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:
- Tell the truth. Don’t lie or turn the truth upside down.
- Don’t exaggerate.
- 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.
- 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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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!