Steps in spiritual change

posted in: Prayer and Virtue | 14
Young Italian Woman Praying (Wikimedia Commons)

Before we go on into Teresa’s second mansions, I want to talk about the pattern of change I have noticed in my life. If we want to move on to the next stage of the spiritual life, how can we accomplish this?

A vague awareness of the need for change

The first real conversion in my spiritual life was from praying now and then to praying daily. This is essentially the conversion from the first to the second group of mansions.

In college I began to work on having a daily prayer time. Sometimes I would do quite well. Other times, I would miss prayer for days. I usually prayed last thing at night, because I did not have a set tome for prayer. Often I was too tired to stay awake. Sometimes I completely forgot and didn’t realize I hadn’t prayed for a few days until I looked back.

I had a vague idea that I should pray every day. I knew other people thought so. I put a certain amount of effort into it, but not a great one. Something was missing, and I wouldn’t discover it until a few years later.

Conviction that a change is necessary

The problem was, I didn’t really believe that I needed to pray daily. Not deep down inside. I thought my spiritual life was in a pretty good state (which just proves that it wasn’t). I was a moral person. I tried to love God and my neighbor. So why put in the effort to change?

The movement from a vague awareness to conviction often results from a crisis. For example, a boy who never listened to his mother when she said he needed to learn to swim might be suddenly motivated after he nearly drowns. He realizes she was right!

When I began studying Carmelite spirituality as a Secular Carmelite, the words of Teresa of Avila finally convinced me of the absolutely necessity of daily mental prayer:

He who neglects mental prayer needs no devil to carry him to hell. He brings himself there with his own hands.”

-St. Teresa of Ávila

Wow! I was convicted. I made a commitment to change. But I wasn’t perfect at praying daily yet.

The will to change

Once we become convinced of the need for change, we have to choose it. At first we choose the over-all picture of change–“Yes, I want to start praying daily.” Then we must choose to follow through when temptations or distractions plague us. “I choose to pray now, instead of reading another chapter of this novel.”

Other people can help us with the first two steps. But here we are on own–except of course for grace. Only we can make the choice to change. But we can take steps to strengthen our will.

Prayer is at the root of all true spiritual change, because prayer brings us into God’s presence. In prayer (whether the liturgy of the Church or personal prayer), we meet God. We learn about His goodness. Our hearts are moved to follow His will. And He gives us the grace to say yes.

Meditation on Sacred Scripture is the best type of mental prayer we can engage in with the normal helps of the spiritual life. It informs our minds, moves our wills, and opens our hearts to grace.

Making specific goals

Once we’ve decided to change, we need to choose concrete goals for that change. In the case of prayer, we should set a specific place and time for prayer every day, letting our loved ones know that the time is literally sacred.

We should start small. In Carmel we began with fifteen minutes of mental prayer a day. It’s much better to do a little consistently, than to pray an hour one day and miss prayer the rest of the week. Once we have formed the habit of daily mental prayer, we can extend the time.

We must be patient. Real change does not happen overnight. The start of the road has the roughest terrain. “At the proper time, you will reap a harvest, if you do not give up” (Gal 6:9).

A recurring pattern

I have seen this same pattern with other areas of the spiritual life. Trust and detachment are two changes I am still working on. In Carmel I also learned to live a life of Gospel poverty. With each issue, it took some time for me to become convinced that the change was necessary. But now that I’ve recognized this pattern, I hope that the next change God asks of me does not take me so long! And I hope this helps spur you on as well.

If you need more help in forming a daily prayer routine, please read these two posts:

Why should you pray?
7 Ways to make time for prayer

Connie Rossini

Please share with us: Have you noticed a similar pattern in your life in regard to change? How have you succeeded in forming new spiritual habits? Do you have more questions about the need to pray?

Follow Connie Rossini:

Hi, I'm a Catholic writer and homeschool mother of four boys. I practice Carmelite spirituality. Check out my Books page for publications to help your whole family grow in holiness.

