Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

12 Ways to Pray During Lent

lenten cross.jpeg

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Lent, the 40 days preceding the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, is supposed to be a time of fasting, where we chocoholics take an “s” of out the word “dessert,” and are left with “desert.” I heard somewhere that Jesus wandered around in the desert for 40 days (and Moses for 40 years) because he is like every other man-he refused to ask for directions.


Actually, the opposite is true. This liturgical season is all about asking for directions-going into the dryness so that we can show up transformed at the spring of new life. I pray many different ways during this time of preparation, and most of them are quite fun. For me Lent isn’t about being somber or morose. I have enough of that in my life. It’s about using everything in my life to better connect me with God. Here are some of my paths into the desert of Lent.

1. Fold Your Hands

Some ways you can tell someone is lying: his arm and leg movement will be limited, stiff, and towards his own body; she avoids eye contact; he will touch his face, throat, and mouth a lot. I learned at a young age the power of body language. I was a clumsy girl, so my mom enrolled me in ballet classes, which I took for 14 years. My instructors pulled back my shoulders every two minutes-so that I would project the confidence that I didn’t feel. “Let your body lead,” they said. “And your mind will follow.” That is why I always fold my hands when I pray. I want my body to tell God that I’m talking to Him, even if my mind is off wandering elsewhere.


2. Say Thank You

Gratitude, they say, is the highest form of prayer. It’s also the most difficult when I’m in a depressive cycle or feel a panic attack coming on. During Lent, I try to pay special attention to all the small, wonderful things around me: that my kids aren’t using diapers anymore, that they don’t have disabilities, that my husband works around the corner and can come home for lunch.

My mom and dad told my sisters and me that when someone gives you a gift-no matter how small-you ALWAYS write a thank-you letter. It’s the polite thing to do. So, as I try to teach my kids the same lesson, I remind myself to say thank you to God, as well. That’s just plain good manners.


3. Light a Candle

Even though there is no “Lenten wreath” like an Advent wreath, I light candles in the same manner during Lent as I do in the days preceding Christmas. For some reason, I feel like God hears me better if I stick my face near a hot, glowing body of flame.

Is that because Jesus calls himself the “light of the world” (John 8:12)? Because Paul instructs the Ephesians to “walk as children of Light” (Ephesians 5:8)? Because Christians light the Paschal Candle on Easter as a symbol of the risen Christ?

Or is it because something about a flame on a candle soothes me in the same way that my son David’s ratty blankie comforts him. The scarlet blaze generates a feeling of hope, of fierce tenacity, that whispers: “Hang in there.”


4. Sing the Verses

I’ve been known to belt out the lyrics of “Be Not Afraid,” and “On Eagles’ Wings” in the shower. And I do admit, I get chills every time I sing the “Our Father” or “Amazing Grace.” In the church bulletin recently, I read that “singing is praying twice.” So if I sing a refrain three times, that’s like saying six prayers, right? Right?

5. Use Prayer Beads

You don’t have to be Catholic or even Christian to handle prayer beads. In fact, Christians were probably the last to use them, after Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims. I postulate that counting prayers was implemented out of practical necessity by all the major world religions to assist persons such as myself with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. For me, it’s simply an easy way I can keep track of my prayers, because when I say a rosary without one-like when I run-I always lose count (wait, this is my fifth decade, no, fourth, oh man, I don’t remember).


The rosary for me is also like Prayer for Dummies. I don’t have to compose any original prose to say it. And the prayers are there in my memory from second grade. On the good days, I remember to think holy thoughts (or at least consider the life of Jesus and Mary once) during the devotion. But most of the time the mouth is automatically moving with the beads, without tons of energy or effort. And that’s actually a wonderful feeling.

6. Yell Like Hell

I know this is controversial, but I condone yelling profanities at God if it helps release your anger and frustration at an imperfect world. Catholic author Ronald Rolheiser is with me on this (sort of). He writes in Forgotten Among the Lilies that wrestling with God is a form of prayer: “The refusal to accept the harshness of God’s ways in the name of his love is an authentic form of prayer. Indeed the prophets and saints were not always in the habit of simply saying, ‘Thy will be done.’ They often fought, challenged, squirmed and begged as a way of saying ‘Thy will be changed!'”


