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Prayer and Spiritual Life in Times of Stress

In the midst of distress, many people find it difficult to pray and may even question if their distress is a sign they are not faithful enough. “We are an incarnational religion. Jesus assumed flesh and body and lived the life we live. He made our life sacred. That includes our human emotions,” says Sr. Pat Parachini, SNJM. “Distress is an emotion. It is what you do with that emotion and how you allow God to walk through it with you.”

As a spiritual director and a former member of the spiritual formation team at Saint Luke Institute, Sr. Pat works with priests and men and women religious who often are in distress. She says it is important to recognize the connection between mind, body and spirit and to accept your vulnerabilities.

There is not one way to pray when feeling stress. A person needs to find the approach that is the most comfortable given his or her relationship with God.

During times you are not stressed, try to develop a practice of understanding how God speaks to you. Seek to develop a daily discipline of quiet and receptivity to God.

Sr. Pat says, “Prayer is an act of humility. You acknowledge you need someone besides yourself.”
Some of the prayer techniques she suggests:

  • Lectio divina. Choose a passage in Scripture. Pause and stay with that passage to let it speak to you.
  • Meditation. Give yourself three periods of 20 minutes each week to be still, sit and open yourself up to God. Focus on your breathing. Instead of trying to control, let go so the Holy Spirit may work within you. If a distraction keeps coming to you, welcome it. God may be asking you to focus there.
  • Journaling during prayer. People often grow calmer when journaling during rather than after prayer, even if they simply write one word or sketch an image.
  • Dialogue with God. When feeling stressful emotions, write a dialogue with God: “God, I don’t know what to do.” Then write what you think God would say. This can help put you in God’s presence when grappling with difficult issues.
  • Catholic poetry or music. Contemplative words and music, or sounds of nature and water can be very calming.
  • Intentional prayer. Bring your feelings to prayer. Focus on your breathing and allow your emotions to surface; such as feeling anger toward another person. Recognize you are not alone in feeling this way and there is nothing wrong with having feelings. God is holding them for you.
  • Journal of gratitude. When life is very stressful, write down one thing you are grateful for in the present.