sermon. Imagine nodding heads as they listen to you and make meaning for themselves out of the readings.

I’ve used this technique for years, not because I see myself as a better preacher than the priests in my parish. Rather, envisioning a homily coming out of my mouth makes the readings come alive. New ideas form. Insights emerge. I see myself communicating God’s word to others.

 
 
After Twenty Years of Journaling, Here’s What I’ve Learned

I’m a journal guy. It started in college with those 99 cent notebooks you could get at any local grocery store. Then, after college, I graduated to the more expensive, $1.50 versions. Each morning, during my time of prayer, I would jot a few thoughts. Sometimes, these looked like prayers while on most days, I would just write whatever came to my mind.

This has continued for the better part of two decades. 

I’ve discarded most of my journals. Rarely do I go back and read them. I don’t care about them. I don’t want to relive the past.

What I value is the very act of journaling and after two decades, here is what I’ve learned: 

  1. Journaling has been the singular best way for me to measure progress in my spiritual life. By keeping to a daily discipline of journaling, I am reminded to pray. I only journal in the context of praying and in so doing, I take a mental note, “I prayed today”. This develops streaks which propel me closer to God. Momentum trumps willpower any day of the week as I’ve mentioned in The 5 Habits of Prayerful People.
  2. Journaling is a selfish endeavor.  When I journal as a form of communication with God, journaling is God-focused. Most of the time however, I’m journaling to get stuff out of my head and that’s fairly self-focused. If I’m honest, I journal for myself more than for anything or anyone else. I need to clear my mind. Some people jog. I journal.
  3. Journaling is a core component of my prayer life.  I use journaling as an essential part of my daily devotions. By practicing the ACTS method of prayer, my journal serves as the “container” for that routine. If you’re unfamiliar with ACTS, this video will help.
  4. Journaling helps to clarify thought.  The more you write, the more clear you think. The more clear are your thoughts, the better you will communicate with the rest of the world.
  5. My journals are 100% temporary and disposable.  I rarely go back and review what I’ve written. I don’t care if they are lost, destroyed or misplaced. It’s the act of writing that counts more than the final products. I journal to stay in mental and spiritual shape. The journaling is a blunt means to an end.
  6. My doctoral dissertation and book would not have been possible without journaling. I don’t think that I would have been able to write a book-length dissertation or The 5 Habits of Prayerful People without two decades of journaling. It’s partly about volume folks! Even a marathoner starts with a 5K race.
  7. Journaling can masquerade for prayer itself.  While journaling is a part of my morning devotional time, I can at times mistake journaling for prayer itself. It can be but it’s not necessarily the same thing. Just because I’m writing doesn’t mean that I’m automatically praying. 
  8. A digital journal app is the single most important app I use.  My calendar and email app are important but without my journaling app (I use DayOne) I’d be toast. It’s an anchor for daily prayer, intellectual growth and my interior life in general. 
  9. I’m only getting started.  Who knows where God will take my writing and prayer in the next two decades. One thing I know- I’m only getting started! Each day, I look forward to writing a few thoughts. 

If you are a journaler, I’d love to hear why you journal and what God has taught you through it.  Want to see how I use DayOne for daily prayer? This video explains much of it.