Friday, June 22, 2012
How often does it occur to us to make our prayer lives a priority? Do we even know how to get started? How about if we stop making prayer conform to our day and instead make the day conform to our prayer lives. Not that this is easily done all the time, but it will help to start us off on the right path toward becoming more faithful Christians at work.
When I think of people who excel at integrating prayer with the busy workday, one of the best examples I can think of is Jennifer Baugh. Jennifer impressed me the first time she contacted me more than a year ago via a business networking Web site. She was starting a Dallas-based networking group for Catholics in their 20s and 30s called Young Catholic Professionalsand wanted to discuss my experiences with similar groups I have started in Atlanta.
Jennifer has an impressive background, and I love her passion for encouraging a culture of Catholic community in all aspects of our lives, especially in the workplace.
In one of our discussions, I asked Jennifer how she makes time for prayer during her hectic days. She told me she has long been inspired by one of her favorite verses in Scripture, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:11)! It is how Jennifer makes prayer the backbone of her day. She says: “As a young professional, there are constant pressures to perform and exceed expectations in a new working environment. I often felt that as a recent MBA graduate working for a high-intensity consulting firm that I had a great responsibility to react to every challenge with complete calm and confidence. The temptation to lose my spiritual center amidst the demands of the corporate world was real. My BlackBerry never left my side as I awaited each email with anxiety and disquiet.
“By the grace of God, my office building was located right next to the downtown Cathedral where daily Mass was celebrated at noon. Each day I would look forward to leaving the office for this time of prayer and reflection. Seeing the other men and women who were taking time out of their busy schedules to participate in the Mass was a powerful and humbling experience. Together we listened to the eucharistic prayer that says, ‘In your mercy keep us free from sin and protect us from all anxiety.’
“Making time for prayer has helped me find balance to my work and reminded me not to be so inwardly focused on my trials. As Saint Paul tells us, ‘Have no anxiety at all, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, make your requests known to God’ (Philippians 4:6). Prayer is our great weapon and will help us weather any storm in our professional and personal lives. Making time for prayer will also enable us to act in a Christian manner in business decision-making rather than react emotionally to new situations.”
Jennifer is eminently practical and very disciplined. She sets aside time for prayer when she wakes up and before she goes to bed, but finds that going to daily Mass as often as possible provides the best opportunity for prayer. She is also fond of prayer in the car and leaves her rosary beads hanging from her mirror to remind her to use the time for thanksgiving and reflection. Jennifer finds that using her daily routines to help her stay close to Christ is rewarding and helpful. Lest you think her prayer is always scheduled, Jennifer is working on being more spontaneous in her prayer life. She shared with me that, “Life is full of contradictions. I am working on praying throughout the day as the Spirit moves me. There are so many opportunities to thank God or to offer up a struggle. My favorite prayer is the Memorare, which I tend to pray when I am worried about something. I also have started to pray the Jesus prayer when I am pressed for time.”
Thinking about Jennifer, what can you learn from her and perhaps integrate into your own daily prayers? Knowing that we are all different in our spiritual and prayer lives, I encourage you to take from Jennifer’s experience the value that it might have in your own workplace. It is a challenge, but it will also strengthen your workplace faith.
In past blogs, I explored the difficulties that we often have in finding quiet time for prayer, reflection, and thinking. That, in addition to finding time to prayer, are the biggest challenges I most frequently hear from business and professional people. In today’s world, the trend is toward squeezing the air out of our schedules and being more productive. We rarely stop to consider the harm we are doing ourselves by ignoring our need for peace and quiet. By just taking the time to think and pray each day, it will become easier and easier to work and to share our faith in the workplace.
For me, the difficulty in finding the time to think and pray came in those moments when my faith was new; when I still relied on books to find faith, not prayer. Before I began my RCIA classes in the summer of 2006, I studied the Catholic faith in earnest. I tend to intellectualize everything, and my first thoughts were to learn everything I could about our faith. I quickly realized there was more to Catholicism than knowledge, history, and tradition. I then began to focus on being the best Catholic I could be, and started on my true faith journey, versus simply immersing myself in books. One of the biggest obstacles for me in those days was my lack of prayer life. I knew I needed to pray, but I couldn’t ever remember sincerely praying about anything. I was struggling with the typical male challenge of asking for help, especially asking God for help. Who was I to bother him with my petty problems?
