PHOTO | VANESSA SANTILLI
Vanessa Nicholas-Schmidt has several ways she connects with God, such as praying with Scripture or writing a letter to God.
TORONTO – With the busy schedule of a university student, Vanessa Nicholas-Schmidt was finding it challenging to fit prayer into her regular routine during her school years.
To remedy this, her spiritual director suggested she get creative, recommending a variety of different prayer styles.
"She said Jesus is not expecting the friendship to look any one way," said Nicholas-Schmidt, program director at Faith Connections, the Sisters of St. Joseph of Toronto's youth ministry.
"How can we talk to Jesus in a way that fits in with our lives no matter where we are on the journey?"
There's all sorts of different approaches to prayer and certain types suit some people more than others, said Sister Mary Rowell.
"Prayer is about our relationship with God. . . . The relationship of receiving God's love, of understanding God in all things," said Rowell, a Sister of St. Joseph of Peterborough and part-time professor at both Regis College and the University of St. Michael's College in Toronto.
With the winter blues in full force, here are some different ways people have found to spruce up their prayer life.
"I've always had an innate belief there is a God, but I find it hard to hear him," said Nicholas-Schmidt.
To let His voice come through, her spiritual director recommended she write a letter to God.
In order to do this, Nicholas-Schmidt would write the letter with her dominant hand.
"And then, she said, pause whenever you feel like pausing or when you run out of things to say. Then put the pen in your non-dominant hand and let God respond."
She said don't force it, but that's God talking to you.
"It allowed me to slow down, centre and allow God to have some air time."
Put aside some time to let go of computers, iPods,phones and texting for a few moments in a quiet space to centre yourself and breathe deeply, said Rowell.
"Just gently remind yourself of the presence of God. Maybe use a mantra or one word such as 'listen' or 'Jesus.' "
Even if it's just five minutes a day, time to "just be" is enormously helpful, she said.
"Because of the busyness of our lives, I think we've forgotten how to listen. And if we don't listen, it's hard to find God, it's hard to find deeper meaning in our lives."
"When people tell me they're having trouble in their prayer life, I tell them to start with a simple prayer of thank you," said Marilyn Elphick, director of campus ministry at the University of St. Michael's College.
"Start with a thank you and then try dedicating everything you do in your day - your work, your studying - dedicate it to God and that's a prayer," she said.
"We have to bring prayer into our daily lives as something that is a part of who we are."
Another way to integrate prayer into your daily routine is to "pray your walk home," said Nicholas-Schmidt.
"I would talk to God and share the highs and lows of my day and the things I was worried about, and that really worked."
Take a centring breath to still your mind and then read a Scripture passage enough times that you have the flow of the passage memorized, said Nicholas-Schmidt.
Entering a Gospel piece with imagination is to imagine yourself there, said Rowell.
"I try to put myself in that place and in doing that I find myself being spoken to in that particular Gospel because I'm actually putting myself there.
"By doing the prayer of imagination with Scripture is to place myself right in that context and allow it to really speak to me as I am," said Rowell.
Then sit and reflect on what Jesus might be trying to say to you through that, said Nicholas-Schmidt.
Journalling can be a form of prayer because you're writing your thoughts, said Elphick.
"Some people can't pray spontaneously, some people need to write it down," she said.
"Young people today are very creative and I think they're dealing with many issues that they need to chew over and they need to think about," said Elphick. "And so often, they don't realize there's that flexibility in prayer."