Celebrate Winter Sunset

Sunset in January and February brings more dread than joy. But we can change that when we make the winter sunset hour a time to celebrate God’s presence and care.

In a Fast Company article about staying sane while living in 24-hour darkness, Julia Herbst provides five tips for dealing with winter light (or the lack of it). One of them is “Don’t fight the darkness.” It’s an encouragement to enjoy winter through hygge, which can include Christian mindfulness. (Another is to get a light box or Happy Light, which I totally endorse! Here’s the one I use.)

Britain’s “The Simple Things” magazine suggests stopping the day’s events to enjoy tea and dessert at sunset in the winter. (This could lead to a Backwards Meal, which my kids and I used to do on April Fools Day.)

For those who practice Christian mindfulness, watching the winter sunset while practicing the presence of God is a quiet revelation. God is still there in the cold and the dark earth around us. And He is still making things of beauty for those who take the time to watch. Adding a gratitude practice … giving thanks for five things from the day … can only bring God’s presence closer.

Some may want to enjoy the winter sunset with some beautiful music or a book that makes you feel alive. Reading some poetry also adds an element of celebration to sunset. Here’s “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Christina Rossetti:

In the bleak midwinter, frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter, long ago.
Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him, nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away when He comes to reign.
In the bleak midwinter a stable place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
Enough for Him, whom cherubim, worship night and day,
Breastful of milk, and a mangerful of hay;
Enough for Him, whom angels fall before,
The ox and ass and camel which adore.
Angels and archangels may have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim thronged the air;
But His mother only, in her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the beloved with a kiss.
What can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart.

Overcome Sunday Night Syndrome

As Sabbath closes on Sunday night, a sense of dread can set in. It’s even got a name: Sunday night syndrome. (Actually it has more than one name. The British call it Sunday night scaries. It’s also called the Sunday night blues.) A sense of anticipatory anxiety about the week ahead comes in and steals away the last remaining hours of the weekend.

It’s a common problem. LinkedIn’s survey in 2018 found 80 percent of respondents experienced it. 80 percent! The younger you are, the higher the figure: 90 percent among millennials and 93 percent among Gen Z. The No. 1 cause was worry, specifically about workload size, work-life balance and the things left undone last week.

Here’s how Christian mindfulness can help

Create a Sunday night practice. Do something different on Sunday night. It can be watching your favorite television show, watching a funny movie, reading a book, listening to a playlist, calling your best friend or otherwise doing something that makes the night fun. Keep your promises to yourself and do this every week. It reframes the evening so that it’s guaranteed to have pleasant moments.

Talk to God about your workload and your work-life balance. This is part of your Sunday night practice. As in all Christian mindfulness exercises, stay in the present moment in the presence of God. Share your worries and concerns about the week ahead. Ask for God’s guidance as you decide what to do.

Write every task down. It helps to keep it out of your head at night. Mark what can be delegated and what can be delayed (or not done at all). If your schedule allows, you can also do this last thing Friday afternoon so you don’t have to think about it at all Sunday.

Do a loving-kindness meditation. You’ll find out how here.

Put self-care on next week’s schedule. Block out times on your schedule for self-care during the week. If a micromanaging boss is reviewing your schedule too much, block out times with words that are acceptable in your workplace environment. Also, pray about looking for a different job. You don’t have to work for a difficult person these days.

Add a nature walk to your Sunday routine. Walking in nature, also called forest bathing, reduces stress. Just stay in the present and speak to God about what you see during the walk.

Keep your interior (and verbal) language positive. Whining and moaning make things worse. Try replacing “I have to” with “I get to.” Offer genuine prayers of gratitude for your work, your workplace and your co-workers.

Keep off your phone and emails. When the fun part of Sunday night begins, put your phone in another room. Stop looking at work emails. If it looks like you are fine with working on Sunday night, you’ll be working every Sunday night. There’s a worker shortage. Take advantage of it to take care of yourself.

Avoid drinking alcohol. You know, don’t you, that this makes it worse. Find something else to drink that makes it better.

