Did you know that there are 1,440 minutes in a day? And did you also know that one per cent of all that time is 14 minutes and 24 seconds? What would happen if you made a conscious decision, every day, to exercise your soul by giving roughly 15 minutes of your time over to God? Just one tiny per cent of your life. Would your life change? Mine did.
A few years ago, I began to pray. I mean really pray. Not the half-hearted, going-through-the-motions kind of praying we might do at church (“Dear God, you’re great, but I’d rather be at home sleeping”). Not the jabbering, making-deals-with-the-Almighty kind of praying (“Look, I know I’m not the nicest person in the world, but I promise to be really good if you help me get out of here alive!”), but serious, daily prayer, something I had never tried.
I must admit that, while I grew up in a Catholic household and went to church pretty regularly as a boy, prayer bored me. It was hard for me to sit still and concentrate. And it never seemed to help me at all. If I prayed while I was worried, I still felt anxious after doing so.
For a long time I gave up on prayer. But years later, after making this commitment to be consistent in giving one per cent of my life to God, my spiritual life began to flourish. Physically, I felt more energetic. Mentally, I felt more centred. And I noticed something very interesting. It’s not that I didn’t experience fear or worry or disappointments. All of those things remained. But I realised that my recovery time from those life events shortened.
Consider this: who recovers from a physical injury faster? Someone who normally exercises every day or someone who doesn’t? The short answer is the person who is physically fit. The same applies to the spiritual life. A deeper connection with God will not make your problems go away, but it will help you navigate through life in a more effective manner.
All of us will experience moments of sorrow and struggle, be it the death of a loved one, a new job that turns out not to be what was expected, disappointments in friendships, financial insecurities or the devastations caused by war. Difficulties do not go away when one makes a commitment to God. Yet if your soul is fit, you will have the strength to face these challenges in a courageous way. And, if injuries do occur while on your spiritual path, you’ll be able to recover faster and not be deterred from your goal, which is ultimately a deeper relationship with God.
So, at the start of a new year how can you get started? Here are three short and simple exercises that have helped me in my prayer life, and I hope they will help you turn your attention to God, with the hope that one per cent of your life will turn into two per cent and then three per cent and so on. I promise your life will never be the same (in a good way).
1) The Holy Name What is the most beautiful word in the world? Well, that would be Jesus. So, let the Holy Name become a prayer for you. How do you do this? By repeating Jesus’s name over and over again to yourself. Do this silently when you wake up in the morning and right before you go to bed at night. Allow the name of Jesus to be the first thing you think about in the morning and the last thing you think about before you go to sleep. During the day repeat Jesus’s name when you’re commuting to work or washing dishes or waiting in line at the bank.
2) Breathe the Lord’s Prayer This is a basic meditation where you apply a simple breathing pattern to prayer. For instance, breathe in the first line: “Our Father.” Pause a few moments. Then breathe out: “Who art in Heaven.” Pause. Breathe in: “Hallowed be thy name.” Pause. Breathe out: “Thy kingdom come.” Pick a pattern that works best for you and connect the physical with the mental and spiritual.
3) Call on the Advocate There will be moments throughout the day where you might feel stressed or maybe you just lack energy and focus. Instead of reaching for a cigarette or a whisky or coffee or tea, call on the Holy Spirit for a boost of sacred fire. Repeat “Come Holy Spirit” to yourself throughout the day when challenges arise or when you’re feeling depleted. Invite the Holy Spirit to guide your actions and thoughts and then relax, let go, and see where God brings you.
The results might be unexpected, but they are so good for your soul.
Gary Jansen, a senior editor at Penguin Random House, has edited books by Pope Francis, Benedict XVI and Scott Hahn. He is the author of The 15-Minute Prayer Solution: How One Percent of Your Day Can Transform Your Life (Loyola Press)
This article first appeared in the January 8 2016 issue of The Catholic Herald. To download the entire issue for free with our new app, go here