Tell God What’s On Your Mind

We sat in the car, driving along route 22 in Pennsylvania. It had been a long week and I wasn’t sure if my son had had a particularly good one. With a new school  and having to make new friends, I wondered how everything was going.

“Tell me what you’re thinking,” I said.

And the rest just flowed. We talked about new friends and old, about navigating a new school building and about what kids were like. The conversation didn’t last long but it was just what the doctor ordered. The father-son “pulse check” was complete.

This is a strategy we can also use in prayer.

By starting our prayer time with a personal inventory, a sort of check-in, we are laying it all out there for the Lord. Sometimes we feel a certain way and that bleeds into our devotional time. I find that telling God what’s on our mind is just as valuable. 

The end-of-day Ignatian examen is a genius way to complete the day. Let’s not ignore the power of the start of our day and the many things on our minds at that time of the day.

When you take stock of your thoughts, you accomplish three things:

  1. You become aware. By sharing your thoughts with God, you are then more mindful of what’s bothering you, what preoccupies you and what is lingering in your head.

  2. You become grateful. We are so fortunate to have a God who wants to know us personally. He wants us to share what we are thinking and feeling. This produces gratefulness. We are not alone.

  3. You learn to surrender. Sometimes, our thoughts are quite strong. At other times, we can just let them go and move on. In either case, we learn to offer up to the Lord what we carry into prayer.

After all, what we are thinking is often what we are feeling.

As an example, I might say, “God I’m thinking about the day ahead and I have some anxiety...” Or, how about, “Lord I’m thinking of my mom’s friend who is very sick.” Both examples are on my heart (feelings) but also on my mind (thoughts).

The Bible isn’t absent on this point. Romans 12:2 speaks of this feeling-thought dynamic:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The process of renewing our thoughts takes practice. Many of us, I’m speaking from experience, can let thought patterns develop over decades. These are hard to change. What I’ve found, with years of practice, is that a daily sharing with God of what I’m thinking is the best remedy for unhealthy thoughts.

I realized in my late thirties that I had a very primitive view of God. He was the professor grading my life with a red pen. I could never measure up to His high standard. This thought pattern took years to unearth. Thankfully, it only took a few years to reshape.

Saint Teresa of Avila also speaks to this. She says, “It isn’t good to let our thoughts disturb us or worry us at all.”  St. Thomas More contributes this advice, “Occupy your minds with good thoughts, or the enemy will fill them with bad ones. Unoccupied, they cannot be.”

Our thoughts matter to God. Why not begin each day’s devotions with a sharing of them with the Lord?

Four Things You Should Pray About Today

What should I pray about?

That question is very real and one that I imagine many of us (secretly) ask. I know that I do. Seriously, what should I pray for when I see a car accident on the side of the road? What should I do when my mom tells me that her neighbor has fallen and been rushed to the hospital? You get the point.

Then, there are smaller things. Last week, the freezer in my fridge stopped working. Not stopped as in “hot” but more like turning-ice-cream-into-soup kind of stopped. Being from New England, this is tantamount to a cardinal sin. I cried a bit inside when I had to throw away the half-full containers of Cookies and Cream.

Forgive me Lord. Next time, I’m going to offer it up and consume both containers rather than sending them to the trash can. That’s the right thing to do.

I digress.

Should I pray about the darn freezer? Does God care about that or is it too small? Maybe he’s working on climate change or immigration. I wouldn’t want to be a pain in the rear end with something as puny as my freezer.

Hear what I’m saying?

So what should you pray about? Here are four suggestions:

  1. Yourself. This is more of a “praying for” type scenario. You should pray for the grace to desire God more. It’s good to pray for the courage to follow Christ more faithfully. There is value in asking God to turn you into a saint. In other words, be selfish so that you can be more for others. Check out St. Paul’s advice to Timothy, “Attend to yourself and to your teaching…”

  2. The condition of the Church. If the Church is Christ’s body, we want it to be healthy. I don’t know about you but I see a bruised, limping community, struggling to follow Christ. I see leaders who have lost their fire and followers who have (often) only a slight knowledge of the faith. We are all at fault and our weakness should grieve us. It’s good to pray for the renewal of the Church.

