Category Archives: prayer

It’s Hard Work to Make the Christian Life Easy

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I wake up and immediately walk to the shower. After that I head downstairs for breakfast and read the Divine Hours. Then I start writing before taking over with Ethan for the morning.

That’s my routine. Those are my habits. If I want to pray or write more in the morning, I need to change the pattern of habits that I’ve put together.

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Anything that we accomplish can often be reduced to our accumulated habits throughout each day. Our habits can set us on destructive or life-giving paths. When I read about the impact of habits on our day to day lives in The Power of Habit, it was like I finally understood why I fail at some things and succeed at others.

HABITS.

For instance, buying a couple quarts of ice cream and watching TV each night could dramatically undermine a goal of losing weight. Not that I know anything about that from personal experience…

If I wanted to exercise regularly, I needed a new routine. I had to set aside a chunk of time every day to exercise. I found that I have the most success if I exercise at the same time every day, naturally transitioning from work to work out. I needed to know that a particular time each day was set aside for exercise.

Habits aren’t just related to losing weight or improving productivity at work.

If we look at the prayer practices of monastic communities, such as fixed hour prayer, the same principles of habits and routines are at work. They structured their lives in such a way that prayer always had a time and place. The didn’t leave prayer to chance. They knew exactly when it would happen.

That isn’t to say that spontaneous prayer can’t happen. It’s just that regular prayer will most likely happen if it’s part of an ingrained habit.

I’ve been reading the Rule of St. Benedict, and I’m struck by how much monks relied on discipline and habits. It sounds like they made the Christian life into a lot of hard work.

Sometimes routines get a bad rap, as if we’re just going through the motions. However, a routine that turns into a habit can create significant space for life to flourish.

There’s one major draw back with habits: They are really hard to start. Over time, they become natural and even easy as we crave the peace that comes from prayer, the energy we derive from running, or the accomplishment of a hard day’s work. Habits create space for practices that give us joy and hope, and so they become their own reward. Suddenly the difficulties of finding time to pray are replaced by the difficulties of not praying enough.

Best yet, the Ignatians have left us with a simple way to take stock of our days and to identify the patterns and habits the either give life or harm us. It’s called the Examine.

I’ve been using the iOs Examine app, and it has completely transformed how I look at my day.

The Examine begins with a simple overview of my day, asking whether I feel hopeful or discouraged. Then it asks a series of questions about what’s going well: What gave me hope, what drew me closer to God, when did I experience God, when did I love, etc. Those are followed by questions about what’s not going well: when did I fail, what is keeping me awake at night, what is stealing my peace, etc.

By doing the Examine every evening, I’ve found that there are patterns for both the good and the bad things in my life. There are healthy and unhealthy habits.

For instance, staying up late has been a real problem for me. I often stay up late because I want to read a book or watch hockey. On the one hand, I just need to deny myself some luxuries. On the other hand, I stay up late to read and watch hockey because I have house work to do. A little leisure time isn’t a bad thing, so the habit I need to change is my approach to dishes and cleaning, getting them done earlier in the day.

I’ve also found that the mornings can be rough times for me spiritually-speaking. My anxiety gets going before I even realize what hit me. I’ve made some changes to my routine that I’m hoping will help me begin the day with greater awareness of God’s presence, such as introducing worship music into my mornings and making myself sit in silence before transitioning from breakfast to work.

Examining myself, being honest about my failings, revising my habits, and then actually doing stuff about it feels like work. I have to be disciplined. I have to make changes.

The more I alter my lifestyle, the more I’m removing obstacles to my faith. I can sense less anxiety throughout the day. I have more hope. I’m more aware of the negative influences in my life. I know when I’m most likely to struggle. It’s like I can finally zero in on the things I was made to do and the things that undo me.

That isn’t to say everything is amazing right now. Rather, I can see the ebb and flow of my spirituality. If I’m discouraged, I have a better sense of why. If I’m hopeful, I’m able to see things I should continue to duplicate in the coming days.

The more space I create for God, the easier it becomes to rest in him. I’m more aware of how often I jump into my day without the guidance of the Holy Spirit. I can see how prayer has been difficult some mornings and, most importantly, why that is so.

I have so much more hope than I’ve ever had.

I know that I can’t make myself more Christ-like on my own power. The Examine isn’t about what I can do. The Examine is about finding the things that obstruct God’s power in my life. The Examine has helped me seek God and to actually receive from God.

