Prayer


The Beauty of Silence 2

I love St. Mother Teresa’s “The Fruit of…” prayer –

The Fruit of Prayer and Flower 11x14

(image credit: Erika Marie)

It’s a recipe Mother Teresa whipped up for us as a guide for how to live a fruitful and abundant life.

I’m sure she wrote it as a step-by-step  guide but I mistakenly looked at it like a list of ingredients to collect in no particular order.  I tend to skim right over the fruit of silence bud and dive head-first into service activity, failing to realize the significance of each “fruit” and its deliberate position in the prayer.

I busy myself with so much “service”, thinking I’m doing all these good things with love before falling flat on my face, wondering why I feel no peace from all this doing. 

God has a way of subtly – or sometimes not so subtly –  getting me to see what’s missing.  I’m sure He tries to get me to see but it’s hard to catch my attention when I’m buzzing around 100 miles per hour.

Sorry, God, I’m too busy serving you to pay attention to you or hear what you’re trying to tell me.

Then –

BAM!

I hit a brick wall and, in my dazed confusion – look to God and indignantly ask why He didn’t warn me about the wall.

Silence.

Oh, so now that I’m finally listening, You’re not going to say anything?

Chirp. Chirp.

Oh…I slowly catch on. I stop listening for a big booming voice, or looking for His answer written clearly in the sky. And then I hear it…

Silence. 

In my zeal to serve God, I dismissed the importance of seeing Mother Teresa’s “fruits” as a step-by-step guide in which each step cannot be accomplished without first cultivating the preceding fruit.

Silence leads to Prayer, Prayer opens our hearts for the fruit of Faith to grow, Faith points us to Love, Love moves us to Service, and, only after those five fruits are fully grown, blossomed, and habitually cultivated, can the fruit of Peace begin to take root in our souls and our lives.

After the heart-wrenching experience of my dad’s death and the deafening numbness of the grief that’s followed, I really couldn’t do anything but go back to that first branch,

The fruit of Silence is Prayer.

Like I shared about using the gift of time I have better, I lessened my commitments and activities and spent more time simply listening and allowing God’s gentle and healing Grace wash over me.  Over time, these moments of silence have become a prayer, a wordless but soul-filled conversation with the One who Loves me and Knows me. Through these moments of silence and prayer, He rolls my heart out and kneads a new kind of Faith in me, a refiner’s fire faith. Stronger, deeper, truer.

In this you rejoice, although now for a little while you may have to suffer through various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold that is perishable even though tested by fire, may prove to be for praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (1 Peter 1: 6-7)

From this refiner’s fire – humbled, laid bare and still aching – we are finally ready to receive Love.

But what is Love?

Love is not a what, Love is a Who. And the Who is God.

God gives Love by ceaselessly giving Himself. In turn, we give Love by giving ourselves back to Him. We give ourselves to Him in silence, through prayer, with faith…and then – by giving Love, by giving God, to the people we encounter.

The wisdom of Mother Teresa’s prayer is that if we ignore the Silence, Prayer, and Faith steps, we’ll lack genuine love in our hearts and any acts of service become monotonous busy work to pass the time, avoid pain, or make ourselves feel better about being a “good” person.  All the “good work” we might do will lack long-lasting and fulfilling significance.

Anyone can do good things in the name of “service”; it takes prayer and faith to LOVE. 

When I use the time God’s given me to stop doing and just listen to God in the silence, in prayer, with faith, and through Love, I finally notice the buds of Peace poking up through my thawing heart, and in the hearts of those around me.


Laughing and Trusting in God’s Will

I loved this past Sunday’s Catholic Mass readings! They contain many angles of Wisdom but I especially tuned into the parts that speak to those of us who struggle with anxiety and doubt in God’s plan in our lives.  

Like I shared at CatholicMom.com this week, I struggle with accepting the trials God allows me to go through and often fail to see the gifts through the challenges. 

In the first reading from Genesis, the Lord shares with Abraham that Sarah, who is “advanced in years, and… had stopped having her menstrual periods” and was barren, would have a son! 

