Posts in Faith
The Power of Being Specific When You Pray
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Science has affirmed what we already knew- gratitude is good for you. It cuts down on your stress and connects you with other people. “Practicing” gratitude, or listing 3-5 things each day for which you are thankful, is a healthy way to ensure that you are in touch with all that God is doing in your life.

I wonder though if, at times, we are too vague in our acts of gratitude.

Think of the last time you had a moment of prayer before a Thanksgiving meal. No doubt the things said were honest (“I’m thankful for our home”…”I’m thankful for my family”, etc.) but what if we infused our thanksgiving with more specificity?

Being specific with God does a number of things:

  1. It pushes the savor button all the more, turning over and over the bits of God’s goodness that we might otherwise miss.

  2. It accompanies a healthy examination of conscience.

  3. It cultivates resilience.

  4. It reminds us that God is doing so much more than we typically appreciate.

Henri Nouwen once said, “I am deeply convince that the necessity of prayer, and to pray unceasingly, is not as much based on our desire for God as on God’s desire for us. It is God’s passionate pursuit of us that calls us to prayer.” Specific gratitude is a gentle response to God’s pursuit of us. It’s a way of saying, “I see you God. I’m noticing you Lord.”

So how do you do this? It’s quite simple. Be as specific as you can be when you pray. Tell God how much you appreciate the smallest of things- a soothing nap, a person’s wide smile, a conversation that brightened your day.


Quick Win: How to be More Resilient

 
 

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Five Things You Can Do For Lent (and why they matter a whole lot!)
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Ash Wednesday begins on March 6, 2019 and for millions of people around the world, this means something- action. All of us want to put our faith into action and Lent is the perfect time to do this.


People will begin a 40 day sprint towards Easter and will either give things up - a sort of sacrifice- and also try out new things. It’s also a wonderful time for humility, a time to acknowledge that our prayer lives are rarely what they ought to be. As St. Josemaria Escriva said, “You don’t know how to pray? Put yourself in the presence of God, and as soon as you have said, ‘Lord, I don’t know how to pray!’ you can be sure you’ve already begun.”


I figured it would be interesting to connect five actions you can take during Lent to my upcoming book, The Five Habits of Prayerful People. I wrote The Five Habits in order to provide a virtual toolbox of strategies for prayer. It’s designed for the busy person in mind.

Before we link the book with Lenten action, let’s remind ourselves why Lent matters in the first place. Lent comes from an old word meaning “lengthen”- as the days get longer, the sunlight returns and we inch ever closer to Easter. Since Easter is all about Jesus triumph over the cross through his resurrection, Christians have, for thousands of years, practiced a sort of “retreat” during Lent. This looks like, not surprisingly, a series of actions designed to help us get ready for Easter. 


Lent is a fitting time for self-denial.
— Pope Francis

If you “do Lent right”, you’re more likely to enter into the deeper mysteries of the season and as a result, draw closer to Jesus. As Pope Francis said, “Lent is a fitting time for self-denial; we would do well to ask ourselves what we can give up in order to help and enrich others by our own poverty. Let us not forget that real poverty hurts: no self-denial is real without this dimension of penance. I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt."

The problem of course is that we get distracted, tired or bored during Lent. The things we resolve to give up can become a distant memory if we’re not laser-focused on the task at hand.

Ok, let’s now match a strategy with each of the Five Habits:

  1. Habit of Passion and Pursuit >> Begin to enjoy five minutes of pure silence each day. Start with one minute each day for a week. Each week, add a minute to your silence. Invite God into the stillness.

  2. Habit of Presence >> Look people in the eye. When you are in public and in passing or when you are one-on-one with someone… work to give them your full attention.

  3. Habit of Preparation and Planning >> Choose the tools you’ll use during your morning quiet time. This will likely be a Bible and journal. Besides that, what else speaks to you? An icon? A crucifix? Identify and group the tools you’ll use. Place them somewhere that you’ll have your daily quiet time.

  4. Habit of Persistence and Perseverance>> Install a quote that inspires you in a place you’ll see it. This might be a quote from a saint or a Bible quote. Put the quote inside your journal or Bible. Or, have the quote framed and placed in a spot where you’ll see it often.

  5. Habit of Pondering>> Take one day off from technology each week. This is the single most powerful strategy I’ve used in the last five years. Step back from your phone and give God one day a week to break through the noise of digital stimulation.

These strategies really work. More significantly, they matter a whole lot. They contribute to a more prayerful life and collectively will help you to slow down. When we slow down, we are more present and it’s much easier to find God in everyday life. 


Quick Win: Learn the One Phrase that Will Transform Your Prayer


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What to do When Prayer Feels Stale
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All of us get into a rut. I know that I certainly do, especially when it comes to prayer. 