Who can expect to grow spiritually or to be “fruitful” without first receiving from God?

In a sense, spiritual growth is supposed to be easy. I can’t do it. It has to be God’s power. However, I can make it REALLY difficult for God’s power to work in me. By addressing my habits, I’ve created more space for God in my life.

Why We Run from God’s Love

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Run-from-God-CoverSome days I avoid God. I’ll bet you do it too.

Sometimes my days are too chaotic.

Some days I can’t quite focus while praying.

Some days I’m not disciplined enough to stop.

But some days I’m flat out running away from God. Shame, fear, confusion, doubt, and a host of other reasons have kept me from seeking out the love of God. It’s easier to run away, to avoid God rather than owning up to my failures or to find out that God isn’t all I’ve been promised.

Doubting God’s love is a huge problem that I recently faced head on. I felt a burden to just start writing about my “runaway” tendencies with God in a brief eBook. It has been a healing book to write, and this week (Monday-Thursday) I’m giving it away on Kindle as my Christmas gift to you.

Download Why We Run from God’s Love

I’ve shared a brief preview below…

 

I was told as a child that I was a wicked debtor, doomed to be eternally tormented by God unless I took part in a divine transaction. I could go to court with Jesus on my side before God, the angry judge with the keys of hell jingling around his waist. Jesus paid my debt, standing by my side in the witness stand and pleading my case.

I skipped out of court because Jesus thwarted God’s plans of eternal hellfire for me.

It’s like Jesus became the brilliant defense attorney who figured out a way to beat the system. I wasn’t saved because of God’s love for me. I was saved because of a loophole. God was ready to torment me for eternity, so it sure seemed that he could save me or burn me. It’s all a transaction, a business deal, a covenant that he has been forced to accept.

In the midst of all of this, I read in the Bible that God loves me, and I struggle to believe it. “God so loved the world…” the scripture goes. That’s nice, but the court room drove home a very different narrative of wrath and anger. God was only willing to accept me after Jesus paid the terrifying price of his own life.

I know that Jesus saves. I also know that the image of a wrathful God in a courtroom overshadows the many truths in scripture about the love of God, the way God has adopted us as children, and the image of Jesus as a victor over death who has freed us from the grip of evil. I don’t know how to make all of the images come together into a coherent diagram or paragraph.

In all of this I see the beginning of my struggles to believe that God loves me. Wasn’t he ready to burn me for eternity before Jesus came around?

Read the rest for free this week (12/16-12/19):

Download Why We Run from God’s Love

 

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Do you doubt God loves you? Explore these questions and more in Ed Cyzewski’s new eBook: Why We Run from God’s Love. It’s free on Kindle 12/16-12/19. 
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Spirituality Needs Space AND Direction

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votive_candlesThis past weekend I co-lead a Christian writing retreat. We wanted the experience to be unique, providing writing guidance, direction for prayer , and some creative space for everyone who attended.

As I’ve been reflecting on my own writing and prayer life after the retreat, I’ve been realizing how slow I am to apply the same lessons from writing to my prayer life.

It’s easy to see that we need help with writing. An editor can spot what we can’t see ourselves, but many of us don’t have someone who can speak with the same kind of precision into our lives.

It’s easy to see that we need routines to help us with writing. They help us sit down to do the work even when we don’t feel like it. Perhaps we hesitate to think about prayer routines because we don’t want prayer to feel like “work” or routines are associated with legalistic religion.

It’s easy to see that a list or schedule can help us accomplish more writing. They help us keep our priorities straight, but I’m slow to think of my prayer life in terms of “to do” items or a schedule. It feels inauthentic. Shouldn’t I burst with love and passion for God? Shouldn’t I be constantly pining to pray out of love and gratitude?

Many of the practices that help me write regularly can also help me pray. In fact, the Christian tradition is full of similar practices such as confession, fixed hour prayer, and the church calendar. These relationships, rhythms, and structures provide the boundaries and wisdom we need to navigate our ever-shifting lives.

I was foolish to pursue my own path as a writer without anyone’s help when I started out. While I asked advice from time to time and read books, magazines, and websites, I didn’t experience any breakthroughs until I specifically asked someone for advice. I didn’t increase my productivity until I dedicated myself to lists, schedules, and specific writing times.

During the retreat, I experienced a tremendous amount of freedom to pray, and as I looked back at the experience, I realized that we were applying the same writing practices to prayer.

We had someone to guide us and offer us support.