Sarah didn’t believe this could really happen for her.  In fact,  she laughed at such an impossible prophesy.  But the Lord, offended at her incredulity, asks,

Is anything too marvelous for the LORD to do? 

Sarah, like a true daughter of Eve, lies and denies her laugh but the Lord, being the all knowing Father,  answers back – and I love this line –

“Yes, you did.”

Ha! Sounds like a conversation I’d have with one of my own willful children.  

(As a side note,  I also love the irony the USCCB notes that her laughter prefigures the name of her future son, Isaac.)

It’s been said (and said and said), “The best way to make God laugh is to tell Him your plans.”

But how often do I also laugh at His plans in my life?  How often does He try to show me a better way and I laugh in disbelief or naive arrogance? How often do I doubt – or don’t even notice – the “marvelous” ways He works in my life? 

In a way, today’s first reading can also be very aggravating if we have yearned for something and feel like God is not listening. Sarah received what she’d been wanting (a few years too late in her opinion) after she had long since stopped hoping. 

What about those of us who, like Sarah, yearn and PRAY for something but never receive any special visitors from the Lord telling us we’ll finally get it? 

In our hearts we might know that the Lord has other plans for us, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future“, plans that He knows are good for us, and that we should just trust Him.  

But our minds remain anxious and restless when we cannot understand His ways or feel like He’s not listening…or maybe not even there…

When we stop trusting God, or when we’re left feeling abandoned by Him, we fill our lives with things or busy work to try and fill the gap or obstinately try to force our plans. We become resentful and obsessed. We stop praying,  we stop listening, we stop hoping. 

In Sunday’s Gospel, Martha is consumed by her work to the point that she seems to forget why, and for Whom, she’s doing it. While her sister, Mary, on the other hand, “…sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak.”

The Laudate App (my favorite app) had a great reflection on Sunday’s Gospel shared by Don Schwager and Presentation Ministries. Don reminds us that –

Anxiety and preoccupation keep us from listening and from giving the Lord our undivided attention. The Lord bids us to give him our concerns and anxieties because he is trustworthy and able to meet any need we have. His grace frees us from needless concerns and preoccupation.

So what do we do when things aren’t going our way or we are confused by how God is working in our lives? 

I LOVE this point made in the Presentation Ministries reflection:

Some people say they are like Martha; others say they are like Mary. However, the Lord is not calling us to be Martha or Mary, but Martha and Mary.

​We are called to be like Martha and continue living and going about our days but we are also called to be like Mary and unite our days with prayer by making time to intentionally seek Christ’s Presence in our lives.

We give our anxieties to the Lord when we open our hearts to him and allow Him to enter us and heal our pains. 

We can find hope and peace again in any situation when we humbly pray,

Lord, I have no idea what I’m doing here or how to live with this. I give it to you. Guide me, lead me. Heal me.

(I used my WordPress mobile app to write this whole post so forgive any funky formatting!)

 


Seven Ways to Deal with Anxiety in Motherhood {Day One: Prayer Breathing} 6

Today, I’d like to expand on the first of the Seven Ways to Deal with Anxiety in Motherhood.

Before that, I’d like to clarify again, that I’m no expert and write merely from my own personal experience perspective. In using the word, anxiety, I’m talking about both the normal and not-so-normal feelings we deal with as mothers that make us panic or feel overwhelmed by certain situations or motherhood in general. That’s normal and most mothers – and everyone – deals with these emotions on a daily basis. However, there are certain types of anxiety that can become severe enough that it starts interfering with your ability to function normally or live peacefully with those around you – namely your children or spouse and family or the people you work with. There are many medical anxiety disorders that require professional medical intervention but, since I’m not a medical professional, I can’t really share anything about anxiety from that perspective but I highly recommend others seek this help when/if it is necessary.

For myself, from an unprofessional self-diagnosed perspective, I’d say I’ve dealt with the normal anxieties of mothering but I’ve also struggled with what I describe as chronic debilitating anxiety that grips me and paralyzes me from loving my children and husband and others as well as I could without that debilitating hindrance. I used to think I suffered from postpartum depression but the more I learn about the differences between anxiety and depression, I’d say it’s more like postpartum depression and a postpartum anxiety that never quite left me even though my youngest is almost 4 this year.

