Posts in Simplicity
If Your Prayer is Simple, That’s a Good Thing

How simple is your prayer? This question is particularly valuable for those starting out and for those highly mature in the spiritual life.

  • The “starter” just wants to be with the Lord, spending time simply with the One who they are falling in love with.

  • The “veteran” has a simple prayer life as if a grandfather is spending time with his grandchild- the time together is enough.

My graduate class this semester is dealing with this tension- how simple should prayer really be? It’s a fascinating topic and one that my students are (appropriately) wrestling with. It’s something I wrestle with too! At times, I want to engineer more feeling, more emotion and more clarity. At other times, it’s cool to just present myself to the Lord.

Be compassionate with yourself when it comes to this tension. Depending on the season of your life, the level of simplicity will correspond. The key, not surprisingly, is to keep showing up day after day. The Lord will do the rest.

Make the Sign of the Cross

In this recent video on YouTube, I shared a story of a Protestant friend of mine. We walked into a chapel and I blessed myself with Holy Water, making the sign of the cross. Unfamiliar with this tradition, he thought it was odd to dip one’s finger into the water. I showed him that there was nothing magic about it.

Rather, making the sign of the cross was an ancient practice. Anyone could do it.

The sign of the cross is also a wonderful way to begin or end your time of prayer. Think of it as a bookend. Without the bookend, the novels will fall over.

This week, try slowing down and making the sign of the cross. Enjoy it. Savor it. Recognize that God is present and that you are taking special note of that fact.

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. 

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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The Jesus Prayer: What is it and How do you Pray It?

A few years ago, a friend of mine recommended that I pray “the Jesus prayer”. I had shared my struggle with a lot of negative self talk and she thought that the Jesus Prayer would be a helpful antidote.

To my surprise, it worked.

Before I go any further though, let me share some details about the Jesus Prayer. It’s quite powerful and could be a powerful asset in your prayer toolbox.

What is it?

It’s very simple and you can pray it anywhere, anytime. Some people use prayer beads but they are not mandatory. The prayer is this:

"Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”

It’s been called “essential” to spiritual growth by a number of the Church Fathers. The Jesus Prayer is considered a means of praying without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Since one names Christ as Lord at the very start of the prayer, it is thought to be quite Biblical.

A Biblical Prayer

One can reference Acts 4:12, “. . . for there is no other name given among men by which we must be saved”, Luke 1:31, or Matthew 16:16-18 to name a few. The New Testament is rich with examples of people who call out to Jesus in need of healing or simply seeking answers to life’s difficult problems.

By praying the Jesus Prayer, we return to this tradition in a direct way. It humbles us and reminds us of our complete need of Him. As a prayer it is so beloved by Eastern Christians that it is said to be the most recited prayer after the Our Father and the Hail Mary.

Is it Just Another Mantra?

While some prayers are a means of reducing our stress, the Jesus Prayer is much more. It does not seek to empty the mind but to fill it with the merciful presence of Jesus.

Helpful Articles

If you’re not convinced yet that the Jesus Prayer is effective, here are some wonderful resources that I can recommend:

Helpful Videos

The Impact of the Prayer

In my life, the Jesus Prayer has been a great gift. I use it regularly as a way to focus my mind and heart. I will pray it to start the day, to calm me down in the middle of the day and even at random times while running errands. I find that it’s “pure”- I didn’t come up with it and each word is charged with a heart turned towards God. I can put myself second and God first when I pray the prayer.

Do you have to pray it out loud? Not necessarily. I typically do not. Try it out and see if it can be another component of your prayer life. If you’re like me, you might also become an advocate of the Jesus Prayer.


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What to do When You Feel Inadequate in Prayer

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I recently spent time with a friend who said this, “I’m just not very good at prayer.” This stuck with me for days and I’ve thought about it ever since. My friend is a devout Catholic. He loves his faith and serves the poor in very public ways.


How could a man who has such a strong faith not have confidence in his own prayer life? This very question haunted me for years. In fact, it provided the impetus for my upcoming book The 5 Habits of Prayerful People. I found myself as a freshman in college and teaching myself how to pray.  I was the one asking, “how could I, a Christian for many years, not be comfortable with prayer?”


Can you relate to this? Do you feel inadequate approaching God in prayer? 

 

For Catholics in particular, this question reveals a deep issue. It’s not that Catholics don’t have faith- Lord knows they do!  Rather, it’s the living cultivation of a personal relationship with the Lord that is tough sledding for many. Protestants, more versed in the process of encounter with Christ, tend to learn how to pray more than Catholics. While Catholics say a lot of prayers, many fail to go beneath the surface. As a result, the many recited prayers fail to take the believer deeper and lack stickiness.

 

Pope Francis’ emphasis on encounter is a breath of fresh air and might help more Catholics with their understanding of prayer. In Evangelii Gaudium (2013), he said this, “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed personal encounter with Jesus Christ, or at least an openness to letting him encounter them; I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.” (For other fantastic quotes, refer to Aleteia’s post.)


That doesn’t mean that a phrase alone (i.e. encounter) will teach someone to pray. What it may do it help us better understand that we need an encounter with Christ in order to form a prayerful relationship with him. That personal encounter with the Lord then moves us to love others with greater compassion and sensitivity. 


I was very fortunate as a teenager. Some very good friends, Protestant Christians, took me under their wing and discipled me. The faith-foundation provided by my parents then flourished. These friends brought me on a retreat and gave me the opportunity to come face to face with Christ. I was invited to make a decision- live for myself or live for Him. I chose the latter. Barely knowing the commitment I was making, I made a small gesture towards God. Since then, as you can imagine, everything has changed.


Having had an encounter with Christ, I then learned how to have a daily quiet time. This was like water on a small seed. Things grew from there. Eventually I would learn how to be present to others, especially those on the margins of society. Still, it all began with an invitation to know Christ in a personal way. Not a bunch of rote prayers. Not another decade of the Rosary (although powerful in itself). It was a simple presentation of the Gospel message: God loves us, humankind is sinful, Jesus died for us, choosing Christ as savior. Today, I try to have a quiet time every day and it’s made all the difference. The simplicity of the Gospel unfolds each day for me and needs to be affirmed daily in my quiet times.


I can relate to my friend who expressed that he doesn’t feel confident in prayer. There are times when I don’t feel all that good at it myself. Sometimes, I feel like I’m going through the motions. Other times, I feel like I’m giving God scraps instead of my full attention.


Even still, I press on. This is the work of a Christian. Never having complete confidence in our relationship with Christ, we still understand that prayer is vital to our faith. The key is to keep at it.  Talking to God takes both faith and practice. Much of our tradition focuses on the former and neglects the latter.


When you feel as if your prayer life isn’t hitting the mark or is less than perfect, don’t give up hope. God wants your daily quiet time to be consistent and fruitful. When you have your next prayer time, savor the moment. What a gift it is to be in relationship with the living God!

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