Friday, 17 May 2013

KickStarting your Prayer Life

A mini-post about how I'm trying to get my prayer life back on track, which may help others and will certainly help me in the future!

My dedicated prayer life has been pretty sparse in recent months. Yes, I've been offering up enough arrow prayers to populate a cathedral, and I've leaned on God heavily during a tough pregnancy, labour and birth. But now 4thSister is nearly 2 months old, and things are a little easier but my concentration is still skewed, I've noticed that a) I could really do with rejuvenating my prayer life and b) all the things I used to use  to maintain regular prayer have fallen by the wayside. So, not so much by concerted effort but by slowly drifting into some changes, I'm trying to get things back on track. This is what I did:

I read something that inspired and helped me

We all read things that spur us on to 'goodness' or 'greatness'. The problem is, for mothers, that attaining the prayerfulness of many of the saints or even making space in the day for some spiritual alone-time can seem impossible and overwhelming. The other day I dipped into the Hallie-Lord edited volume for Catholic women 'Style, Sex and Substance' and was reminded by parts of chapters 2 and 3 that there are specific ways that busy people, particularly mothers, can incorporate prayer into their day. It's all about priorities - the most important of which, however unselfish we aim to be, has to be our selves. Over time I've also found Angela Ashwin's 'Patterns not Padlocks' Wyatt Kent's 'God's Whisper in a Mother's Chaos' useful.

I remembered how lighting a candle brings Jesus into the room

Maybe it's not the same for everyone, but simply taking out a candle and setting it on the table (or other surface if littles are around) reminds me that my busy, untidy kitchen space can be a place of worship. Aside from representing the Light of the World, candles can be soothing and peaceful in their own right. They can also be used to accompany prayerful or scriptural meditation if you do get 15 minutes while the baby is sleeping and the preschooler is otherwise occupied. (I feel compelled to add a health and safety warning - be careful with matches and do not leave a flame unattended, etc!) (Or drip wax all over your new birthday tablecloth the first day you use it....oops!)

I read my own thoughts and prayers from days gone by

When I had 3rdSister I was in the middle of my Lay Minister training, and tasked to write an assignment on how I pray. At the time, things were a little similar to how they are now, as I had a newborn and other children to look after - although I had an easier labour, birth and recovery and seemed to bounce back more quickly. Revisiting my essay on prayer now, however, reminds me of the different ways I have incorporated prayer time into motherhood, including the offering of, as Kate Wicker so beautifully put it in a post onetime, my life as a prayer.

I put on some music

This doesn't have to be a bunch of worship songs, although traditional hymns or classical holy music works for me. Try Gregorian chant, gospel, songs from the musicals, whatever makes you feel happy and holy. Music can lift our spirits and accompany us in the doldrums - it's a God-given thing to enhance our lives and we should use it! Having said this of course, silence can be golden and prayerful - but we don't get much silence in our house and music can drown out subdue the cacophony.

I bring back the PASTA prayer

Although my concentration span has dwindled desperately since this fourth child was conceived, getting back on track with an acronymic prayer really helps focus. My morning shower has tended to be rushed of late, but as Josephine is more able to be left happily kicking in the baby gym for five minutes, I can try and focus and run through: Praise, Ask, Sorry, Thanks, Amen in a brief, yet holy and effective way. Two minutes can set me up for the day with God. Just thanking Him for everything helps. Again, I have a CD of worship songs to play while I'm showering which can help me focus or, on a bad day, How Great Thou Art can take the place of a personal prayer. (I thank 3rdSister's godparents for introducing me to this prayer during an exceptional trying time in my life. We are visiting them for afternoon tea this weekend, yay!)