There have been days in my life as a mother when I felt “stress-paralyzed” (from the Moms’ Night Out movie) (yeah, that’s a real thing), I felt stuck in my own head filled with negative and anxious thoughts about everything.  I was afraid of doing everything wrong and second-guessed every decision I’ve made with parenting. I have had times where I have felt like the worst mother – that everything I did was a complete failure.  Of course, these feelings easily feed into the the “Mom Guilt” that is so prevalent among mothers today.

When I’m tangled in the clutches of this debilitating anxiety my stress levels to go completely off the charts and hinder me from functioning well or handling even the smallest demands or pressures. Making lunches, putting kids to bed at the right time so they get enough sleep, homework, siblings squabbling and whining, all of that “normal” stuff that comes with mothering – push me over the edge and send me into a spiral of despair.

I’m thankful that even despite wrestling with these anxious thoughts and feelings, I have never ever ever felt like hurting myself or my children. All I wanted was to escape my mind and find a way to be happy again and enjoy being a mother and being with my family instead of wanting to run away from it all.

Today, I’m sharing ways that have helped me, even if I still continue struggling. First and foremost, I cling to Jesus for everything. I recognize that I can do nothing good without Him and I desperately need God in my life. So, when I’m feeling anxious the first thing I do is cry out for help to the only One who can truly help me – Jesus.  Which brings me to the first Way to Deal with Anxiety in Motherhood:

Prayer Breathing

Perhaps when you think of “prayer breathing”, you imagine me sitting in a cross-legged yoga position, eyes lightly closed, breathing in slowly and exhaling all my anxiety away peacefully. Well…not quite.

Usually, when my anxiety levels creep up into the danger zone, the type of breathing you might see more closely resembles that of a fire-breathing dragon than a serene yoga mom. My eyes enlarge, my face reddens, my veins constrict, and a burning sensation surges through my heart and rib cage area. (Thank you Cortisol and Adrenaline!)

Now, when this happens, my mind is about to go into full-on panic and survival mode. They say that when a person feels anxious, it’s the same chemical reaction a body goes through when it’s being chased by a angry bear. Imagine living in a body that feel like it’s being chased by a bear all day long, day after day.

How I handle the next few seconds is crucial or all my anxious frustrating emotions will boil up and explode out my mouth. And if that happens – watch out, you do not want to be near me. When I can catch it before that happens, this is what I do:

  • Take a few sharp breaths in through my nose, hold the breath and let the oxygen cool down the hot mess boiling inside me, then blow it all out through my mouth. If you look closely, you’ll see some real steam and maybe even a few flecks of fire. I keep doing this breathing exercise until my breathing regulates, my eyes return to normal size, my veins shrink back and the burning in my chest subsides.
  • Then, now that I’m calmer, I continue breathing in and out slowly, adding in short “prayer breaths”. Breathe in…slowly release and say, “Jesus…I trust in You. Breathe in….breath out….”Jesus, I need you! Breathe in…slowly out…”Jesus, I love you.”
  • A friend shared with me the other day that she offers up a succession of quick Hail Mary’s, or even just – “Mary, I need you!” when she’s feeling overwhelmed by a situation and this helps calm her down.
  • Aside from those in-the-moment bursts of prayer and breathing exercises, what’s really helped me the most is starting and ending my day with prayer every day. When I wake up in the morning, I crawl out of bed, land on your knees, bow my head down – but try not to fall back to sleep! – and take a deep breath in…and out…and pray, “Thank you, Jesus, for this day. I give this day to You. Be with me. I trust you, Jesus.  I need you. 

One of the most challenging aspects of mothering is learning how to let go.  When kids don’t do what we ask or the dream life we imagined mothering would be feels like a failure, all we feel like doing is throwing our hands up and saying, I give up! Which is exactly what we have to do – give it all up to God and trust Him in everything. It’s hard to let go of control but I assure you from personal experience that the harder you hold on to control the harder parenting is. God did not intend for you to do this on your own. He wants you to ask Him for help. So ask!