  3. Those that don’t (yet) believe. Do you pray for your neighbors on your block? How about your coworkers? There’s no shortage of people to pray for when it comes to those that don’t yet know Christ. Look around. Don’t leave out the folks who live closest to you. Sadly, these may be in your own family. Don’t give up on them and pray too for the grace to be a good role model to each one of them.

  4. The raw needs of those close to you. You get the call that your sister’s mother-in-law has had a setback in her battle with cancer. That’s real! Your friend just found out that his job is being eliminated in two months. These kind of situations happen all of the time and they deserve your heartfelt prayer.

We could add a ton of other items to this list but you get the point. Consider these four things in your daily quiet time. I suspect you’ll be glad you did.

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.

Inside my Morning Routine with Lisa Hendey
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This interview is with Lisa Hendey. Lisa is the founder and of CatholicMom.com and the bestselling author of The Grace of Yes, The Catholic Mom's Prayer Companion, The Handbook for Catholic Moms, I Am God's Storyteller, and A Book of Saints for Catholic Moms. Lisa has inspired me for many years as she continues to create quality content for a variety of audiences. As a fellow Ave Maria Press author, I credit Lisa with the motivation to keep pressing on with my own book. She’s the best.

What is your typical morning routine?

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My first stop in the morning is typically my coffee pot, where I give praise to God for the magical powers of dark roast. On most days, I go next to my prayer time, which is one of the best parts of every day. I, unfortunately, don't make daily Mass most days, but a consistent part of my morning routine is praying the day's Liturgy of the Word. After opening my quiet prayer time with informal prayers of thanksgiving and intercessory prayer, I pull up the readings for the day at USCCB and read and reflect upon them. I pull a line from each scripture passage, note it in my journal, and meditate upon it in Lectio Divina-fashion for a few moments. It always amazes me how God sends me exactly what I need most days! I journal for approximately ten minutes, review my appointments for the day, make a list of priorities for the day (often based on the things I didn't get done the day prior) and intentionally invite the Holy Spirit to guide my day. I typically close my morning prayer with the Morning Offering and the Allegiance Prayer.

How long have you stuck with this routine so far?

I've prayed this way for several years, but my routine has evolved. I used to also spend time studying a saint during this time and praying the Liturgy of the Hours, but I have moved those portions of my prayer journey to later parts of the day, when I am more awake.

How has your morning routine changed in recent years?

It's actually shortened. As I've aged and have more independent time during the day, I've shifted much of the spiritual reading and planning I used to do early in the morning to later parts of the day. I find that by not trying to do a "laundry list" of prayer, I focus more clearly on my quiet time with God. For me, a planner and one has a tendency to get very list-oriented, I've had the problem in past years with seeing morning prayer as too much of a "to do" list item. This more leisurely approach that I've taken in the last few years has helped my morning quiet time with God to feel like a more natural, sacred moment as opposed to a rigid time of study.

Do you do anything the night before that makes your morning easier?

I definitely look at my calendar shortly before bed just to remind myself of any important commitments and to plan ahead for reserving quiet time for my morning routine.

When you travel, do you have to make any adjustments to your morning routine?

As it is now, my morning routine is pretty mobile, which means that I don't have to take much with me and I can adjust to wherever I am. I prefer when at home to read scripture from an actual Bible (no notifications!) but I don't carry my big Bible with me on the road. Another recent development has happened on my frequent visits to my parents' house. My mom's health has unfortunately resulted in her move to a Memory Care facility. Daddy is living on his own for the first time in 57 years. When I am at their house, my routine shifts a little to accommodate his need for some company in the morning. One great blessing is praying with Daddy as we pull out of the driveway to visit Mom at her place. And a tiny little part of my routine, when there, is to pray the sign of the cross immediately upon entering the security code to Mom's unit. Even that quick prayer reminds me that I am entering sacred ground with a mission: to lovingly serve my mom and her fellow patients.

