Prayer is far more complex than three simple steps,
but it can also be so confusing and intangible that most of us need some structure to really get going.
But where does it end?
How do we take it deeper?
How does it become more intimate, personal, and mystical?
I am a talker.
Just saying that out loud (or putting it in black and white) I know my dad is roaring with laughter.
I like to talk, okay!
In fact, in my high school graduating class, rather than “most likely to succeed” or “best leader” (an award I had won three times previous, mind you)
I was voted “Most Talkative.”
So when I met and started dating my wife, who do you think did all the talking, all the time?
It was me.
Come on, I just told you I love to talk…of course it was me.
I talk all the time with my wife! Every day after work is like opening a Wal-Mart on Black Friday and just letting the stories fight each other over the 65″ TV that is my wife’s attention!
As much as I love having open conversation with my wife, there is something I might love even more.
Every now and then, we will simply turn on the TV, or a podcast, or music, or nothing.
I’ll sit down longways on the couch and she will sit and lay against me,
I wrap my arms around her,
and we say nothing.
is one of the most intimate expressions of love, trust, and friendship.
and it’s not something reserved for romantic relationships.
I experience this with God as well, through a healthy practice of meditation and contemplation.
In a healthy, thriving relationship, constant communication is an absolute necessity,
but as the relationship grows you eventually reach the point where talking is no longer required in order to feel close.
With those we are the most intimate, words are not always needed.
It is enough to simply be with the other.
Prayer is no different.
Eventually you reach the point where talking to God is not enough.
You long for more.
Something deeper .
This is when meditation and contemplation become integral.
Contemplation is simply sitting with God and waiting.
He may speak or keep silent, but hearing from God is not the point of contemplation.
Contemplation is simply time wasted with God.
It is sitting with the one who loves you completely, and doing so with an open heart, a humble spirit, and a quiet soul.
The benefit of prayer such as this is that it removes all pressures of the world and allows us an opportunity to simply exist as we are. To know that we are loved despite our flaws, our failures, and the mounting anxieties of striving to be somebody of importance and worth.
To sit with God in mediation and contemplation is to be fully loved, and completely accepted as you are.
The difficulty of contemplation however, is that it runs completely counter-cultural to life as we have always known it.
Our world is filled with noise, hurry, and busier schedules than we can handle.
We are constantly striving for success, purpose, and meaning.
So to learn the art of being with God in silence and contemplation takes practice.
It takes repetition.
And it takes patience.
You will not enter a nirvana-like state or encounter a talking, burning bush the first time you sit down to try meditation.
So here are my suggestions for adding meditation and contemplation to your prayer life:
1.Find a mantra or two (or six)
A mantra is simply a phrase you repeat over and over. You can do so out loud or in your mind, whichever is most beneficial and helpful to you.
Having a mantra is not so mystical and “woo woo” as some of us might think.
A mantra is simply a way to help us focus. It gives us something concrete to hold on to during prayer and return to when we get distracted. It’s a touchstone of sorts, a home base, but it’s also a trail we follow.
You can find a list of mantras just about anywhere, but you want to find or create one that reflects your unique inner feelings, emotions, needs, etc.
My favorite mantra that I use in meditation comes from the “Jesus prayer.” It’s a famous prayer modeled after the prayer of the tax collector in Luke 18. The most common form of the Jesus Prayer says
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
I find mantras to be even more helpful when you make them your own. They are also easier to pray over and over again when they match the natural rhythm of breathing. So, I have taken the Jesus Prayer and made it my own.
I pray the same idea behind the Jesus Prayer, but shorter and more intimate to me by saying,
“Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
Or even better…
“Jesus, have mercy on me, YOUR sinner.”
Or my absolute favorite variations:
“Jesus, Have Mercy”
“Jesus, I Love You”
“Jesus, I Need You”
Google some common mantras that you can borrow for a while or create your own to reflect your deepest need for love and connection in this season. This is the best place to start a unique prayer life of mediation and contemplation.