My friend and fellow contributor at CatholicMom.com, Emily Jaminet, shared a wonderful piece, When We Fall and Fail As Mothers … Seeking Out Spiritual Strength where she makes the excellent point of how important prayer is especially when we fail.

When we stumble and fail in life, especially in regard to the vocation of wife and mother, we must refuse to fall into despair and instead cling all the more firmly to Christ. The pure action of turning to Christ during difficulty is a sign of faith and as a result, we receive even more graces.

Tomorrow, I’ll delve deeper into the Second Way to Deal with Anxiety in Motherhood: Gratitude.

Has prayer helped you deal with anxiety in motherhood? I’d love to hear what helps you!


Pray to Forgive {Gospel of Happiness}

My favorite section in Dr. Christopher Kaczor’s new book, The Gospel of Happiness: Rediscover Your Faith Through Spiritual Practice and Positive Psychology, is the chapter on The Way of Prayer. (Giveaway ends today at Midnight!)

I’ve been thinking a lot about Prayer, especially within the last year or so as I’ve been making more of an effort to really PRAY. Like for real.

I love how Dr. Kaczor starts the chapter on Prayer,

One way to love God and neighbor is through prayer. In raising our mind and heart to God in payer, we join ourselves to God’s goodwill for all; we appreciate the Divine goodness, truth, and majesty; and we become unified with Gods’ mind and will. Both individual prayer as well as communal prayer are beneficial.

In his research, Dr. Kaczor discovered some amazing things about Prayer and how it “intersects” with positive psychology and happiness. In this chapter (Chapter Three), he uses the Lord’s Prayer of the Our Father to break down the different ways Prayer works in our lives and in every situation to bring us to happiness.

In that prayer, we acknowledge our need and dependence on God for all things and we offer him our gratitude for all that we have. The hardest-hitting part of the Our Father is the part on Forgiveness. 

I always find it easier to say, “forgive us our trespasses,” but then I sort of gloss over the part about, “as we forgive others who trespass against us.”

I want to be forgiven but I don’t always want to or know how to forgive.

It’s embarrassing and awkward when we have to ask someone to forgive us. It means I have to accept that I made a mistake – I AM NOT PERFECT. And then I have to tell that to someone else. Ug.

Recently, one of our son’s who shall remain nameless for now, ran his bike into our neighbor’s new garage door and left scratches and a small dent. For some reason, he didn’t tell us about it. Hmm, I wonder why.

Our neighbor’s son knew about it though and informed his father and his father informed us. [Hold head in shame.]

We talked with our son about it and he agreed he’d go over there and personally apologize and offer to do work for them to make up for the damages.

He agonized over this. And, for those of you know this son of ours, this was a huge deal for him to have to do this. But, he did it. He walked over there with me, knocked on the door and said in his most sincere and quiet voice,

I’m sorry for running into your garage door.

and then –

Can I do some work for you?

I almost cried seeing how hard it was for him to do this but I was also so proud that he did do it despite his fear.

Immediately, our very kind and merciful neighbors said what he needed to hear,

It’s ok. I FORGIVE YOU.

She gave him a high-five (knowing he wouldn’t like a hug) and then –

he smiled.

And went and played again with his friends. He could breathe again knowing that not only had he been forgiven, but he had also reconciled his relationship with our neighbors. (Well that will come with the work he’ll do for them too.)

Dr. Kaczor rightly notes that,

Without long-term relationships, deep human happiness is impossible. Since human beings misunderstand, harm, and fail each other frequently, if we can’t forgive, relationships will not last.

But since asking for forgiveness, and forgiving others is so difficult, how do we do it?

PRAYER. 

Jesus told his disciples, ‘love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5:44).’ Contemporary research has shown the value of this advice for reducing aggression. One study found that ‘provoked participants who prayed for the person who angered them were less aggressive toward that person who angered them.’

If you are having a hard time forgiving someone, or asking someone to forgive you, PRAY. PRAY. PRAY. 

Jesus, I give this to you. I ask you to bless this person I have hurt, or this person that has hurt me. Bless us both and help us reconcile our differences so that we may be re-united through you, Christ Jesus, and regain our peace and happiness in You once again. 

 

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