Posts in Quotes
Try Starting Your Prayer With a Question

Starting lines matter- a lot. They give us an objective beginning to whatever we are doing. This applies to our prayer lives as well.

There are probably hundreds of different ways to begin your time of prayer. These might include:

  • Making the sign of the cross

  • Reading a particular Bible passage that is meaningful to you

  • Repeating a phrase or mantra

  • Gazing at a religious icon

One thing that I’ve been trying lately is to simply take note of how I’m feeling. Do I have a knot in my stomach? Am I feeling at ease? Is something worrying me?

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This “self inventory” is particularly important when we are going through a difficult or stressful time. Our family has recently been dealing with the loss of a loved one. Very difficult stuff. You want to start the day with a spring in your step. Instead, you feel a brick on your chest when you wake up… the stress of it all.

St Teresa of Avila said this, “Before prayer, endeavor to realize whose Presence you are approaching, and to whom you are about to speak. We can never fully understand how we ought to behave towards God, before whom the angels tremble.” In other words, take note of how you are approaching God, feelings and all.

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.

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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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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Seven Simple Ways to Sit Still
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It’s not easy to sit still. Think about it. When was the last time that you sat comfortably and just looked out a window, day dreaming about something?

If you’re like most of us, the urge to check your phone can quickly overwhelm what might have been a quiet moment. That daydream? Out the window with another glance at Facebook or Instagram.

It may be deeper than this. Sure, we’re addicted to our smartphones. What if there are other things at play besides this?

In this post, we’ll examine the causes of our difficulty in sitting still for prayer. Then, we will map out seven simple ways to help you become an expert when it comes to sitting still.

The Causes

When you want to have a quiet time, it’s important to be able to sit still. No fidgeting. No distractions. This is of course, harder than it sounds. From my experience, there are four causes to our inability to sit still:

  • Distraction: if you’re home alone, it’s much easier to sit still. If you’re in a church full of hundreds of people, not so much. If there’s a lot of noise around you, sitting still will be difficult.
  • Access to gadgets: what’s close by? Is your phone in your hand? If so, you may be tempted to check your email quickly. Social media might be calling out your name. To the degree that your devices are within hand’s reach, you may find sitting still difficult.
  • Lack of transitions: most of use need time to “ease into” prayer. Don’t assume that, just because you are trying to sit still, that it will come easily. In our solutions list (see below), I’ll help you with this.
  • Fear: prayer involves vulnerability. When you go to sit still and have your quiet time with the Lord, you’re entering uncharted territory. God may speak to you. You may have a thought that is unformed. An inspiration may come to your heart. For most of us, this is scary.

With the causes of our discomfort with sitting still in hand, now we can turn to seven simple solutions (or ways) that will help you to sit still. This list is not meant to be exhaustive but purely practical. I personally use these “tricks” and believe me, they work!

The Solutions

  1. Begin with a phrase. A transition phrase, even if said only in your head, can be a useful “nudge” into sitting still. Using the same phrase can trigger your brain and heart that you are entering into quiet time. I like to use the ancient formula, “O God come to my assistance, Lord make haste to help me.”
  2. Notice your breathing. Just taking notice of your breath will let you know if you are anxious or calm. Pay attention to your body and begin to breath slowly and with intention.
  3. Use a countdown. If sitting still is very (read, VERY) difficult for you, you may try to simply close your eyes and count down from ten to one. This has nothing to do with hypnosis and everything to do with calming your busy mind. There’s something about an old-fashioned countdown that contributes to a peaceful mind.
  4. Set aside your devices. As Jesus says in Matthew 18:8, “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away.” Could the modern day “hand” be your iPhone? I’m not advocating for you to throw away an $800 device. I am saying that your smartphone is probably too tempting and should be set aside while you pray.
  5. Use a journal. A journal is a powerful tool when it comes to sitting still. It helps get things out of your head. It maps progress. It lets you know that you are thinking through issues. It can be a way to write out your prayers.
  6. Fix your eyes. Some of us benefit from a visual focal point when we pray. This may be a crucifix on the wall or an icon on a table in front of you. You might have a Rosary in your hands that you can look at. If you are a “visual prayer”, try to increase your ability to sit still with a focal point for your eyes.
  7. Close your eyes. This may seem counter to #6 but there are just times when you need to close your eyes. I find this particularly true when I’m trying to pray in church or at a public event (i.e. a conference). Closing your eyes is an act of surrender to God, letting Him bring you deeper into intimacy and stillness.

For a bonus strategy, consider using your Bible as a tool for helping you to still still. A short passage can provide context for your quiet time. If you’re familiar with Lectio Divina, this technique can work quite well, making sense of a passage and integrating it into your prayer. It’s always a good idea to have a Bible close by when you are trying to sit still. 

You Can Do This

Sitting still isn’t easy. With some practice however, it is within reach. God desires a rich and fulfilling prayer life for each of us. By sitting still, you’re giving God the space he needs to transform your life and build confidence in your heart. You can do this. God can do this in you.

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