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?

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

vhovolsyr

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.

 

Snowstorm Sabbath

2015-02-26 09.01.32

One of my favorite things about living in the South is our kooky reaction to winter weather.  As the first flakes of frozen precipitation begin to fall from above, we feel compelled to act as if the sky itself is falling.  School is cancelled.  There is a run on the grocery store.  Motorists on all major thoroughfares immediately smash into fellow  vehicles.  We stack up our firewood, pile on the blankets, and drink mug after mug of hot chocolate.  It’s amazing.

We have just weathered one of those storms, and, as we emerge from the blizzard of 2016, I find myself realizing what it is that I love so much about our winter panic- in the midst of the storm, everything stops.  We stay at home.  Engage with our families.  Cook luxurious meals and excuse ourselves from going to work, to the gym, to board meetings and the other obligations that fill our days.  We shelter in place.

In essence, we take a sabbath.

I cannot tell you how much the last few days have meant to me.  I have had real conversations with my family.  I have gotten down on the floor and played with my children. I took moments to pet my dog.  Wash my dishes by hand.  Talk to my neighbors.  I have marveled at the beauty of nature, and listened to good music.  In essence, I have taken time to stop and truly enjoy this beautiful life I am living.

In typical Southern fashion, the weather today is heading towards 50 degrees.  On the street outside of my office I see people in winter parkas walking next to others in t-shirts.  And I find myself a bit sad about the thaw.  Because although I appreciate the return to normal patterns and schedules, I know I will miss the freedom and space created by the snow.

For the record, no, I am am not wishing for an eternal winter. But I do find myself asking what it is about these snow days that are so meaningful.  What practices can I carry forward into the sunshine?

Here are some questions I have been asking myself in the discovery process… maybe they will resonate with you as well:

What do I cherish the most about snow days?

What elements of this time can I begin to incorporate into my own sabbath practices?

How can I hold myself accountable to engage deeply in relationships with those I love in the midst of my busy-ness?

Are there any new traditions I can put in place in my life to capture some of this whimsy and peace I love so dearly?

the 8 o’clock rule

Earlier this year, I was reading a new book, A Woman in Youth Ministry, by Gina Abbas.  As she was talking about balancing life and work, she mentioned a rule that she and her husband had devised.  No matter what remains undone, they stop working after 8 PM.  Once the clock strikes 8, they are off the clock.  The rest of the evening remains for resting, spending time with each other, and reminding themselves that they are real adults who are allowed to relax and enjoy a portion of their day.

Wow.

For me, this has been a mental game changer in my life.  Giving myself permission NOT TO DO things.  My kids are usually in bed by 7:30, so that gives me a 30 minute window to get things done.  Get the leftovers put into the fridge, the dishwasher loaded.  Put my laundry away.  Clean up the living room.  But once 8 PM rolls around, I am done.

800-pm-clockBut what if there are still dirty pots on the stove?  That’s ok.  They will be there tomorrow.  But what if I still have to send a work email?  Do you really want people to expect you to be checking and sending work email at night?  But what if the living room is still covered in toys?  Well then the kids will have an easier time when they start to play in the morning.

I find this rule to be a great complement to the 20 mile march.  Because there are days (plenty of them), when the work doesn’t get done.  And knocking off after 14 or 18 miles… that is ok.  If I don’t carve out time for rest, renewal, and remembering to be myself, the chances that i will be successful tomorrow diminish as well.  Creating a rule for rest is something I find necessary, or else I won’t give myself permission to do it.  And isn’t rest, Sabbath, one of God’s priorities?  Sometimes checking out reminds me of my real importance (or lack of importance) in the world.  Reminding myself that things won’t crash down around me just because I am watching TV is a good thing.  A holy thing even.  We have a sustainer of the universe.  But it’s not me.

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
Mark 6:31

the 20 mile march

As I said in the last post, this is a series on principles of discipline that have resonated with me and help shape the way I live my everyday life.  Each principle is borrowed from someone else, so I will do my best to give credit where credit is due, while also talking about how it impacts my own life!

