Author: samanthabock

Introverted Moms: You Can Still Find Your Tribe

One of the most beautiful things about Catholicism is its quiet sanctity. There’s nothing like walking into a near-empty church, filled with the lingering scent of incense and the Holy Spirit, with Christ himself sitting in the tabernacle behind the silent but sturdy altar.

I am an introvert—quiet and solitude are almost synonymous with peace for me, especially in the context of my Catholic experience.

But while these moments are beautiful and deeply meaningful, the Church isn’t about solitude. She’s about community. And if you’re like me—no social butterfly, happy to stay home, easily stressed by new situations—that community can be hard to find.

In college I got my first big taste of Catholic community. I attended the University of Dayton, a Marianist institution where the word “community” is used at least as often as “study.” Having gone to college alone, five hours from home, it was difficult to jump into new friendships—but it was also easy, because I was with the same people most days and had no choice but to forge new relationships.

After college, I started working in a tech company and married my high school sweetheart. Though I enjoyed spending time with my coworkers each day, we didn’t have many common interests when it came to extracurriculars. And anyway, as a newlywed, I was happy to simply return home to my husband in the evenings and build our own little community—our domestic church.

It was a fruitful time for my vocation. Dedicating so much time to my marriage made me a better person—a more selfless daughter of God and a more devoted wife. These years prepared me for the sacrifices of new motherhood.

But you know what they didn’t prepare me for? The solitude of new motherhood.

And here I thought solitude was something I was good at.

Bringing home a new baby was surreal for me. It was beautiful, of course, but in many ways, also quite baffling. I would gaze at my sweet daughter’s sleeping face and think, Thank you, God, for giving me this child!

And then, the very next moment, she would scream and I’d think, Oh God, how could You think I could do this alone?

I’d heard that it takes a village to raise a child. I had no idea where my village was.

Please don’t get me wrong. My husband was especially wonderful during that time. Our closeness kept me anchored to myself in a season that was deeply confusing (Am I still me, or am I “Mom” now?). My family and friends were supportive, too.

What I realized, though, was that I knew no one in the same life stage as me. My girlfriends and sisters either had no children yet, or their children were much older than mine. My husband did so much for me but just couldn’t relate to my confusion about breastfeeding or my impatience with my suddenly unfamiliar body. When he was away at work during the day, I was alone with a baby who needed me desperately but couldn’t convey just what she needed.

So new motherhood was rarely the peaceful solitude I expected. Instead, it was something dimmer: it was lonely.

I knew having a newborn would be exhausting and stressful. But I didn’t know that hacking it alone would be so isolating.

I joined a local breastfeeding support group and investigated whether my parish had a mothers’ group (it didn’t, though I later found a neighboring one that did). Even when I managed to attend events designed to help me find my village, I struggled to build any sense of community.

Many of the mothers there were already close, and I’m not skilled at inserting myself into conversations as the “new kid” in the room.

Most of the other mothers were stay-at-home parents, but I was only on maternity leave—in a few weeks, I had to begin my work-at-home mom life. That meant, though I would be home each day, my daughter would be with a babysitter while I worked a full-time job on a rigid schedule. Any daytime playgroups I was invited to simply weren’t in the cards for me.

And the evening meetups? Well, frankly, those meant swapping precious little time with my husband for time spent with relative strangers (either with a newborn who obviously wouldn’t be doing any “playing,” or with the new-mom stress and physical discomfort of leaving a breastfeeding baby at home).

I just couldn’t make any of it work, and it made me feel like a failure. It made me feel like I just needed to hack it out on my own—that that’s the kind of mom I would always be.

As weeks passed and interpreting my daughter’s needs consumed me slightly less, I spent what time I could on Facebook. That was a safe social connection—a way to feel close to my friends and family, on my own time, even when I wasn’t physically with them.

But when you’re checking your phone every fifteen minutes and most of your friends are adults with day jobs, your timeline quickly runs out of new things to show you.

I went exploring and discovered groups—most notably one that was dedicated to support around the Creighton method of natural family planning (which, thanks to postpartum changes and my difficult adjustment to motherhood, had suddenly become a high-stress part of my life).

The sheer number of like-minded, thoughtful people who were there to answer questions about NFP and other struggles related to Catholic life was staggering and so deeply helpful. Eventually, I found a larger Catholic group that focused on even broader topics.

I had a place—a safe, not too in-my-face, unscheduled place—to ask questions about my growing family and even my faith. It was rejuvenating, and it made me feel more confident as a new mother.

Eventually, I joined a group for young, Catholic mothers that has since taken up a firm, cozy place in my heart. I consider the other members my friends. They are my tribe now—my village. They’ve been there to answer all my questions, laugh at my jokes, pray for me, and support me both emotionally and physically in the darkest of times. I am so thankful for them. I hope I’ve done a decent job giving these same gifts right back.

Their friendship has also made me more confident in finding friends “in real life.” Having a readily available and supportive social outlet makes me feel stronger and more worthy of new friends when I attend local events for Catholic moms, or see a family I’d like to get to know better at Mass on Sundays. Slowly, I’m building a network of local friends, too, who can add to my village in more tangible ways.

I’m here to tell you that you can be introverted and be a member of the greater Catholic community. I’m here to tell you that you are worthy of faith-centered friendships in whatever context you seek them—whether that’s in online forums of like-minded women, or in-person groups where you might be the only fresh face.

Take baby steps if you need to. Send a text to an acquaintance just to say hello. Compliment a woman you’ve admired from afar (we all see those familiar, happy faces Sunday after Sunday) as you’re leaving your parish this weekend; next week, smile at her as you see her family arrive at Mass; the week after, introduce yourself.

Search for Facebook groups that line up with your vocation. Once you join them, let loose your questions and, even more importantly, provide loving answers to others’ questions. Comment on Instagram posts by people who embody the kind of woman you’d like to be. These platforms can be abused, but they can also be used to give glory to God and to build the Church in today’s always-connected world.

When you feel ready, find out when your parish (or another one nearby) has their next mothers’ or young women’s gathering. Ask for whatever help you need to make attending a reality. Bring cookies or another goodie to share, introduce yourself with confidence, and be an attentive and thoughtful listener when others speak. Exchange phone numbers and make plans right then and there.

If these things are hard for you, I understand. I am right there with you. Turn to Christ and ask for his help in forging the relationships that will make your burden lighter and your journey straight. He won’t lead you astray.

What I Learned When I (Sorta) Stopped Complaining

I gave up complaining for Lent this year, and it was not without some reluctance.

