You already know this: It’s important to get quiet and be quiet—to set aside a silent, focused time to pray. We must get away from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives and go on a mini-retreat with God on a regular basis. Even Jesus had to get away! The Bible cites a number of times during Jesus’s ministry on earth when he left the crowds and went off to pray and talk with his Father. If Jesus Christ himself needed alone time with his Father, we mere mortals certainly need it even more! It’s crucial to our faith lives. But it’s not easy.
Jesus knows it isn’t easy. Often when he was by himself praying, his disciples would come looking for him or the crowds seeking more miracle healings would discover where he was and press in on him. You may not have crowds of people pressing in on you and begging for miracles, but I know you likely have a crowd of family members around who each want a piece of you. Plus, you have to get your day started. And let me guess—your mind is already racing before your eyes are even open in the morning. Thoughts of meetings, projects and deadlines at work can crowd in too. And then there’s the housework and the groceries and all the appointments. Yea, that can all add up and make it feel like the walls are closing in. Who has time to be still?
The answer, of course, is all of us. We all have time to be still and spend time with God. Our new friend St. Francis de Sales says it best: “Every one of us needs half an hour of prayer each day, except when we are busy—then we need an hour.” Nailed it once again, St. Francis!
The problem? Being still is not a practice that is honored in our culture. We are taught to worship the gods of technology and multi-tasking. We are told that being constantly busy equals being productive and successful. We are bombarded with noise from every angle, practically all day long. But if we continually find ourselves in the middle of all that chaos, we can easily be drawn further away from God and our faith. I know this; I used to be hooked on all that stimulation too. And it was definitely not conducive to a strong spiritual life.
When life is busy and messy and chaotic and loud (which can be most of the time), we need all the more to be still. That’s the ideal time for us to stop and pray. To get away. To be quiet. To be alone with God so we can learn to recognize when it’s his voice telling us what choices to make and which path to take. You can’t get to know someone’s voice or have a good conversation with them when there’s too much noise in the background.
(Excerpted from Praying with a Pen–A Girlfriends’ Guide to Stress-Free Prayer Journaling. Get the book here!)
“I’m going to rename him Velcro,” my husband proclaimed as he shook his head at my little pup, Sammy, who is never more than two feet away from me at all times. “He is constantly stuck to you.”
He’s right. He often has to compete with Sammy if he wants to sit next to me on the couch, or move in for a goodnight kiss in bed. Sammy is perpetually by my side, watching, waiting and trying to anticipate my next move. He follows me from room to room throughout the day, and lies in a dog bed next to my desk when I’m in the office. He’s always at my heels.
Sammy is a good example for me. Not when he barks for scraps at mealtime, or chases the cats, or chews up my socks, but when he sticks close to me.
It’s how I imagine I should be following Jesus. Not just following in a general sense, like I know he’s ahead of me somewhere and I think I can make him out in the distance if I squint hard enough. Or following somewhere along the fence line and only scurrying over to him when something spooks me. But following closely. All the time. Where I can see him and recognize his voice when he calls and can let him guide me down the path one step at a time. Where I can touch the hem of his garment when I need to.
This is how I imagine the saints felt— that every step they took in their spiritual journey was in sync with Jesus. Like they could just turn to the right and turn to the left and see and feel and hear the Lord next to them. They were always near to him, not bringing up the rear of the line in the back of the herd. They were the good sheep and he was their Good Shepherd. He wanted them close and they wanted to be close to him. Right at his heels.
And that’s how it is with us, too. He wants us close. Where we can feel his presence in every room, in every situation, in every challenging circumstance. Where we can feel his great love. And where we don’t have to go far to find his mercy and forgiveness.
I’m going to stick close to Jesus as best as I can. At his heels, even. Like Velcro.
[Sammy is so inspiring. I can’t wait to point this out to my husband.]
I’ve been meaning to write about this topic for two weeks. After all, January is almost over and it’s my New Year’s Resolution. But I just couldn’t seem to get the words from my brain to the Word document with all the other things going on. Perhaps I should have put “Be More Organized” on my resolution list this year!
This resolution, or more accurately, this phrase, came about through the process of prayer journaling (surprise, surprise!). The first segment—Make Room—came to me during Eucharistic Adoration in late December. I was pondering what the Holy Spirit would have me do next, specifically in 2018, and this thought popped into my head: Make Room. Make room for what? I wondered. I worked through the possible meanings over the next week and ended up with several thoughts: I need to make room in my schedule—that’s a little challenging but can be done. I need to make room for discipleship and kingdom-building opportunities. Makes sense. And I need to make room in my heart for the Holy Spirit to move. Hmmmm, that one’s slightly intimidating. But I am committed to praying for the Holy Spirit to come into my heart and clean house to make room for amazing things in 2018.