In which ways does prayer in the morning set a course for your entire day?

Morning prayer is my roadmap for the day. It's my opportunity to place the gifts and blessings and challenges of the day in God's hands, to remind myself to trust God's will and to align myself with it, and to remember that if I do my best to give God my "Yes", my to do list for the day will not always line up perfectly with what actually transpires each day... and that's ok!

Five Things To Look for in a Faith-Based College

It’s a concrete fear that many parents have: what if my kids lose their faith while in college?

Whether from peers who have had children leave the Church or from the abundant research on this very topic, the fear is real. It’s also justified. The fact is that many students do abandon their faith (intentionally or not) during the college years.

There are a number of reasons for this, including:

  • Access: with Catholic campus ministry on just over 800 campuses nationwide, this leaves thousands of campuses without Mass, a chaplain, a campus minister or any semblance of a faith community. Of the 1,000+ community colleges, it’s even worse.

  • A weak foundation: while we can bemoan the droves of young people who turn away from the faith while in college, it’s worth inquiring about the strength of their foundation while they were in high school. In other words, “did they really have a strong faith before college?” Often, the answer is no. This is very uncomfortable to talk about but I believe that most teens don’t really know the Lord- which leads to the next point.

  • A lack of personal relationship with the Lord: simply growing up in a faith-based home is no longer enough. Unless the students knows the Lord personally, she/he will likely leave their faith while in college. Unless they know how to “be Christian” in an atmosphere that isn’t, their “spiritual resiliency” will be fragile.

  • An initial confrontation with intellectual challenge: if it’s hard for you to understand and articulate your faith, imagine what happens when you encounter a professor or fellow student who challenges you- it can rock a student’s world. They then feel inadequate and want to turn away. Their “apologetics muscle” isn’t strong enough to endure the challenges of most campuses. It’s not that the student doesn’t have faith. Rather, their faith vocabulary lags behind their belief.

If you are a student or a parent of a student approaching college, I suggest searching for the following five “signs” of spiritual vitality on a campus:

  1. What is the Catholic vocabulary of the campus? From the college’s website to the promotional material, pay attention to how comfortable the college is about its Catholic identity. I receive packets all of the time from Catholic colleges and often, thankfully not always, the mention of Catholicism is but a footnote. Every word in a promotional brochure is labored over. The fact that a college would go out of its way to avoid its Catholicism should tell you something.

  2. What is important for the college based on the tour? While I wouldn’t judge a campus entirely based on a 19 year old tour guide, each guide is coached to mention certain things and avoid others. Pay attention to this. Does the tour mention the chapel? Does the tour mention faith-related routines and rituals? Is D-1 football the real “religion” on campus? Are the blue safety lights mentioned more than anything else?

  3. How updated is the campus ministry web page? Not every department in a college has full capacity to change its own webpages. This is unfortunately one of the consequences of red tape in higher education. Nonetheless, a campus ministry suite of pages does tell you how active the program is. Pay attention to this. It’s a good sign if the contact information is up to date and inviting to the guest.

  4. How many students attend Mass regularly? Don’t ask about this because most will likely have but a vague answer. Rather, go to a daily or weekend Mass and just look around. Note that summer is not usually a fair time to judge as colleges are typically quieter in June and July.

  5. How has the campus responded to recent moral challenges? Every college has its challenges- a scandal here, a discrepancy there. The key is how the college leadership responded to the challenge. When it involves morality, this is often an important marker of a college’s commitment to its core faith-based values. Was there a cover up? Was the college quick to respond? Was there a sense of pastoral concern and dialogue?

In future posts, I’ll be talking more about the college reality. For now, look for these five things as you begin to assess, in charity, the strength of a college’s faith foundation.

FaithMike StPierre