This idea was on my heart for weeks before I formally declared my intention to follow it. I hesitated.

“God, isn’t there anything else I can do to better appreciate You during this season?”

After a lot of prayer and reflection I got a resounding “Nope,” and that was that.

Why did I hesitate? Not because it was going to be a hard habit to break. Not because I enjoyed being a brat. Not even because I was afraid to let God down.

Honestly, I knew I inevitably would let Him down. We all do—and not just during Lent. But by His great love, He forgives us every time.

No; I was afraid because I struggle with trust. I had a creeping feeling that shutting the door to complaint would invite God to challenge me in all sorts of ways. I knew the experience would test me—after all, Christ himself was tempted by actual Satan in the desert for 40 days. If that huge test could be fruitful for him, how could it not be for me?

After all, it’s pretty safe to say I need more practice at virtue and faith than he ever did.

Turned out that creeping fear was correct. During Lent, I faced challenges in almost every area: my home life, my motherhood, my job, my physical health, and my self-esteem. My patience (of which I  have precious little, I admit) was tried again and again.

And, again and again, I let the exasperated sigh slip past my lips and the nasty spiral of self-pity swirl about my mind (even if, to my credit, I didn’t voice it nearly as often as before). I tried to catch myself whenever this happened and replace my complaints with prayers.

It was a frustrating cycle, but it was incredibly eye-opening. I learned to better differentiate negative things and negative thinking. I learned that one doesn’t necessitate the other.

Negative things happen outside of my control. They can be trying, exhausting, or unfair—but they are outside of me.

Negative thinking, on the other hand, is completely within my control. It poisons my mood and my perceptions in ways that are more trying and exhausting than the external event ever was. Worse, its tight grip is difficult to loosen if I let it get away from me.

Awful things happen. They just do. Something I’ve discovered about myself recently is a deep-seated, unhelpful myth of control that ultimately makes me weak in the face of adversity. I stubbornly want to believe that I can foresee and control the things that happen in my life; I want to believe that, despite all indications to the contrary, I can keep my life under control by some impossible exertion of will.

As a result, I have a hard time facing trial without really just diving deep into that trial. I hold onto my faith at my core, but my perspective narrows into despair. I struggle to see the good on the horizon—to see the good that’s right beside me even during such trials.

Complaining is voicing that despair. It’s an attempt to offload some of that despair onto whomever might be near enough to take it from me, in the hopes it will ease the pain.

But it never does. Despair doesn’t divide; it multiplies. Sharing it with someone else doesn’t make my struggle any smaller—it just makes our mutual struggle even bigger.

When it comes to day-to-day habits, it’s hard to be less productive—and less Christian—than that, right?

So 40 days without complaining (let’s be honest: with minimal or at least more mindful complaining) taught me that giving in to my own despair is hurtful not just to me, but to those around me.

That being said, negative events still suck. And sometimes we need help to get through them.

I struggled, early on, to understand how I was supposed to ask for help if I wasn’t allowed to complain. That sounds ridiculous now.

Now I see that there’s a glaring difference between complaining and seeking support. One is selfish; the other is an important way to participate in community and humanity, especially in the context of our own families.

God Himself said: “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:18). Even when things were perfect in Eden, we were not meant to live this life on our own.

Now, long after the Fall, how much more must we need the companionship and support of our neighbors, friends, and family?

So I’ve learned to ask for help, honestly and lovingly, instead of complaining about my circumstances and hoping someone overhears and steps in to lend a hand.

And I’ve learned that that’s how things improve—that’s how I feel better on a tough day. Not by venting my frustrations or offloading my despair, but by approaching people I love with an honest expression of my struggles and asking for a shoulder to lean on. They always provide it. And I always feel lighter when I stand upright again.

Have you tried to set aside negative thinking and complain less? Find me on on Facebook and tell me how it’s going. I’d love to hear about your experience!

Why I’ll Teach My Daughter Real Fertility Lessons (Which She Won’t Get in School)

We all remember sex ed, at least in bits and pieces.

The giggly trip to the health center as elementary schoolers, separated by gender and learning about “our changing bodies.”

The awkward days in middle school health classes, when we cringed at the thought of walking around with cotton sticks up there and didn’t know how to ask the questions that were really on our minds.

The stiff conversations in high school health, where at least one class clown made crude jokes and cackled immaturely when the middle-aged (or, even worse, young adult) teacher first said sexual intercourse.

And do you know what I—and so many of my peers—took away from those classes?

That’s mostly it, actually.

The awkward memories and sort of icky feeling of it all. Some vague understanding of sex, of contraception, of “being safe.” The difference between boys and girls. A deep-seated fear of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. A certain sense of taboo curiosity about it all: What does that feel like? Who’s doing what? Why can’t we just be adults already? Why can’t we just go back to being kids?

I learned that boys were “slower to mature” than girls, and that girls could take the Pill to treat acne and painful periods (even if they “didn’t need it” for contraception). I learned that “miscarriage is when a woman thinks she’s pregnant, but then she isn’t anymore.” (Yes. Seriously.) I learned that boys were driven by their hormones and girls should take good care of themselves.

What a load of junk.

Because you know what I didn’t learn?

How my body actually works, independent of how it may be of use (or at risk) in sexual intercourse.

I did not learn about the patterns in which several different hormones rise and fall during my cycle, ensuring my health and ability to carry a pregnancy. I did not learn how cycles are naturally irregular early on, but tend to normalize over time—and, if they don’t, doctors can help achieve proper function instead of just slapping on the bandage of hormonal birth control. I did not learn that hormonal birth control often causes depression. I did not learn that taking birth control could have lasting effects later in life, or that menstrual problems likely won’t be “fixed” when I stop taking it. I did not learn that there are many ways to understand my own fertile patterns instead of assuming I’m fertile all the time, always.

And I certainly did not learn that all of this is worth knowing well before you decide to have a baby, and regardless of whether you’re sexually active. Because you’re entitled to understand how your own body functions, even if no one else is using it at the moment.

In short, sex ed taught me that my fertility was a burden to be managed with birth control and feminine hygiene products, until the time came that I chose to become pregnant—at which point, everything will likely function normally and conceiving will be easy as pie.

But that’s just not how it works. Fertility isn’t always “typical” when we decide to take advantage of it. And conceiving is not easy. In fact, 1 in 8 couples have trouble getting or staying pregnant—and 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage.

