Practice

Ever notice how yoga teachers are always thanking you for joining their practice that day? I used to think it was a humble brag, like look I can pretzel my legs behind my neck while reading a magazine but I’m calling it practice so you can tell me how awesome I am. But now I realize that it’s something different altogether. Practice as a way of life, as a way of centering yourself, honing your skills, training  your muscles and ingraining your craft into your very bones. 

I am reading two amazing books right now… You Are What You Love by James K. A. Smith and Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Wilson. Both books focus on the premise that souls are calibrated by more than just facts. That right thinking isn’t the end goal of discipleship. Rather, our daily practices, our actions and reactions, the way we live our lives, reflect the true desires of our heart. And the only way to become more fully aligned with Christ, to issue in the Kingdom of Heaven, is to intentionally shape and reshape our daily practices to point us more closely to God.

For years, I had an ingrained daily habit of ‘quiet time’. However, when my son was born, all of a sudden I had a LOT more going on. Free time was at a minimum. Free hands were inconceivable. And add to that some Big Feelings that I was reluctant to face head on. The thought of journaling filled me with anxiety. And so, I put the journal away. And have only picked it up sporadically since. 

Interestingly enough, it was about the same time that I felt like I was becoming unmoored in my spiritual life. I felt like it was harder to hear from God, harder to feel centered and secure in my relationship with him. I told myself it was because my journaling had become an idol – a way to ‘check off’ my good behavior for the day. That I felt like I wasn’t feeling God’s presence because I wasn’t stuck in my old habit. But, what if I was feeling this way because I had simply walked away from over a decade of daily spiritual practice? What if it was neglecting a way that my soul connects with God, a way I had learned to process my thoughts and feelings and lay them before the Throne? 

If what we do shapes who we are, then our daily practice, the times when we intentionally engage with God, become all the more vital. Not in a legalistic way – having a quiet time or not does not change God’s love for you. But does it change our consciousness of him? Or does it change us? Is fasting for God, or is it meant to remind us the true source of our daily bread?  Does God keep record of how much we read his Word? Or does reading the Bible make us more fully aware of who God is?

In the past few weeks, I have resolved to start journaling again. Not because I ‘should’, but because I want to. Because I want to more fully attune my soul to my savior. To remind myself of what matters and how the pattern of my days point to God’s work in my life. To remember my prayers, and watch as God answers. To have tangible written proof of the story God is writing in my life.

Journaling isn’t a magic bullet. It’s not a must for being a good Christian. But it is a tool. A practice, if you will. A way to take the head knowledge of our redemption and pull it in to the center of who we are.

And as I proceed, I will continue to ask myself… how do the things I do point towards the things I love?

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Please Don’t Give Up Chocolate for Lent this Year…

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Today is Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent.  Which means that people all over the world will begin their Lenten fasts.  In my experience, however, these chosen fasts have more to do with crash dieting than with deepening one’s walk with Christ.

Having grown up in a tradition that didn’t talk that much about practicing Lent, I only had a vague idea of what Lent was as a high schooler.  If you were to ask 16 year old me what it meant to practice Lent, I probably would have told you that for 40 days before Easter you weren’t allowed to eat chocolate, soda, and you were supposed to go for a 3 mile run instead of watching TV every day.  In essence, Lent was a second shot at that failed New Year’s Resolution.  Other than the timing of the season, I didn’t know that Lent had all that much to do with God.

As an adult, I have come to understand what Lent means in the practice of the faith.  The season is meant to be a time of anticipation, a time of making room for Christ.  That is the purpose of a Lenten fast- to create a hunger for God, to create space in your life and your schedule to devote yourself to prayer and reflection.  In my thinking, the practice of Lent should draw you closer to God, creates a sense of fullness and satisfaction, not one of hunger or deprivation.  So let me ask you (humbly, gently); does giving up chocolate, caffeine, or fast food really create room and awareness of God in your life?

Is there another practice that could better accomplish that purpose?

I so often see people (and have been guilty myself) of choosing something for a fast that is really more of a diet plan.  In my mind I am thinking I am doing this for God, but if I also happen to lose a bit of weight in the process, that’s ok too.  As I reflect upon this, I realize that that is dancing a line very close to idolatry.  What am I really pursuing in this goal?  To draw closer to Christ, or to draw closer to my goal of the perfect body?

