“God withholds Himself from no one who perseveres.” –St. Teresa of Avila, Doctor of Prayer
Perseverance always sounds nice; you hear the word and think “yes--I can do this!” Lately, I’ve been struggling to persevere in prayer. To combat this, I’ve found my American industriousness kicking in—resulting in my desire to impose on myself a strict prayer routine akin to that of St. Teresa’s (“If I just work hard enough, I’ll be levitating like St. Teresa in no time!”) only to wonder why it all seems to fall apart after 2 days. Discouragement soon follows, and I feel like I’m back at the beginning.
I have fallen into this trap several times since I started taking my spiritual life seriously a few years ago. At the beginning, persevering in prayer and good spiritual habits can seem daunting. But the need for perseverance is a normal part of our spiritual journey. Sometimes prayer comes easily, sometimes we struggle to quiet our minds. As St. Josemaria Escriva said, “As the flames of your first enthusiasm die down, it becomes difficult to advance in the dark. —But that progress is all the more reliable for being hard. And then, when you least expect it, the darkness vanishes, and the enthusiasm and light return. Persevere! (Furrow No. 789)”
It wasn’t until I heard the same advice from my spiritual director for the 100th time, combined with many Catholic podcasts and YouTube Videos, advice from friends, and books, that it finally dawned on me: you can and should tailor your spiritual life to fit your state in life and your personality! In doing so, you will find the strength to persevere.
I made the mistake of thinking that the only way to grow in holiness was to follow the exact path of my favorite saints, only to end up frustrated as to why it wasn’t working or giving me any peace. After this struggle, I’ve learned four simple tips that have helped me develop better habits and persevere (and grow!) through a better spiritual routine.
- Tip 1: Sacred Scripture and the sacraments are the foundation of the life of prayer. It is easy to get caught up in the many beautiful devotions within the Church; but if we do not feed ourselves with the first two, our other devotions will not nourish our spiritual life and end up fizzling out. A better prayer life and the development of spiritual habits cannot be sustained without the sacraments, specifically the Eucharist, and a relationship with the Word of God.
- Tip 2: Make it consistent. Tailor your prayer life so it fits in with your daily routine and habits. If you are in your 20-30s, for example, you are more than likely going through big transitions--whether that be a new job, new vocation, new city. These transitions are often draining and can make our lives seem chaotic. In times like these, it’s important to persevere in your spiritual habits. St. Francis de Sales is attributed with the following quote: “Every one of us needs half an hour of prayer a day, except when we are busy – then we need an hour.” Though difficult to make your prayer life consistent amid the change and distraction, keeping the habit will properly order your busy days toward the permanent, unchanging goodness of the Father.
- Tip 3: Make it practical. Unless you are cloistered, 5 hours of adoration a day probably won’t work for you. As my friend says when trying on new clothes: “make it work with you, not against you!” Probably one of the most important things I have learned in crafting my daily plan of life is that you need to understand yourself and work within this framework. Yes- there will be times where you will need to make sacrifices and mortifications in order to make your prayer life work, but there should be a healthy level of self-awareness. Do you focus better in the afternoon than in the morning? Save your spiritual reading and meditation for the afternoon, and say some vocal prayers in the morning instead. Do you pray better outside? Grab your rosary and go for a walk. Do you get irritable after certain work meetings? Make it a habit to say 3 Hail Mary’s and the St. Michael prayer before your meeting. Make it work with you! Once you understand what works, stick to it and make it a habit! You’ll be amazed at how your day starts to flow better.
- Tip 4: Make it fit your personality. Spirituality is an incredibly personal thing, and God speaks to all of us in different ways. The Catholic Church has blessed us with a myriad of devotions, prayers, novenas, and spiritual books. Find what you like, and dive into it! It will look different for everyone. The only ways in which it should look the same is the reading of scripture, daily prayer with the Father (however long is appropriate to your state in life), and frequenting of the sacraments. Consider those your baseline-- the rest can be catered to what you like. I know people with a strong devotion to Divine Mercy, others to the Sacred Heart, and others to the Rosary. Underlying all of these peoples’ devotions are the sacraments and Scripture. The important thing here is not to compare your prayer life to others. Discuss your spiritual life with a trusted friend or spiritual director, but never get discouraged at what you perceive to be a better spiritual life.
As St. Francis de Sales also said, “Do not wish to be anything but what you are, and try to be that perfectly.” Get to know yourself, what spirituality works for you, and persevere!
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