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Catholic Spiritual Direction

How do I get my focus back?

July 17, 2011 by  
Filed under Fr. Bartunek, Spiritual Life

Dear Father John, As I have grown spiritually I have noticed that I don’t have the same interest and level of ambition for things in my life like I used too. For example, I used to work fairly hard at keeping the house clean, the yard well-kept, the car shiny, etc. This caused a lot of stress and yelling on my part, as I tried frantically to “do it all”. Then I began thinking that I was doing things for the wrong reasons. That God didn’t care about the house, yard, or car. Or at least not as much as I did. And that God preferred that I slowed down and became more patient, etc. I realized pride and ego were driving mist of my life. I started re-prioritizing and began spending more time on Scripture study, prayer, spiritual reading, adoration, etc. I also began ignoring “worldly ambition” as I saw that it was not leading me closer to Christ. The problem is that I feel adrift a lot of the time. I still have the same work and family responsibilities as before, and I do what needs to be done, but I don’t feel that desire to keep up appearances and to keep up with the neighbors. Without that drive I find myself getting lazier and lazier. And procrastinating more and more. I used to know what was important and what I should be working towards, but now it is all very hazy. How do I get my focus back?

The spiritual life has two main sectors. It looks like you have been moved by the Holy Spirit to focus fruitfully on one sector for a while. And it looks like now the Holy Spirit is nudging you to add some time and effort to the second sector.

Sector #1: The first sector is weeding out self-centered attitudes and behaviors. If you were being productive before, but doing it out of self-centered motives, you were certainly right to slow down so that the Lord could realign your heart. Your increase of time spent in prayer, spiritual reading, and other faith-centered activities created some space for God to give you a more Christ-centered vision of yourself, of Him, and of the world. With his help, you pulled up a lot of weeds that were choking the garden patch of your soul. But just like the parable in the Gospels, where a man sweeps out his house and gets rid of all the devils, only to have seven more devils find it later one and move back in (Cf. Luke 11), we all have tendencies to revert to self-centeredness if we only stay focused on that first sector. Besides, we also get bored.

Sector #2: Remember the passage when Jesus calls his Apostles? You can find it in Mark 3. He actually calls the Twelve aside, and he chooses them to be his Apostles, the Twelve. It’s the model passage for the call every one of us receives from Christ, in a unique and personal way. But the essential structure of the call is the same for each. It has two versants. Jesus sets aside his chosen ones, “that they might be with him and he might send them forth to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mark 3:14-15). In this verse you find the answer to your question. You have responded to Christ’s call to “be with him,” to develop a life of prayer, to get to know his teaching, to spend time in his presence – sector 1. Now it is time for you to take up the baton of your mission as his ambassador in this world. He wants to send you out as his witness, his representative, his solder, to spread the light of his truth and to roll back the forces of evil.

Where to Go?: Where does he want you to go? Start close to home. Your first mission field is your immediate sphere of influence: family, parish, work, friends… How can you serve those people better? How you can place your gifts and talents at their service? How can you better mirror God’s goodness to them and help each of them discover God’s love, or if they have discovered it already, how can you encourage and help them to live more and more in accordance with it? You may also have an opportunity to bear witness in a wider scope, depending on the possibilities God’s Providence has given you.

What to Do?: What does he want you to do? You spread Christ’s light in three ways –the three W’s.

First your way of being. The poise, elegance, simplicity, kindness, balance, responsibility and humble charm with which you strive to do all your normal activities (chores, conversations, tasks…) can, with God’s help, send forth the “sweet aroma of Christ” (2 Corinthians 2:15).

Second, your words. Words are so powerful! We should always speak so as to help shed light, encourage, bring joy, avoiding all unnecessary criticism, along with gossip, detraction, and calumny: “Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). Growth in this area will boost your entire spiritual life, and always give you more to shoot for, more ways to show and grow your love for God: “For we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to bridle the whole body as well” (James 3:2).

