Lord Teach Us to Pray: Free Our Hearts by Paula Mitchell

by Christine Sine

The contribution to the Lord Teach Us To Pray series today comes from Paula Mitchell.  She is the founder and program director of Doorways Ministries providing days of prayer, Ignatian retreats, and a 9 month program based on the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius as ways of deepening our lives with Christ.  She is also the city coordinator for the Ignatian Spirituality Project, a Jesuit organization dedicated to offering spiritual retreats inspired by Ignatian Spirituality to people experiencing homelessness.

Free our Hearts

St. Ignatius of Loyola developed a way of prayer and reflection built on his own experience in seeking how to best serve God.  Ignatius believed this method of paying attention to God, which had deepened his own desire to love, serve and follow Jesus, was intended to be shared with others.  It was a way to seek and find God in all things in order to gain the freedom to will God’s will in all of life.  His experiences of sharing God’s love and faith with all kinds of people grew into the book he called The Spiritual Exercises.  These prayer exercises are an invitation to journey in the company of Jesus seeking the grace of deeper friendship and intimacy with him.  Their intent is to move us to a stance of freedom as we discover how to live our lives deeply oriented to Jesus and his purposes.  They open us to God’s Spirit and help us notice and name our desire, to freely be who God created us to be, to discern God’s voice among the many voices vying for our attention, to find God in all things, and to be free to go with God as he leads.

Jesus is our model of spiritual freedom; he knows who he is, he finds God in all things, he only does what he sees his Father doing, he knows his call, and he knows where he is going-his life is intentional.  In the Spiritual Exercises we wrestle with the questions of who am I?  What do I want?  What are my deepest desires?  What is God doing/initiating in my life?  What is my call?  And what do I need to let go of to follow this call?

I believe a truly spiritual life is a life deeply centered on Jesus.  As our relationship with him moves from doing things for him, to simply being with him, the emphasis shifts from what we do to how Jesus is initiating in our lives.  This frees us from being over burdened and over responsible for our spiritual life and particularly our prayer.  When we put the emphasis where it belongs, on what Jesus is doing and what is happening in our lived experience (seeing God in all things) our prayer becomes a matter of paying attention and noticing rather than doing things right or well.   In prayer we center ourselves in God’s love for us and our love for God.  As we let go and still ourselves in God’s presence, we learn to trust and rely on the Holy Spirit’s work in us, and focus less and less on our abilities and resources to be God’s person in the world.  Prayer is a gift we receive more than a goal we achieve.  So the question is: What helps me receive the gift and remember God’s presence in and with me?  What new opportunity is God offering?  Where am I being challenged to new growth, a new perspective, or a new image of who I am or who God is?   How am I invited to join Jesus is bringing God’s kingdom to our world?  And what is the grace I desire from God?   These questions help me pay attention to the prayer being given and help shift my prayer and life from being self-centered to God-centered.  I’ve discovered as I spend more and more time in Jesus’ presence listening to his voice, my life become more and more about friendship and intimacy with him, and less and less about what “I do” for him.


To be spiritually free we see all of life; what we see, hear and experience as ways to serve God and bring God’s kingdom to our world.  We seek to let all the gifts and graces we are given lead us to an attitude of gratitude to God.  To let them lead us to him.  This means we turn away from those things that don’t lead us to God.  The goal is freedom to move toward that, which fulfills and leads us into deeper intimacy with Jesus.


This deep heart work is a continual process of falling more deeply in love with Jesus and surrendering our lives in deeper and deeper ways to his purposes.  So often, we want to do great things for him, instead he asks us to live every moment of every day for him, trusting that he is working in the small details of our lives, in the people he has placed around us, and in the tasks we are called to do.

May you continue to fall more deeply in love with Jesus.

May you take time to simply be in his presence.

May you trust his work in you.

May you be blessed as you follow where he leads.


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contemplativeactivistMicha Jazz August 24, 2012 - 1:30 am

Lovely! I enjoy aspects of Ignatius’ enthusiasm to explore the inner self so creatively and constructively. Th nurture the Godseed within each one of us so that we might flourish and flower as God intended. I also embrace Franciscan spirituality with its recognition of God in al of nature and follow the Franciscan way in the Friary here in UK. Wonderful and I must look to visit some tome and be enriched. Be encouraged in all you are doing, Paula, we appreciate you.

Paula Mitchell August 26, 2012 - 7:35 pm

Thank you so much for your kind comments. Your words of encouragement watered my soul. Blessings to you as well.

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