We set aside time to pray.

We used specific prayer practices.

The more regimented and structured we made our prayer time, the more prayer happened spontaneously and freely.

Sometimes the only way to take a step forward is to first take a couple steps back.

Announcing the Renew and Refine Retreat for Writers

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I’ve been working on a special project that incorporates my passions for writing and for prayer. After going to so many writing conferences and feeling quite overwhelmed by the time I was done, I wanted to create a different kind of writing retreat.

As of this week, tickets are now on sale for the Renew & Refine Retreat for Writers in Watervliet, MI on May 24-26.

Renew and Refine is a holistic writing retreat that provides creative guidance, spiritual direction, and professional insights for full- and part-time writers.

Early Bird Tickets are limited and cost $225. That includes lodging, sessions, and meals.

Register Today for $225 at EventBrite.

As part of the celebration of Renew and Refine, we’ll be offering 3 of Ed’s eBooks as free downloads February 27th through the 28th:

Not sure you can make the retreat this time around? There will be others!

Sign up for Ed’s e-newsletter to stay in the loop!

Is Life Really All That Jazzy?

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jazz

I’ve been collecting guest posts for Thursdays, and today I’m happy to have Lisa Colón DeLay. She’s a spiritual director with a sharp sense of humor. This week she’s launching a new spirituality project for creators that is a fast and free download and is well worth your time. Without further ado, here’ssssss Lisa:

“There is something beautiful about a billion stars held steady by a God who knows what He is doing. (They hang there, the stars, like notes on a page of music, free-form verse, silent mysteries swirling in the blue like jazz.) And as I lay there, it occurred to me that God is up there somewhere.”

- Donald Miller

We’re inclined to think that life is like Jazz: Random, but somehow, making strange and beautiful music. However, so much of life doesn’t jive. The harmony is lacking and the beat is off. We imagine God somewhere up beyond outer space, holding the earth–and all things–in his hands, and letting the jazz of the universe play on. What are we to do with all that jazz?

Discordant. That’s Jazz. If you hear a snippet of Jazz it may seem all jumbled and crazy. Is it music, or an imbroglio of sound stumbling to find its way? Scat is even stranger. Perfected by Ella Fitzgerald, Scat is improvisational sounds sung in syllables to the rhythm, but meaning nothing. The vocalizing comes in sync melodically but it communicates only instrumentally.

100 years ago when this uniquely American genre broke out as a viable offshoot from Ragtime music, most classically trained musicians thought all hell had broken loose. It smacked them as vile and unsophisticated. With insolence Jazz broke all the rules. To add to the madness, improvisation was key to Jazz. It seemed rebellious and uncouth. Every trained musician is supposed to behave and stay with the sheet music. Jazz might be best understood as an adjective. It describes what’s going on.

And then, there’s the Blue notes. Sometimes called a “worried note” it pipes out at a slightly lower pitch than a major scale. Discrepant, it pops apart from the expected texture. Then, mesh some of these notes with a string of shuffle note patterns and you’ve landed on syncopation.

Off beat–An interruption of normal, anticipated. Rhythm. Notes come in unequal durations. Punch. in. Punch. out. and…polyrhythms develop in layers. Long-short-long. Long-short-long. Melodic swing phrasing, cocky and bright. Trombonist J.J. Johnson puts it this way, "Jazz is restless. It won’t stay put and it never will."

Through the sins of oppression and the redemption at the source of inner emancipation the seeds of Jazz were implanted. Borne as a mash up of slave owners’ music and the musical interpretation and rhythms influenced by African percussion, the European 12-tone scale fused with tribal rhythms and made a wholly new creature. From it came Blues, Gospel, and the Spirituals, all sung on Sundays at festivals or at church. Later, came Jazz as freed slaves made a living as musical entertainers in marching bands, dance halls, and vaudeville shows.

Jazz is not a mess. It’s deliberately random. Disarray with parameters. A musician riffs his own interpretation away from, but near to, the written notes. It seems to me, Jazz is closer to Reality than we might realize, but not for the same reasons Donald Miller speculates.

As I’ve been preparing resources to help Creators and Communicators it’s become clear to me that God let’s us ad lib from the sheet music he’s written. It’s not that God has made the universe like Jazz. Instead,we are Jazz. We get to interpret and riff from the sheet music. It’s said that Jazz music finds it’s particularity in its special relationship to time and timing. Aren’t we are the same way? During our time here, and to our unique beat, we get to be Jazz and do the Jazz.