Third, your works. As Christians, not a day should go by without our taking the initiative to serve someone in need, whether the need is physical, emotional, or spiritual. We are members of the Body of Christ – we are his hands and feet in this world. (A wise guide for this aspect of our mission in life is the traditional “works of mercy”, which you can find listed in the Catechism, here.) You may also experience a strong desire in your heart – which could be a call from God – to get involved in a specific ministry or apostolate. More and more often now, lay men and women are being moved by the Holy Spirit to take the initiative in the New Evangelization and put their talents and experiences directly at the service of the Church’s evangelizing mission. See Catholics Come Home or Pure Fashion, for example. These two new, creative (and effective!) apostolates were both started by lay people. In short, you are like St Paul. God has given you a vision of the light, and it has changed the direction of your interior life. Now you need to pray what St Paul prayed, getting ready for a new adventure: “Lord, what do you want me to do?” (Acts 22:10). As you begin to dedicate energy and time to developing this second sector – sowing new plants in the garden of your soul, not just pulling out the weeds – you will find once again the focus and the enthusiasm that you feel is missing. It is in loving – that’s what this is all about, loving more, loving as Christ loves, putting one’s own life at the service of others simply for their good – that the fire of your heart will be rekindled. And furthermore, your interior life, your “being with Christ” will also be affected. You will find that you experience more intensely your need for God’s grace. You will find a more fervent desire to encounter Christ and know him better. You will find that you have more – and more, and more, and more – to learn from and more to say to the Lord.

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About Fr. John Bartunek, LC

Fr. John Bartunek, LC, S.Th.D, received his BA in History from Stanford University in 1990. He comes from an evangelical Christian background and became a member of the Catholic Church in 1991. After college he worked as a high school history teacher, drama director, and baseball coach. He then spent a year as a professional actor in Chicago before entering the religious Congregation of the Legionaries of Christ in 1993. He was ordained a Catholic priest in 2003 and earned his doctorate in moral theology in 2010. He provided spiritual support on the set of Mel Gibson’s "The Passion of the Christ" while researching the 2005 Catholic best seller "Inside the Passion"--the only authorized, behind-the-scene explanation of the film. Fr. John has contributed news commentary regarding religious issues on NBC, CNN, Fox, and the BBC. He also served as the English-language press liaison for the Vatican’s 2005 Synod of Bishops on the Eucharist. His most widely known book is called: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer". He has also published four other titles: "Seeking First the Kingdom", "Answers: Catholic Advice for Your Spiritual Questions", "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation". Fr. John currently splits his time between Rome and Rhode Island, where he teaches theology as an adjunct professor at the Pontifical Athenaeum Regina Apostolorum and at Mater Ecclesia College. He is also continuing his writing apostolate with online retreats at and questions and answers on the spiritual life at FATHER JOHN'S BOOKS include: "The Better Part: A Christ-Centered Resource for Personal Prayer", "Inside the Passion"--The Only Authorized Insiders View of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, "Meditations for Mothers", and "A Guide to Christian Meditation".

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  • Lyonsjoan

    Thank you for the sensible, wise guidance.  I particularly like the structure of your message.  The two sectors of our life to take  care of: one in weeding out the clutter and two in answering God’s call.  The three Ws are simple and direct: way of being, words we speak, and works we do.  As a homemaker, thank you for the recipe for spaciouness in our soul and grace in our life. Joan

    • JustMe

      My thoughts exactly.  :)

  • S Tattersfield

    Dear Father John

    Here in Windsor, Berkshire UK I thought what a particularly good answer to this lady’s question you gave. An inspiration to us all. Especially us retired folk.

    Yours in Christ

    Simon Tattersfield

  • Chris

    It never ceases to amaze me the way the Holy Spirit works!  Whatever question is foremost in my mind at any particular moment I always stumble across a Faith resource to answer it.

    I am also struggling with a blasé attitude toward all things “of this world” even to the point of really struggling to have any sort of motivation at work.  I almost feel like I am wasting my time becaue I’m not more fully doing what God has sent me here to do.

    The answer given, father, was outstanding and I clearly need more prayer to discern my vocation. 

    Thank you and God Bless.

  • Jeanette

    I am in that same place. God is before me night and day for seven months now. Activities that I used to find pleasure in do not attract me now and it has been bothering me but I don’t feel the desire to continue them…it would take some will power to restart them again and I would feel that I’m wasting my time. I take delight in the Lord and whatever time I have outside of my duties, I spend with Him. Jesus is teaching me very much during this time. I try to ‘go with the flow’ of His grace and inspiration. Last night interiorly He said to me: “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all the nations.” You have succinctly given me a guideline in your article that agrees with the inspirations I have been getting….a more outward show of love for others…the merciful deed, the merciful word and the merciful question. This article is just what I needed to reemphasize what Jesus has been inspiring me to do. Thank you for being here when I need your help.