Make Haste entered into the mix when I was reading about the wise men and the shepherds in the fields who heard about the birth of Jesus and made haste to go find him. They didn’t doubt, they didn’t question, they didn’t ruminate—they dropped what they were doing and they made haste. According to one of my previous bosses, instead of a “Ready, Aim, Fire” person, I can be more of a “Ready, Aim, Aim, Aim, Aim” person. Guilty as charged (although I did defend myself by saying that at least I wasn’t a “Ready, Fire, Aim” person). Admittedly, I love the idea generation phase of a project, but I get bogged down in the execution. I second-guess. I want more time to test. I need to go over things with a fine-tooth comb one more time. I hesitate to pull the trigger. Yea, if I was one of the shepherds, I would still be sitting on a rock contemplating the pros and cons of heading into Bethlehem, and wondering if I really did see angels singing, while my fellow shepherds would already be gazing into the glory of the manger. I don’t make haste. But my new saint friend, Catherine of Siena, has been getting under my skin with her quote, “Start being brave about everything.” So when an opportunity presents itself in 2018, I plan to be brave and jump on it.
And finally, there’s Make Holy, a phrase that popped into my head at the precise moment when the priest at Mass was saying, “Make holy these gifts…” It’s kind of the cherry on top of the resolution ice cream sundae. Make Holy is a way, as St. Francis de Sales says, to Live Today Well. It means elevating my everyday acts and encounters to a holy level. To offer up my entire day to God, so he can sanctify the situations and sanctify me and take my meager offerings and make something holy out of them. Cue the Little Way of St. Therese: Doing dishes can be made holy. Getting groceries can be made holy. Making phone calls can be made holy. I don’t have to accomplish anything newsworthy—I can know, instead, that when God adds his grace to my everyday actions, they can be made holy. I just need to ask.
So there you have it. In 2018, I hope and pray to Make Room, Make Haste and Make Holy.
Oh, and maybe become better organized while I’m at it…
I have often envisioned Jesus hugging me, especially on days when things get rough and I am not all that huggable (it happens; ask my husband). It’s always been Jesus taking the lead, smiling and leaning down (Jesus is always taller than me) to scoop me in his arms and hold me tight, and consoling me in the way only he can. I am mostly passive in this imaginary scene. I let him hug me to his chest and I just close my eyes and soak it in. This is a calming image, and it has a healing effect on me, but I think in the future I will imagine something different: I am going to envision myself hugging him back. When I next picture Jesus hugging me, I am going to reach out and slip my arms around his neck and shoulders and pull him even closer. It will be a true embrace (embrace is, not-coincidentally, my word of the year) between the two of us, not a one-sided action on his part only. I will hug him back!
That symbolism of a dynamic, two-person embrace has meaningful application in my everyday spiritual life. Hugging Jesus in return means I will allow him to guide me and lead me through my challenges. It means I believe in his peace and have faith that his plan for me is the best one. And it means I surrender to his will. Not in a feisty, reluctant way, as was the case in my past life, but in an abiding, restful way, safe in his arms and secure in the knowledge that I am a beloved child of his. Hugging him back is like looking directly into his eyes and saying, “Jesus, I trust in you.”
This is an interesting development—I don’t think I was capable of “hugging him back” five years ago. I was too self-sufficient and independent and I was struggling mightily with yielding to God’s plans. In other words, I was being a spiritual brat. The kind who would try to wriggle out of a fatherly hug, not believing or trusting in the forgiveness or mercy or peace that was being offered. I wanted to do my life my way, keeping Jesus at bay: Okay, hug me if you must, Jesus, but let’s move on now. I have other things to attend to.
Ugh. I cringe when I think of my attitude back then. So prideful. So suspicious. So untrusting. But, as Jesus does, he kept on hugging me. He consistently reached out to me, despite my bratty and disrespectful manner. Like a persistent, ever-loving father, he never gave up on me.
As a result, I now want to hug him back. I want to show him how deeply grateful I am that he has transformed my life. I want to get close and stay close and never stray again. I want him to feel my love and devotion and trust. And I want to serve him and help build his kingdom in whatever way he wants me to.
Yep, when Jesus hugs me the next time, he will get hugged in return, with thanks from a recovering spiritual brat. And I think he will lean down and smile when I do.