So many women end up in an awful position as adults. When they’re finally encouraged to become familiar with their fertility for the very first time, the stakes are as high as they’ll ever be. Their dreams are spreading out—or being cut short—in front of them. Their family is on the line. Their marriage is being tested. Their unborn child’s life is at stake.

I don’t accept that path for my daughter.

It is nuts just how many circumstances must perfectly align to achieve ovulation, let alone conception. The interplay of hormones, physical function, emotion, and general health is staggering. We should not feel obligated to interrupt a perfectly healthy process so that we can minimize inconvenience, for ourselves and especially not for others. If that process isn’t functioning perfectly on its own, we should feel entitled to medical care that will find a root cause and fix it.

If my heart wasn’t working well, I would find a doctor and he would want to help me fix it to restore good health. If my ovaries aren’t working well, I should be able to find a doctor who would want to help me fix them to restore good health—not just turn them off because “I’m not using them right now anyway.”

Fertility, perfect or otherwise, is not something to be squashed like a nagging bug.

So when my daughter hears about the birds and the bees, she won’t just hear about what’s convenient or inconvenient about her changing body. She won’t be told only how her fertility needs a man’s fertility to make a baby.

She’ll learn how her body performs a quiet ballet each cycle, and how that function affects other aspects of her physical and emotional wellbeing. She’ll learn to observe how it’s all working, and what understanding she can take away from her unique patterns each month. She’ll see how my fertility has changed over time, so she can be prepared for how hers will, too, and ask me whatever questions she may have.

And yes, she’ll learn that sexual intercourse makes babies and, if pursued improperly, can put us at high physical and emotional risk. But she’ll also learn how intimacy means loving a whole person—not just the pieces that are convenient at the moment—and why she deserves so much more than what’s being pushed in her face by a broken and lonely world.

What do you think about this? Join the conversation on Facebook and let me know!

How to Stop Complaining and Start Being More Honest

I was accused of being a complainer as a teenager. To be fair, I think many teenagers are—but I heard it often enough to become self-conscious about it.

As an adult, I figured I was better. But then I started paying more attention.

Every “ugh” muttered under my breath, each text of anger or anguish sent to my husband during a hectic spell at work, and all the “vents” shared with my mommy friends on tough days with the kids—they added up.

I don’t think of myself as someone with entitlement issues or a pessimistic attitude or a lazy disposition. But that’s the person I sound like when much of my self-expression comes out as a complaint.

So, for Lent this year, I promised God and myself that I’d give up complaining. Here are the tricks I picked up to help me catch myself before I complained—and turn those thoughts into something productive instead.

#1: Just breathe for goodness’ sake.

I forget to do this in difficult moments. I rush from one thought to another without pausing in between, jumping to conclusions and recalling missed expectations and wishing for different outcomes. It’s not helpful and it’s a ticket straight to Self-Pity City.

So, when I can feel my thoughts start to spiral, I try to pause for a second and focus on breathing instead. It’s impossible to empty my mind completely (at least for me), but it can help to pace my breathing and give my higher intellectual functioning a break. Then, I can make a conscious decision on how to step forward—so it’s easier to move in a positive direction.

#2: Before you voice your thoughts, bleach them of entitlement.

I realized during this exercise that so many of my complaints come from a place of entitlement:

  • “Why won’t these kids sleep when they’re supposed to? I need a break!”
  • “I can’t believe this appointment is running so late—I don’t have time for this.”
  • “Couldn’t he/she have just done that one thing right? It shouldn’t be on me to fix it.”

Sound familiar? I have never sensed this about myself so acutely before, but it’s huge. Huge. And I hate hearing it come out of my mouth.

So, when I’m frustrated over a situation that isn’t going the way I’d like, I’ve learned to examine the source of that frustration. Is it because I feel I deserve something better? Or maybe an unspoken expectation I had for someone else was not met?

Too bad, bub. If I want to feel any better or improve the odds at a better outcome next time, I need to get rid of that sense of entitlement and make an effort instead of demanding more effort from others. (Especially from toddlers.)

#3: Request help instead of demanding it (and that goes for passive aggressive demands, especially).

Speaking of demanding, I also learned that I used complaining as a crutch. Although negative feelings are natural and allowed, I saw that I would give voice to them—subconsciously—in such a way that some small, ugly part of me thought might procure sympathy and, thereby, help.

This is passive aggression at its finest. I’m not here for it anymore. It’s petty and it’s icky.

Instead, if I find myself in a difficult position and I need help to get out of it, I ask for it. So this:

“This day has been an absolute nightmare. Everything went wrong and all of my energy is gone. I need to go cry with a glass of wine for a while.”

Turns into this:

“I’m having a tough day and have a lot going on. Could you take this task for me so I can recharge a little before I need to get started on the next thing?”

Who knew I could sound so human when I feel like a complete zombie?

#4: Make it a habit to be positive first.

The best offense is a good defense. I try to block complaints completely by making a habit of thinking positively and praying without ceasing during times of trial.

Frustrating encounter with a stranger? As soon as things get tense, I utter a quick prayer for them (even something as simple as “God, send Your love” helps). Who knows what they’re going through?

Endless tantrum from the toddler? When I feel my temper coming up short, I ask Mary to remind me of her shining example. She’s a tough act to follow, but God’s grace can help me close a tiny bit of the gap.

Car trouble in the middle of a busy day? I thank God for getting me where I am safely, and ask for a little help taking the next step to hold onto that safety.

It doesn’t always work, but I’m learning to make this kind of positive, prayerful conversation my first reaction to stress (instead of the typical anxiety/disappointment/fury).

#5: Don’t complain about your complaining.

This one seems obvious, but it isn’t. Scrupulosity is real, and it can destroy your confidence while subverting the love of God. It’s easy to get sucked into feelings of hopelessness and inadequacy when you’re failing at trying to improve yourself.

The thing to remember? You’re not failing. You’re actively walking on a path of progress. Even if you stumble, you’re still moving forward.

Unfortunately, it’s very easy to complain about ourselves. Interiorly, there is no one to defend us from our own attacks—making self-criticism a resistance-free outlet for negative emotions. Expressed aloud, self-deprecation can be funny and others may miss what we’re inflicting on ourselves.

I learned that, when I stopped giving myself permission to complain about my own shortcomings in this oh-so-easy way, I started complaining about things outside of me much less. I changed the shade of my mind to something more pleasant and forgiving, and that was easier than expected to share with others, too.

Think this is something you’d like to try? Hit me up on Facebook for questions, prayer requests, or support. I’m here for you, friend!

