Posts in Motivation
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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Wisdom from St. Paul on Prayer
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The conversation goes like this:


  • If you could have a daily time of prayer, what would that look like?
  • I would get up before the kids, have a glass of water, find a comfortable space and read something inspiring. Then, I would let it sink in and then talk to God.


That doesn’t sound too difficult does it?


Nonetheless, the space between answering the question and then doing it is vast for many people. It’s as if we instinctively know what we want our daily prayer time to look like but can’t seem to put it into practice.


Can you relate?


Could it be that we are experiencing a St. Paul moment? Remember Romans 7:15-20 which says,


I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature.[a] For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”


St. Paul knew the human experience. Was he talking about prayer? Service? Evangelization? Morality? We may never know.


I do think that one could apply his reflection to prayer.  My own life of prayer is somewhat similar- some days, I want to pray but just seem to forget. Other days, I have more motivation. It’s as if I’m going one step forward and another two steps backwards.


Most people I talk with share this experience. Their lives are too hectic and filled with commitments to let prayer seep in.


Two things were as true for St. Paul as they are for you and me:


  1. We cannot underestimate the tension that comes with the human existence.
  2. We cannot build a life of prayer without momentum.


Let me explain a bit further. First, we know that a prayerful life is hard. Most of us don’t have the one we desire because we let the urgent get in the way of the important. Errands, schedules and bills quickly crowd out a heartfelt desire to pray. Sometimes I want to throw up my hands and say to God, “why can’t this be easier?”


It can be “easier” but only with spiritual momentum. By spiritual momentum I mean a habit of prayer. Day in and day out, a prayerful person builds the muscle of prayer. This is not a physical muscle but a disposition and a set of actions that eventually becomes like muscle memory. Like any habit, daily prayer can become rooted in your subconscious.


With practice, it’s just what you do.


This momentum is built on a daily habit of spending time alone with God. This is the singular habit that will change a person’s life. It doesn’t exclude other habits that are just as central to the Christian life (i.e. serving the poor, living a sacramental life, practicing virtuous habits).


Prayer, unique in its own way, is the one habit that can be practiced 365 days a year. No church needed. No other people needed. Just you and God, day in and day out.


If the tension of being prayerful was modeled by St. Paul, we should pay attention to his example. His struggle ended up being good enough to propel him as the greatest evangelizer in Christian history.

 

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Why It’s Important to Pray for Others by Name
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The other day, I did something that I was hesitant to do: I prayed for Archbishop McCarrick, the disgraced former Cardinal and leader of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC.


I didn’t want to do it- I’ve never met the man. It felt awkward. It put a scowl on my face. I made sure that it didn’t last long. He is an enemy of young people and I don’t like him- not even a little.


And then I prayed for others who have victimized young people. If I knew their names, I mentioned them. Again, I didn’t want to do it and certainly didn’t enjoy it.


And yet, somehow, it felt right. I’ve been so angry, of late, by the emerging news about the Catholic Church. We have a problem. We don’t form our leaders all that well. We don’t have enough accountability loops in place. We need a culture of servant leaders and instead have built a system of leader idolization. It’s sad.


Praying for others by name is like that- it will depress you. It will take you to a place that you rarely visit. I learned this years ago. Someone tried to harm me and it cut me to the core. It was only by praying for them, by name, out loud, that I found peace.


In Matthew 5:43-45, Jesus says that we must do this:


You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[a] and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”


This sounds nice... until you have to do it. Then, it provides a hesitant submission, as if to say, “Ok God, you’re right...I’ll do it.”


We don’t like having enemies.

 

Most of us would rather just get along. I know that I would. Most of my Christian friends are people pleasers, another posture of getting along. That’s not a bad thing but it does make having enemies all the more difficult.


Enemies prop up time and again, like a rash that you can’t ignore. An enemy is someone who opposes you and seeks to do you harm. This is a dark realization and one that Jesus knew full well. He had plenty of individuals who opposed his every move. I imagine that his enemies frustrated him, knowing that they were slowing down his ministry.


Imagine just for a second if Jesus’ enemies spent more time listening and less time ruining his reputation... how things would have been different.


All leaders understand this.

 

No matter what you do, some will oppose you. They may be awful human beings or stellar individuals with good character. But prepare yourself- you will be opposed at some point.


For a follow up, I suggest you spend 60 seconds thinking of your enemies. You won’t need more than that because they will come to your mind immediately. Plus, it’s likely that your enemies can be counted on one hand.


If you have more than that, you’re likely the President. That’s another conversation altogether.


Once you have those individuals in mind, it’s important to take them to prayer. Mention them, by name, to God. Ask for His mercy and provision for them. Pray for reconciliation with them. Ask for a gentle heart towards them, knowing that they are going through something in their own lives that produces resistance towards you.


Praying for others by name humanizes them. This reminds you that they too are loved by God and in need of mercy. This shortens the distance between you and them. It also reminds you of your own need for mercy and God’s love.


It’s the right thing to do.


This exercise is one of the most powerful in all of the Christian life. We are all sinners and more in need of God’s mercy than we realize at any one moment. Praying for your enemies by name is one outflow of this truth.

The Real Benefit of Solitude
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A recent podcast with Erik Fisher and Cal Newport brought to light the topic of solitude. Newport, the Georgetown professor and author of Deep Work cites Lead Yourself First: Inspiring Leadership by Solitude by  Raymond R. Kethledge who describes solitude as “a subjective state in which you’re isolated from input from other minds”.