Like many other things in life, routine can build momentum but it can also contribute to monotony. A friend of mine, Allan, once told me that he tweaked his workout routine every few months. The reason? To avoid getting so routinized that the enjoyment of working out gets lost. 

Your prayer life is no different. 


How do you know when it’s time to change things up? Here are some easy indicators:

• Prayer feels stale. 

• You have no desire to pray.

• Other people are annoying you.

• You are more distracted than usual.

• You feel disinterested.

• You have been using the same tools for several months.


Now, let’s say that you experience three or more of these indicators- take note of that. Then, ask yourself what you’re prepared to do about it. After all, you can’t face burnout and then just ignore the warning signs.


Imagine for a second that your body was giving you signs of a heart attack- you would take swift action! 


Your prayer life, your intimate relationship with God, deserves the same urgency. Don’t panic just because you sense burnout and your prayer feels stale. Everyone I know who is serious about his/her faith goes through some level of this. As the saying goes, “it’s part of the process”. It’s not bad, especially if you notice it. What would be worse is to lack all spiritual sensitivity and just go through life without any attention to prayer.


Yet, this sense of needed change is not one to barge into. Rather, it takes a discerning heart and a willingness to make some changes. Give yourself permission to make some edits to the way you pray. 

These edits might include:

1. Picking a different time to go to Mass.

2. Using a different daily devotional book (if you use one).

3. Modifying your prayer corner at home.

4. Listening to sacred hymns as you begin your time of prayer.

5. Finding beauty in icons.

6. Flipping your morning prayer time to evening.

And on and on...

In meditation we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in others...
— St. Charles Borromeo

The key, as with many other things in life, is to make some effort to be present to God over and over again. The way in which you pray is essential to this. Rather than letting your prayer life simply fade out, try something new. 

The Holy Spirit often takes us through dry patches in prayer. St. Charles Borromeo said this about prayer, “We meditate before, during and after everything we do. The prophet says: ‘I will pray, and then I will understand.’ This is the way we can easily overcome the countless difficulties we have to face day after day, which, after all, are part of our work. In meditation we find the strength to bring Christ to birth in ourselves and in others.”

This is not to be misinterpreted as if we can make it all happen by our own effort. Hardly!

I like this brief meditation from St. Mary Magdelen de Pazzi who said, “Prayer ought to be humble, fervent, resigned, persevering and accompanied with great reverence. One should consider that he stands in the presence of a God, and speaks with a Lord before whom the angels tremble from awe and fear.” (Emphasis mine)

Prayer isn’t easy. It takes practice and perseverance. Yet, what a beautiful opportunity we have- day after day- to make ourselves wholly present to God. 


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A Resolution Worth Keeping
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I can’t imagine a year starting without a sense of hope. Hope for better fitness, hope for a simpler lifestyle, hope for new breakthroughs at work.


Psychology Today reports that many people start off the year with great optimism but, sadly, find it fading away just a few weeks later.


It’s not as if the resolutions themselves are bad. Who wouldn’t want to have 6-pack abs or more financial margin?


Rather, it’s that we often lack the structure needed to truly activate a new habit. In the case of prayer, it’s really about three things:

Visualization: the most important question I ask people when we talk about prayer is this, “If you could take 5 minutes to pray, what would that look like?” There is great power in imagining yourself alone, in a corner with a Bible in your lap. Or, alone, in a Church with your eyes closed and no one around. You get the picture. The key is to have a picture for yourself. This is like putting your handprint into cement- it leaves a mark.

Rituals: more than just routines, rituals are repeated actions with God in mind. A morning prayer ritual is different from a morning routine like brushing your teeth. A morning prayer ritual might include a phrase, a quote, a reading, a journal, etc. The ritual forms a mindset of “something bigger is happening here”. The ritual, as Fr. Ronald Rolheiser says, “carries you” when you don’t feel like praying.

Momentum: with a prayer time visualized and then rituals being put into place, God will build spiritual momentum in you. This momentum is vital for God’s insights to show up, God’s messages to be heard and God’s nudgings to be felt. It’s often after the fact that you see that God had been at work. Momentum makes this possible.


Can you imagine a daily prayer time in your new year? For me, the routines are in place and my foundation is steady. Now, it’s time for me to ask God what He wants to do next.


Maybe it’s time for you to do the same.

 

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How to Create a More Resilient Prayer Life
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Romans 12:12 says, “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.”

This quote is more relevant than most of us realize. As we grow in our relationship with God, it is only natural that we experience of daily prayer that has fits and starts. Being faithful in our prayer lives is critical.

It can often feel like “one step forward and two steps back”. One day, we enjoy our daily quiet time and the next feels like we’re drowning. As Fr. Ronald Rolheiser says, “Sometimes we walk on water and other times, we sink like a stone.” Can you relate?

