Posts in Motivation
Resources, Role Models and Routines
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In his recent exhortation, Pope Francis talks about the context of becoming holy.  He wants us to ask, 

  • Can I become holy in the midst of my busy, daily schedule?
  • Do I need to become a nun or a priest in order to be holy?
  • What is a realistic path for me to become holy?

I don’t know about you, but I’ve certainly asked these questions over the years.  As I get older, I see my daily life, with its warts and blessings, as the “container” for me to become holy.  

As an encouragement, the Holy Father points to the ultimate context for learning the be holy: the Church.  He says,

In the Church, holy yet made up of sinners, you will find everything you need to grow towards holiness.” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 15)

If you were trying to get in shape, where would you turn?  Most likely to a gym with personal trainers and a community that supports you.  Right?  This may explain why CrossFit is so popular in the United States- it offers just the right amount of support and guidance for getting fit.

Pope Francis is telling us that the Church is the “gym” for individuals who want to become not just more prayerful but more human, more whole.  St. Iraneaus famously said, “The glory of God is a human being, fully alive.”  This is holiness, to be fully alive and rooted in Christ.

To do this, we need three things: Resources, Role Models and Routines.  The Church provides all three and in subsequent posts, we will explore each in detail.

In the meantime, spend some time today considering the ways in which the Church is your personal gym for growing in holiness.  

How Prayer is Like Productivity
 
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There’s a lot of talk around a new version of OmniFocus that is coming out soon.  If you’re not familiar, OmniFocus is a productivity app that is quite popular with enthusiasts of David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology.  Because of its following online, OF will likely get a hero’s welcome when it finally is released.

People will download it.  About a week later, many of those same folks will stop using it.  Life will have gotten busy.  The shine will have worn off. Old habits will creep back in.  That powerful new productivity app will feel somehow, “ordinary”.

Folks will realize that, at the end of the day, no app can do the work for you.  You are the one who has to do the work. 

How similar is this to prayer? Let me share a story to answer that from my own life. 

A visit to my spiritual director a few months ago had me complaining about one thing or another.  The man is an absolute saint for putting up with me.  I don’t know how he does it.  When I came up for air and stopped talking, he calmly said, “and have you been praying about this?”

Right... praying about it, that would have helped. 


Pray as if everything depends on God, work as if everything depends on you.
— St. Ignatius of Loyola

What he was really saying is this, “you can’t expect God to step in and make your problems go away if you’re not even willing to do the slightest bit of work”.

I’ve heard that mantra many times in the months since then, you have to do the work, you have to do the work, you have to do the work.

In this way, productivity and prayer are very similar.  There is one significant difference that is probably obvious by now.  With productivity, it’s all about you and your colleagues.  When it comes to prayer, God is in charge.  He’s doing the heavy lifting.  His grace is mysterious and can be hard to figure out.  His ways, as the passage says, are not always our ways. 

Still, you’ve got to do the work.

 
Four Things That Make Morning Prayer So Difficult
 
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Think of the last time you jumped out of bed and started your day with a smile.  Now look back at what made that morning work so well- what made the difference?  

When it comes to morning prayer, it’s easier for things to go off the tracks than for your morning to go smoothly.

Why is that?

In my experience, our mornings are the result of our evenings the day before.  I had one of these “good mornings” recently and it felt so good.  I got up at the right time, my morning prayers went well and my workday seemed to just “flow”.  

Most mornings get sidetracked as the result of the following:

  1. We stay up too late the night before.  If you’re tired, you’re less likely to get up and get going in the morning.
  2. We don’t have a morning routine down.  It’s a good idea to do the same things every morning in the same cadence- it cuts down on decision fatigue which can influence your desire to pray.
  3. We haven’t laid out our tools in advance.  If you don’t know where you put your Bible and your journal, you are less likely to have a good experience of prayer.
  4. We lack a structure for our prayers.  This is why the ACTS formula makes so much sense. It just works.

How are your mornings going lately?  Which of the factors above can you improve on?

 
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 Surprising Truth About Prayer
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January and February are often times of the year when people try out new things.  In a quest for form new habits, we go on diets, save more money and go to the gym.  The seed inside of us, wanting improvement, is good.  

After all, it’s a good thing to be in better shape, to manage our finances more effectively and to eat healthy foods.  Rather than poo-poo this innate desire we all have to improve, we should celebrate it.

On one hand, forming new habits is easy but on the other hand, each requires a certain “barrier of entry”.  Let’s look at a few of them and consider the hoops that you have to jump through to really excel:

  • Fitness: do I go to the gym or purchase equipment to excercise at home?  Do I work out on my own or with a buddy?
  • Diet: do I ditch carbs or increase protein?  Do I have to drink eight glasses of water a day?  Should I eat three meals or five smaller meals?  Organic or regular food?
  • Reading: do I buy traditional books or use a Kindle?  Sci-fi or fiction?  What if I don’t like to read? Does listening to an audio book count as reading?

Now, consider something that prayer has in common with each of the habits we’ve just mentioned: it takes practice.  Prayer, to truly become a habit that “sticks” must be done over and over again.

But, and here’s the wonderfully surprising truth about prayer, there is literally no barrier to entry.  You and I can pray right now.  No fancy clothes needed.  No apps needed.  No level of education needed. 

All that’s needed is to surrender to that seed of desire in you to be closer to God.  That alone, placed there first by God, is enough of an engine to get you going.  

Consider the words of 16th century mystic and Doctor of the Church, St. Teresa of Avila wh described prayer prayer in terms of, “being on terms of friendship with God frequently conversing in secret with him who, we know, loves us”.

As my father would say, “that’s a wow!”  Prayer is nothing more or less than building friendship with God.  We talk with Him in our hearts or out loud.  We listen to Him, even when it is hard to hear His voice.  We do all of this because we know, deep down, that He loves us and waits for us in prayer.

There’s no barrier of entry, only a surrender to the tiniest incling that we should pray.  When you sense that incling, drop everything and say a prayer.  

  • When you see a car accident on the side of the road, say a prayer.
  • When someone tells you some bad news, say a prayer.
  • When you are stressed at work, say a prayer.
  • When you read the news and hear of a natural disaster, say a prayer.
  • When you know something or someone is “off”, say a prayer.
  • When you start your day and before you go to sleep, say a prayer.

By praying when you have the smallest sense that you should pray, you will be building the muscle of prayer.  God waits for you there and wants for you to meet Him in the quiet and ordinary spaces of daily prayer.