2. Practice your breathing
I have always been skeptical of what I call “Woo woo” beliefs and practices, and anything that can be categorized as “healing breath” immediately went into the “woo woo” column as fake mental crap.
Then I tried it…
Focused breathing has been proven to slow down your mind, heighten mental focus and clarity, and even help overcome anxiety and depression, among other health benefits.
If nothing else, every time I practice my breathing I literally feel my shoulders, my back, and my head sink down and release tension. Tension I often didn’t even realize was there until I let it go through breathing.
So, when you begin your time with God, try starting with a few deep breaths. Breathe in through the nose for 4 seconds, then out through the mouth for 8 seconds.
Push the breath out of your mouth and pay attention to how your shoulders physically lower and feel more rested.
Do this 2-4 times and then let yourself sink into a normal, but slower, rhythm of breathing for the rest of your mediation.
3. Use soothing music, sounds, or mediation guides
I find calming sounds or music to be REALLY beneficial.
I love silence and think I could sit in it all day some days. However, for most silence truly is deafening and a little panic-inducing.
If this is the case for you I recommend starting with some calming background music to help you focus.
Make sure there are no lyrics in the music as the words will likely distract you and make you think about whatever it is they are singing about. I also think that music with as little change in the melody as possible is better. I love me some jazz but all the ups and downs in the melody are somewhat of a distraction as well.
I prefer slow-moving repetitive music or the sound of light rain in my personal meditation and contemplation practices.
Some places I recommend starting are:
- SonicAid – a musical group you can find on Spotify with quite a bit of scientific research behind their calming music)
- Relax Melodies App – this app lets you combine sounds and music to create your own unique mediation music combination
- Live From Rest App – a great app with plenty of guided meditations to give you a jump start)
4. Distracting Thoughts
The last bit of advice I have is for dealing with distracting thoughts.
The best way to get distracted by all manner of random thoughts is to try to NOT to be distracted!
Our natural inclination is to get off on a train of thought, realize it, then try to force ourselves back to a clear mind, only to find more distractions pop up.
This if course will do NO GOOD but to make meditation more frustrating and cause ourselves to feel more defeated.
Instead of attacking distracting thoughts and refocusing, Try this:
Pretend you are in a large city. You decide to sit down at a public fountain in a crowded square and take a moment to rest.
You are alone, yet you are surrounded by hundreds of people passing by.
In your effort to have a moment to yourself, if you got up and tried to push away every person that came within 10 feet of your little spot on the fountain’s edge, you would NEVER get to have your moment of peace.
You’d be too busy chasing people off that you would never rest and experience the peaceful moment!
Alternately, if you simply sat down and let the people pass by without confrontation, they become more like white noise.
You even feel a kind of rhythm to the world around you, a delightful hum of noise that actually helps you drown out the distractions.
When practicing contemplation, rather than trying to NOT THINK about all the things on your plate or in the back of your mind, simply let them come and pass by. Stay rooted in your spot and let the world of thoughts become white noise in the background.
Write it down
One great tangible way to do this in the beginning is to bring a small pad or notebook with you to prayer.
If you’re anything like me you tend to forget things, so when something important pops in your head you feel as if you have to address it right then and there or you will forget again and find yourself in a much worse situation later!
So, when an important event or item on your To-Do list pops up during mediation, simply take a moment to write it down on the pad, then return to the silence. This way, you only lose a short moment and can enjoy meditation knowing that you will not forget all the important things that need get done!
The more that you practice this art of letting distractions come and go, eventually you find yourself distracted much less when you sit down to meditate or pray!
That is my ultimate guide to meditation and contemplation. This is still a big-picture view that may require some more specific guidance.
For more unique and direct help building a life of prayer and mediation, I am currently offering free 30-minute coaching sessions to first-time clients.
One-on-one guidance has time and again proven to be the most effective form of learning and growing in any endeavor.
and get started growing your prayer life through mediation and contemplation.