In the past few years I have decided that instead of giving something up for Lent, I will instead add something.  A daily (or if that’s too hard, regular) practice that serves to draw me closer to my savior.  To more deeply connect me with the author of life. To invite me into a time of personal worship.  This year, I am going to try and set some time each day to create.  As an act of worship.  Acknowledging that I am formed in the image of my Creator.  That practice speaks deeply into my soul as something I need right now.  Perhaps there is something your heart is whispering to you that would draw you closer to God…

Time each day to walk, outside, appreciating God’s marvelous creation.

A family meal each week, set aside to connect with each other on a deeper level.

Worship music in your car on your morning commute.

Reading the Christian book that has been sitting on your nightstand for weeks.

My challenge to you is to use Lent to enrich your relationship with Christ in a way that has no other outside benefits.  Let your pursuit of Him for the next 40 days be unspoiled by other secondary goals.

And may the Peace of Christ be with you.

 

hot tea

Resolution #1: Drink More Hot Tea.

IMG_6688So here is the thing about hot tea.  It takes a while.  First, you have to boil the water.  Then, allow the tea to steep.  There is a ritual to the process.

Hot tea isn’t designed to be guzzled.  Gulping mouthfuls could pose an actual hazard to your health.   Just the act of preparing a cup of tea for yourself is a statement of intent.  I am investing 5 minutes in my own pleasure.  

I need that.

For me, drinking hot tea is an investment in my own personhood.  Every time I brew a cup, I am reminding myself that I, too, am a human to be taken care of.  I spend so much of my day in the service of others.  Spooning baby food into hungry mouths, wiping noses, racing to daycare, to work, to the store… Most of the time taking care of myself falls to the bottom of the list of urgent concerns.  So, when I fill my kettle, I am taking a moment to remind myself that I matter.  That investing in my own comfort isn’t wrong, but instead, can be an act of discipleship.  For I, too, am a person God dearly loves.  My feet, too, would be cleansed by our Savior.  He cares about me, not just those in my care.  And therefore, I should too.

The tea kettle also reminds me that not everything is a race.  It’s ok to stop and take a breath.  In fact, the world will not fall apart because you are choosing to alter your harried pace.  Moments when we choose to break the thought pattern of hurry are essential.  It not only reminds us that we aren’t in control, but it also acknowledges the One who is. I can grind my teeth at a redlight, drum my fingers on the steering wheel and curse the city manager who CLEARLY HAS NO IDEA HOW TO TIME STOPLIGHTS (and I do), or I can take that moment to stop the insanity.  Breathe deeply.  Notice the world around me, engage with the children in my backseat.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.
Luke 10:38-42

I spend so much of my life in Martha mode.  Intending to spend time at the Lord’s feet, but knowing the practical things that need to get done.  In my mind, these things must be done first, before I am free to rest.  And it’s true.  People need to be fed.  Things need to be cleaned.  I need to pick my kids up from school and to go to work.  But if I wait to sit at God’s feet until all those tasks are finished, I will never get there.  I need moments where I choose to remind myself that God is in control and I am not, that my time and my schedule and my mental to do list is not the most important thing.  Drinking tea has become a daily metaphor of that to me- reminding me to be a Mary, not a Martha.

You are Enough

I feel it so deeply. The need to achieve. The pull to perform, to receive the inevitable accolades, compliments, comments “I don’t know how you do it all…”

But here is the truth.

I can’t do it all.

My life is a permanent tug of war. One length of rope, being mercilessly yanked in different directions. And, just like in the playground game, one side is always winning. Which means, at the same time, one side is always losing. If I feel like I am doing well at work, it is at the expense of my family. When I am spending the time I desire to spend with my children, there is no time to spend in the Word. And almost daily, I feel as if every side is losing. Emails go unanswered. Prayers truncated. Frozen chicken nuggets for dinner. These are the realities of my life. These are the rhythms of my days.

I hate it. It’s not how I imagine things should be. And oh how I hate that word. Should. In 6 letters, the summation of all our unrealistic expectations, the thoughts that keep us up at night. The voice that whispers to us that we have failed. That we are insufficient. That we aren’t doing it right.

I could write a long, whiny, self indulgent essay all about the things I think I should be doing better and how I am habitually horrified when a call from work goes unreturned or I lose patience with my toddler. I will spare you. Trust me it happens. And it is humiliating, humbling. So utterly not me.

Not me to the point that I am questioning my life. Am I doing the right thing? Am I built to be a working mother? Should I be attempting to engage in vocational ministry at this stage in my life, or is this hubris, my selfish insistence I can do it all? In the process of this questioning, I have gone to so many others for council. My supervisor. My senior pastor. Spiritual directors. Other spiritual directors… And from them all, the message has been the same.