Have you seen life working this way? Where have you riffed from the sheet music God has written?

vidshootLCDLisa Colón DeLay is a long-time blogger with a visual arts and design background and a Master of Arts in Religion, with a Spiritual Formation concentration. She’s found a niche encouraging, inspiring, and amusing Creators and Communicators and is now launching a whole new wave of free resources for kindred spirits.

May God Frustrate Us

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failureI once heard an interview with comedian Dennis Leary who shared that his grade school teacher told him that anyone could be president. He returned home that day and asked his dad, “Can anyone be president?”

“Sure, anyone can,” his dad replied.

“Could I be president?” young Dennis asked.

His dad snorted and replied, “Are you kidding me?”

I like conversations like that because Leary’s father didn’t necessarily discourage him from pursuing a successful career. He simply understood who his son is and where he would be successful—i. e. not politics.

Why I Want to Fail

I have a little hobby on Twitter where I unfollow everyone who posts pithy motivational sayings about never giving up, never quitting, and failure being a choice we don’t have to make. I wrote about this a little while back in a post called Jesus Hates the Smell of Failure, and I wanted to follow up with some additional thoughts about the pitfalls of “never” giving up.

For instance, I want to fail. I don’t want to exclusively fail, but I’ve been thinking lately that I want God to expose everything that is not part of his plan for my life. I want anything outside of his plans for me to wither and die.

Arriving at this point wasn’t easy.

The Success I Crave: God’s Path and Provision

After seeing a friend of mine receive some fresh opportunities from out of the blue, I began to think, “Gosh, I wish God would affirm my direction in life like that!” Some days I feel like I’m just slogging along with the same old list of things to do. I begin to wonder if anything is going to change, if something big will ever happen again.

Sitting down in church yesterday, I recalled that God had actually affirmed a new project in several ways. In fact, he had even provided the way to develop it that I’ve always craved. In many ways, God has affirmed and provided for me. I had just missed it.

That startled me. How dense could I be? God has already been providing for the path he wants me to follow?

The next obvious question was this: Am I missing anything else?

Why yes, there was. Of course there was. A note from a friend later in the day affirmed something else I’ve been working on.

As soon as I began to ask God to cut off anything that wasn’t from him and to affirm anything that was from him, I began to see his fingerprints in several key areas of my life. I have no doubt that I’ll always find new paths to follow. I need to keep praying this prayer: “Frustrate what is not from you, affirm and provide for anything that is part of your plan.”

I pray that I will be frustrated, that plans will fail, and that I’ll sing God’s praises while walking through the ruins.

May God frustrate us until the day he reveals the path laid out for us. May God give us grace, patience, and courage to wait on his timing, to submit to his process, and to leap at the opportunity when the time comes.

Learning How to Wait Better During Advent

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When I saw the enormous flowers toppling over our Christmas cactus on the dining room table for the first time this morning, I knew I had a problem. How long had those blooms been sitting right under my nose while I sat at the table reading, browsing the internet, or staring dumbly at my cup of coffee?

It was like God gave me a pleasant little metaphor of how I approach the Christmas season. It usually looks something like this.

The first Sunday of Advent hits like an unexpected tidal wave. It throws me into a panic because I need to start shopping and getting ready for a spiritually significant Christmas. I now have a deadline. If I can’t get my gifts purchased and wrapped, as well as arrive at a spiritual epiphany by December 25th, I fear that the universe will start to unravel and I’ll be sent into exile—or something like that.

Dread often gives way to guilt until December 25th passes and I’m filled with nostalgia for the glories of Christmas. Ah, I can’t wait until next year…

It struck me yesterday that dreading the arrival of Christmas is sound evidence that my priorities are in the wrong place.

I still love buying gifts for family members, but I don’t want to dread Christmas. I want to enjoy this season of prayer and meditation on God’s love for us. Reading through a daily Advent Devotional has helped immensely. However, I’m still pretty confident that I can screw things up with overblown expectations and busy schedules.

Just as I schedule time to get my work done, to do the dishes, and to even shop, I’ve been working on scheduling time to wait on the Lord. I’m not even hoping that anything in particular will happen.

My goal is to wait in peace and hope, letting God do as he pleases. If I only end up waiting better for the season of Advent, then perhaps I’ll have learned something valuable in the process.

This post is part of Bonnie Gray’s Thursday Faith Jam. Check out her post today: Be Fully Present