I finally sought guidance. I shared my prayer challenges with one of our deacons and asked for advice. He looked at me with some amusement and said I was approaching prayer the wrong way. “Don’t worry about asking for help just yet,” he said. He advised me to simply praise God for who he is, and then thank him for what he has done…praise first, then thanksgiving. Eventually, I learned to ask God for help and guidance, but my real prayer life started by praising and then offering thanks to him. I finally got it! I understood that my faith would never grow unless I had an active prayer life. This was the beginning of my prayer journey that has continued to unfold and grow with each passing day. I would like to share with you the stages of my prayer journey as a Catholic, lessons I have learned and insights into how I pray in hopes you will find my experiences helpful.
STAGE ONE of my prayer life was learning to thank God and be grateful. Going to him in prayer every day and reflecting on the blessings and burdens in my life are how I learned to appreciate and acknowledge the Lord’s role in my life. I never start a prayer without thanking him. I have also learned to recognize his role in my work life, and I frequently go to him in prayer before major decisions and when I need support.
STAGE TWO for me was learning to ask for forgiveness. I go to reconciliation frequently, but it is still important for me to ask the Lord for his pardon and forgiveness when I commit a sin, which is more frequently than I care to admit. It has become a daily examination of conscience for me to reflect on where I have failed him and ask for forgiveness and the grace to not commit that sin again. This reflection time is easily incorporated into the Daily Examen that I have mentioned in previous blogs. I often take moments out of my day to think back on where I may have wronged him, or perhaps acted in self-interest. Doing this daily, I am able to move forward in forgiveness.
STAGE THREE was asking for his help and guidance. This stage of prayer is also when I learned to pray for others and their needs. Help is the key here. I think men in general struggle with asking for help, and I am no exception. My growing prayer life and deepening faith journey have given me the humility to realize I don’t have all the answers and that Jesus absolutely wants to help me. Early on I would tentatively ask for help with the big stuff such as getting my family into heaven, blessing our priests and deacons, blessing my business, and so on. Now, I am very comfortable asking for his help and guidance in every facet of my life. But first I had to gain the humility to recognize that without our Lord, I am nothing, and I need his strength. Asking for help in my work life was once a major struggle for me, but as I shed my old compartmentalized existence for an integrated life, I recognized where I needed perhaps the most help was at work.
STAGE FOUR in my prayer journey has been learning to completely unburden myself to the Lord. This has occurred only in the past few years. I have always been inclined to carry my stress, frustrations, worries and fears like a secret weight around my neck. As I got better at asking the Lord for help, I began asking him to help lighten these mental and emotional burdens. I am so grateful that I now can go to him and absolutely give up to him whatever is weighing me down, from work stress to concern about my children’s futures. Whatever it is, I share it with Jesus as he asked us to: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for your selves. For my yoke is easy and my burden light” (Matthew 11:28–30).
I am confident there will be more and evolving stages of prayer growth for me if I am humble and focused on deepening my relationship with Christ. Saint Teresa of Avila wrote frequently on the stages of prayer, especially in her book The Interior Castle. I hope to reach the contemplative and mystical prayer life she describes in her works, and pray that Jesus will lead me there. But I have a lot yet to learn.
I’d like to share some important, big-picture lessons I have learned in my prayer life:
1. Make time for prayer; just do it!
As I stated earlier, if you don’t schedule prayer time and stick to it, it will not happen. And again, I encourage you to include prayer time on your calendar. You should start your day with prayer and continue to pray throughout the day. Set aside short blocks of time. Making time for prayer is like making time for your family. How much time are you willing to spend a day with your loved ones? It should not be a struggle to commit a small amount of time each day to pray. How you do it, or for how long, is not nearly as important as the act of doing it.
2. Block out the noise.
Turn off the car radio, watch less or no TV, reduce unnecessary computer time, and seek out more quiet moments during the day. Take a walk by yourself at lunch to clear the cobwebs. Turn off your cell phone on the way home and use that time for quiet reflection. Because our jobs typically demand it, it is difficult to pray and hear God when we are distracted by the noise of the world. It is easy to schedule around it, if you must, but remember: It’s not another “to-do” list item.
3. Have the proper disposition.
It is important to have the right attitude of humility and trust that God can and will help us before we start praying. Reading Scripture or a book of meditations such as In Conversation With God or Imitation of Christ every day before prayer will help prepare our minds and hearts to approach the Lord in a deeper and more meaningful way. We should always end our prayers feeling grateful for the blessings God has given us in our lives.