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14 Responses

  1. KM

    I can’t thank you enough for what you are doing here. It is helping me more than you know. The way you share what you have learned resonates with me so well for a variety of reasons. I am willing to bet that there are many like me, who live in areas without real access to either lay or clergy who can assist us in quite this way. THANK you so very much!

    Father in heaven, please bless Connie mightily for all that she is doing.

  2. Jen

    Are you an OCDS member? I’m due (Lord willing) to make my Final Promise in the spring. It’s been a long road (six years)…I still struggle finding time for prayer. But I haven’t gotten completely “off the road” as our Mother Teresa says. I’ll pray for you…pray for me. I have Adoration this evening, which I’m grateful for. My prayer time will be there (with six kids…it’s almost never quiet…). I found your site from Teresa of “My Desert Heart” blog

    • Connie Rossini

      Jen, I was OCDS for 17 years. I had to be released from my promises a few years back, because we have moved away from the Twin Cities and I cannot attend monthly meetings while having small children. It was a big struggle for me, because I loved being OCDS. But God had other plans and all is good. I’ll pray for you as your final promise approaches. I made mine 5 days after our first son was born by unexpected C-section. I usually pray right after the kids go to bed, about 9 PM.

      • Jen

        Wow! I’ve had all my kids my csection, I know that must have been tough! What commitment! I’m sorry to hear you had to be released, but you seem to where God wants, which is the point of Carmel, right? :) God Bless you

  3. marilynrodrigues

    Hi Connie, I just wanted to say I’m really enjoying your book study, although I haven’t commented here. So thank you, and I’ve just pointed my readers over to your blog because I think some of them will really enjoy it and St Teresa’s teaching is so necessary, so beautiful, worth sharing a million times over. Blessings, Marilyn

  4. Charisse Tierney

    Your thoughts on prayer life are beautiful, Connie! With my five young chldren, I haven’t had time to keep up with all of your posts, but I really enjoy them when I can find some time to read! I really want to read St. Teresa’s book—it’s on my wish list! I have felt called to enter into a deeper prayer life over the last few months, and I’ve made the effort to squeeze some in every day, even in the midst of busy family life. What a difference it makes! Now I just notice if I have a day in which I’ve simply prayed less than usual, and I think I would fall apart if I missed a day of prayer completely! Sometimes the balance of not doing so much so that I can pray more is a bit difficult to find. Do you ever feel guilty for taking the time to seek a more contemplative life rather than getting overly involved in outside activities? How do you know when you are striking the right balance? Are some people called to live a life more heavily rooted in prayer time than others? I so appreciate your insights!

    • Connie Rossini

      Charisse, I was blessed to start in Carmel while I was single–that was one of the advantages of a late marriage (at age 33). I was able to have well-established prayer habits before I had the challenges of family life. By the time I had kids, prayer was already my top priority, and my husband is of the same mind. Also, I am a total introvert, as I have probably mentioned too many times before! So I naturally like to be quiet and stay home. I am still trying to find the balance between that and my sons’ needs for outside activities, especially the oldest who is now 12.

      The debate between the active and the contemplative life is older than the Gospel. Yes, some people are called to MORE prayer and MORE solitude, but everyone is called to prayer and solitude. Look at the story of Martha and Mary. Too often these days, homilies on that story focus on downplaying the message so as not to offend the Marthas. Jesus said “only one thing is needed.” That one thing is sitting at His feet. I wrote a post on this about a year ago:

      So, if you are an extrovert, this is going to be a challenge for you. You cannot grow in virtue without growing in prayer. All the activities you are involved in, even good apostolates, will become just activism without a close relationship with Christ rooted in spending time with Him daily. This is one of St. Teresa’s recurring themes. The reverse is also true. You can’t grow in prayer If you don’t want to have a moral transformation as well. But you don’t have to do any activities outside the home in order for this transformation to happen. So in this way, introverts have an advantage. But some spiritual writers say that cholerics are the best at the actual act of praying, because they are determined, and more easily able to set aside interior distractions than introverted people.

