Stop Struggling

Are you trying too hard to be at peace? Fighting hard to practice mindfulness?

Stop struggling.

Calm down.

I feel I am striving too hard to abide in Jesus. Instead of opening the door for Him to enter, I am pounding on the other side of the door … straining to keep pure thoughts and to practice my daily round of spiritual practices. That isn’t necessary, productive or even helpful.

God is already here. Yet I behave as if it all depends on me. Yes, I need to quiet down and let God be present. I am grasping for someone who is all around me, yet my grasp comes up empty. It is only when I relax and submit that I feel God doing the work to allow me to abide in Him.

Is it just me? When I mentioned this in a gathering of Christian friends, I got a lot of blank looks.

Yet, one Christian friend responded with a new phrase I love: Try softer.

That’s the title of a book by therapist Aundi Kolber. She believes we don’t have to white-knuckle our way to God or to life, in general. Her book is a corrective for overfunctioning (one of my greatest issues) and anxiety.

Perhaps I have reached the “let God and let God” phase of my spiritual development. Yet again.

I found some tips on the Woman of Noble Character website that can make this effort to stop the struggle more concrete.

It’s not what I need to stop doing as much as it’s what I need to let God do. Stop struggling to achieve grace and:

  1. Look for a show of God’s power.
  2. Accept God’s comfort.
  3. Let God work things out for the good of those who love Him, including me.

Yes, I need to practice my daily round of spiritual practices. But I need to move forward in a more gentle, open manner, trusting God to do his part. Without God, I can do nothing.

a passageway in a beautiful stone monastery

Prayerfulness as Christian Mindfulness

Christian mindfulness is a relatively new term for an ancient practice. One of my favorite spiritual teachers, Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB, writes about it in “The Breath of the Soul.” She calls the practice “prayerfulness.”

Prayerfulness, on the other hand, is the capacity to walk in touch with God through everything in life. It is the internal awareness that God is with me — now, here, in this, always. It is an awareness of the continuing presence of God.

Sr. Joan Chittister, “The Breath of the Soul”

That definition absolutely aligns with mine for Christian mindfulness: living in the present moment with the presence of God.

Sr. Joan has been a huge influence on me since 1990, when I read “Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today.” At the time she wrote that book, she was prioress at the Benedictine Sisters of Erie in Erie, Pennsylvania. Now she is known internationally as an important spiritual writer, with dozens of books to her credit.

So I am not surprised that we arrived on the same path with different terminology.

Sr. Joan writes that prayerfulness is her inner dialogue with the living God who inhabits her spirit and mind. Not only does prayerfulness allow us to see and talk with God everywhere, it lets us to submit the present moment, with all its uncertainty and anxiety, to God.

As Sr. Joan puts it, “It trusts that no matter how malevolent the situation may be, I can walk through it unharmed because God is with me.”

Sr. Joan shares her spiritual practices through her website here. You can subscribe to her monthly newsletter, “The Monastic Way,” on the site. You also get free webinars and Zoom calls with Sr. Joan and her group, an online movement called Monasteries of the Heart.

cloud's with light streaming through like the voice of God

Develop a Conversational Relationship With God

“Developing a conversational relationship with God” is the subtitle of Dallas Willard’s book “Hearing God.” Some believe that God stopped speaking when the Bible was organized. Willard (and I) think nothing could be further from the truth.

Hearing God’s voice fits into the larger context of walking in a close friendship with him. In fact, Willard believes that God speaks mostly to people who obey His teachings and want to do His will.

As Jesus said, “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.” Abiding in Jesus minute by minute through Christian mindfulness puts us in a position to hear God specifying His will. We become as Willard wrote “someone who leads the kind of life demonstrated in the Bible: a life of personal, intelligent interaction with God.”

Feasting on God’s word

The Bible fixes the boundaries of everything that God will say to humankind, Willard writes. Indeed, God speaks most often during Bible reading and study. Have you ever had a verse jump off the page to you, even though you’ve read it many times? That is God speaking.