Jim Collins writes about the principle of the 20 mile march in his book Great by Choice.  In this book, he tells the story of two arctic explorers, Ronald Amundsen and Robert Falcon Scott.  In October of 1911, each man was leading a team of explorers in a race to be the first humans to traverse the 1400 miles of wilderness required to reach the South Pole.  While both teams were 20 mile marchsimilar in makeup, Amundsen and Scott differed greatly in approach.  Scott took each day as it came, on clear days his team would press on until exhaustion, travelling the greatest distance they could.  On days with poor weather, his team would remain at camp, not venturing out into the storm.  Amundsen’s team had a different strategy.  No matter how the day dawned, his team had the same goal- 1/4 of a degree latitude- or 15 to 20 miles per day.  On stormy days they would press ahead, eyes fixed upon their goal.  On clear days when they could have done more, they would rest, knowing that their task had been achieved.  Each explorer could justify their approach… yet, Admunsen’s team reached the South Pole a full month before the other team.  Once they got there, they turned around and headed back home, 20 miles at a time.  Scott’s team reached the South Pole, but perished on the return journey, exhausted and depleted.

I have the reputation for being a voracious reader.  When people ask me how I read so much, my answer seems condescending: One chapter at a time.  I don’t mean to be rude, but that is truly how I get the reading done.  I promise myself that I will read one chapter per day.  That means, in a week or two, the book has been read.

The same with scripture- 3 chapters a day will allow you to read the entire Bible in a year.  Done.

Walking or running 3 miles each day helps ensure you that you will reach a 10,000 step goal each day.

When I walk into the office each morning, I make a practice of using the first 30 minutes to read and reply to each email in my inbox.

These small, achievable goals add up to progress.   1400 miles, one step at a time.  What small daily goals could you make part of your 20 mile march?  Would shifting your thinking to encapsulate this make you feel more in control of your life?  If you would, I would challenge you to take up the practice!  It has changed my life!

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.
Colossians 3:23

discipline

One thing that people frequently tell me is that they don’t know how I do it all.   For those of you who read this blog you know that I don’t particularly feel that accomplished any given day… but the fact remains that I do manage to hold down a full time job, feed and care for two tiny humans, and in general have friends, family, and meaningful relationships in my life.  And yes, that means that on any given day, I am getting a lot done!

Over the next few blogs, I am going to share a few ‘rules of life’ that I have found to be helpful in my daily life.  All three fall under one big umbrella: discipline.  Living a disciplined life isn’t something that Americans find particularly appealing.  We live in a binge and quit culture.  If we can’t read an entire book in a sitting, we put it down and never take it back up.  If we don’t master a new hobby or skill set in a quick amount of time, we throw up our hands in disgust.  If we don’t lose 5 pounds the first week of a new diet, we give up and dive headfirst into the nearest tub of ice cream.  I know- I do it too.

But I have found that, for me at least, the only way to truly grow as a person- or at this stage in my life, the only way to really get anything at all done (!)- is to have discipline in my approach.  To plan ahead, to make a goal, and then to chip away at that goal, one tiny bite at a time.

As Christians, discipline should be something that awakens a holy desire in us.  In fact, are Christ’s followers not called disciples?  Inherent in the title alone is the practice of daily devotion.  There was a time in my life when I was able to set crazy, ambitious goals, and then just do them.  To run half marathons.  To take up new hobbies.  To read 100 books in a year.  Those days came crashing to a halt the day my first child was born.  For a while, accepting this was really hard.  I didn’t realize how much of my identity was wrapped up in being a do-er.  A reader.  An artist.  A person who did fun things and had adventures.

To be fair, I still do all these things.  On a less grand scale.  With much planning.  And I still love doing them.  But there is less applause involved.  And part of my process of growing is realizing that this is ok.  Do I run so that I can casually wear the race t-shirt at social gatherings or drop stories about my latest training program?  Or do I run because I love being outside?  Because I realize that excersize is a vital part of my own self-care?  Because it feeds my soul?  Losing some of the external applause, while humbling, also sharpens my ears to the song my own soul sings when I do things just for the joy of doing them.

Yet running, just like reading God’s word or painting a canvas, isn’t always the thing that I want to do at any given moment.  How does one engage in doing things when we don’t feel like doing them?  Discipline.

pathI am a goal setter.  But I also recognize that setting achievable goals is an important practice.  10,000 steps per day.  One chapter of this book each night.  Paying attention to the food that goes into my mouth. The book takes longer to read.  The weight takes longer to melt away.. but it happens.

Once you start achieving your small goals, it is kind of amazing how fast those small goals add up to big ones.  1 book finished becomes 10, then 30.  A few ounces lost adds up to pounds.  A few rows of knitting turns into a baby blanket.  Slowly, one day at a time, you are reminded that you are a person that CAN do things, even if it takes longer.  But, paradoxically, these things become more precious for the effort that went into them…

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.