I pay more attention to my scriptural reading

For several months now I've subscribed to WordLive's scripture feed on my blog reader. Whether at the personal computer or on my smartphone, during the busy morning I can ensure I'm exploring God's word, whether in-depth or a quick read-alound through the Bible verses. I can recommend the feed on so many levels - it includes a prepare and a respond element, to enable prayerful thinking about the scripture; the readings are fairly short in themselves, but enough to mean something; on a Sunday it's always one of the psalm that we read; you can follow them up with the Explore the Bible reflection which is usually fab, and the Deeper Bible Study if you have time, which usually includes an academic theological reference or two; and you can follow on Twitter and/or Facebook if this is a good way for you to go. There are other ways to read the Bible, but otherwise I don't think I'd be ploughing through Joel at the moment, nor considering it in a deeper and more prayerful way.

I investigate other available apps

I haven't had a smartphone that supports apps well for long, so I haven't explored what's out there. I used to set my phone alarm at noon daily to remind me to say the Lord's Prayer (embarrassing when my phone wouldn't stop screaming in the Chaplaincy at the hospital whilst I was off volunteering on the wards!) so if you don't have a smartphone perhaps this would work. I know there are apps now, however, that not only remind you to pray but provide the prayers. Karen Edmisten, a Catholic, recommends Divine, for example, which I will explore, and I know there are other denominational apps out there.

I pray with someone else

I have always prayed with my children to encourage their own spiritual life. But it strikes me that praying with them, with anyone, means I am also praying. Together, you can say a thank you prayer with someone every day. The Lord's Prayer before bedtime. A prayer of penitence on a Friday. A grace before meals that is truly meant. It all helps with a regular prayer life.

Routines, routines!

After 1stSister was born I discovered the FlyLady, whose systems I thank God for on a regular basis. She helped me not only instigate household routines but instilled in me the necessity of setting time apart for me to 'renew my spirit'. Although getting this from a church service remains few and far between, it relates to the points made by Hallie Lord and Karen Edmisten in Style, Sex & Substance: we really need to be strict in setting time apart to look after ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually, otherwise we are running on empty and will struggle to serve others.

I revisit 10,000 Gifts

Ann Voskamp's heart would probably break if she knew her gorgeous, poetic website with its amazing photographs seems to me to represent an idyllic life and as such I deleted it from my feed for some time because I struggle to face the beauty in others' lives when I'm suffering (I'm bitter and human, I guess!). I'm sure she revisits her own humanness and problems on at least a daily basis, but meanwhile I am SO GLAD she wrote a book, which works in its own right without the blog or her Facebook updates. Even though my copy resides with someone else, because you can download and print guides from her website too. Or simply write a list. of things you are thankful for. Yesterday mine came to me in a holy flash and I put two minutes aside to scribble: Family, Table, Family Meals, Tablecloth, Big Cooking Kitchen, Peace, Stocked Larder, Children, Pretty Cupboards-Buggy-Cardigan. These gifts help me rejoice in life! Retaining a list like this, whether separately or as part of a prayer journal, again allows me to revisit what inspires me and brings me closer to God.

I write in my prayer journal

I haven't written in my prayer journal since December 2012. There, I've said it. And you know what, it doesn't matter, because for God, He'll just start listening whenever I start again. I struggle to make this a regular thing, but having a pretty notebook to jot down my thanks, my intercessions and my penitence, makes it easier. Perhaps I have more time on a weekend morning, and can commit to making this a weekly thing. Again, I can look back and see how He is working in the lives of myself and others in amazing ways. And to see where I have been at certain times of my life - other periods of spiritual dryness, or what made me inspired. And yesterday, when I finally took time to sit and pray and journal, the printed quote on the pretty pages?:
Lord, help me to accept Your discipline when I need it. Correct and train me in righteousness.
Seems He wants to help me kickstart my regular prayer life, too, doesn't it :-)

I wrote this Guide to KickStarting prayer because it's taken me almost 6 months to get my prayer life back on track. And in the future I can refer back to this Guide to help me. But I also want to post it in case it can help others, or generate further ideas. I am fully indebted to Hallie Lord and espeically Karen Edmisten whose chapter on the subject is more comprehensive, in-depth and better written that what I have produced here and is highly recommended.

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