7 Reads Every Catholic Mom Needs on Her Bookshelf

I love learning about the rich traditions, history, and teachings of the Church. But let’s be real: it’s difficult to find formal educational opportunities when your schedule is mandated by two rambunctious toddlers and a full-time job. (And even when I have the hours available in a day, my inner introvert rarely has the energy for more than an occasional retreat.)

Still, I don’t want that learning to go undone “until I have more free time.” So, a few years ago, I decided to devote part of the time I spend on my favorite self-care activity—reading—to my faith.

Committing to more spiritual reading has been incredibly fruitful for me. Along the way, each of these titles has had a profound effect on me as a Catholic woman and mother.

#1: Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich

The constant sleeplessness of the newborn phase or the piercing, repeat tantrums of a toddler—worse, the pain of seeing your child in pain—can sometimes dim the light of hope in your day-to-day.

When you haven’t had time to invest in devotions or prayer, that burden can sometimes make Christ and his sacrifice for you feel like a distant dream.

These are the moments I turn to Revelations of Divine Love. Julian of Norwich’s God-given insights into the profound love Christ has for each one of us are uplifting and life-changing. Julian’s humble, joyful words make me feel closer to Christ and more attuned to the many ways he is present and loving me each and every day.

#2: The First Society: The Sacrament of Matrimony and the Restoration of the Social Order by Scott Hahn

Marriage is the foundation of the family—a little community so important we call it the “domestic church.” But the significance of marriage doesn’t end there.

In this book, Scott Hahn uses his well-learned yet down-to-earth style to illustrate the many ways in which marriage has been an underpinning of civilization as we know it. I particularly enjoyed the way he describes how the sacrament’s graces enable us to live well not just within our families, but among our neighbors.

In the busy routines of life, it can be dreadfully easy for a husband and wife to forget to invest in one another. This book reminded me just how important that investment is.

#3: A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor

On stressful days filled with noise, I sometimes long for the quiet of single life. Plagued by guilt in those moments, I don’t doubt my vocation—but I do doubt whether I’m fulfilling it as well as I’d hoped.

Flannery O’Connor is an icon in literature, and for good reason. Her writing broke norms and pushed readers to contemplate important subjects that were rather controversial in her time.

She was also a devout Catholic and deeply spiritual woman. Reading her prayer journal gave me insight into how she lived her faith in the context of her vocation—and how even the most admirable, successful women are plagued by moments of self-doubt and “what if” thinking.

#4: One Beautiful Dream: The Rollicking Tale of Family Chaos, Personal Passions, and Saying Yes to Them Both by Jennifer Fulwiler

A well-known personality in Catholic media, Jennifer Fulwiler is funny, insightful, and relatable.

Adding to her very honest online presence, Jennifer shares, in One Beautiful Dream, the story of how she grew into her writing and speaking career not in spite of her vocation as a wife and mother, but in cooperation with it. Like all of us, she faced disappointments, but by engaging with her passions and serving (and being served by) her family, she found harmony for the many “categories” of her life.

Jennifer’s story taught me that the seemingly incompatible interests of person (myself) and place (my role in the family I’ve built) don’t have to conflict at all. When we stop pitting them against each other, we learn to see how complementary they can be.

#5: Unless You Become Like This Child by Hans Urs von Balthasar

I’ve spoken on this one before (specifically here and here), but I can’t emphasize enough how lovely this little book is for any Christian—especially mothers.

Covering scripture, theology, and tradition, Hans Urs von Balthasar writes about what Christ meant when he urged us to “become like children” (Matthew 18:3). His insights are powerful reflections on the beauty of childhood, the gifts and wholesomeness of divine grace, and the nature of faith.

The lessons I’ve learned from this book have given me an even greater appreciation for the devotion and innocence of my children, and inspire me to emulate them in my conversations with the Father.

#6: Who Am I to Judge?: Responding to Relativism with Logic and Love by Edward Sri

Also appearing in a previous post, this book by Edward Sri is a primer for Catholics who find themselves needing to defend their beliefs, their lifestyle choices, and their stance on the issues of the day.

So, basically all of us.

Edward Sri is an inspired mind of our time, and his insights on why the most prevalent nomenclature in today’s typical debate—for example: “That’s not the choice I’d make, but why would I limit someone else’s choices?”—are eye-opening. If you’ve ever felt backed into a corner by someone who insisted your moral framework just can’t be universal, this is the book for you.

#7: The Assembler of Parts by Raoul Wientzen

Full disclosure: this book is a doozy and should come with trigger warnings on loss and childhood illness.

That said, The Assembler of Parts made me cry incredibly cleansing tears. Though some of its philosophical nuances must be taken with a grain of salt (it is, after all, the only novel on this list), the story is profound and moving in ways that are important for humans in general, and mothers in particular.

The overarching themes I pulled from this novel echo the cardinal virtues that are so critical for every vocation: faith, hope, and love. Add in a good dose of trust in the divine will of God and steadfastness in the face of adversity (two qualities I have an especially tough time emulating), and it’s difficult to tug at my heart strings any harder.

 

Have you read any of these titles? If so, what did you think? And please let me know what must-reads that I’ve missed, either in the comments or on Facebook!

Am I Doing This Right? Thoughts on Prayer (Part 2)

Prayer is a skill with which we are all born, because each of us is naturally inclined to seek God. But, as with all things, practicing will help us engage in prayer more effectively—and help us better see the fruits of our prayer in our daily lives.

Think of developing your prayer life like learning a language—not a secondary language, but your very first one.

A child spends the first few years of her life absorbing the spoken word of those around her. She takes this in like a sponge, learning the sounds of the words, what they mean, and what changes they affect when uttered aloud. Then, as she gains confidence and the physical ability to do so, she begins testing the words out herself.

At first, only her parents may understand her unique combination of slurred syllables and physical gesturing. But, as time goes on, her language becomes clearer to others—she joins in the conversations of her community.

Prayer is much the same.

At first, we must immerse ourselves in the language: attend Mass, read the Scriptures, study the saints. We listen closely to what prayers and insights are uttered there, and watch for the effects and insights they have not just on us, but on the world around us.

Participating in the sacraments and this type of spiritual study is a prayer in itself. But as we learn more and feel our passion inflamed by these encounters, we begin to utter our own prayers. They may be messy, highly specific, disorganized—they may sound like “gibberish” to another student. But God understands them easily.

Finally, by engaging deeply and keeping our lines of communication with God always open, we can fully participate in the community of the Church. We can recite the prayers during Mass and truly mean them, because we’ve come to better understand their weight. We can receive the Eucharist and be more closely joined in fellowship with our neighbors, because we better grasp what it means to be a part of the body of Christ.

