Today, I continue my ongoing series of conversations with published authors as I’m joined by Barb Szyszkiewicz, author of three beautiful new prayer resources from Our Sunday Visitor. I’m blessed to call Barb a friend “in real life”. When moments happen where I need an immediate prayer warrior on my side, my first text always goes to Barb. For her many gifts as a writer and editor, it’s her heart and commitment to living her faith in everyday ways that most touch my spirit and inspire me.
Barb Szyszkiewicz is a wife, mom of 3 young adults, and a Secular Franciscan. She is editor at CatholicMom.com. Barb enjoys writing, cooking, and reading, and is a music minister at her parish and an avid Notre Dame football and basketball fan. Find her blog at FranciscanMom.com.
Barb, congratulations on the release of your wonderful new projects with Our Sunday Visitor! Would you please briefly introduce yourself and your family to our readers?
Thank you, Lisa! My husband Steve and I have been married more than 30 years, and we have 3 children. Our older son and daughter are working and out on their own, and our younger son just moved to college for the first time, so we are figuring out the empty-nest thing now.
Let’s go through the projects individually, starting with your book The Handy Little Guide to Prayer. In my review of the book, I said it “packs a punch,” which I mean as a compliment! How do you describe this little guide to others?
The Handy Little Guide to Prayer is a pocket-size introduction to who, what, where, when, why, and how to pray, with extra advice for anyone who’s experiencing obstacles in their prayer life.
What went into making decisions about what to include in the guide? It’s both a primer for those who are new to prayer and a refresher for those who are lifelong prayer warriors. Was this intentional?
When Rebecca Martin, my editor at Our Sunday Visitor, approached me about writing this guide, she indicated that the goal was to explain “what it is, why it is important, and how Catholics can implement it in their lives.” I wanted to make sure that I covered all that I could in the limited space I had – and I wanted to cover the stumbling blocks that we all face when we pray. I didn’t want to give the impression that prayer always comes easily, because that’s not realistic and will lead to discouragement.
What did writing the guide do for your own prayer journey?
I was writing the guide during a challenging time in my prayer journey. My final outline was approved shortly before the coronavirus pandemic began in early 2020. When the churches in my area closed their doors, that meant I couldn’t go to daily Mass and I couldn’t pray in the Adoration Chapel. Our parish had perpetual Adoration up until that time, and I’d been keeping a regular holy hour since 2015. I really felt this lack. I’d sketched out the outline for the guide and the ideas for the first few chapters during my prayer time in the chapel. Suddenly I couldn’t go there, and suddenly my home was no longer quiet because my husband and younger son were both home 24/7, working and going to school. A lot of the second part of the guide, which I’d planned out ahead of all of that, turned out to be based on the struggles I faced in rebooting my own prayer life.
Along with The Handy Little Guide to Prayer, you have collaborated with illustrator Abigail Halpin to craft two editions of Simply Faithful: My Catholic Prayer Journal – one for Our Lady of Lourdes and one for The Sacred Heart. Like me, I know you love paper and pens! How did these journals come about? How does it feel to pray and write with them yourself?
I do love paper and pens … but I have to admit that I haven’t begun using these journals myself except to do a pen test for a prayer journaling webinar! This is because there are still empty pages in the other 2 journals I have going right now, so I don’t want to waste those. I’m almost at the end of the journal I keep in my tote bag for Adoration, so one of these will land in there very soon.
As with The Handy Little Guide to Prayer, the publisher invited me to consider working on these journals. It was fun to brainstorm the list of 10 ways to use a prayer journal – and I’m sure there are many more ways that I couldn’t fit on that page!
I found my research for the Our Lady of Lourdes journal particularly fulfilling. I’d read Song of Bernadette, but I wanted to rely on a nonfiction source. Fr. Jim Phalan, C.S.C., the National Director of Family Rosary and chaplain of CatholicMom.com, guided me to Bernadette Speaks, a biography by René Laurentin. This beautiful book helped me learn more about the message of Our Lady of Lourdes for Bernadette and for all of us.
For someone who has never really prayed before, where would you start?
I would recommend one of two things: psalms or music. I note in the guide that “the book of Psalms is a prayer book, right inside the Bible. … Within the psalms, you can find prayers of all kinds.” If you want to praise God, try 62, 95, 100 or 150. If you want to express sorrow for your sins, try 51 or 130. To give thanks, try 16, 92, or 116. And if you want to approach God with your needs or those of others, try 27, 86, or 102.
As an amateur church musician with 40 years of singing and playing under my belt, music is always a go-to way for me to pray. But you don’t have to sing or play music yourself to pray with music. Turn on a Christian radio station; find a favorite hymn on Spotify; read the lyrics to a hymn from your church hymnal, and then contemplate the message in the lyrics.
If folks are feeling “blocked” or discouraged in their prayer journey, what words of encouragement or hope would you offer?
Don’t give up! If someone claims that they’ve never had a hard time in prayer, they’re not being honest with you. You won’t always feel something. You won’t always get the answer you’re hoping for. The best thing you can do is to go to God with your discouragement, in spite of your discouragement. Use your journal to write God a letter about that – that’s a prayer!
Are there any additional thoughts you’d like to share?
Thanks very much for the opportunity to share these resources with your readers, and for all your encouragement.
Copyright 2021 Lisa M. Hendey
Images courtesy of Barb Szyszkiewicz, all rights reserved.
About the Author
Lisa M. Hendey is the founder of CatholicMom.com, a bestselling author and an international speaker. A frequent radio and television guest, Hendey travels internationally giving workshops on faith, family, and communications. Visit Lisa at LisaHendey.com or on social media @LisaHendey for information on her speaking schedule or to invite her to visit your group, parish, school or organization. Visit Lisa's author page on Amazon.com.