  • C J Sebastian

    Fr John: I’m especially drawn to the common thread running through your entire response, i.e., way of life. Being Christian truly is a way of life, it is a work in progress. Someone once told me that during the course of one day we fall at least 7 times, the message: the idea is to get back up, to pick up my cross and carry it. Thank you Fr. John. And, thank you to the individual who posed the question – you’re Christian desire is heart warming.  :)

  • Kristin Palermo

    This is an awesome post! Thank you!!

  • Julie

    Thank you, Fr. Bob!  This fits in so wonderfully with yesterday’s Gospel about the weeds growing alongside the wheat….  I could have written this letter because I’m feeling the same way… The 3 W’s really help regain and clarify my perspective on how to serve and love God in my daily life.    Julie A.

  • Ltqlin

    I agree, there is ALWAYS “more”!! :)


    I love the post im going to follow  but still father,
    I have a question when can , Notice that im not following Jesus !!!! 
    which are those sings or red lights ????? Thanks in advance !!!!! 

  • Gordon

    Excellent response.

  • Becky Ward

    If cloning wasn’t against our religion you’d be a worthy candidate Fr. John!!  :)

    I would just add a reminder of the need for balance, and to be watchful for attacks and temptations – from the world, self, and devil -, in regard to productivity.  

    Part of my journey is that I quit working away from home, and I am called to a more prayerful life, which ‘fits’ so well that I know it’s from God.  And because of this, I suffer frequenly from attacks and temptations to “Do something!!”  Prayer doesn’t often yeild tangible results……….and it’s a constant challenge for me to trust in this ‘call’. 

    Our journeys are unique………..and the Lord knows the path by which He guides each of us.  If we trust in Him and His enormous love for us we’ll be okay………..even if we remain in a state of uncertainty about some things.

  • woody

    Father John: I have been in this place for some time and struggling.  Thank you for your wisdom and guidance.

  • kantoi09

    How do we know if God is calling us to the second sector? The past two years I have spent time seeking time with God, PRAYING more, asking him the deeper questions , receiving the Eucharist more often and addressing my sins and repenting. I feel called now to serve Him by being a light to others. But I still think that I am not ready because of the weeds still present in my garden. I feel like I could have done more to remove those weeds. And even though I spent more time with the Lord and seeking Him. There is still a lot more that can and could have done like praying the rosary , making more time to be alone with Him, receiving Eucharist more often and forgiving others more. How do we truly know that we are called to enter the second sector especially when we see have so much more work left in 1st sector because of our own mistakes and dragging our feets.

  • Ea985381

    Thank you for a thorough explanation of what we can generally expect when we come from the world view of doing to that of Christ’s view. I too struggle with the question “where do you want me Lord?” Indeed I shall reflect on Acts 22:10.

  • Guest

    As usual, Fr. John, your response to the question is brilliant.  No doubt many of us identify ourselves with the questioner at some stage in our lives.  Yes, I once had to ask God what He wanted me to do with my life. Where He wanted me to serve Him because I sensed my solitary daily Spiritual Time-Table needed to expand and include others…. In the past, my life had revolved around my husband, my children and my career and when this stage of life was concluded, I had no desire to start reaching out to others.  I also lost my earlier interest in the development and the political dynamics of our country. I had been a very active and well informed political and social commentator over the years – prior to, and after the attainment of our Independence in 1963….. So, I turned to my God to show me what He has planned for the penultimate leg of my life.  He led me to the Eucharistic Apostles of the Divine Mercy. In this Apostolate, my Spiritual Life has found fulfillment.  Taking the Message of the Divine Mercy Devotion to urban and rural Parishes of our Dioceses and Archdioceses, participating on our Weekly Cenacle Meetings, being a Member of the Parish Development Committee of our Holy Family Minor Basilica and daily living the Spiritual life of an Eucharistic Apostle of the Divine Mercy, makes my Spiritual journey edifying – notwithstanding the frequent falls along the slippery route.  And landing on this Website has opened more Spiritual horizons such that I thank God for all the good work you are doing to walk with us. God bless you always

  • Renee

    And I thought… it was just me.  Thank you so much for this post.