      So, the balance. What your kids need most is a deep relationship with God. You can’t give them that, but you can set them on the road. Help them form habits of not having to run around all the time, of thinking before they say “yes” to another activity. Teach them to pray daily, especially as they get into adolescence. Show them that prayer is your top priority. I don’t think it’s inappropriate to discuss with them whether their being on the swim team, for example, is going to negatively affect the balance between prayer and activity for anyone in the family or the family as a whole. Teresa of Avila actually said that people who haven’t reached at least 5th mansions aren’t very affective in apostolates anyway. (So what am I doing? that’s another story…) In everything, the question we should ask is, Does this glorify God? Does this help me or my family come closer to God? Your first responsibility is to get yourself to Heaven and help your husband and kids get there as much as you can.

      To me, spending a day without praying would be like spending a day without eating. There’s no way I could do it accidentally. And there’s no way I’d say I’m too busy. It would have to be a conscious decision not to do it. God keep me from that! That’s not because I’m super advanced, just because I’ve made it a habit.

      All right, that’s long enough, I think! I hope you find some direction in here.

      • Charisse Tierney

        Thank you, Connie! That is incredibly helpful! I consider myself an introvert and love being home in the quiet and peace. I just have to work sometimes to avoid getting caught up in the pace of the rest of the world–to think that I should be doing as much outside the home as it appears everyone else is doing. But you are so right–how do we know what to do or how to do it if we are not praying about it? Thanks for your thoughts–many wonderful things I will definitely keep in mind for myself and my family!

  5. barbaraschoeneberger

    Being elderly I don’t have the problem of trying to find time to pray because of caring for a large family. I pray the Divine Office each day, but sometimes, due to health or schedule issues, I miss it. For quite awhile now I find myself talking with God throughout the day about whatever I’m doing or thinking. Having spent many years not practicing my Faith I look back and see how much I was searching for God during those years, but on my terms, not His. Now the first thing I do each day is to pray and do spiritual reading, and the last thing is to pray the rosary. Much of my prayer is gratitude for all the little things God does for me every day. It may not be contemplation, but it sure is living in the presence of God as much as I can.

    • Connie Rossini

      And that’s the road to contemplation, Barb. When God gives us that gift is His business, but doing the footwork of consistently finding time to pray and staying in His presence as much as we can is our business.

  6. Mary

    Connie, I joined your Blog yesterday and spent this morning reading all of your posts on the Mansions. I have read/studied much about them. I am a spiritual director and St. Teresa and the Mansions were part of our training. (St. Teresa of Avila was my chosen Saint name when I came into the Church in 1997. Your posts are so rich, yet brings the subject you are writing about to a level that is easy to relate to and understand. I have read Dubay’s “Fire Within” as well, and appreciate your references back to him. I have a daily prayer life but I would say my difficulty is being too much “in my head.” ( Praying diligently about that.) Thank you again for your blog. It is like a life line reminding us all of the importance of daily prayer and contemplation. Sometimes I feel that Contemplation is overlooked in the Catholic Church’s teachings, but for me, Contemplation deepens and enriches Christ teachings and I feel that my closeness to God has radically changed.
    Blessings to you and your family,

    • Connie Rossini

      Thank you, Mary. It is a relief to know that I haven’t said anything you disagree with as a trained spiritual director. It’s easy for certain temperaments to be too focused on knowing and not enough on loving. But Fr. Jean D’Elbee points out that love is a matter of will, not feelings. So if your are willing to love, you are loving! In other words, just keep praying about it and doing your best without anxiety. As far as an OCDS group in Texas is concerned, I’d have to google it, so I let you do that yourself, if you don’t mind. I think all the OCDS provinces have a website with links to info about individual communities. I’m not sure which province Texas is in.

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