St. Thomas Aquinas on Righteous Prayer

According to St. Thomas Aquinas, all prayer should have five qualities: it must be confident, ordered, suitable, devout, and humble. (Check out a brief look at deeper insights from St. Thomas here.)

In short, this means our prayers must:

  • Be said with sureness that God will deliver us, that Christ will advocate for us, and that the Holy Spirit will bring us grace. We know that God hears us, even if we don’t understand or even recognize the ways in which He answers our prayers.
  • Include only petitions that are good for us. When we ask God for something, we should genuinely believe that this thing will help us to grow physically, emotionally, or spiritually, in a way that will ultimately make us more holy sons and daughters of God.
  • Express moral and upright desires. In prayer, as in life, we must “seek first the kingdom of God and His justice” (Matthew 6:33).
  • Display genuine, heartfelt piety. As devoted members of the Church, our prayers to God must acknowledge His glory and arise from our love for Him above all else.
  • Acknowledge our weakness and our need for God’s mercy. We are imperfect people, and when we pray, we should understand our lowliness and thank God for His desire to be united to us in spite of it.

Insights from the Catechism

So: confident, ordered, suitable, devout, and humble. Great, but what do we say (or not say)?

Let’s look at the Catechism of the Catholic Church. You can read some of what is has to say about prayer online here (and use the arrows at the bottom of the page to thumb through the broader section on prayer, if you’re interested—it’s great reading), but the short of it is that there are five main forms of prayer for the faithful:

  1. Blessings and Adoration. Blessings are “an encounter between God and man.” It is time spent in the presence of God, in which His grace descends upon us and our acknowledgement and reception of that gift ascend to him. Adoration, meanwhile, is our recognition that we are a creation of God—our exalting of His greatness and expression of our love for Him.
  2. Prayer of petition. These are any prayers in which we ask God directly for something—whether that’s meeting a physical need we have, seeking His forgiveness, or praying for His kingdom on earth and our cooperation in its coming.
  3. Prayer of intercession. This is how we participate in the communion of saints. Prayers for intercession are made on behalf of others, including not just our friends and neighbors, but strangers, enemies, and those who reject the Faith.
  4. Prayer of thanksgiving. Not limited to thanking God for good fortune, prayers of thanksgiving help us show gratitude for all of the ways God works in our life. According to the catechism, “every event and need can become an offering of thanksgiving.”
  5. Prayer of praise. Finally, a genuine prayer of praise “lauds God for His own sake and gives Him glory, quite beyond what He does, but simply because HE IS.” In these prayers, we express our wonder at the marvels of Christ, the power of God, and the actions of the Holy Spirit.

The Wrong Way to Pray

Though we all pray differently, using our unique voices, it’s important to know one thing: there is a wrong way to pray.

The catechism states that “humility is the foundation of prayer.” It goes on: “Only when we humbly acknowledge that ‘we do not know how to pray as we ought’ (Romans 8:26), are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer” (CCC ¶ 2559).

This is what I meant when I said in a previous post that prayer is a mystery. But while we may not know the perfect way to pray, we can certainly recognize the wrong way to pray: selfishly.

Prayer is not like writing a letter to Santa and asking for our favorite things. We know this because Jesus himself taught us the ideal form of prayer in the Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.

Here we acknowledge the personhood of God, our relationship with Him, and His holiness.

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Next, we submit ourselves and our world to God’s will for us, because we know it is what’s right.

Give us this day our daily bread.

We ask for the necessities of life—the things that will make us healthier people, which will help us do His will.

And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.

Then, we ask for His mercy—it is what saves us. We also vow to have mercy on others, as an expression of our love for His children and our desire to follow Christ’s commandment.

And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.

Finally, we seek His grace to follow a righteous path in life, to fulfill our vocation without backsliding into sin, and to keep us safe on this journey.

These are very high-level analyses, but the different components of the Our Father reveal profound insights on what prayer should be.

Above all, prayer cannot be selfish. To seek only our own gain in prayer is to not pray at all.

How do you keep your prayers focused on God and His glory? What tricks do you have for developing your prayer life and praying without ceasing? Let me know in the comments or on Facebook—I’d love to learn from you!

Am I Doing This Right? Thoughts on Prayer (Part 1)

My son recently broke his leg—what they call a “toddler fracture.”

As we shuttled him back and forth from doctors’ offices and the ER, we were trying to explain to his big sister why he needed so much help.

We like to be accurate with our kids when we can, rather than dumbing down facts for them. So we told her: “Sweetie, your brother fell in a bad way and broke a bone in his leg. We have to take him to the doctor so they can give him the bandages he needs to keep it steady and help it heal. That way, after a while, it won’t hurt anymore.”

A three-year-old doesn’t understand that beneath our skin are layers of fat and muscle, and beneath those is a bone that makes our limb sturdy but can be broken under certain circumstances. She looked at her brother’s leg and, like the rest of us, saw no bruising or swelling or blood. This was not like any “owie” she had seen before.

But toddlers are smart, and they can be excellent with context clues. She heard “hurt,” “broken,” “doctor,” and “heal” and knew what those things meant. She could see that his leg was causing him pain despite having no visible wound.

She looked at me, nodded gravely, and said “My brother’s gonna be okay, right?”

I assured her he would.

Then she promptly ran to the kitchen to get him a frozen toy—something she knew helped with hurting teeth, which likewise could not be seen but were painful nonetheless—and brought it over to him to put on his leg. In his frustration he slapped it away and she, undeterred, rubbed his back and said, “It’s gonna be okay, Byron. I’m sorry it hurts.”

And that was all she needed to know. Though she could not understand the science of his injury, she could see that he was hurting and that he needed tending. That was that.

When I think about the concept of prayer, I think about how my daughter must feel in confusing moments like this. When it comes to prayer, I’m the child—I’m the one trying to grasp a topic too deep to understand.

Prayer is Beyond Us

I heard something at a recent retreat that, intellectually, was incredibly dense: “Prayer is a conversation with God, in which we get to know Him, He gets to know us, and we get to know ourselves.”

How can prayer be like talking with God when I’m doing all the actual, verbal talking? How can I get to know Him when He doesn’t literally answer my questions or tell me about Himself? How can I get to know myself by trying to grasp what He has to say to me?

Instead of becoming discouraged by my unknowing, I wanted to dig deeper. I wanted to be like my toddler: to pick apart what concepts were familiar to me and try and pull some understanding from how they all worked together in that statement. I wanted this lesson to make me better at prayer.

