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:

Lent Day 13: Aftermath

At the end of the retreat I staffed yesterday, there was a talk about how to take what you’ve learned from the retreat and carry it with you. 

It seems like after a retreat, there are five stages that retreaters go through.

  1. Adding everyone you met at the retreat onto social media accounts, whether you really bonded with them or not
  2. Having a spiritual high, feeling totally motivated to go out into the world and spread the good news.
  3. Getting caught up in everyday life and eventually slipping up
  4. Feeling guilty about slipping up
  5. Realizing that God’s mercy is infinite and all the stuff you heard at the retreat was seriously true.

But as the awesome young adults at Blimey Cow pointed out, a spiritual high is just a feeling. And feelings, as I’ve learned recently are not always reliable. However, as I said before, pushing away emotions is just as unhealthy as dwelling on your emotions.

So the question remains: What exactly can you do when the spiritual high is gone?

One suggestion from Fr. Robert Barron is to take prayer with you on your daily commute. Pope Francis suggested something similar, only he used a train ride as a hypothetical situation instead of a car. Think of it as a tiny spiritual energy boost. It saves you from being rude to other drivers and you can forgive said other drivers if and when they are ever rude to you.

But that’s everyday life, you say. What about when we find ourselves at our lowest point?

“Hand it over.” Also known as “Offer it up.” Catholics say either one of these phrases a lot. But what does it mean?

Handing your problems over or offering up your sufferings means sharing in Christ’s suffering, putting meaning to your suffering. Also, be joyful in your suffering. NOTE: THIS IS NOT A FORM OF MASOCHISM! Being joyful in your suffering means acknowledging that whatever bad things are happening in your life are temporary. Even if the entire year seems to suck for you, eventually it will pass over and a new year will begin.

This is definitely easier said than done, I know. But I put that list of songs yesterday for anyone who felt like they were at their lowest point.

After all, according to The Legend of Korra, “When we hit our lowest point, we are open to the greatest change.”

Since today is St. Patrick’s Day, I will end this post with a prayer attributed to him:

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