Posts in At Work
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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How Writing Can Improve Your Prayer Life
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As I write, I’m preparing for a trip to Africa. By the time you read this, I’ll be sleeping under a mosquito net somewhere in Uganda. I could be going over my packing list one more time or making sure that my immunization list is complete.

Instead, I’m writing.

To my left on a comfortable chair is my dog, Ace. A loyal companion, Ace is nearly always at my side. Safe to say, he’s coauthored more than a few blog posts in the past year. He is a quiet editor and rarely criticizes story or syntax. He does occasionally chew on his paw.

My “office” for the next 15 minutes is my porch. A decent cup of coffee to my right, an iPad in front of me and an ugly green writer’s table- these are my tools. The table is small and my wife will probably have “repurposed” it by the time I return from my trip.

I look out the window. A rabbit is having breakfast on the front lawn. My neighbor’s truck is missing, a sign that he’s gone fishing (again). I’ve been up for an hour. Walked Ace. Brewed coffee. Said my prayers. Wrote in my journal.

Now, I’m at the writer’s table. I don’t want to be here or maybe I do. Writing for me is like exercise. If I think too much about it, it simply won’t happen. Instead, for me, it’s best to just dive in. Not that kind of dive they call a “pencil” jump. Rather, a headfirst-make-a-splash kind of thing. I’ve never been a great swimmer and my diving reflects that.

Still, I’m in the water. Ace relocates to another spot on the porch.

Most of the time, I’m writing under a cloud. The cloud is flooded with tension. Shall I write only about prayer today or add a pinch of productivity? Will my readers be turned off? What if this generates more ”claps” on Medium? What if it produces crickets?

Writers know that this cloud follows them. Sometimes it is generous enough to open up and bring about a clear sky. For me, most of the time, it just hangs around. I know it’s there. I simply need to write and pierce its presence. Screw you, I tell the tension. I’m writing and that’s that.

With my first book set to come out in 2019, my writing habit has paid off. The writer’s table. The affable canine. The habit. I still don’t think I’m any good at it but at least someone, a real publisher, does and it willing to put a cover on the thing. Part of me hopes no one will read it. I tell my parents that, by my third book, that’s when I’ll get good at it.

Writing has become a part of my life.

It’s still hard. I never wake up wanting to do it. I still feel like I’m a pathetic writer on any given day. But I press on. There are more words to write and more thoughts in my own head to clarify. I’m a selfish writer. I’d say I write about 90% for myself and the rest for the reader. At least I’m honest about it.

Surprisingly, I’ve found that writing helps with prayer.

There are too many similarities to make here. Suffice it to say that both need discipline. Both are about playing “the long game”. Neither gets noticed by the outside world. Both bring clarity to your thoughts and heart. Neither is glamorous. Both slow you down. Neither requires a special place. Both produce peace of mind.

The two also play nice together. Interestingly enough, my prayer and my writing have become intertwined. I journal (writing) as part of my morning prayer. I pray as I’m struggling to write. Lord, what am I really trying to say here? I mutter when the words don’t come out right. The prayer and the writing, they find a way towards one another. When people aren’t comfortable talking to God out loud, I tell them to write out their prayers. Game-changer for most.

Writing makes you a better pray(er) and I’m grateful for both practices. 

Which can you try today? 

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Should You Download Another Productivity App?
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Another productivity app anyone? Maybe a new Markdown editor or todo app for your smartphone? Wait! Before you hit the download button, think again.

There is an upside to an app that works for you. There is also a downside to any app that steals your focus. 

I've certainly felt this. When my work tools are helping me get things done, it fees good. When I'm tempted to test out something new, there is a slight feeling of unrest. There really is a spiritual component to our work.

As Carl Pullein says, your apps should work for you, not the other way around. 

  

To save you time, I've tested out the latest version of Omnifocus (version 3.0) and it's quite strong. That doesn't mean that you should use it but you should watch the video. If you like the app, the OmniGroup is prepping for a May 30th public launch. 

Enjoy the review!

 

 

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About Mike St. Pierre

I teach people how to pray using simple online tools like blogs and video. f you’d like to be included in my regular email with tips and tricks for praying better, you can sign up here.

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.

 
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.