But this can also happen while listening to another person, whether it be a sermon or a conversation. I also believe that synchronicity can point the way to a message. If you hear the same verse repeatedly … in Bible study, in a sermon and in a book you’re reading … it may be God emphasizing something to you.

God also speaks through dreams, visions and events. But most of the time he speaks through a small, still voice that can only be heard in quiet. God’s voice comes in a spirit of peace, joy and good will. So God’s voice sounds like Jesus. And we can only know what Jesus sounds like through Bible study.

Seven steps toward hearing God

This summary may help you as you seek to hear God’s voice.

  1. Begin with a prayer in Jesus’ name for protection from evil influences.
  2. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you to listen well.
  3. Remain alert.
  4. Reject anything that is contrary to Biblical truth.
  5. Feel welcome to write down the thoughts that come for further study.
  6. Understand that real communications from God are:
    • Biblically sound
    • Glorify God
    • Advance the kingdom
    • Help people
    • Help you to grow spiritually
  7. Thank God for the time together.

Walking with God in Christian mindfulness is a sweet time of communion. We should expect that God will help us learn what we should know and what we should do.

No More Mean Mondays

You are not imagining it. People are meaner on Mondays.

A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that people display less civility and kindness on Mondays than they do the rest of the week. But the study does contain some good news for those of us who practice any form of mindfulness.

Mindfulness stabilizes this situation. People who practice it are able to maintain a stable level of kindness and courteous behavior across the week.

This is no surprise to me. My form of mindfulness … Christian mindfulness … gives you a solid foundation and handrails to walk across difficult days. It’s a stabilizing force for the kind of inner peace that only comes through a relationship with Jesus.

Staying in the present moment in the presence of God brings a continual source of strength. You learn, as many do, that the only thing you can control is yourself. Christian mindfulness actually gives you the graces necessary to be able to do that in a kind way on a fairly consistent basis.

Create Your Rule of Life

The first back-to-school pictures arrived in my texts today. Pumpkins and autumn foliage line the shelves of craft stores. The pandemic has taken a turn for the worse. At least I held onto my masks made with “fall leaves” fabric. So it’s a good time to create or update your rule of life.

Schedules change. Every year we discover new resources that help us to grow closer to God. So updating a rule of life is an annual practice for me.

For those of you who have not created one, it’s a schedule, more or less, of things you will do on a regular basis to practice the presence of God in the present moment. “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality” by Peter Scazzero contains a chapter on creating a rule. His categories are:

  • Prayer
    • Scripture
    • Silence and Solitude
    • Daily Office
    • Study
  • Rest
    • Sabbath
    • Simplicity
    • Play and Recreation
  • Work and Activity
    • Service and Mission
    • Care for the Physical Body
  • Relationships
    • Emotional Health
    • Family
    • Community

Under this format, you go through each category to make rules about what you will and will not do.

Sample Rule of Life (It’s Mine)

My rule of life is more of a schedule. Each year, I do go through it to evaluate the helpfulness of each element and update the materials I am using. Here’s a peek:

Daily

  • Early morning: 20-30 minutes of centering prayer, read through New Testament annually, read a chapter of the Old Testament in chronological order, pray over to-do list, journal
  • 10 a.m.: Read one of Sarah Young’s Jesus Calling book series
  • Noon: Work listening to Pray as You Go OR do Liturgy of the Hours Office of the Readings OR read morning prayer in “Give Us This Day” magazine
  • 3 p.m.: Lectio 365 app
  • 5:30 p.m.: Evening prayer in “Give Us This Day” magazine.
  • Nighttime: Gratitude list, examen or night prayer in one of these apps: Pray as You Go, Lectio 365, Hallow, Pause or Abide.

