How To Avoid Going Through The Motions Of Spiritual Life

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Have you ever felt like your life was like this song:

Granted, you’re not gonna be slaying vampires or demons anytime soon, but the sentiment is still there. Life isn’t always a song or a series of spiritual highs. There will be dry periods. There will be times when you go through the motions of spiritual life without even being aware of it.

It’s normal to not always be focused on the Mass. Sometimes, you forget to pray a day of a novena. And sometimes, we tend to rush through our prayers. Don’t knock yourself down for the little mistakes. What’s important is that you keep praying in spite of how you feel.

If you falter a bit when it comes to prayer, try offering up your prayers for someone in need. Intercessory prayer is a powerful gift. People you can pray for include your family, your friends, your co-workers, the homeless, the unborn, the politicians you hate, the Souls in Purgatory…the list is basically infinite.

This passage from Matthew also helps to keep things in perspective:

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him. – Matthew 6:5-15

While it’s great to pray on the commute, don’t just babble through your prayers. As a cradle Catholic, I grew up with saying my prayers throughout the day. I never knew that being in prayer was supposed to be a state of reverence. Believe me, it’s not easy to feel God’s presence, even when you’re in Mass or Adoration. But the point is just to try.

I’m not advocating a “fake it till you make it.” To quote Amy Cuddy in this seriously awesome TED Talk, it’s more like faking it until you become it. Eventually, you’ll find the rhythm again and join in the dance of prayer. It doesn’t matter how loud or how spiritual you may seem. Prayer is a conversation between you and God. Sometimes that means telling God “I seriously don’t feel like praying right now because…” Sometimes that means telling God about all the negativity and frustrations you feel. God is there to listen.

At the same time, though, use the dry periods of your life as an opportunity to listen to him. Maybe the problem is that you talk too much. God speaks in the silence of our hearts. Silence can be a scary thing for us in this world of constant interruptions and noise. And yet, it’s such a necessity. It helps us to settle down. It brings us calm. Don’t give into whatever fears or negative thoughts that manifest in the silence. “Be still and know that I am God.” – Psalm 46:10

If you don’t feel the desire for God’s presence, that’s ok, too. The Jesuits have a prayer to ask for “the desire for the desire of God’s presence.” (Kinda like “I want to want you,” not to be confused with “I Want You to Want Me.”)

The point of this blog post is that there will be times when we feel ourselves going through the motions. It’s okay to not feel those spiritual highs all the time. In fact, it’s actually more normal to go through long dry periods. The point is to keep going in spite of how we feel and to focus on what matters most.

I’m gonna leave you with this wonderful song that explains spiritual dryness:

How To Accept What You Can't Change In No Easy Steps

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I’ve talked about The Serenity Prayer on this blog before (as well as the film Serenity). I even liked reading The Way of Serenity by Fr. Jonathan Morris. I feel particularly drawn to the Serenity Prayer lately because I’m having problems adjusting to change again. Or rather, the aftermath of the changes that came into my life. I’ve embraced the idea of trying new things, but sometimes, the new things are only there for a little while.

It’s kind of like going to Disneyland for the first time or to a seriously awesome retreat. When you try new things like volunteering or going to a new place, the experience can be amazing and overwhelming and you just get caught up in a blissful spiritual high. Then all of a sudden, you find yourself back to reality and you can’t go back and repeat that experience again.

I’ve been taking care of 2 bamboo plants and a small batch of mini-roses. Although I water them regularly, the roses are currently wilting and one of the stems of my bamboo plant is turning yellow. I can’t help but feel like these plants are reflecting how I feel spiritually. Plants can die from over-watering just as much as they can die from not being watered enough. Sometimes, spiritual thirst can come from wanting too much just as much as it can from not feeling anything.

Maybe it’s just one of those summer-is-almost-over kind of downer feelings, but I feel my life transitioning again and I’m not sure where it’ll go this time. I’m missing the fun stuff I did with my friends and dread being stuck in a rut again. But I have to accept where I am right now, whether I like it or not.

If there’s anything I learned this summer, it’s that God will always give you what you ask for, but not in the ways that you expect. There is no such thing as an unanswered prayer. Sometimes people only come into your life for a little while and sometimes there are people who will change your life forever. But you can’t cling onto whatever or whomever made you feel a certain way because those things aren’t God. If you love something, you gotta let it go. If you keep loving it, it will come back to you. Or whatever you want will come back in a different way. But it’s ultimately up to God.

So if you’re like me and right now you’re feeling bummed about summer being close to over (or already over depending on when you start school), pray the Serenity Prayer. I have my own modified version because I can’t resist making a Firefly joke.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can’t change

The courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference

And if I can’t have any of those things right now,

I’ll just be here binge-watching Firefly

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com

Lent Days 27-29: Waiting In The Desert

There were a few reasons I didn’t write the past few days.

Monday’s Lenten Reflection talks about how posture can make a difference when it comes to prayer. Fr. Robert Barron quotes psychologist William James who says “…it is not so much sadness that makes us cry as crying that makes us feel sad.” Without going too much into detail as to why, I spent Monday night crying. And what hurt more than the crying was a feeling of disappointment in the world as a whole and a sense of despair. God was far from my mind that night, in spite of the fact that I went to Mass the previous morning. I neglected my prayers and drowned myself in distractions.

Yesterday’s Lenten Reflection asks: “Have I tried to live on something other than God?” That answer was a resounding “Yes.” In spite of me praying to make up for the previous night’s neglect, I felt like I was saying my prayers instead of feeling them. And I went back to my distractions, wishing that the past couple days never happened. I tried to focus making something positive out of the sadness I felt, but negativity is a very heavy emotion. God felt very far yesterday. The worst part was that for the past two days, I didn’t even feel like taking pictures for my 365grateful project or updating this blog for a progress report. (I’ll make up for that by doing a progress report post on Easter.) 

The reason for that was that I felt some serious doubt. I knew in my head that God probably understood how I felt, but He himself felt so far away that it was hard for me to believe that God could understand the specifics of my emotions. I struggled with sleep for the past few days due to my sadness and last night, I could only pray how I felt. There wasn’t any formality in my prayers, just me venting to God out loud and in my thoughts about my sadness and despair. “Help my unbelief,” I said.

Today’s Lenten Reflection seems to reflect how I feel right now. I’m in a waiting period in more ways than one. And as I look back on the past couple days, I realize that right now, I feel spiritually dry as a side effect of my impatience. Patience was never my strength, as I said before. But thankfully, the Jesuits have a prayer for what I’m feeling. For now, I can pray for the desire for God’s presence. And even when I don’t want that desire for God’s presence, I can pray for the desire for the desire of God’s presence. For now, that’s all I can do, and that’s enough for me and for God.