Figure out how tired you are. If you still feel exhausted at the end of the weekend, go to bed early. Or plan to have an early night in bed on Monday evening.

Sunday night syndrome involves the opposite for Christian mindfulness. You are thinking about the future and you are not counting on the presence of God to help. Use these practices to move into the present moment with God and release those worries.

Pray for Christian Love

This week in January is the traditional time to pray for Christian unity. And boy do we need it! Remember the old song “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love.” Not so much anymore.

I know many, myself included, who have discovered to their shock that their Christian friends have entirely different political beliefs than they do. In the past, that was just a matter of opinion. Now it’s a source of division. Too many of us, on both sides, consider it almost an article of faith that “real Christians” support our own political beliefs.

I don’t think God is happy about that. He would prefer that we take up prayer during this time seeking Christian unity. Clearly, Jesus prayed on the last night of his life that Christians stay united in the Spirit and in love. He knew what was coming, and He prayed against it.

This prayer from “Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers” puts it beautifully:

Almighty and eternal God,
you gather the scattered sheep
and watch over those you have gathered.
Look kindly on all who follow Jesus, your Son.
You have marked them with the seal of one baptism,
now make them one in the fullness of faith
and unite them in the bond of love.
We ask this through Christ our Lord.

As we pray for unity, let's look at our intentions and our thoughts. Let us seek to be kind and open to those who disagree with us.  May people again come to know we are Christians by our love. 

keyboard with sign that says break time

Take a Mini-Break

Are you standing in line today? Take a mini-break. In the shower? Take a mini-break.

Why? Mini-breaks are rapidly joining the endangered species list of activities. When we can always pull out our phones, the opportunity to rest our minds and recenter our spirits diminishes.

Our brains are not designed to constantly take in data, wrote Jade Beecroft in an article in Breathe magazine, issue 44. We need pauses to reflect and, frankly, to think. Yet the transitional times for this are fading away. It’s a lot easier to scan email or Instagram during those odd moments.

Beecroft cites a University of Texas study that found even the presence of a face-down smartphone on a person’s desk reduced that person’s cognitive ability. Why? Because part of their brains were engaged in the effort of not picking up the phone. Yikes!

Beecroft’s article even includes some scary information: Constant use of the smartphone can create a condition called digital dementia. We underuse the frontal lobes of our brain, causing short-term memory issues, lack of concentration, anxiety, depression and insomnia.

In Christian mindfulness, we need mini-breaks regularly not only to think, but to reconnect with the presence of God. Saying the Jesus prayer is a good option while waiting for the microwave to reheat coffee, for example.

The way to take a mini-break is simple: Put your phone away in a consistent spot where you can’t see it. (So you don’t end up worrying about finding it.) Say the Jesus prayer. Be present in the moment.

The result can be a great idea. (There’s a reason that good ideas happen in the shower.) Or you can enjoy a deep moment of inner peace. Either way, it’s a better space than doom scrolling ever will be.

Let 2 Index Cards Guide Your 2022

This Christian mindfulness exercise is one of the best ways I’ve found to find out why you love (or dislike) your job and/or your life. It starts with two index cards. Ideally, you can find two different card colors: one green and one yellow, for example. Depending on the size, you may need more than one of each.

You are going to carry those cards with you for at least three days. Every time you do a task that drains or upsets you, write that task on the yellow card. On the green card, record every task that gives you joy, pleasure or energy.

In just a few days, you’ll be able to see visually if you do more tasks you like or more that you don’t like. If you are doing lots of things you don’t like, you need to pray about that. Are you actually doing God’s will, or does He want you to change something about your life?

This exercise can help you decide if you need a different job, if you should change up your spiritual disciplines, if you need to work on a relationship or if you need to go get counseling.

You also can incorporate more of the tasks on the green card into your days, so you can enjoy more happiness. You can delegate or stop doing some of the things on the yellow card.

When I tried this in my second-to-last job, I found that the green card was actually a job description that I looked for in my next job. And later, the green and yellow cards helped me to plan my retirement, which has been joyous even in a pandemic.

Just be sure to pray over the results, so you don’t just see what you want to see. It’s an easy way to make 2022 a better year.