The truth is that, like many components of the Faith, prayer is a mystery. We aren’t able to fully understand it because we only see one small piece of the puzzle: what we experience as the Church Militant. Someday, we’ll know it deeply when we really can talk to God face-to-face and ask Him. But until then, we need to accept the unknown.

That doesn’t mean we must languish, though. There is so much fruit to be born from even the limited knowledge God has blessed us with in this life.

Try This as You Pray

During the retreat, Father Eric Sternberg of St. Cecelia Parish in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin went on to talk about how the nature of prayer frightens us. It could be easy to simply ask God for the things we want, but to go further than that—to use prayer as an opportunity to examine our faith and ourselves—can be intimidating.

We don’t like to admit to, let alone study, our flaws. But, Father Sternberg said, prayer is the safest and most fruitful place to do that.

What do you pray for most often? Which seemingly unanswered prayers most disappoint you? Do you pray mostly for yourself? For your family? For strangers?

How much of your prayer life is dominated by thanksgiving? What about praise? Is prayer time your self-care, or is it a time in which you can glorify and adore your Father—or is it both?

Which saints do you invoke in prayer? What unbidden thoughts tend to come to you while you’re reciting a rosary or chaplet? What topics do you shy away from when speaking to God, and where do you think your shame comes from?

These are all beautiful questions—but they are challenging. They’re challenging to keep in mind during your prayer routines, and the answers to them may challenge your perspective on yourself.

If you have a prayer journal, write down whichever of these questions speak to you—and whichever others you come up with on your own—and revisit them immediately after concluding a prayerful moment each day. Record your answers and give yourself the grace to recognize their meaning. Uncover what’s beautiful about you. Uncover what needs work.

Then, go right back to praying and ask God for His grace to help you do that work.

Check out part two of this series for further reflections on prayer and how we can do it better!

Is Dwelling on My Sins a Sin?

I find Lent to be a difficult season, both practically and spiritually. I know it’s supposed to be challenging—it’s supposed to push us closer to Christ and his sacrificial love for us. But my appetite for fasting is weak and my endurance for “going the extra mile” is a little bit pathetic, if I’m being honest.

Aside from the (admittedly immature) struggle of selecting a sacrifice and sticking to it for 40 days, I also find Lent to be a time of unique temptation. That temptation is toward scrupulosity, and it’s sometimes enough to distract and discourage me from the healing, strength-building journey Lent is meant to be.

What is Scrupulosity?

Scrupulosity is an obsession with sin, real or imagined. A scrupulous person suffers excessive anxiety over the thought of their own sinfulness: they may be convinced they’ve committed a sin when they have not, confuse venial sins for mortal sins, or be unconvinced of God’s forgiveness for their transgressions.

Naturally, this is an exhausting and depressing affliction. A healthy sense of Catholic guilt is one thing, but scrupulosity goes beyond a well-formed conscience. It convinces us we’re doomed, or unworthy of God’s love, or failing at following Christ.

It’s a minor thing, in some ways—I’m not hurting anyone else by being scrupulous. But it is major in a significant way: scrupulosity is, at its heart, a pride-fueled rejection of God’s grace.

How is that? How can it be that a condition of borderline (or over-the-line) self-loathing is actually a condition of pride?

The truth is that scrupulosity is the Enemy’s way of convincing us that our opinion of ourselves is more powerful than God’s opinion of us. To be excessively scrupulous is to tell oneself that God’s promises of love and salvation simply aren’t strong enough to apply to the likes of us.

But that’s impossible. We are children of God, made in His image. There’s no such thing as a soul that is “not good enough.” God would never make it so. God’s love for us is far and away more powerful than our own shame—whether we let ourselves feel His grace or not.

Lent Doesn’t Lead to Our Perfection

So, how does scrupulosity come into play during Lent? For me, it goes something like this:

Step 1: Set a lofty goal of sacrifice and growth for Lent with the intention of achieving spiritual awakening and/or profound holiness.

Step 2: Promptly fail at performing the necessary steps to achieve that goal. (“Oops, I just ate meat!” or “Ugh, I forgot to say my rosary.”)

Step 3: Mentally flagellate oneself for said failure by running over the memory of that bacon and how much I enjoyed it at least 77 times.

Step 4: Ask God for forgiveness and the grace to be better from now on.

Step 5: Repeat Step 3.

Step 6: Do slightly better at performing the necessary steps to achieve the goal.

Step 7: Repeat Steps 2-5, with the addition of an extra layer of guilt that sounds something like this: “For goodness sake, I was doing so well! I just had to go and screw it up again, didn’t I?”

Step 8: Repeat Step 7 with slowly declining frequency for the next 35 days.

Step 9: Make it to Easter. Praise God and congratulate oneself for sort of hitting the right targets. Feel “spiritually grown,” if not “spiritually awoken,” and vow that next year will be better. Be inordinately relieved that my chosen sacrifices are no longer mandated as Easter is celebrated.

Step 10: Forget to ever go back to those sacrifices once Easter feasting is over.

And then repeat it all next year.

If this sounds familiar, I feel your pain as you’re going through it all again this year. I really do.

One thing I realized last year during Lent was that, by focusing on my trip-ups more than my growth, I was making Lent about me and not about Christ. I can’t honor him, meditate on his sacrifice, or give him more of my love if I’m too busy nitpicking my every behavior. To obsessively police myself on the pretense of loving him makes little sense.

The prayers I utter at every failure are less sincere if I’m busy berating myself for needing to utter them. And even in the moments I successfully resist temptation, I shouldn’t be more relieved or proud than I am thankful for the opportunity to turn my eyes to God.

The fact is, God doesn’t want our perfection—He knows us well enough to know that we simply can’t give it in our fallen state. What He does want is our attention, our sacrifice, and our generosity (that is, generosity of spirit as well as material goods).

Lent is focused on three spiritual habits: fasting, abstinence, and almsgiving. All of these are expressions of sacrifice. All of them are meant to take our attention away from ourselves and put it onto our neighbors and our God.

Lenten fasting isn’t simply about saying “no” to food. It’s about saying “yes” when God asks, “Is your relationship with Me more important than your physical comfort?”

Lenten abstinence isn’t about saying “no” to luxury. It’s about saying “yes” when God asks, “Is your ability to resist temptation in My name stronger than your desire for worldly indulgence?”

Lenten almsgiving—all almsgiving, really—isn’t about saying “no” to hoarding our wealth or possessions. It’s about saying “yes” when God asks, “Is your love for My family more significant than your love for material goods?”