4. Work through the “dry patches.”
We all experience dryness in our prayers or have trouble focusing. We may feel that God is not listening. We may fall into the trap of asking God to validate what we want, instead of submitting to his will. I am certain that we will all likely experience this, but keep at it. We may realize that our dry patches come as a result of rushing prayer or going through the motions, which we should always avoid. In those cases, we have to revert back to taking the time to think and be alone with God; that will lead back to a prayerful life.
5. Practice more listening and less talking.
As our work schedules continuously fill up, we often become so busy talking and working that we don’t hear him. That detracts from our quality prayer time. I have a tendency to ask God to grant my requests when I should be focused on asking him what he requires of me. It is easy to fall into cycles of “I’m too busy” or to simply forget to take prayer time. Don’t let your work become so busy that you forget your role in God’s plan.
6. Realize we can’t grow in our faith journeys without growing our prayer lives.
We simply will not grow our relationship with Christ unless we do so through prayer. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church (2744): “Prayer is a vital necessity. Proof from the contrary is no less convincing: if we do not allow the Spirit to lead us, we fall back into the slavery of sin.”8 Make time for prayer throughout the workday, and you will find a more peaceful and enjoyable work environment.
Finally, I would like to share insights on how I pray and what led me to where I am now, in hopes that they will inspire and help you deepen your own prayer life:
I get up early each morning and start every day by reading Scripture in the quiet of my home. I then read and reflect on various meditations and how they apply to my life. I follow with the Morning Offering, praying for the special intentions of friends and loved ones, and then finish with the Angelus, which is traditionally prayed three times a day (at 6 a.m., noon, and 6 p.m.)
I started praying the rosary a few years ago and typically pray it on my way to work or during a run. I put off praying the rosary for a long time, but it has become a critical part of my prayer life and is a true blessing. This goes hand-in-hand with my ever-deepening love and appreciation for our Blessed Mother and asking for her intercession and help.
The Daily Examen, developed by the Jesuits, is a critical part of my daily routine. Basically we are asked to stop five times throughout the day for a few minutes of reflection and prayer. Each stopping point has a specific purpose, such as the prayer of thanksgiving, prayer for insight, prayer to find God in all things that day, prayer for your desires and what you seek from God, and finally a prayer about the future and what you will resolve to do tomorrow. It is best to put these five-minute blocks on your calendar throughout the day so you will be reminded.
If it is not on my calendar, it rarely happens. I schedule different prayers at various times in the day on my iPhone. This helps me remember to pray, forces me to make time for it and allows me to read the prayer if I have not yet memorized it. This is a good way to integrate our faith with technology.
In a nod to the incredible advances in technology, I will share that I find a number of Catholic apps for my iPhone to be very helpful for integrating my faith into my busy world. A few suggestions are iRosary, The Divine Office, Confession and RC Calendar. BlackBerry, Android and other smartphones may have similar products worth investigating.
Pray at every meal, public and private, regardless of your companions. It is important for us be thankful, acknowledge Christ, and ask for his blessing.
My wife and I pray with our children every night. It is important for them to develop their own prayer lives, but they need to see our example, and we also grow by sharing our prayer lives with them.
I have been a eucharistic adoration guardian since January 2007, and this is the best hour of my week. No matter what is happening in my life, I can come into the Real Presence of Christ and open up to him in prayer. It is uplifting, energizing, and a great way to start my day. I also stop by our parish chapel to pray before or after work as often as I can.
I certainly don’t have all the answers on prayer. I simply want to share with you as someone who struggles with the same issues and obstacles as you that my prayer life and my faith journey have grown together. I presented you with many ideas and suggestions, but remember that they are yours to accommodate into your own life. Start at a comfortable place and work until you reach your level of comfort. The important thing is that you just do it. The most significant changes in my prayer life occurred when I made the commitment to “just do it” and started scheduling my prayer time on my computer and iPhone.
I didn’t have any kind of prayer life before converting to the Catholic Church, and now I couldn’t imagine life without it. To me, prayer is any time that I turn my attention to God and away from myself alone. It can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Feeling worthy or inspired is not a great barometer for measuring our prayer lives. Praying for the desire for prayer is worthwhile and a good start. My life, especially my work life, is richer and more fulfilling because my days are now built on a foundation of prayer.
Source: The Integrated Catholic Life
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