Making Prayer a Habit – Healthy Habit #1

February is here, so it is time for me to give you all an update on Healthy Habit #1 – Prayer.  As I wrote in my last post, I made a commitment to praying out loud each morning with my husband using our prayer beads.  My hope was that our daily prayer would become a habit and that we would continue to grow in God, and closer to one another.  I started off by doing some research about the benefits of couples praying together and I was immediately happy with the healthy habit that I chose.  Here are some things I found out:

  • Prayer Unites Couples.  Praying with your spouse provides spiritual unity through God, and spiritual unity is a tie that binds us to one another and is not easily broken.
  • Prayer Promotes Emotional Intimacy.  When couples pray together, they are not only inviting communication with God, but also with one another.
  • Prayer Keeps You Humbled.  Praying together is a humbling experience.  It’s easy to be humble before God when we pray on our own, but being able to ask for help, or strength, or mercy while praying together requires humility and vulnerability.
  • Prayer Gives Hope.  When your hearts are in unity with God’s good and perfect will, then your prayers will always be answered.  Regardless of you actually getting what you prayed for.

After reading these things, I was all in, and, after a month of daily prayer, I have to say that I experienced all of those things.  My husband and I have a very strong, fulfilling, happy marriage.  That said, I did (do) experience a stronger sense of unity and humility when we pray together.  The act of sitting together, heads bowed, eyes closed, approaching God as one instead of individually, was extremely intimate.  Talking about what we wanted to pray about extemporaneously before getting started was definitely an act of humility.  Being able to tell one another, “here is what I need help with today,” or, “I need to pray about (fill in the blank), because I am really struggling,”  is much more difficult than baring our souls to God on our own.  All in all, it has been a beautiful experience…one of growing in God together.

Another benefit that I have found is that when we pray together, we remember to pray for others.  I’ve heard it said that the biggest lie that comes from Christians is, “I’ll pray for you.”  I have said it before myself, and then forgotten, or just thrown up a few words to God in passing.  This month, whenever I said that phrase to someone, I was able to keep my word because Austin and I talked about who and what we were going to pray for beforehand.  The prayers were more thoughtful and thorough than they would have been otherwise.  That’s a blessing, for sure.

As far as it becoming a new, healthy habit…it has!  I don’t know how the experts judge whether or not a behavior has become a habit, but I think that once something is truly a habit, you will feel it’s absence when you don’t do it.  For example, I am in the habit of getting to work earlier than I have to be each work day.  On days when, for one reason or another, I have to get to work at my actual scheduled time, I feel like my whole day has been thrown off.  It’s like forgetting to kiss my husband good-bye in the morning.  Not doing it doesn’t ruin the day, but it makes the day (or morning, at least) feel like something’s missing.  That’s how I felt on the few days that we didn’t get to pray in the morning.  I think that there were four days that we didn’t pray together before work.  On a couple of those days we did end up doing our prayers later in the day, but on a couple, we didn’t.  One day in particular I remember that we didn’t have time in the morning (I overslept but still had to be at work an hour before I was scheduled…I know, I have issues), and all day long I thought “we need to do our prayers,”  but the evening came and we just didn’t get to it.  I felt the lack.  I felt like something was missing.  I was so happy the next morning when Austin said, “are you ready to pray?”

I am going to call Healthy Habit #1 a success.  We are going to continue to pray together every morning, using our prayer beads, and growing closer to each other and to God.

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Healthy Habit #2 – A Month of Meditation  

I’m going to need your help on this one.  I haven’t really ever had any success with meditation, but I’m going to give it another go.  I started this morning and will post about it in the next couple of days.  In the meantime, I would love to hear from any of you that find meditation helpful.

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Healthy Habit #1 – A Month of Prayer

In my last post I talked about starting new, healthy habits instead of making new year’s resolutions that I knew I would not keep.  I realized that adding healthy habits into my life would take a change of perspective about the whole clean-slate, positive-change thinking that comes along every January 1st, because when it comes to setting rules for myself, I don’t often succeed.  My thought was that if I changed my way of thinking, and made my new habit a positive, healthy addition to my daily routine, it would be more likely to stick.

So here we are a little over half way through January and I wanted to give you all an update on the new habit that I am working on.  For the month of January, I committed to praying out loud each day with my husband.  It’s not something that we do together very often, aside from before meals; but we both pray often on our own.  My relationship with God has grown so much over the last couple of years, and my faith has increased.  I frequently have conversations with God in my head, and feel like I am continually improving my conscious contact with Him (AA’s 11th step).  Before this month, my prayers were usually one of two things:  I was either giving something over to God that I knew I couldn’t handle on my own, or I was thanking Him for His grace and mercy.  I know that these two things are good, and necessary.  But could I do more to glorify God and bring me even closer to Him and to my husband?  I thought so.