Love God, Love the Church, Love Yourself

The Gospel is so full of evidence that Christ wants us to love ourselves as deeply as he loves us. We are told to “love others as you love yourself.” We are reminded of the many ways in which we can—and should—make a gift of ourselves to others. We are referred to as brothers and sisters, and told stories of forgiveness and salvation.

All of this implies that we are deeply, inherently good. That’s what God made us to be. And this life is about working to remain true to that goodness, so that we may live it out more fully in the next life.

So be obedient to God’s commandments, be true to your promises, and be good to yourself.

If you’ve stumbled during this Lenten season, confess, pray, and move forward. You can draw closer to Christ, but not on your own—and not if you’re constantly wounding yourself in your attempts to grow. Accept your imperfection and offer it up. God wants all of you, and He will help you do all the things you were meant to do.

“Cast yourself into the arms of God and be very sure that if He wants anything for you, He will fit you for the work and give you strength.” – St Philip Neri

Have You Seen God’s Face?

Did you know that “face” and “presence” share the same word in the Hebrew of the Old Testament? A priest—Father Eric Sternberg of St. Cecelia Parish in Wisconsin Dells, Wisconsin—shared this fact with some young moms on a recent retreat I attended. In speaking to us about prayer and seeking the Lord, he emphasized that, to meet God, we must approach Him face to face.

That happens in prayer, but, truly and physically, we are given an earth-shattering encounter with Christ in the Eucharist during every Mass and hour of Adoration we attend.

The Eucharist is not iconographic of Christ—it is Christ. His face looks out at us from the hands of the priest at the consecration during each liturgy. Do you see it?

Real talk: sometimes I don’t. And it’s my own fault.

The Mass and My Mess of Distractions

It’s not that I don’t believe in the Real Presence of the Eucharist. Although this truth is the deepest of mysteries, I have faith that it is the truth nonetheless. I believe it with all my heart. How could I not, when our Savior told us this explicitly?

But sometimes, I forget.

I forget that Jesus is standing before me, showing me all his love all over again, week after week during Mass.

How is that possible?

Turns out it’s easier than I ever realized.

My children are beautiful. They are perfect blessings and I’m thankful for them every day. But if toddlers can be considered specialists at anything, it’s attracting all of the attention in a room to themselves. They are tiny, sticky attention magnets.

We moms are good at multitasking. We’re good at wrangling the two-year-old before he destroys a hymnal while whisper-screaming at the three-year-old who keeps trying to leave the pew. We’re good at opening a desperately needed snack for the kids (with minimal crinkling noises) while picking up the coats they’ve knocked to the floor. We’re good at managing distractions before they become too bothersome to the people around us.

This is a noble and holy effort—this shepherding of tiny humans so that they can be part of the Communion of the Church. This is something parents are made to do, difficult as it may be.

That said, work is work. It is a cross that we bear in our vocation—yet another way we give less to ourselves so that we can give more to our children and their participation in the world.

It is not easy to be a parent of small children at Mass. And yet our work doesn’t end with the distractions while we’re there, does it? We are called to be present despite them.

Am I Seeking God’s Presence?

This is not to say that our struggle to draw spiritual nourishment each week is something we can simply set aside. It is most certainly not easy to fully participate in Mass—it’s not easy for anyone. Everyone carries their cross to the liturgy. That’s the way it’s supposed to be: Christ asks us to lay down our crosses at the altar and rest in Him.

But we aren’t so good at that. We resent our crosses and, as we carry them begrudgingly to church on Sundays, we are tempted to let them distract us. It’s all too easy to feel pestered by my children during Mass and let my mind focus on that inconvenience instead of what’s happening right in front of me.

Jesus told us that his “yoke would be easy and his burden light,” in part, not because it really is easy to live as a Christian in a fallen world, but because it becomes a lot easier if we truly believe he carries the load with us. When we focus too deeply on what’s difficult, we fall into the trap of lamenting that difficulty. We turn our faces downward to focus on our own effort and away from God.

And it isn’t just the kids, right? Given a structured hour each week to spend in quiet, following ancient rituals over which we have no control and deprived of our chosen distractions (our smart phones, a book, whatever), our unchosen distractions become louder.

Left unchecked, our minds fill with complaints (“Why isn’t my husband holding this kid right now?”), questions (“What is on my calendar for tomorrow?”), and random thoughts (“I hope I switched the laundry before we left this morning…”) and suddenly, that hour is over. Jesus is back in the tabernacle, the motions have been gone through, and we return to “normal” life.

But that’s not was Mass should be. We all know that, in our heart of hearts. It just takes discipline to keep our faces turned to God throughout that encounter—to seek His face and show Him ours in return.

When we do look up at Him—to give thanks for His love, to give glory to His might, and yes, to ask for His aid—the load really does become lighter.

Give It Up

Okay, you might be thinking, this is all well and good. I feel sufficiently guilty for not seeing Christ’s face in every second of the Mass each Sunday. But what am I supposed to do about it?

The first thing is, don’t feel guilty—we all do it. God knows it. He loves us anyway.

The second has to do with a phrase that is, admittedly, infuriatingly vague: we have to “offer it up.”

What does that even mean?

To be honest, I’m not sure if it means the same thing for me as it would for you. But here’s where I’ve landed with it.

Suffering—even small, seemingly petty suffering, as torture by toddler may sometimes feel—is not inherently bad. It is painful, yes. It is frustrating. It can be infuriating and heartbreaking. But it invites us to grow—to see beyond ourselves and our own pain and understand, on some infinitesimal level, the pain the Christ endured to save our souls and bring us home to the Father’s house.

Each moment of distraction during Mass or pain in daily life is an opportunity.

It is an opportunity we can use to our detriment, by focusing on our own hurt and drawing our attention downward to the harsh reality of this life.

It is also an opportunity we can use to our benefit, by checking our negative feelings and pausing to recognize that, yes, those feelings are valid—but Christ endured worse at no fault of his own. He humbled himself exclusively to suffer the greatest pain, just so he could bring us joy and fulfillment in the Kingdom.

So when I struggle to lift myself out of the noisy, irritating messiness of managing young children at Mass, I am going to try very hard to physically turn my face toward God. If only for a fleeting second before I have to reach out and grab one or both children, I am going to gaze at the face of Our Lord and say thank you before I turn back to the work of this world. Because in truth, I know that this work, especially, will be so fruitful. I am going to catch myself turning down toward distraction and negativity, and shift the direction of those thoughts upward—to prayer, to opening my ears to the homily in whatever snippets I can catch it, to resting in the silence of a beautiful moment in God’s house.