In my book, The Five Habits of Prayerful People (coming in 2019), I talk a lot about the importance of staying with prayer. You’ve got to keep at it and try your best to avoid discouragement. Others call this resilience and in academic circles, it’s known as grit.

Gritty prayer warriors have three qualities:

  • They take the long view. They realize that, in any given week, they will have good moments of prayer and ones that feel rather ordinary.

  • They do not dwell in their sin. They recognize when they’ve messed up, name it, own it and ask for forgiveness. Then, they remember that God loves them and has already died for their sins. This brings an overwhelming sense of newness and of starting over. The emphasis is on God and not our sins.

  • They value progress over perfection. A steady person of prayer understands the human condition and isn’t surprised when they are imperfect. 

Grittiness, not something you and I think of often but very much a quality of a mature spiritual person. St. Bonaventure said, “When we pray, the voice of the heart must be heard more than that proceeding from the mouth.”

As I continue to write about prayer, it strikes me that there are quite a few moments in our spiritual lives that invite us into deeper resilience.

These might include:

  1. Rather than beating yourself up over missing daily Mass, taking five minutes to schedule the next time you can get to Mass. This will integrate your busy schedule with your desire for communal worship.

  2. Rather than skipping your daily quiet time altogether, choose instead to have five quiet minutes of prayer. Like physical exercise, a little goes a long way.

  3. Instead of avoiding the Sacrament of Reconciliation for months at a time, practice a daily examination of conscience at the end of the day. By building this muscle of personal reflection, you’ll be much more in tune with what’s going well (and what isn’t) in your daily life. Then, when you can get to Confession, you’ll be more prepared and feel more in sync with God.

Resilience is a choice. God puts dozens of moments into every day for us to opt for a more gritty spiritual life. When will you spot your next moment to be resilient?

This Advice is For Me Too- Let Me Explain

I was on a recent trip to give a talk at a large college in the south. On the trip down, I was prepared to deliver my speech but on the inside, I wasn’t feeling particularly spiritual. In the airport, I was playing the competition game, measuring myself by everyone else, as if they all had life figured out and I was just a rookie. It didn’t feel good. Ever had one of those moments?

The following day, heading home, I stopped at my gate at the airport. To my right, I glanced out the window and saw something that arrested my morning. The sunrise, simply doing its thing, was stunning.

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I needed that moment and I’m glad that God gave me the “pause” to appreciate it. God does this all of the time, if we will just have the eyes to see.

A spiritual life that is resilient savors these moments and discovers them over and over again. Enjoy them. Look for them. Count on them. They will spill over into your prayer life and make a tremendous difference. 


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The Most Pressing Issue of Our Time
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I was at a youth basketball event recently with my 7 year old. As I sat in the bleachers, watching him go through the drills, I began to engage the other parents around me.

We talked about our town, the upcoming holidays and, wait for it, about our faith.

Of the five others I sat with, only one went to church with regularity. Each of the others was raised Catholic but had chosen along the way to leave the Church. Each had a story and I enjoyed hearing them and getting to know each person a little better.

This type of conversation isn’t new- each of us knows people who have left their faith in the rearview mirror. What was unique was the basic acceptance that faith was something you “did” when you were young.

As for the grownups, only a few make it personal, embracing their faith and a relationship with the Lord.

I left the gym with more resolve than ever before- helping others reclaim their faith and find Jesus- and I am convinced that this is the issue of our time.

Don’t take my word for it. Bishop Barron of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles said this, “I’m opposed to a dumbed down Catholicism, I don’t like a culturally accommodating Catholicism. I like when it’s bold and colorful and confident and smart and beautiful, so in that sense, I’m opposed to falling back into beige Catholicism”.

My new friends at youth basketball (the parents) aren’t bad people. They are smart and dedicated to their kids and active members of the community. I figure they are moral and upright as best as they can be.

What their experience tells me is that they had an experience of Catholicism (and the Gospel) that just wasn’t sticky enough to last through their adult life. Never having met Jesus in a personal way, they just sort of veered into an adult experience devoid of faith.

Think of the folks in your neighborhood- you probably have dozens of people who share a similar story. Raised Catholic (or some other flavor of Christianity) and then left it all behind when the responsibilities of an adult life kicked in.

This is the issue of our time. The studies are too many to quote here, of tens of millions who have left their faith behind. It’s not that they are opposed to faith but that they never met Jesus as a person and as Lord. Couple that with a church that is often bland and uncompelling and you have what we have in America: a post-Christian community that is familiar with the faith but just isn’t practicing it.

Other issues are vitally important (social justice, the environment, ecumenism, and others come to mind) but no other issue even comes close to what’s needed more than ever- a thoughtful, authentic, humble presentation of the faith. Solve the personal faith issue and the others get the dire attention that they deserve.

There’s nothing “beige” about that.

FaithMike StPierre