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

This is a chapter of your life where things will not get done in the way that you want them to get done, and that is okay. God has called you to this place, to this ministry, to this station in life. You. Are. Enough.

From all these people I respect, I have received the same answer. When you are raising young ones, that is your primary calling. It is ok to feel that this task takes all your free time. BECAUSE IT DOES. This is the time when you need help, not when you are free to help others. This is the time in life where you get through the day and fall into bed exhausted. The time for reading trade paperbacks, not national book award winners. The time when your quiet time looks much more like a whisper of Lord help me than an in depth study of the scriptures. And I say this not as an excuse, but as a benediction. Be where you are, be who you are, and know that that is sufficient. Do what gives you life, and allows you to nourish the lives of the others in your care. Realize that God’s presence and love is a constant, not dependent on what you do or achieve. Lean into that. Rest in it.

Friend, receive this message today. If you are like me, it is a hard one to hear. It involves an element of sacrifice, and humility. But it is true.

You are enough.

Take a deep breath and sit with those words, let them settle into your bones. Allow the truth of that to seep into your soul. You are enough. God has called YOU into the situation in life you find yourself in, and, if you rest in that truth, you realize that your gifts, your availability, your constraints, are all part of God’s good plan.

Ecclesiastes 3:10-13
I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.

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the Garden

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Now Judas, who betrayed him, knew the place, because Jesus had often met there with his disciples.
John 18:2

A lot of times I get the feeling that I am an expert on Jesus.  After all, I have been a lifelong Christian.  I have read the Gospels.  I can spout couplets from the Sermon on the Mount, and I have heard the teachings of Jesus discussed in countless sermons, books, Sunday school lessons, small group conversations.

But all I know of Jesus is what is printed in the Bible.  The disciples knew the real man.  Spent countless hours with him.  Judas knew to find Jesus in the garden, because Jesus was there so often.  It was their ‘place.’

photo (8)Where is your place with God?  

Do you have a ‘holy chair’, a regular meeting place where you go to be in God’s presence?  While that piece of furniture or corner of your house may not be holy in itself, the moments created there are.  I think that there is a great value to ritual.  Research has shown that our recall ability is improved when we are in a similar context as we were when the memory was made.  But  I would make the argument that we can condition our minds to focus as well.  Returning to the same spot, brewing the same mug of hot tea, murmuring the same prayer, all these can serve as markers for our minds, prompts to put us in a mental space to encounter the Holy.

Who do you meet with on a regular basis?

If you know me, this is a drum that I beat often.  Perhaps it is because I work at a church, and so Sunday mornings are often work days for me, but I really feel that my small groups are where I grow in my faith the most.  Sitting with a group of trusted people and wrestling with the Word together.  Talking through the real life struggles of being a wife and a mother and a worker and a Christian.  Admitting when we don’t know things, and working together to find God’s truth.  I think Jesus met regularly with his disciples because this is how we grow.  So who do you meet with?

John 18

photo 5I think I have written on here before, but in 2014, my goal is to read through the Book of John.  Thoroughly.  Just one time through.  Just one book.  Most passages I have read several times. Some I have read over and over.  And then, about a month ago, I slammed into a brick wall.  Just stopped reading.

Why?

Well, let’s call a spade a spade. I am a mom of two, one still a baby. I am a youth minister in the middle of a school year in full swing.  My days are full, and in those moments of solitude I carve out, the siren song of my pillow often sings more seductively than I would like to admit.

But there is something else.  In the back of my mind I knew I was there.  The crucifixion.  The ugliest point of our human condition.  The pain, the violence. The howling of the crowds, the apathy of the masses, the evil of our spiritual elite.  Blood and thorns and darkness.  I didn’t want to go there.  I didn’t want to wade into the midst of it, to see my face in the crowds.  And yet, here I am.

Have you read it?  Not read it in the sense of letting the words pass through your eyes… but really read it?  Immersed yourself in the story?  The prayer in the garden, spring wind whispering through olive trees.  The rattling of armor.  The kiss, the chaos, the trial.  In my mind, there are just a few central characters in this story, and yet in the reading, dozens more surface.  There are so many lessons to be taught, side notes about humanity- our weaknesses and our proclivities.  And through the midst of it all, the thin golden thread of grace.

I am going to be digesting the story a bit in the next few blog posts, but before I do, I challenge you to read it yourself, and see what God brings forth in your mind as you do.