Jerry explained to George once on “Seinfeld” that the make-up sex you get after a fight with your girlfriend is reason alone for the argument. I’m not sure I’d go that far-as I hate all confrontation-but, yes, those conversations with God after I’ve yelled at him for something, are especially intimate. The squabbles mean we’re in a real, organic relationship.

7. Stare at Something Holy

In college I took a religion course called “Exploring Beauty,” mostly because I thought I could get an easy A. In the class, Professor Keith J. Egan, a prominent Carmelite scholar (and friend to this day) taught us the importance of art to spirituality, what it meant to “take a long, loving look at the real.”


The late theologian Henri Nouwen explained his love of icons this way: “Gazing is probably the best word to touch the core of Eastern spirituality. Whereas St. Benedict, who has set the tone for spirituality of the West, calls us first of all to listen, the Byzantine fathers focus on gazing. . . . An icon is like a window looking out upon eternity. Behind its two dimensional surface lies the garden of God, which is beyond dimension or size.”

8. Repeat One Word

As a person with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, I LOVE mantras! During several months when I felt suicidal, I repeated four words: “Jesus, be with me.” And that mantra was enough, at times, to beat back my fear and sadness. I didn’t have a clue as to if God heard me, but by repeating the words over and over and over again, they became part of me-which meant that death became less and less of an option.


9. Laugh

Is laughing allowed in Lent, in the desert? You bet! In Proverbs 17:22, it is written “A merry heart is a good medicine: but a broken spirit drieth up the bones.” I believe that God wants us to laugh because laughter heals in ways traditional and alternative medicine can’t.

According to a recent article I just read, a growing body of evidence suggests depression and stress makes people more prone to illness, and more likely to experience suffering. In one study, researchers asked 20 healthy men and women to watch clips of two movies-the violent battle scenes in “Saving Private Ryan” or a humorous scene from a comedy, like “Kingpin.” Blood flow was significantly reduced in 14 of the 20 people who saw “Saving Private Ryan,” while blood flow increased in 19 of the 20 people watching the comedy. If laughter can do that to our blood flow, think of what it can do for our spirits!


10. Eat and Drink

This one might get me in trouble with the bishops, but eating and drinking is what the Eucharist is all about: gathering together with friends and families to eat bread, dark chocolate, pepperoni pizza, spaghetti with meatballs, dark chocolate (yes, that was intentional) and to drink wine, sparkling apple cider, orange juice, and milk.

When we do this during Lent, we celebrate Jesus and each other just like he did at the Last Supper. I especially like this form of prayer since eating and drinking come so naturally to me. So then, gaining weight is actually an exercise in holiness.

11. Talk to the Saints

Yes, as a typical Catholic I’m crazy about the saints. Why wouldn’t I be? They have every neurosis and insecurity covered! St. Joseph takes care of those prone to panic attacks while traveling. For twitching, Bartholomew the Apostle is your dude. Those roaming the house in their sleep can call on Dymphna. The venerable Matt Talbot is patron saint to those struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction. And, of course, St. Jude covers the hopeless causes.


Personally, I pray a novena to Saint Therese every day–during Lent and every other liturgical season. Maybe it’s because I was named after her, but this saint’s “little ways” to God are much more appealing than the heady theology of Saint Thomas Aquinas. In reading words by Therese, I’m comforted because she experienced the same annoyances and distractions that I do. And she’s a saint!

I also have a special devotion to Mary. Now that I’m a mom, I can appreciate how much she must have suffered watching her Son be crucified. I also know if I beg her to deliver a message to her boy, she’ll be sure it gets there. She’s a mom. She’s responsible.

12. Give Something Up


I return to the desert with this last one. Why is fasting important? Why must we give up something we enjoy to be enlightened?

I don’t know. But I do think the lines of communication between God and me are better on the days I’ve abstained from a desired object. I noticed that after I gave up drinking in high school. I like the clarity of thinking I get by being sober 24/7. It’s a small way of saying to God every day, “I really, REALLY need you.”

My mom feels that way too. I can always tell when someone in my family is in trouble. She starts fasting. “Mom, are you worried about me?” I’ll ask. “Who’s pregnant? Come on, I won’t say anything.” She told me she fasts because she gets better results. It’s like going from a one-bar connection on a cell phone to five bars.


“Can you hear me now?”

“I most certainly can.”

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  • linda-marie

    Thank you for these ways to pray. Sometimes I get “bored” with one activity, so I’ve learned to “switch up” by doing things a different way.
    These are wonderful ideas.

  • petros

    Thank you, thank you. I have been using days from your blog for my small depression support group at another church. We really need to remember prayer is communication, not simply a set of holy(?) phrases strung together.

  • Barbara formerly Babs

    I really like all of these, especially the folding hands. Sometimes I need the barest ways to remind myself that I am still trying to pray. Recently I took my beloved grandma’s rosary out of its case. She died fifty years ago, and I remember her praying it when she came to stay with us overnight to babysit my sister and me. I’ve run hot and cold on the rosary, but it makes me feel connected with her across all those years to touch the same beads she did. Lately I pray it before I fall asleep at night, just as she did. I wonder if she ever found herself in the midst of a dream as she is praying, as I have? It soothes me and I sleep better.
    Singing is praying twice for the simple reason of attentiveness. You can mindlessly repeat a prayer, but engage your voice in pitch and rhythm and you become much more mindful of the text.

  • Eva

    Thank you for this. I pray and meditate daily and every suggestion helps, and I love your sense of humor!!

  • Peg

    Therese, your ballet teacher’s instruction to let your body lead and the brain will follow made me think of Dr. Low’s Recovery program where emphasis is placed on moving our muscles to help our thinking. That’s the way I understand it, anyway. And, thanks for the tip. I can improve my posture for sure. God bless.

  • Lynne

    I remember a former employer, and friend ,told me her therapist said to ACT happy. Simply going through the motions until it began to feel real. I know body language and posture DO make a physiological difference. If you stand up taller and act braver you can convince yourself you are. (in theory anyway) It does’nt mean puff yourself up and pick a fight with Hulk Hogan however. But it sure does’nt hurt to smile.

  • Nancy

    Thanks for the suggestions that are not only great suggestions but your commentarys about them are as funny as can be all at the same time.
    God Bless
    Nancy aka sixlittlekitties

  • Your Name

    thanks for your advice especially on giving up something to greater results during prayer.

  • jeff

    But there IS a Lenten wreath… and since this blog was written over a year ago, I’m not sure why this hasn’t been corrected…

  • Mary

    I am a former Catholic, not interested in returning. That being said, I found this article to be very inspiring for anyone wanting to find simple ways of feeling closer to God. I like to find spiritual practices that work for me, no matter what faith they come from.

  • Lori

    Thank you for writing this. There is so much negativity about Catholicism out there and you reflected on many of the beautiful aspects. Can you share the novena to St. Therese? xo

  • Baby G

    This is a great article, but i don’t understand why someone would yell at god after everything he did for you. I don’t care what i go through, i would never yell at god nor ask him why.

  • Melinda

    Thanks (again) Therese for a great post! And thanks for mentioning Prayer Beads. My father is Catholic, my mom Southern Baptist (which can probably explain some of my mental health issues 😉 ) and I always thought you HAD to be Catholic to use prayer beads, cross yourself, etc. I started feeling the nudge from God to cross myself after prayer several years ago. The first time was in church on Sunday morning, and I ended up arguing with him instead of finishing my prayer! “Not NOW God, people are gonna think I’m crazy!” – I wasn’t in a Catholic church, obviously. I’ve since done it a few times, but I still worry too much what others will think instead of following His prompting. Thanks for letting us know that worship and prayer are not dependent on our church upbringing & social acceptance, but on our relationship with God alone.

  • Barbara

    Thank you for this wonderful post. You have a lot of wisdom and kindness in you!

  • Your Name

    I really like this ariticle…I plan to share it.
    I can understand why some would question the yelling at God thing…but it’s one of the many things that you and I agree on…if I hid my anger I’d be a liar…well, more of a liar anyway.
    One of the trickiest things of faith, for me any all the darn exhausting honesty…
    thinking of you this lent and enjoying reconnecting to you and your blog a bit..
    take care, Kate

  • Kate

    …also…agreed re: joy during Lent…a strange mix, but doable and necessary…
    : )

  • Junkcollector

    I’m not sure on how to take parts of this article. I believe in praying definetly but the yelling at God, don’t see how that is good in anyway…and somehow seemed as if this article was a little too lighthearted about a serious subject….believing in God with all your heart and not just at a time of Lent should be an everyday process…

  • Your Name

    This is a good article. I think that the yelling at God, may depend on your personality. I am also one who does not like a conflict and I don’t feel that I need to yell at God. I have made my choices. I am no better than anyone else go I do not go around saying “Why me, Lord?”. The answer is why not you. Is there another person who deserves the trial or hardship that you are enduring? I usually don’t want to pass what I have gone through to anyone else and I have had my trials and hard times. It just makes me stronger. I could definitely tell the Catholic background in the article. Not that you have to be Catholic, I just know where you are coming from.

  • catholic

    Lent is definetly a time for strong prayer. And everyday should be. Everyone gets mad at God sometime but always remember he does things for a reason. So if something good is pulled out of your hands he is simply removing them so that they can reach something better. Jesus took all our sins and die with them during lent. Now is the time to repent and pray for all our sins and not to take a little sin for granted cause we dont only pay for it, so does he. Let Jesus know he died for a good reason. And all our lives are important so live them good, without sin. Be a good person and help every hand that asks for it. For a little time during lent he is gone then resurected. So during that time he is counting on our prayers and we are the ones that help him come back to life.

  • Beth @ To the Fullest

    I totally agree with #6 — I “yell like hell” fairly often during prayer time these days. Before this current life season I tried to be together in front of God, but right now what I need is to yell and curse and cry at Him and with Him. So I do, because He already knows what’s going on in my head and heart — I might as well invite Him into it willingly and with faith. Besides, the Israelites asked God to bash the Bablyonians’ heads on rocks when they were upset (Psalm 137), so I think God is okay with a little cussing, :)

  • Elizabeth

    I love this post.

  • Mary Anne Thompson

    I LOVE this post!!!! U are so witty and I so get you on the points u made. Don’t let others criticism change the way u think or write. It is funny that I am a Pagan and yet still agree with so many of your views, thoughts on religious Holidays, observances….
    I gotta say that #3 especially resonated with me. I light candles everyday on my altar in my bedroom. Then aside from the candle of the day when I begin my day with God/Goddess if someone I know is sick or has a specific request I write their name on the glass of the prayer candle and let it burn the 4-5 days that those candles last as a symbol of prayers going up to God. It works!!! like u staring into a flame, feeling the heat of a fire connects me like nothing else to the spiritual World. Then there is #5 Prayer beads. We have a workshop coming up at our next fire festival for Beltane. It is on making prayer beads. Alot of religions use them not just Catholics as u stated. Pagan’s too are making and using them but rather than the Our Father and prayer to Mary…we substitute the 4 directions of Earth, Air, Fire & Water among other prayers. Then there is #7 Stare at something Holy. I do this alot without even consciously doing it. When I see little statues of Mary, or even Buddah or other religions Gods I can’t help but look at them. I have even been known to buy one or 2 of the little jade elephants, buddahs at my local Chinese Restaurant because I feel drawn to them even though I don’t follow their particular beliefs. I believe that regardless of what any religion calls their “God” we all believe in a power greater than ourselves and that it is our God. #9 Laughing is something that I KNOW u are right on about. Being a Medicine Woman of the Blackfoot Tribe I not only use natural herbs and gemstones in healing but laughter as well. Just talking to a patient or someone suffering in a light way and making them smile or laugh eases the heaviness of their suffering. Then there is #11 I talk to different Gods or Goddesses just as the Catholics have the Saints. Aphrodite, Isis, Ostara, Diana, Hecate, Demeter….they all represent something different and I understand where alot of the Catholic and Christian practices originated from….Paganism.
    Oh I skipped #2 I meant to include it because having an attitude of gratitude or keeping a gratitude list is something I learned in Al-Anon…it works!!!
    Having said all of this let me say I wish you the best Lenten season and Ostara/Easter my Sister! love u

  • justamom

    It is 4:00 am and I am reading your post, it hit the spot. Yup I’m dealing with depression faking it ’til I make it, and I’m a recovering Catholic, practicing Episcopalian. One is ALWAYS Catholic even if you try to move on from the guilt. So then comes Lent when one is supposed to “give up”, repent etc. and guilt about everything comes rushing in. Some of your suggestions I already DO, but it is so calming and hopeful to read. I know I’m not crazy if someone else is using the same strategy to get through. Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well” gets me through moments and days. Thank you for your words today and always. What I offer is a quote I have over my desk, “You can’t stop the waves but you can learn to surf.” Some days I wipe out and some days i make it into the curl still on my board. I look for your email and I save your posts, sometimes I print them and carry them, so THANK YOU, Hugs

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