A couple of years ago, my husband and I made some prayer beads.  He was the brains behind the design, and I was the manufacturer.  The idea was to use them to teach people (me, really) how to pray.  Austin put together some carefully chosen scripture that briefly but thoroughly takes us through the gospel as we go through the beads one-by-one.  There is time for extemporaneous prayer, and even the serenity prayer is included.  The whole thing takes about ten minutes.  Here is the set of prayer beads that I made for myself:

prayer bead pic

If you are interested, what we pray is at the bottom of this post.

I love the progression through the gospel in the five small prayer beads and the four larger promise beads.  The five smaller beads, which we repeat five times, remind me that don’t have to work for God’s love, I have what is needed, a broken and a contrite heart.  I love the  progression from “God, have mercy upon me, a sinner,” to “Lord I believe, help my unbelief.”  It is at first as though we are asking for something we know we don’t deserve (we don’t), but then we progress to using God’s name (Lord is the English translation for His Hebrew name – Yahweh) and saying, I have faith, but please help me to strengthen it.  At the fourth small prayer bead, the prayer changes to praying for “us” with the  Kyrie Eleison, our mindset changes from help me, to help us all.   And then, finally, we get to glorify God in the throne room with angels and saints, as children of God.  That last bead never ceases to remind me who I am, and the ones preceding it never cease to remind me who I was.  I came as a beggar and became an unconditionally loved daughter.

The four larger promise beads also progress through the gospel.  They start with Jesus’ invitation to us to stop trying to do everything on our own.  We can turn everything over to Him, and instead take His yoke upon us.  What a lightened load!  Then we move to the confession of our sins and the forgiveness that doing so offers.  There is such freedom in that.  We no longer have to be a slave to guilt and shame.  We are forgiven.  The third bead reminds us that we can have confidence that everything according to God’s will is perfect and right.  All things will work together for good if we just turn around and trust God.  That’s it, just turn around and trust Him.  And with the final promise bead, we get to rejoice because the Lord is at hand!  What could be better?!?

The extemporaneous prayer follows.  Austin always does this prayer, but we talk about it beforehand so we don’t leave anything out.  I love the way he prays and I love that he has the words to express just what I feel.  First, we express gratitude for all that God has brought us through, all the joy and peace that He has filled our hearts with, and for His unconditional love.  Then we ask for the things we need.  We pray for our families and friends that are struggling and we pray for ourselves.  We ask for the knowledge of God’s will and the desire to live it.  We ask for the grace that we already know God gives us.  And then, lastly, we express our thanks that we can be confident that God will provide for us, as he has always done in the past.

I haven’t really written posts like this in the past.  I often discount my attempts at anything theological or biblical, because I consider myself a “baby Christian,” since I came to Christianity late in life, and I don’t feel knowledgeable enough about it.  But I do feel confident in these prayers that I have been saying aloud every day for 19 days.  I am reminded every single morning that I am valued, I have a perfect Parent, and that I am not alone.  I am reminded of the big picture every morning.  I don’t have to can’t do everything on my own, but that’s okay, because God can.

I feel like January is having a profound effect on me.  The act of sitting and praying with my husband, going through our homemade prayer beads and reciting scripture, has already made an impact.  I find that I am much less anxious and more mindful throughout the day.  I can almost immediately change my focus when it drifts to the negative, by simply remembering my prayers from the morning.  I can take my beads out of my purse and hold them or set them on my desk as a reminder of the promises that God has made.  I can rest in the knowledge that I’m never alone.

I’m going to update you all on the habit-making part of all of this as the end of the month gets closer, and I will let you know what my plans for February are.

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Prayer Beads

Begin with the Cross:  Gloria Patri

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.  As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.  Amen.

Three initiatory beads:

1.God grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change;

2. The Courage to change the things I can;

3.  And the Wisdom to know the difference.  Amen.

Five prayer beads:

1. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit.  A broken and a contrite heart – these, O God, you will not despise. (Ps. 51:17)

2. God have mercy upon me, a sinner. (Lk 18:13)

3. Lord I believe, help my unbelief.  (Mk 9:24)

4.  Lord have mercy upon us, Christ have mercy upon us, Lord have mercy upon us.

5. Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Hosts, heaven and earth are full of Thy glory.  Glory be to Thee, O Lord Most High.  Amen.

Four promise beads

1. Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.  (Mt 11:28-30)

2.  If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  (1 Jn 1:8-9)

3. We know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.  (Rom 8:28)

4.  Rejoice in the Lord always.  Again I will say, rejoice!  Let your gentleness be known to all men.  The Lord is at hand.  (Phil 4:4-5)

Three concluding beads:  Extemporary Prayers

Following this pattern:  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds trough Christ Jesus.”  (Phil 4:6-7)

1. Gratitude  (prayer)

2. Petition  (supplication)

3.  Confidence  (thanksgiving)

Meditate on the crucifix:

1. Crucifix side:  Meditate on Christ who proceeds us into suffering.  “O wretched man that I am!  Who will deliver me from this body of death?  I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!”  (Rom 7:24-25a)

2. Cross side:  Meditate on Christ who proceeds us into victory.  “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”  (Rom 8:1a)

Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer