Watch the Birds of the Air

“Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?”

Jesus, Matthew 6: 26-27

Talking about how not to worry, Jesus suggested that we look at the birds. Mindfully observing birds today is a wonderful mindfulness exercise.

This year, many of us get to observe spring as never before. Take a good long look at what’s outside your window. It is a sign from God.

Put Up Verses of Hope

Write out a verse of hope on a 3 x 5 card or anything that’s handy. Post it somewhere where you wait for brief periods on a regular basis. For example, I have verses on top of the microwave, beside my laptop and by the Keurig machine in my husband’s office. We need to change them out on a regular basis so we keep consciously seeing them.

Here are some verses to consider:

Why are you downcast, o my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my savior and my God. (Psalm 42:11)

Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God. (1 Peter 1:21)

Therefore prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. (1 Peter 1:13)

Which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)

Be strong and take heart, all of you who hope in the Lord. (Psalm 31:34)

For you have been my hope, my sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. (Psalm 71:5)

For Worse? A Mindful Christian Approach to Marriage in Quarantine

My husband retired in January. Things have not been like I expected. First, my mother’s funeral was the day after he retired. Then came coronavirus. So far we have cancelled two vacations, losing money on both. At the same time, my engineer husband is closely observing the way I have managed our home. And he has suggestions. Many suggestions.

Our love languages also create a problem that we have to be mindful about. My husband’s primary love language is quality time … which is currently all the time. Out of the five love languages, that’s at the bottom for me. Even more challenging, my love language … gifts … is at his bottom.

So I order him gifts online, and he follows me around the house. Did I mention he is also making suggestions?

I looked for some support for this and found a good article in the New York Times: “Welcome to Marriage During the Coronavirus.” Author Jennifer Senior interviewed therapist Esther Perel who said some stylistic differences may be relevant to how well we are getting along with our spouses:

  • How we get information in a crisis: On a continuum, are you a news junkie/binger or do you say, “enough is enough” and turn off the source, be it TV or internet.
  • How consumed we get by the situation: Are you preoccupied with risk or focused on maintaining a normal life?
  • How you are handling your time: Are you structured and proactive in dealing with your days or are you passive and fatalistic?

Happily, my husband and I only differ on getting info. As a former journalist, I love input. (It’s my top strength in the Strength Finder.) But I am going his way and being very intentional about getting information only at set times.

Time magazine also got a list from couples’ therapists for getting along. Click here to read it. And here are my new ideas:

  • Pray together and do Bible study. Take the time to build your relationship with God. If you are listening, God will help to strengthen your marriage rather than tearing it down.
  • Stop criticizing each other. Viewing each other with compassion is truly a giant step. The late great Cokie Roberts once wrote: “You can tell the quality of your marriage by the number of teeth marks in your tongue.”
  • Spend some time apart every day.
  • Ramp up your own contemplative practice and mindfulness. It will help you stay calm enough to not be reactive.
  • Laugh. If you haven’t laughed hard by 7 p.m., watch, read or listen to something funny.

Protecting Yourself from Coronavirus Anxiety with Christian Mindfulness

Scary dreams and worries can kick off an overwhelming level of anxiety during this pandemic.

People who have existing issues with panic disorder, depression and generalized anxiety are almost certain to have more intense symptoms unless we take preventive measures. The symptoms can include digestive problems, dizziness, elevated heart rate, fatigue and insomnia, among other things.

I got the idea for this list from an article by Noma Nazish in ForbesLife and have adapted the list below to reflect a mindful Christian perspective.

Control what you can control. And that means you. Wash your hands. Stay six-feet away from people. Still, it helps to smile and be friendly when you pass people from this distance. We also can pray for each person we pass on the street or in the park.

Schedule times for prayer and quiet. If you don’t already have a routine for regular prayer during the day, it’s a great time to start. An alarm on my phone reminds me to stop about every three hours to pray or read Christian materials. Sarah Young’s books, starting with Jesus Calling, are excellent. Her app is very good as well. I also use materials in apps like Pray-As-You-Go, the NIV Bible, Ending Your Day Right, Centering Prayer and the Divine Office.

Make this a good time for your children or grandchildren. Our attitudes will decide how the kids remember this time. Model faith, calm and self-care. Let your kids talk through their fears and concerns. Make sure you find some ways to have fun together.

Use block scheduling to set up a routine. Setting up a routine will help to keep you and your family focused on the good. Block scheduling – setting aside an hour or two for each major kind of activity – has been very useful. Activities can include: reading, homeschooling, housework, paperwork, making things, exercise, shopping online, etc.

Reduce your exposure to news and social media. I look at my social media channels once a day. I also read the COVID-19 round-up on my Associated Press app and one local news app in the morning and at night. We do watch the PBS NewsHour as well. Other than that, I try to concentrate on my own life. I think the most reliable sources of information are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), WebMD, the Weather Channel’s COVID-19 section, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the John Hopkins’ Coronavirus Resource Center.

Stay connected to family and friends. This is the era of FaceTime calls and Zoom/Skype meetings. There’s also the good old-fashioned phone call and new-fashioned texting. Make an effort to cheer your friends and family up. It will cheer you up, too.

Do a daily stress-reduction exercise. My isolation gift to myself was a subscription to the Breethe app, which is offering specific relaxation exercises regarding coronavirus anxieties. I also use Calm, Meditation Oasis and the Cleveland Clinic’s Stress Meditation. The relaxation exercise is on my block schedule for a specific time in the afternoon.

Eat well. Stress eating is one of my problems, but I do know that mindfully choosing to eat a nutritious meal before I can have my salty/sweet treat is cutting down on the overeating.

Get out in the fresh air and sunshine. Take a daily walk. Set up your patio furniture early or sit out on your porch to read.

Be the hands and feet of Christ. Get involved in helping other people during this time. Your church may have ideas. You also can call a humanitarian organization to see if you can help. Many people are helping from home by calling others to see how they are doing.

Like everything in life, this crisis is offering opportunities to grow as Christians.

A Mindfulness Exercise: How Many Times Do You Touch Your Face?

If you’re like me, you’ve discovered how unmindful you are about touching your face. All the health care professionals tell us NOT to do it. It turns out that I do it all the time.

I’m not alone. A 2015 study in the American Journal of Infection Control found that people touch their faces more than 20 times an hour on average. That involving touching their eyes, noses or mouth about 44 percent of the time.

Of course, our hands are constantly touching contaminated surfaces. The goal is to stop our hands from getting the pathogens into the body through our mucous membranes (in other words, the eyes, nose and mouth) that give them a clear shot into our throats and lungs.

What we are most worried about is the coronavirus, of course. So it’s a great time to be mindful about our hands and our face. This is hard, because so much is unconscious. Scientists suggest that we make it harder by wearing gloves, but that’s really not a real-world solution at this time with the lack of gloves and the reality that we are at home.

So take some time to be more aware of your hands. Thank God for them and pray for support in using them more consciously. When you do find yourself touching your face, count it. The rising total for the day can make you more conscious as well.

Mary’s Courageous “Yes”

When I get a chance to have a conversation with the Virgin Mary … imagine the line in heaven … I would like to ask her how she had the courage to say yes to Gabriel’s invitation to become the mother of Jesus.

She trusted God beyond any measure. She believed that she could have God’s baby. And she believed that it would be worth any pain that she would have to endure. After the baby was born, she was told that the pain would be like a sword going through her soul.

I would love to know how she grew up and how she learned about God. What experiences did she have that allowed her to love that deeply, to trust that fully?

After nearly 60 years of faith, I still struggle with understanding what God wants me to do and having the trust to do it. Mary is our example, and I love her for it.

How Christian Mindfulness Exercises Are Different

Secular or Buddhist mindfulness exercises help people. That’s a fact proven by research. Christian mindfulness exercises are similar, but different.

First, they help us grow closer to God as well as becoming more present. We believe that God exists in the present moment. (Our view of the past is flawed. Our thoughts about the future are just our imaginations. Only in the present can we be sure we find God.)

Second, we have a partner in our endeavor: the great God of the universe, who says in James 4:8: “Come near to God and He will come near to you.”

There’s a free PDF from Kenneth Boa and Jenny Abel packed with Christian mindfulness exercises to try. It’s called “A Guide to Practicing God’s Presence: A Companion Guide to Life in the Presence of God.” You can download it by clicking here.

I’m going through these exercises to see which work best for me, and I invite you to accompany me. Here’s the first one.

Record exactly what you are grateful for daily in these four categories:

  • The glory of God’s creation
  • A material blessing
  • A person in your life
  • A spiritual blessing

Then pray and thank God for each item. This is a good start to a new practice or a great addition to any gratitude practice we already have.

Mindful Christian Transitions When You Don’t Get to Leave

Staying in the house means that the transition times between work/home life — or even ending one task and starting another — are blurred. Here’s a Christian mindfulness exercise to help in those transitions.

  1. When you finish your work or your task, stop to close your eyes and listen to your breathing.
  2. Lift up your heart to God in prayer, asking Him to bless what you have just done. Stay quietly in your prayer for a few minutes, releasing your tension and lifting up your spirit.
  3. Then ask a blessing on your next task or transition, such as “Lord, please use my work for the highest good.”
  4. If you are moving from work to family time, take a few more minutes to tell yourself that you are done working for the day. Some people benefit from changing their clothes or taking a walk around the outside of the house to make the transition.

Hope in a Time of Pandemic

But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

Romans 8:25 NIV

Lately I feel a bit like the Lloyd Bridges character in “Airplane” who picked a bad day to give up all his addictions. I picked hope as my word for Lent, long before I knew I would be cloistered in my home. (Not quarantined, folks. Cloistered. It’s a choice.)

When you hope for what you do not see (i.e. the end of this pandemic), we have to wait. Patience is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and we can ask for more of it.

In “Jesus Today,” Sarah Young suggests that we practice hoping for things we don’t see … even during good times. That includes things in this life and the next.

She also suggests that we ask Jesus to guide us into hopes and dreams in line with His will. Then we focus our eyes on Him as we wait for opportunities to do what He wants, praying for His will to be done.

Let’s do this together, no matter what scary thing happens next.

The Man God Depended On

In 1985, I had a baby at the same time that my then-husband developed a severe psychosis. I had a feeling that I would be raising my son alone. (I was right.) So I named him after the man I trusted could help me: Joseph.

Today we celebrate Joseph of Nazareth, the man God depended on to help raise Jesus. The Bible tells us that Joseph was “just.” This doesn’t only mean that he was fair. He was aligned with doing God’s will, no matter what. Even when devastated by what he thought was Mary’s betrayal, he wanted to do the right thing.

And he did. He married Mary. He named Jesus. He woke up in the night and took his family to Egypt based on a dream. He brought them back to Nazareth. He lived with Jesus for an unknown number of years. He taught Him, and he learned from Him.

When the neighbors were astounded at Jesus’ teaching, they asked, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” Yes, he was. And I think there was a resemblance.

Be Cloistered Inside God’s Love

Mindful Christianity is abiding in Jesus moment by moment. The best description I’ve heard of this comes from Carl McColman:

“God is love. God loves all of us and wants us to experience abundant life. This means abiding in love — love of God and love of neighbors as ourselves. Through prayer and worship, meditation and silence, we can commune with God, experience His presence, have our consciousness transformed by His spirit, participate in His loving nature, and be healed and renewed in that love. This new life (what the New Testament calls ‘the mind of Christ’) will not only bring us joy and happiness (even when we suffer), but will also empower us to be ambassadors for God, to bring God’s love, joy and happiness to others.”

Carl McColman, “The Big Book of Christian Mysticism”

The call to envelop ourselves in God’s love does come at a price: the suffering Jesus paid in His crucifixion AND our need to relinquish “control.”

In these days of coronavirus, we can all see how little control we actually have over our lives. Perhaps this is the best possible time to live in God’s love and be God’s love to our families.

Praying Inside God’s Will

Quite a few of us are praying about COVID-19. I have a long list of people, groups, causes and places I love, which I pray for every day. The Lord has recently been prompting me to find a quieter way to pray inside His will.

Instead of having a long list of what I think SHOULD happen, I am just lifting up the individuals and the groups to God for His will to be done. I am no longer Mrs. God, handing the Lord his honey-do list.

After all, as Psalm 139:4 says, “Before a word is on my tongue, you know it completely, Oh Lord.”

God knows what we need. The purpose of prayer is to help us grow closer to God and to understanding His will. Just lifting up a person or a cause before the Lord and asking that His will be done is enough.

Get Hygge With This Very Long Sabbath

How many times have we whined that we were too busy? Well, nature just took care of that. When we are isolated / socially distanced at home, our attitude makes all the difference.

I’m challenging myself to see this period as an extended Sabbath that I can brighten with hygge elements, like candles, a fire, plenty of reading, and snuggling with my husband and cats.

During this Sabbath, I can spend more time in prayer, which is needed, and study. My husband is teaching himself to bake. I am finally going to read a foot-high pile of magazines. (I’m glad I didn’t listen to you about this, Marie Kondo.).

While I am an introvert who owns the book, “Sorry I’m Late. I Didn’t Want to Come,” I think reframing the concept of social distancing into something wonderful like a Sabbath will work even for extroverts.

This is the time to calm down and get caught up. Enjoy as best you can.

Give Intentional Compliments

With everyone hunkered down, it’s a good time to become intentional about giving at least one sincere compliment a day to family, friends or people who have inspired you.

My inbox is packed with emails about cancellations, closings and concern from everyone I have ever done business with, including museums I’ve visited once and shoe companies. So I imagine yours is, too.

It’s a perfect time to send a complimentary email. And those folks that are stuck with us at home deserve to know that we appreciate them. The more specific the compliment is, the better.

Resource: “Sacred Rhythms”

One of the essential books for Christian mindfulness is Ruth Haley Barton‘s “Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation.” I’ve recently finished reading it for the third time as part of Lenten practice.

Ruth Haley Barton

Barton, who is a spiritual director and founder/CEO of the Transforming Center, walks chapter by chapter through the spiritual disciplines that help one lead an intentional life in the presence of Jesus.

She writes about solitude, Scripture, prayer, honoring the body, self-examination, discernment and Sabbath. Each chapter ends with ideas for how to move the content into your own life. Finally she instructs readers how to prepare a rule for life so we can live closer to God in any life season.

Barton also co-hosts an excellent podcast, “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership.” The current season is covering Lent. She’s a wonder! I hope you look her up.

Create a Playlist of Hope

I’m old enough to have made mixtapes that I created for special times: summer, the beach, Christmas. This Lent has been a challenge for my word of the season: hope. So I created a Spotify playlist of songs of hope to enjoy.

Creating a Spotify playlist is very easy, if you haven’t done it before. (Especially when compared to making a mixtape back in the day.) You might want to create your own playlist for Lent.

The playlist is Songs of Hope by Karen Twinem on Spotify. It contains:

  • “Great Are You Lord” – All Sons and Daughters
  • “I’ll Take You There” – Mavis Staples
  • “Here Comes the Sun” – the Beatles
  • “What a Wonderful World” – Louis Armstrong
  • “Can You Feel It” – The Jacksons
  • “Celebrate” – Three Dog Night
  • “Happy” – Pharrell Williams
  • “In Christ Alone” – MercyMe
  • “It Is Well With My Soul” – Hillsong Chapel
  • “Heaven Come Down” – Michael W. Smith
  • “You Can Make It If You Try” – Sly and the Family Stone
  • “10,000 Reasons” – Matt Redman
  • “One Love” – Bob Marley and the Wailers
  • “Bridge Over Troubled Water” – Aretha Franklin
  • “Hello Hooray” – Alice Cooper
  • “I Gotta Feeling” – Black Eyed Peas
  • “Mighty to Save” – Hillsong UNITED
  • “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” – Amy Grant
  • “Morning Has Broken” – Yusuf / Cat Stevens
  • “Ode to Joy”
  • “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” – Selah
  • “Joy to the World” – Three Dog Night
  • “Mr. Blue Sky” – Electric Light Orchestra
  • “On My Way Home” – Enya
  • “Dance to the Music” – Sly and the Family Stone
  • “Everybody Is a Star” – Sly and the Family Stone
  • “Penny Lane” – the Beatles
  • “We Are the Champions” – Queen
  • “Coming Around Again” – Carly Simon
  • “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me) – Aretha Franklin & George Michael
  • “Perfect Day” – Lou Reed
  • “With a Little Luck” – Wings
  • “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” – Donovan
  • “Believe in Life” – Shawn Phillips

What did I miss?

No Unkind Words. Even Online.

Twitter can be like pornography for the vicious. For reasons I’ll never understand, some people — even some who say they are Christians — enjoy being cruel to people they do not know online. I once read one man say that he can’t figure out the truth about people’s beliefs because it would spoil his fun online. Really?

This Lent, I’m following the advice of a Hindu that I have long admired, the late Eknath Easwaran:

Please do not indulge in unkind words, in negative comments. Criticism, as you know, can only be useful when it is constructive. Comments can only be useful when they are friendly. So even from the point of view of effectiveness, I would suggest that unkind comments add to the problem. Unloving criticism makes situations worse.

Eknath Easwaran, speech in 1979

How to Stop a Downward Thinking Spiral

As the stock market bungee-jumps and fears of the coronavirus intensify, we may find ourselves in a downward thinking spiral. Our thoughts and fears get away from us. Inner peace, joy and calm are gone.

One of the best and most effective ideas I’ve read to stop this comes from Rachael Kable of “The Mindful Kind” book and podcast: Take a deep breathe and name the colors of the things you see.

This distracts the mind and allows us to get back on track. A brief walk is an effective way to start naming colors. A good ending is to express gratitude for the things we have seen.

The Safest Place to Be

Today, millions around the globe are facing a potentially dangerous pandemic. Where’s a safe place to stay?

One famous answer came from Corrie ten Boom, the Dutch Christian who ended up in a Nazi concentration camp for her role in helping almost 800 Jews escape the Germans. She said, “The safest place is in the center of God’s will.”

I agree, but that doesn’t guarantee sunshine and roses for life, as ten Boom well knew. She did God’s will even though it was dangerous and even though she ended up suffering dreadfully for it.

Did she have internal consolation for doing so? Certainly.

Praying to find God’s will in a situation and doing it does bring elements of safety, as well as trouble. It means that the Lord of the universe wants you to succeed. It means that pathways you didn’t expect will appear. It means you can have inner peace about your life. Let’s walk step by step with Jesus this Lent.

Resource: “The Mindful Kind”

“You are making yourself miserable, and you are the only one who can stop it.”

Rachael Kable, “The Mindful Kind”

Rachael Kable, author of “The Mindful Kind” and host of “The Mindful Kind” podcast, may be young, but she is wise.

The host of the No. 1 mindfulness podcast, she has written an excellent guidebook for anyone interested in mindfulness. You’ll refer to it again and again. I’m planning to keep a copy on my Kindle app on the my phone.

For example, she suggests a new habit: Use the feeling of stress as a signal to do a mindfulness exercise.

Rachael is an Australian who sounds and looks fairly young. Sometimes her examples from her own life reflect a limited … so far … life experience. But she does have many wonderful options for introducing awareness and intention in many aspects of life, both in the book and the podcast. At the book’s conclusion, she suggests doing one new activity in the book a week to eventually build a great repertoire of responses to keep it on task.

Rachael never discusses religion. Her ideas are suitable for any Christian to try. Subscribe to the podcast and buy the book. You’ll be glad you did.

Affirmations to Change Your Mind

We are asked to keep our thoughts pure, but our minds are often racing in the other direction. Affirmations are a mindful Christian approach to reining in your thoughts when you notice negativity, unrighteous anger and other bad attitudes.

Use them as a script to turn around your thinking, repeating as needed. Here’s a few affirmations to use:

  • Let compassion lead me.
  • Holy Spirit, speak through me.
  • I choose to renew my mind.
  • Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.

Deliberating breaking into your thinking pattern will help.

The Kind of Lent God Wants

Giving up things – from Facebook to coffee – is a classic part of participating in Lent. This year, great suggestions from Pope Francis are on social media:

  • Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
  • Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
  • Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
  • Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
  • Fast from worries and trust in God.
  • Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
  • Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
  • Fast from bitterness and fill your heart with joy.
  • Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
  • Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
  • Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.

Even with these wonderful ideas, God calls for fasting that helps people:

Then the word of the Lord of hosts came to me: Say to all the people in the land and to the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and the seventh month these 70 years, was it really for me that you fasted? … Thus says the Lord of hosts: Judge with true justice, and show kindness and compassion toward each other. Do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the resident alien or the poor; do not plot evil against one another in your hearts.

Zechariah 7:4-5, 9-10

Similar requests for fasting are in Isaiah:

“Is this what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Isaiah 58: 5b-7

I think the Lord is serious. Lent is a good time for us to contemplate what we can do to make that happen.

What’s God Up To?

When God does or allows the unexpected, our reactions can range from puzzlement to tears to shock to rage. What’s a good way to move through the initial feelings back into trust?

After all, God is good. He loves us dearly and wants what is best for us, even if it’s not pleasant at the time. God continues to reveal Himself to us even when we are perplexed.

I know a person who responds to any surprise with the same question: I wonder what God is up to? I think that’s a great way to move ourselves away from fear to trust. It sets us up to believe that God is in the situation and is working. We just need to wait to see what happens next.

Resource: “The Art of Communicating”

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who has done essential work in spreading the practice of mindfulness worldwide, has written dozens of books. “The Art of Communicating” is one of his best.

Although his work clearly comes from a Buddhist perspective, he has much to teach us all. One of my favorite chapters covers the four elements of right speech:

  1. Tell the truth. Don’t lie or turn the truth upside down.
  2. Don’t exaggerate.
  3. Be consistent. That means no double-talk: speaking about something in one way to one person and in another to someone else for selfish or manipulative reasons.
  4. Use peaceful language. Don’t use insulting or violent words, cruel speech, verbal abuse or condemnation.

The book is short, but so useful. I particularly like the Six Mantras of Loving Speech, which each person is free to adapt as the situation calls for it.

Memo to Heart: Cheer Up!

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

Proverbs 17:22

My word for Lent is hope. Cheerfulness is both a strategy and an end result for that.

How we react when trouble comes is the greatest witness to those around us. Maintaining a genuinely cheerful heart shows that we truly believe what we profess. Filling our minds with gratitude and praise for everything God has done for us – from dying on the Cross to creating trees – opens our hearts to feel the graces of joy and peace, no matter what else is happening.

One of my favorite quotes is from the late, great comedian Gilda Radner, written as she was dying from cancer:

“There will always be downslides and uncertainty. The goal is to live a full, productive life even with all this ambiguity. No matter what happens, I can control whether I am going to live a day in fear and depression and panic, or whether I am going to attack the day and make it as good a day, as wonderful a day, as I can.”

Be Counter to the Culture This Lent

Many worry that the culture has moved further and further from the Christian faith, so that we may become irrelevant. I think it could be a blessing.

The American way of life often has been different from the Christian way of life, but we pretended otherwise. I lived in Mississippi for nearly 10 years and met people who hated African-Americans yet proudly went to church on Sunday. Materialism as a signpost for success is not exactly what the homeless man who died for us intended.

Today we have an opportunity to be noticeably different from the culture, and that’s good as long as we are different in a Christian way. Hate is never the Christian way.

It’s Ash Wednesday, and we’re starting the season of Lent. I’m blessed to have a church that has a moving and effective church service this day. For years, I didn’t so I created one at home. Here’s the ceremony should you need it:

  • Burn a list of your sins, a palm frond or an evergreen in a bowl to make ashes.
  • Open with this prayer: Let us ask our Heavenly Father to bless these ashes which we will use as a mark of our repentance. Lord, bless these ashes. Wearing them reminds us that we are from the dust of the Earth. Pardon our sins and keep us faithful to the resolutions that we have made for Lent. Help us to prepare well for the celebration of your Son’s glorious resurrection. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.
  • Mark your loved one’s foreheads, saying “Turn away from sin, and be faithful to the gospel.”
  • Close with this prayer: Loving Father, today we start Lent. From today, we make a new start to be more loving and kind. Help us to show more concern for the less fortunate, the hungry and the poor. Help us to love you more and speak to you more often. Through Christ our Lord, Amen.

My Word for Lent: Hope

Happy Mardi Gras! We celebrate the day with pancakes in the morning and good vegetarian jambalaya for dinner. Today I also celebrated by picking out my word for Lent: hope.

Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him for the help of His presence.

Psalm 42:5 NASB

This Lent I am continuing to focus on practicing the presence of God. It’s been quite a rough year so far. So I feel God calling me to seek hope. George Mueller wrote: Even when our situation appears to be impossible, our work is to “hope in God.”

We know that we can never hope in vain, so that’s the focus of Lent for me. I pray you find your word also.

Pray the Welcoming Prayer

This is the scary prayer I’ve ever prayed. But it opens doors to a new way of being.

Welcome, welcome, welcome. I welcome everything that comes to me today because I know it’s for my healing. I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations and conditions. I let go of my desire for power and control. I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure. I let go of my desire for survival and security. I let go of my desire to change any situation, condition, person or myself. I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within. Amen.

Fill Out the GIFT List

The GIFT list idea originated with organization experts Pam Young and Peggy Jones. (I’ve successfully used their productivity program since 1982ish and highly recommend it. You can find out more here.)

I’ve adapted the concept over the years, keeping a daily list with my to-dos. GIFT stands for:

  • Grace
  • Imagination
  • Focus
  • Thanksgiving

Every day, I ask God to give me Grace from the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, righteousness, gentleness and self-control.

For Imagination, I pick a virtue and imagine how I could incorporate using it in my day. For example, yesterday’s virtue was a positive attitude. Today’s is being a caring citizen.

Focus is the day’s predominate activities: writing, planning, cleaning, making things, running errands, enjoying the family, taking a Sabbath, etc. Labeling a day as your paperwork & planning day, for example, helps you to cluster activities that come up during the week.

And Thanksgiving is a gratitude list that I fill out as the day goes on. That way I always have something to be grateful for at day’s end.

When my mind goes on a tear, I deliberately turn it back to the Grace, Imagination or Focus of the day. It’s a great mindfulness exercise. I hope you have fun with it.

What to Think About

Loving the Lord with all your mind may seem like an impossible task. After all, your mind may well be pretty wild and free … thinking about your friends, your kids, your job and Netflix.

God gives us direct instruction about what He wants us to think about in order to be a peaceful place where He can abide. It’s in Philippians 4:8.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.

That means, when I’m thinking about what a moron the driver ahead of me is, I should switch lanes literally and figuratively. I need to think about how happy I am that I found my church, or what a nice (and noble) guy my husband is, or how lovely my granddaughter is.

I made up a phrase to help me remember this: The normal real person likes an excellent pizza. (true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy). This helps me do a thought check when I seem to be on the wrong track.

In Everything, Give Thanks

A continual “thank you” may be the sweetest kind of Christian mindfulness exercise. It uplifts your spirits every time.

As it says in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Always rejoice. Unceasingly pray. In everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Yes, this is the will of God for our lives. That means rejoicing when things seem bleak (for we always have God with us), praying at all times (even when we are driving or reading) and giving thanks for everything (even when we are poor, hungry or imprisoned).

We can break any bad mood with a thank you walk, looking at what’s around us and giving thanks for it!

Be a “Yes” to God

Abiding in Jesus means having faith that God is at work even in horrible circumstances. We can be a “yes” to all that is in God and to each circumstance and person who comes into our lives. We can look at all environments, events and people as coming through God’s hands so we can serve Him.

This is the “good” that all things work for as mentioned in Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Acceptance of this makes our most difficult roles in life less depleting and exhausting. It’s challenging to accept the reality of circumstances and not argue in our minds that they should be different. But it is possible and makes all the difference.

This is not the same as being happy in sad situations. We cannot pretend everything is fine, because our minds know it’s not. We do have to accept that everything is not fine, and that it is impossible for us to change. This allows us to offer more empathy without draining excessive energy.

We are not in heaven yet, and bad things happen in a fallen world. God is still present and wants to abide in us. The joy of the Lord is our strength.

Christian Mindfulness Exercise #10: Stop to Praise God

During our work and other activities, even during reading, writing or religious exercises, we must stop regularly for a moment, as often as possible, to worship God.

Praising God from the depth of our hearts brings us closer and closer to abiding in Him. Stopping routinely to lift a word of praise is good, no matter how spiritual the work we were doing.

A worship song can be a good way to do this. Before I retired, I found myself having negative thoughts about the day ahead as I dressed for work. Playing worship music at this time stopped that. If you have a time of day when you are routinely unhappy, try playing a worship song and lifting up your voice to the Lord. It helps!

Mindful Christian Exercise #9: The Jesus Prayer

Carrying on a continual conversation with God can be a challenge. When we run out of words, we can say the Jesus prayer.

It helps to use a “Jesus” prayer when we need to calm down or we are in a situation in which we would otherwise turn to our phones to distract ourselves.

We can pray “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” over and over. Others use other versions. You can find information about Jesus prayers here. I use “Come Holy Spirit.”

In time, we will be able to feel God’s presence without the need for words. Until then, the Jesus prayer feels so comforting. It’s also a nice way to go to sleep at night.

Christian Mindfulness Exercise #8: Talk to God All the Time

The next Christian mindfulness exercise is the hardest: Carry on a conversation with God and try to make it continual.

The Christian best known for doing this is Brother Lawrence, who died on February 12, 1691. He served as a lay brother in a Carmelite monastery in Paris, typically working in the kitchen. He never achieved prominence during his life, and yet he is remembered today more than any other Christian of his time.

Brother Lawrence developed an intimate, continual conversation with the Lord. He became known when his letters and writings were compiled into a book called “The Practice of the Presence of God” after his death. You can find a free PDF of the book here.

The Carmelites of Boston website sums up his teachings like this:

Speaking humbly and lovingly with Him (God) all the time, at every moment, especially during times of temptation, suffering, aridity, weariness, even infidelity and sin. This habit is formed by repetition of acts and frequently bringing the mind back into God’s presence … conversing with God everywhere, asking Him for what is needed, and rejoicing continuously with Him in countless ways.”

Paul would agree. As he wrote in Philippians 4:4-7: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understand, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

Christian Mindfulness Exercise #7: Refocus During Transitions

This exercise is simple, if hard to remember when we are distracted. We try to center ourselves as we move from place to place, event to event.

We can say: I am calm, peaceful and aware of the presence of God as I enter this home/door/time/event. Using the ringing of the telephone or the sound of a text message has a moment to pause and refocus also helps.

If you have a time of day that’s particularly hard for you … which I nicknamed the arsenic hour when I was a young single mother … having an alarm on the phone to remind you to center can make a big difference.

Christian Mindfulness Exercise 6: The Three Things

Listening to yourself with a compassionate ear is another Christian mindfulness exercise that ultimately draws us closer to God. But the interior noise can be deafening.

When this happens, the Three Things exercise can help us to focus our attention, reduce restlessness and add calm. Stretch or drink some water before getting started. Then:

  • Note three things that you see.
  • Note three things that you hear.
  • Note three feelings that you have.

It can be that simple to restore some clear thinking.

Develop Your Lenten Resolutions

Ash Wednesday is a little more than three weeks away so it’s a good time for us to start thinking about our Lenten resolutions. I’ve used Lent to give up bad habits, but more often I take this time to create positive habits.

Think about how we can improve our prayer life, fasting and giving. Some families pick a charity and put their change into a bowl each day. Others give up eating out and give away the money they saved. My church took a recent pledge to not have cell phones at the dinner table. We can find many things to improve if we think and pray about it.

I also always have a Lenten reading program. In the past, I read a biography of a Christian I admired, a devotional and a general book about faith each Lent. Today it’s a lot more random. I just look at the bookshelves to see what I think would be helpful and inspiring.

Christian Mindfulness Exercise 5: Focus on What You Are Doing

When we walk with Jesus, everything we do can be a prayer. This is where the practice of Christian mindfulness comes in.

Focus on the task at hand, giving it your attention while seeking to feel the presence of God.

We don’t always have to use words to pray continually, although we generally have to start out that way. Henri J.M. Nouwen, in his book “Here and Now,” recommends starting with a simple prayer … the name Jesus, Come Holy Spirit, the Jesus prayer or anything short like that … and repeating it over and over. This is called a mantram in other traditions.

Nouwen writes: “When we remain faithful to our discipline, even if it is only 10 minutes a day, we gradually come to see … by the candlelight of our prayers … that there is a space within us where God dwells and where we are invited to dwell with God. Once we come to know that inner, holy place … we want to be there and be spiritually fed.”

Staying focused on one thing can be about as difficult as continual prayer. Here’s some encouragement: The Amish accomplish an incredible amount in their days in part because they are working with concentration and not dealing with constant distractions, like cell phones and television. We can do the same by focusing on one task at a time while the mantra bubbles away in the back of our minds.

You Are a Force for Peace

When events and attitudes make the world feel even more chaotic and frightening, we can take a deep breath and become an antidote to the fiery atmosphere. We can be an island of peace in a stormy sea.

The first step is to bring calm into our minds. Otherwise we add to the fear and anger swirling around us.

One easy way to recenter is to do the 3-4-5 breath that I taught many in crisis management classes. We can do it anywhere, usually with no one around us noticing. It’s so simple:

  1. Breathe in to a slow count of 3.
  2. Hold your breath to a slow count of 4.
  3. Breathe out to a slow count of 5.

Repeat until you can feel yourself calming down. Then open yourself up to feel the presence of God.

Remember: You can be a force for good. You can be a force for peace. That is one way … not always small … to let the light of Christ shine in the world.

Mindful Christian Exercise 4: Be in the Day

The fourth step toward mindfully practicing the presence of God is about our approaches to each day.

Be in the day with a plan and the willingness to disregard that plan to respond to what God allows. As my pastor, Rich Nathan, teaches: Left foot, right foot. Do the next right thing.

We want to be attentively present to the here-and-now situation while also attuned to the voice of God.

Remember: Now is the only moment you have. Now is the future you promised yourself.

Resource: “Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours”

“Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours” is Kathleen Deignan’s effort to assemble Merton’s teachings, poems and prayers into a similar format to the Catholic Liturgy of the Hours.  I appreciate Merton (1915-1968), a Trappist monk who was in many ways decades ahead of his time.

Many see him as one of the spiritual masters of the 20th century.  I’ve read several of his books and gone on silent retreat at the Abbey of Gethsemani, where he lived and is buried.  His work also inspires me to deepen my commitment to the Lord and to contemplative prayer. 

I used this book as a prayer experiment, praying the sections of Dawn, Day, Dusk and Dark for a week.  This may work well for others, but it didn’t work for me.  Turns out I much prefer to use Psalms as Psalms rather than Merton’s poems, no matter how lovely they are.  The use of his work in Examen and Lessons was good, but could have used more context. 

True Merton devotees certainly may love this book, and I think it was assembled with a good spirit. Still it just didn’t work in my prayer experiment. 

Light All Your Candles for the Presentation of Our Lord

Not only is today Super Bowl Sunday and Groundhog Day, it’s also the Presentation of Our Lord on the Christian calendar. Today is a feast to commemorate Joseph and Mary taking the infant Jesus as a first-born son to the Temple for the ceremony commanded by God through Moses to induct him into Judaism.

Simeon and Anna were at the Temple, as they had been for thousands of days, waiting to see the Messiah. They recognized him.

This feast is also called Candlemas, and it involves blessing candles and lighting them. Try lighting up your candles to symbolize the light of the world arriving in His own temple.

This is also a good day to pray from the poor, migrants, immigrants and refugees, the Holy Family being one of this number.

Mindful Christian Exercise 3: Pray Bible Verses

The next step in abiding in Jesus so you can practice the presence of God is praying Bible verses.

Even if it’s a verse or two, pray the Bible back to God. This does great good, as Paul said in his letter to the Ephesians.

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.

Ephesians 6:17

Read Scripture as Often as You Eat

The second step for abiding in Jesus involves listening to His voice in Scripture or a devotional book regularly. How frequently? Try to do it as often as you eat.

This provides a wonderful reality check about the Lord while giving us nuggets of wisdom to chew on as we go about our days.

I use Scripture, Sarah Young’s “Jesus Calling” devotional series, the Liturgy of the Hours and a Christian devotional magazine to keep me full. I also have apps for the Bible and the wonderful Pray as You Go on my phone to use when I am out. A little bit of God’s voice can go a long way in keeping you practicing his presence in Christian mindfulness.

God Does the Work

As I’ve developed my Christian mindfulness practice, I began to notice that most of the exercises on abiding in God have to do with God abiding in me. Scripture verifies this, because abiding in a mutual effort. “Abide in Me and I in you,” Jesus said in John 15:4.

We need to allow Christ’s abiding in us to transform from a fact that we know intellectually to a practice of allowing him to live out of us.

If you’d like to explore abiding in Jesus, I have 15 steps you can take. I’d suggest that you add them one at a time.

Step 1: Try a daily prayer of surrender. My pastor, Rich Nathan at Vineyard Columbus, has suggested this in various sermons. He said he offers his mind, his hands, his feet, etc. every day to God to us.

An example of the prayer could be as simple as: “Today is Your Day, Lord. I am yours. May your Spirit lead, guide and prompt me throughout the day. May I be sensitive to Your prompting and respond accordingly. Today I surrender my life to You.”