This New Year, Try a Spiritual Diet

In March of 2020, when the pandemic fully hit New York City, I couldn’t sleep well for weeks. I was constantly worried about the state of the world and the health of my family, who were all either doctors, nurses, or in law enforcement. I tried many things to relax: melatonin supplements, gallons of tea, Netflix binges. When those didn’t quite cut it, I started a healthy diet and regular exercise routine. This helped, but I soon came to realize that, while attending to my physical body, I should simultaneously focus on my heart and mind for a good holistic lifestyle. So, I took on a “spiritual diet,” which gave me the peace I so desperately craved. I plan to continue the following practices in 2021:

Make prayer active

I’ve discovered that the Rosary helps center my prayer life. I like how I don’t have to pray its entirety in one sitting and can split the decades throughout the day or week. Since I work remotely now, I go on daily hour-long walks for some necessary leg-stretching and existence outside of my home. I use these walks as an opportunity to intersect my physical and spiritual diets, as offering up physical exercise to God is a great way to stay in shape for both. I take my single-decade rosary with me and pray as I walk, sometimes dedicating each bead to a specific intention. Praying the Rosary makes me feel directly connected to God, and Mary in particular. I often speak conversationally to her in between the beads.

Embrace spiritual streaming

As I make breakfast or do household chores, I pop in my wireless headset and listen to podcasts and radio shows, especially the Busted Halo Show and Seize the Day with Gus Lloyd on Sirius XM, Poco a Poco podcast by the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal, and Friars’ Homilies on the Franciscan Friars of the Atonement Facebook page. These programs infuse my daily routine with messages of hope and reminders of how to live faithfully. Similarly, I curate a spiritual music playlist, with songs like “Come Follow Me” by Brother Isaiah, “Lord, I Need You” by Matt Maher, and “Baba Yetu” by Alex Boyé, which is a beautiful rendition of the “Our Father” in Swahili. Yet another form of prayer, listening to music helps me feel the Lord’s presence.

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Build up to daily devotions

This year, I read the daily Scripture passages in “The Word Among Us,” which you can also find on the United States Conference for Catholic Bishops site. I plan to dive further into spiritual writings from Catholic saints and writers, beginning with the books “With God in Russia” by Jesuit priest Walter Ciszek, “Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi by Fr. Richard Rohr, and “A Simple Path” by St. Teresa of Calcutta. To start small, however, you can sign up for daily or weekly email blasts. When I take a quick break from work, instead of looking at social media, I read a daily devotional from “Blessed Is She” or prayer meditations from Franciscan Media and Loyola Press. This helps me understand God’s word more deeply and reflect on how God’s message reveals itself in my life. Like nutritious food in a healthy diet, reading and music nourish our spirits by drawing us closer to the Lord.

Count blessings, not calories

The main aspect of my spiritual diet, which I needed most in my 2020 state of anxiety, was practicing gratitude. Rather than counting calories, a spiritual diet asks us to count our blessings. When so much uncertainty and anxiety surrounds us, this exercise is both soothing and liberating. I thanked the Lord each day for keeping my family safe. While I missed seeing my coworkers, I was grateful to have a job and be able to work from my beautiful garden at home. Considering everything I was grateful for, all the big and little daily blessings, made me realize God’s love and mercy for us, even in trying times. This was an exercise I definitely wanted to make a habit of, because being grateful turns our praises to the Lord, as all good things come from him. It cultivates an authentic appreciation and love for God and his bountiful grace.

I don’t do everything I listed here every single day (I wish I could!). But I try to do something, at least one of these things, every day. The best part is, all you need to do is start. Choose one practice and pick up others as you see fit. The idea is to grow joyfully closer to the Lord and to nourish your soul. That’s the kind of diet I can readily sign up for.