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.