“What we allow into our lives shapes our appetites, our desires,” I heard the presenter say as I quietly snuck into the back of his workshop. I wasn’t planning to stay long; just long enough to do a headcount as the organizer of the event. But his words captivated me, and the room was filled to standing room only. “We say we want to be more virtuous —more kind, generous or patient—but then complain that it’s hard. This is because we have to look at it in a more holistic way: what do I give permission to affect my life?”
I knew what he meant. Overexposure to anything can begin to shape our perception of reality. Embarrassingly enough, there was one time I felt the effects of going through a breakup after simply listening to an Adele album on repeat. In university, I had to stop binge-watching the TV show “Gossip Girl” when I began visualizing myself as one of the trouble-hungry characters whenever I was at a party. Lately, I feel drawn to conclusions about what it means to live a meaningful life when I spend too much time lingering on Instagram. In small doses, each of these pastimes is enjoyable. If I give them too much of my time, I may be turning up the volume of their influence and dulling out the voice of God.
I know all too well that wishing to be better isn’t enough to make it so. Instead, as Christians, we are challenged to authentically orient every aspect of our lives towards Christ. The workshop speaker’s comments were a kick in the pants to re-evaluate the currents that I allow to shape my life. If I want to desire Jesus above anything else, am I letting Him have the greatest influence on my heart, mind, and soul? I say that I am anchored to Christ and that He is the centre of my life, but over time, even gentle currents can slowly distract my gaze from Him. I still love Adele and enjoy interacting with stories on Instagram, but this year, am also seeking to cultivate habits that will make Jesus the real anchor of my life.
St Paul, nearly two-thousand years ago, encouraged his friends to do the same. He didn’t give them strict guidelines as to how to spend their time, but rather provided them with a filter through which they could determine what was right and good. In a letter, he writes, “Whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil 4:8) If we want to stay honed in on what Jesus would consider true, honourable, lovely and worthy of praise, we must stay sensitive to His voice. Here are two practical ways to train yourself to hear God so that you can give Him the greatest influence:
Begin each day with the Word of God: Scripture. Instead of checking text messages or Instagram first thing in the morning, I try to read the daily mass readings through the Laudate app. Better yet, you can order a physical copy of the Magnificat booklet and keep your phone on airplane mode. Set the mood for this time of prayer by creating a comfortable and inviting atmosphere. I light a candle, make myself a cup of creamy Earl Grey tea and get comfortable with a throw blanket on the couch. Begin your time of prayer by praising God, then telling Him how you’re doing personally. Now, crack open the daily mass readings. Often, I find they speak directly into what I just told God I’m going through! I feel seen and known by the Father and can carry that encouragement—God’s Word—with me as I go about my day.
Close your day with the Examen. This short Ignatian prayer (5-10 minutes) will help you recount how God spoke through the regular events of your day. I find that the acronym G-R-A-C-E is a helpful guide. Begin with 1) Gratitude: for a few moments of the day. 2) Request: that the Holy Spirit will help you make a good time of prayer. 3) Account of Attitudes and Actions: review the times you felt near or far from God. These are called consolations or desolations. 4) Chart your course: is there anything that needs changing, correcting, continuing, contrition? Resolve to do this with God’s help. 5) Enthusiasm: end this time of prayer by asking God to help you carry out the resolution you made in step 4 with joy!
It’s no accident that each of these times of prayer begins with gratitude or praise. When I am in the regular habit of praying in this way I become more aware of God’s blessings and presence which in turn makes me more receptive to His advice, as with a friend.
It takes 21 days to form a new habit, so don’t be discouraged if you find it challenging to make time to pray at first. Remain committed to the process of listening to God’s voice, and He will speak.