Try these activities to enhance your prayer life and happiness, and stave off those spiritual blues.
Last winter I was in a terrible rut. My life felt stagnant, and a little lonely, despite being a wife and a mother of three girls. You have no business feeling this way, I'd tell myself. There are a zillion people out there for whom things are much worse.
Still, deep inside, I didn't feel grateful. In fact, after Mike and the kids left the house in the mornings, I felt lost. Sure, I had plenty to do—tidying up the house, washing clothes or just getting out. It was no use, though. An entire day could go by without me talking to a soul until Mike and the girls came home. Worse, or perhaps not surprisingly, my colitis acted up. I couldn't even go for a walk some days.
Then I got a call from an editor friend at Guideposts. She asked if I would like to try a new type of makeover. Immediately I thought of all those before and after photos you see in magazines and on TV. Different hair color and style, spiffy new wardrobe, expensive makeup and accessories. That was the last thing I felt like trying.
"This will be an internal makeover," she said. A spiritual makeover.
"Sure," I said, "why not?" She gave me five daily activities to carry out for 30 days. My mission? Look for spiritual growth and report back.
1. Pray on your knees
My prayer life had become pretty much catch-as-catch-can. I prayed when I went to church. I prayed if there was an urgent matter. But pray every day? On my knees? On the first day of my spiritual makeover I got up at 5:00 a.m., walked downstairs to the living room and got down on my knees. It felt strange at first. Yet being on my knees—a position I'd seen hundreds of times in old paintings—readied me for prayer. Yes, kneeling on the floor was slightly uncomfortable. Once my mind focused, though, I realized the position made me feel open to God. I wasn't distracted. The only things I had to concentrate on were my thoughts and my relationship with God.
Now what? I began with a prayer that I'd known since childhood. "Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name..." I moved to a more personal tone. Lord, please take care of my children. Watch over my husband. And please, let me have a good day. Or at least a better one. Thank you. I lifted my head. That wasn't so hard.
During the 30 days:
It became a habit. A good habit. Every morning I got down on my knees and thanked the Lord for what I had and asked for his help. Vickie, my middle daughter, had a math test. I asked the Lord to steady her mind. Mike had a big meeting. I prayed it would go well. I even prayed about my household chores. On the twenty-eighth day I got up at 5:00 a.m. and suddenly realized something. I hadn't had a flare-up of my colitis in over a week. It was almost as if my body knew it had something important to do and put the pain aside.
Prayer made me appreciate what I had and who I was. Structured my gratitude. Put my relationship with God in proper perspective.
I put my youngest, Susie, on her school bus, then moved on to my second assignment. Singing. I was pretty nervous sitting in front of my piano. Good thing the house is empty. I loved to sing, but never thought of myself as much of a singer.
I flipped through my songbook and stopped on "Let There Be Peace on Earth." It was relatively easy. I muddled through it. I'd start and stop, start and stop. An off note here, a missed lyric there. After four tries I got through the song. My voice was only a pitch above a whisper. But it felt good. And I could only get better.
During the 30 days:
My confidence grew every time I practiced the song. I even got secure enough to do my singing assignment while Mike and the girls were at home. One day, halfway through my song, Susie and Vickie ran into the room. I finished the piece and the two of them clapped. "Mom, that was good," Vickie said. "I didn't know you could sing like that." I hadn't known it, either.
Singing felt wonderful, physically and emotionally. Released an inner beauty I had lost sight of. Felt honest and pure. Another way to connect with God again.
Of all the daily assignments, this one was the hardest for me. I was lonely and I knew I needed to reach out. But to whom? And what would I say? I flipped through the pages of my address book. I paused at Amy's name. One of my oldest friends. We were inseparable from the third grade to the twelfth. I'd seen her at a high school reunion a few years back. She'd given me her e-mail address, but I hadn't followed up. In fact, the longer I'd waited, the guiltier I felt and the more reluctant I'd been to contact her. Now I sat at my computer and sent her a quick hello. That night I got a reply. "It was great to hear from you," Amy wrote.
During the 30 days:
A number of times that month I picked up the phone to see how Amy was doing. We talked about how our children were doing and the funny things we did as kids, reminiscences that gave me an emotional boost. I was inspired. I tried to reconnect with other people. I sent my older sister, Rosie, a note. I called my dad more. I chatted with the mailman instead of waiting till he left to get the mail. I made myself talk to people, and inevitably it helped me.
Friends make me feel good, family makes me feel even better. When you are kind and open to people, they are usually the same back. God puts people in my life to keep me from being lonely, but I have to reach out.
4. Create a special space
With five people tromping in and out of the house, it was hard to imagine a little nook of my own. A quick assessment led me to a spot in the basement, that musty repository for family clutter. I rolled up my sleeves and cleared away a small space in front of the only window down there. I moved a bookshelf next to the window and filled it with things I loved: figurines from my mother's house, my favorite books, shells, cards I collected on different trips, prayers and inspirational sayings. I hung two framed mirrors on the opposite wall to reflect the sunlight from the window.
During the 30 days:
Our basement was pretty cold that winter. Even so, I loved going down there. I would spend just a few minutes looking at all the objects I'd gathered, thinking about the people or the places they reminded me of. The warmer the weather got, the more time I spent in my spiritual space. Every time, I came back up the stairs feeling renewed.
Gave me a place where I could be alone, but not isolated. A place where I could surround myself with blessings. A sanctuary.
5. Pray with others
How am I going to pray with others every day? Sundays were easy, that was church. But doing it on a daily basis? Hmm . . . my computer. I can join an online prayer group, I thought. I logged on and found a good group. Scrolling down a list of prayer topics I was amazed at the problems other people were facing, and a little blown away by their resiliency. Mothers with sons and daughters in the military, husbands trying to find jobs, teenagers battling weight problems. They were all asking for help, and I could help them simply by praying.
That first day I clicked on the prayer topic "depressed." "Does anyone ever get so down that no matter how hard you try to stay positive, it just doesn't seem to work?" a discussion member asked. Yes, I thought and sent him a response. Wow. It was amazing. Just like that, I was praying with other people in real time. What a sense of belonging and community!
During the 30 days:
Every day I would pray for people online and ask their prayers for me. I formed friendships. "How's that spiritual makeover going?" a new cyberspace friend would ask. "It's coming along," I'd e-mail back. It was like having my own internet cheerleading squad. Every day I looked forward to joining my new friends in prayer.
I got a sense of community that was sorely missing in my life. Knowing how I could help others sent my self-worth soaring. Nothing but nothing gives you more hope than prayer.
Thirty days later I called my editor friend back. "It worked!" I said. She wanted to know if I'd tell Guideposts readers about my experience. "I'd love to," I said.
Today everyone talks about makeovers. Most of them, I suspect, don't last and don't make you feel much better. Not really.
My 30-day spiritual makeover was different. No, I wouldn't say I was necessarily a new person at the end. I simply gained a better understanding of who I was and the incredible role God could play in my life if I followed a few basic, daily spiritual disciplines that put him first.
I reconnected with God and rediscovered myself. And that's the best way for me to get out of a rut, once and for all.