I’m hopeless when it comes to most home improvement projects. In fact, all it takes for me to go from zero to a full-on panic attack is the sight of a piece of furniture that needs to be assembled or a leaky kitchen sink in need of repair. Many years ago, my husband made me promise I would never again attempt such a project alone because my DIY endeavors always ended up costing us more money in the long run than hiring a professional to complete the task ever would. But after watching more than a few popular HGTV shows, I discovered my critical home improvement error: I never used the correct tools. Eventually, I realized that even someone who is all thumbs like me can be downright handy if I just had the right tools to work with.
The same is true in my prayer life. Just as a socket wrench won’t do the trick when a screwdriver is needed, I find that certain types of prayer are better for specific times in my life. Sometimes I need prayer to be a moment of peaceful reflection and quiet gratitude. But at other times, I need prayer to help me deal with anger, hurt, or sadness. Sometimes my prayer is made up exclusively of words, either spoken or read, but at other times, my prayer is all about silence. So, I created my own prayer tool kit to help me set the stage for any kind of prayer experience I need.
To begin, I have a dedicated prayer space in my home where I always have a few things handy:
- A candle to symbolize God’s presence.
- My Bible to help ground me in a centuries-old faith tradition. I’ve also bookmarked the Book of Psalms on my phone to have these poetic, heartfelt prayers readily available.
- Books of prayers and reflections because sometimes my own words fail me, and I need to use someone else’s. I’ve found Joyce Rupp’s books to be perfect for this.
- Images that have significance for me — framed photos of both my parents and another friend of mine who are all deceased, meaningful art, like images from nature, evocative sculptures, or even abstract paintings to set an appropriate tone for my prayer. I also use a specific set of tools depending on what’s on my mind and in my heart when I begin to pray: If I come to prayer feeling happy or grateful …
- I count my blessings in my journal. Some people use a gratitude journal specifically for this purpose, but I have a section in my personal journal earmarked just for this.
- Believe it or not, I also have my to-do list with me during my prayer time. When I’m feeling particularly blessed, I want to share that appreciation with others. I make a note, right alongside the budget report that’s due to my boss on Monday and the dry cleaning I need to pick up, to thank someone in the next day or so, even if it’s for something very small. If I come to prayer feeling upset or angry …
- I begin by listening to soothing music. When I’m feeling great frustration or hurt, I need something to slow down my pounding heart and racing thoughts. The gentle rhythms of a relaxing piece of music usually help to calm me.
- I also make sure to have paper and pen at the ready. I’m an introvert and have a strong need to get my concerns or grievances down on paper. I find that this helps me gain perspective on what’s bothering me, and it helps me get to a more peaceful place where I can open myself to God’s presence.
- I also have a Rosary nearby. Sometimes, I’m too upset to think straight, even after I’ve written in my journal. In those moments, the rote repetition of praying the Rosary calms my nerves. I don’t worry about meditating on the meaning of each word in the “Hail Mary” and “Our Father.” Instead, I just let the words pour over me. If I come to prayer feeling anxious or scattered …
- I turn to my meditation cushion or a straight-back chair. At times like these, sitting in silence is my tool of choice.
- I also light scented candles or incense to create a contemplative environment. Sometimes, the more senses we use during prayer, the deeper our experience can be. If I come to prayer concerned for another person …
- I turn to my “heart basket,” simply a basket with small pieces of paper next to it. I write down who and what I want to pray for with the date on a slip of paper, fold it, and place it reverently into the basket as a symbolic way of placing the intention in God’s hands. I often hold my heart basket in my hands while praying the Memorare or just sitting in prayerful silence.
- I like to listen to contemporary Christian music along with my heart basket. I have several go-to songs about faith bookmarked on YouTube that I listen to while I pray.
- I’ve found that having a prayer tool kit at the ready helps me bring my whole self to God and opens me fully to the unfolding of God’s grace.
Mary Ann Steutermann is currently the director of campus ministry at Assumption High School, an all-girls Catholic high school in Louisville, Kentucky. A career educator, she has more than 20 years experience as an English teacher, assistant principal, and principal and does freelance writing on the side. She holds a bachelor’s degree in English and two master’s degrees in education. Mary Ann lives in Louisville with her husband and son.