This makes sense. We’ve all been alone in a solitary way- you’re by yourself in a room and no one else is around. Some of us are more comfortable with this than others. Introverts in particular revel in this form of solitude- it’s a space to recharge.


There are other forms of solitude as well. Think about it- each of us can also relate to being alone but in the context of other people. You go for a run and see other people also working out, you find a coffee shop to do some work and see dozens of others walk in and out of the shop. This is a surprising sort of aloneness- alone but with others. Sort of an “alone togetherness”.


There’s alone by myself and alone in the context of others.


Newport’s point: rich solitude (i.e. “good” solitude) is that which is free from the influence of others’ minds. You’re alone, in one way or another, and free to think and pray on your own. You may be in public. You may be surrounded by hundreds of other people. Still, you have a sense of self, a space to think and pray on your own.


There is tremendous power in this. It applies very much to prayer.


The average person is quite busy. They have commitments and errands and places to be. I know that I do. Now consider the busy Christian- still running around but expected to be prayerful at the same time. This is where prayerfulness gets tested. I sat recently with a couple and their three young children. The wife, obviously a good mother, admitted that some days are just so full of this-and-thats that she forgets to pray.

 

I totally get it. Can you relate? 


The million dollar question emerges quickly enough: how do you maintain prayerfulness amidst a busy schedule? Or, in layman’s terms- how do you take your faith with you?


And here is where we apply Kethledge’s concept of solitude. The Christian, embedded in the world, is prayerful because they retain that sense of self while they are going about their day. They find moments of prayer because they have cultivated the muscle of returning to their source: their relationship with God. They know that God has loved them and grounds them in a profound sense of adoption. They bring solitude with them and then, when God-inspiration-faith strikes, they activate their solitude and reconvene with the Lord. 


This relationship with God “pops up” at various times during the day- a spontaneous thought, a recollection of something they read in the Scriptures, a vocal prayer that emerges. These are delightful and can be unexpected. The good news is that you can become a more prayerful person and these God-moments can become the norm rather than the exception. 

 

You really can practice a healthy solitude as a result of never being fully alone. God is always with you and you can revel in this truth. Now that puts new light on solitude.

_____________________

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Should You Kneel When You Pray?
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My dad grew up in rural Maine (read: very remote). He tells the story of how he would pray each night before going to bed. Kneeling at the side of his bed, he would say his prayers. This was what you did when you grew up in a large Catholic family. I doubt there was much thought as to whether or not kneeling was the most conducive posture for prayer.

At church, we often have times when we kneel as we pray.

This might include kneeling prior to Mass, kneeling during certain parts of the Mass and even after Holy Communion. Kneeling is, for Catholics, a routine physical position for praying.

A question that I’ve been thinking about lately is this- when does it make sense to kneel and when is it counterproductive to praying?

I know that some will say that you must pray kneeling, that it’s non-negotiable. The thinking goes that if God Himself appeared in your home today at 2pm, would you just give him a high-five (as if he was an ordinary guest) or would you be compelled to kneel? If that is our “frame” for answering the kneel-sit question, kneeling would be the appropriate response. The Lord deserves some gesture of respect, adoration and worship.

Still, I’m not sure it has to be a zero-sum game when it comes to kneeling during prayer.

A better way of thinking on this might be to look at prayer as having defaults and exceptions.

A default for prayer at Mass might be to kneel while an exception would make sense for someone who is aged or literally cannot kneel.

Ask yourself- is God more concerned with the posture of your kneeling or the condition of your heart? In an age of decreased piety (i.e. less kneeling), we can answer this delicately. I see, even among many religious leaders, a lack of piety. To reiterate- kneeling is the norm and should be done when possible. My point is simply to expand the conversation and recognize that there may be other times when it’s acceptable not to kneel.

Kneeling surely has benefits. It contributes to our piety. It is a gesture of humility. It speaks of surrender. It reveals vulnerability. 

In sum, kneeling is a good thing.

It’s the times when we cannot kneel or that it doesn’t make sense to kneel that we need more reflection. We’ve already mentioned the times when you physically cannot kneel. Age, an injury, etc. What about other times when kneeling might be counterproductive?

I attended a large ministry event a year ago and they had Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament one evening. The music was fantastic. The atmosphere was very reverent. The only “catch” if there was one, was that the event lasted for over two hours. Try as I might, I simply couldn’t kneel for that long on concrete. It made sense to spend some time kneeling and some time sitting quietly. Simply “bearing down” and sucking it up wasn’t going to bring me any closer to Jesus if my knees produced pain. A kneeling/sitting strategy worked best.

Both kneeling and sitting can be prayerful postures.  

The key is to pray for the gift of humble piety. Be aware of your surroundings. Notice those around you. When you come into the Lord’s presence, recognize that the space is holy and that your actions will be different as a result. A good genuflection can go a long way. If it’s appropriate to kneel, go for it. If sitting or standing quietly makes more sense and won’t distract others, that may be the best approach.

In closing, Pope Francis’ words from 2014 give us a healthy context for reflecting on kneeling and piety:

“The gift of piety that the Holy Spirit gives us makes us meek; it makes us peaceful, patient and at peace with God in gentle service to others...Some people think that being pious is closing your eyes, putting on a sweet angel face, isn’t that right?” The Holy Father went on to say that piety is “our belonging to God, our deep bond with him, a relationship that gives meaning to our whole life and keeps us resolute, in communion with him, even during the most difficult and troubled moments”.

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