I am raising future saints. And, for at least an hour out of every week, I get to do that in the presence of Jesus himself. What better help is there than that? Even if I hardly hear the homily and stumble through the Gloria because I’m expending most of my brain power monitoring two toddlers, I am seeing God’s face and He is seeing mine. I am bringing Christ under my roof and he is holding me tight.

Treated respectfully and pondered thoughtfully, that’s more than enough fuel to last even the most exhausted mom a few days or a week, isn’t it?

25 Ideas for Habitual Self Care

Moms work hard. We give a lot to our families. And while we receive far more in return, it’s still important to take care of ourselves—to reenergize and choose rest where we can so that we can be better at fulfilling our vocation.

Self-care has become almost trendy, and that’s a good thing. The popularity of the practice and the near-universal recognition of its necessity help us feed our souls week to week. But we talk so much about setting aside time for this care and, sometimes, taking that too literally can lead to bad habits.

We don’t do ourselves any favors when we compartmentalize this priority into a few desperately planned hours a week, which we (especially me) then expect to totally save the day when we’re running on fumes. That’s not how it works.

Instead of waiting until you’re drained, try adding a couple of these self-care habits to your routine so you can keep your tank as full as possible.

#1: When you sit down to read, aim for finishing 1-3 chapters at a time (depending on their length). It’ll be enough to excite your interest, but setting a small target will help ensure you aren’t disappointed if your reading is interrupted.

#2: Get dressed up—whatever that means to you—once a week or once a month, even if you’ll only be spending the day at home and you’re the only one who’ll notice. You are beautiful and you deserve to see it.

#3: On Monday nights, call dibs on the TV after the kids go to bed so you can watch your show(s). It’ll give you something silly and easy to look forward to on the dullest day of the week.

#4: Go window shopping whenever you’re out running errands and have some spare time. You don’t have to spend money to enjoy yourself, but once in a while, if you see something you love and it isn’t too expensive, buy it as a gift for someone you love or admire.

#5: When you’re solo with the kids and need to pass the time—especially if it’s too cold or rainy to play outside—go for a long drive to nowhere in particular. Take this time to explore a new area of the world right around the corner. You’d be surprised how beautiful things can be just a few miles over, and you might discover new things to do when the weather improves.

#6: Don’t just treat yourself to a favorite food or drink when you’re desperate—regularly nourish your body and your spirit. Barring any health concerns, try not to get hung up on “good” and “bad” foods. Food is meant to be enjoyed. Give thanks for it and feed yourself in moderation without guilt.

#7: Speaking of food, keep a stash of minis of your go-to candy in a secret place and have one, guilt-free, during the hardest part of each day (first thing in the morning, during the afternoon slump—whenever). Share when you’re feeling generous and the kids are being good.

#8: When you wash your bed linens, pull them out of the dryer and make the bed just before you lay down for the night. The only thing better than a fresh bed is a warm fresh bed. This makes the hassle of that extra load of laundry well worth it.

#9: At least twice a week, light a pretty, scented candle just because. Just for you.

#10: Commit to date nights several times a month: with your husband, with your friends, with yourself. We all need some time to just be adults. Even if this means an at-home date night after the kids are in bed, schedule it and plan a fun activity. You’ll get way more out of this intentional act than another night in with Netflix.

#11: Make a habit of sharing the load when it comes to chores, so your husband can lend you a hand with tasks your dread and you can get some perspective on what he does each day, too. For example, if you usually cook, give him dinner duty on Tuesdays. In exchange, you can vacuum for him on Fridays or cut the grass every other week.

#12: Introduce a few of your favorite (clean) musical artists to your kids. It doesn’t have to be all “Baby Shark” and “Be Our Guest.” (My kids love Ed Sheeran and The Cars.)

#13: Don’t buy all your books on Amazon. Once in a while—maybe every third book, maybe every fifth—go wander around a bookstore and take your time choosing something that delights you. More of a library person? Don’t only visit when you have the kids with you. Your library card is your own.

#14: Support local businesses with your purchases and with positive reviews. Building community and recognizing others for their hard work is a great way to fill your soul with a little extra joy, too.

#15: Once a year, write a letter to your past self. Tell her how proud you are of how far she’s come. If you’re the organized type, stash these away and reread them every five years or so.

#16: Pick up your favorite book again. Sometimes enjoying a familiar story can be like chatting with an old friend.

#17: Make gratitude a part of your routine. Begin or end every day with a one-minute reflection on what’s wonderful about this life. Hold onto that little bit of thankfulness as you go about your day or settle down to sleep.

#18: Find a hobby to engage with at least once a week. Don’t feel obligated to monetize it; not everything has to be a hustle. Just do something productive that you enjoy and see where it takes you.

#19: Fish for compliments once in a while. It’s okay to ask, “Does this look okay?” or “How did I do?” or “Did you see this thing I made?” to someone you love and trust. They can’t read your mind or predict your need to hear this positivity. Accept their kind words gracefully. They mean it, even if it took some prompting.

#20: Take up journaling, but it doesn’t have to be literal. Do you like writing but hate your penmanship? Use the computer. Love drawing but not great with words? Sketch your thoughts and experiences from each week. Have trouble sitting down to record your feelings each day? Use your phone to create audio recordings while you’re getting ready for the day or settling down for bed.

#21: Sing and dance in the shower. If not every time, at least half the time. With or without musical accompaniment.

#22: Share your time, talent, and treasure with others. Donate to causes that speak to you without second guessing the cost. At the start of each season, pick out some clothes you don’t need—the good ones, not just the stained ones—and take them to a women’s shelter. Add an extra item to each grocery list for your local food pantry. Giving is a part of who God made us to be.

#23: Never stop learning. Whether you like reading, watching videos, taking free online courses (Coursera has a ton), or attending book clubs or Bible studies, prioritize the ongoing engagement of your brain. Pursue topics that interest you and always be hungry for more.

#24: For 10 minutes out of every week, instead of scrolling through your phone, tap into your own memory. Reminisce on the innocent joy of your childhood or a difficult but formative experience. Think about loved ones you’ve lost. Keep these precious memories alive.

#25: Pray, for yourself and especially for others. Pray without ceasing, even if it’s just three words at a time (try “Come Holy Spirit” or “Lord have mercy” in moments of stress; “Thank you Jesus” or “Grant us peace” in moments of repose). It’s the best way to remember you’re loved and are never alone.