Weekly

Sabbath on Sunday: nature walk, spiritual reading

Monthly

3rd Sunday: spend an hour reading a book about faith

Spiritual direction appointment (now is quarterly)

Yearly

Retreat

Celebrate the Christian calendar

Some feel my rule is excessive, but it has worked, even when I worked full-time. I describe it as handrails that keep me on the path. What would you like in your rule? Let me know.

You can listen to this episode on my podcast Mindful Christian Year by clicking here.

Welcome Back, Gift of Hospitality

Loving God, your son Jesus said
your Kingdom is like a banquet; 
a festive gathering for all people 
of every race and color -- 
a table at which the lonely find company,
the hungry savor rich foods and fine wine,
and strangers enjoy warm family ties.
Jesus calls us to build this kingdom here on earth.

Teach us, Lord, the ways of hospitality.
Give us the spirit of joyful welcome and 
the sensitivity to help people on the move
to feel they belong.

Grant that our tables at home may draw
our new neighbors from other lands
into a loving community
and that the eucharistic tables 
in our churches may prefigure
that banquet in heaven where all are one in you,
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
one God, forever and ever.
Amen. 

Prayer for Hospitality from "Catholic Household Blessings and Prayers" 

We are emerging from the pandemic into a world even more conflicted than when quarantine began. Splits in groups and churches, largely along political lines, have damaged the American church. The gift of hospitality could serve the church even more than ever, as it includes civility, mutual respect and kindness in its components. 

The practice of Christian mindfulness aids the re-emergence of hospitality, as the shelter-in-place/ Zoom nation practices are now habit. To be hospitable in person, we must be more intentional in our behavior and attitudes.

This is no surprise. Some Christians have hospitality as a spiritual gift. But many others do not. They would rather stay in and watch a movie alone. Yet all are called to be hospitable. 

In 1 Peter 4: 9-10, Peter writes: "Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to share others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms."

In fact, the word for hospitality in the Bible's original Greek is "philoxenia," which means "love of strangers." I think we are called today to be hospitable to some "strangers" that we thought we knew, until their political choices involving votes, masks and vaccines made them seem different from us. 

In Romans 12:13, Paul encourages everyone to practice hospitality.  And St. Benedict asked his followers to see each person they encountered as a gift from Jesus.  

If God abides in us, as we who practice Christian mindfulness believe, we have the opportunity to show Him to all those we meet. Dealing with each other with civility, grace and love is a great step back toward unity in the church. 

This beautiful prayer for unity from Jane Deren of Education for Justice (published in July 2021's issue of "Give Us This Day") sums up our personal challenges within this period of time.

God of all, you challenge us
to be a unified national community.

You call us to move beyond 
partisan politics
so we may create
a vision of common good
so sorely needs for our country.

In this time of confusion, 
you call us to see clearly
with the lens of justice for all.

In this time of disrespect for so many,
you call on us to practice respect
for all voices around the table,
and for all voices not heard in the discussions.

In this time of personal insecurity,
you call on us to be grounded
in compassion for others
and secure in the knowledge
we are called to community.

In this time of despair for so many,
you call us to practice hope.

God of all, bless our nation at this time
and open the way to unity
so we may follow your call.
Amen.

Caring in the Present Tense

Mindfulness helped me learn that effective caring begins with paying attention to what’s happening now and letting the results emerge as byproducts of caring in the present tense. When caring veers into controlling, that’s when a dose of carefree ease can make all the difference. A smile of appreciation at whatever happens goes much further than a grimace of withering judgment and disappointment.

Founding Editor Barry Boyce, Mindful magazine, Spring 2021 issue

Christian mindfulness is about living in the presence of God in the present moment. Barry Boyce, who has written many wise things as the founding editor of Mindful magazine, reminds us that mindfulness requires staying in the now. As Christians, we add an additional piece of armor: prayer.

When we stay in the present and pray for God’s guidance, we can release all our guesses about what “should” happen.

“Should” is a toxic word. Thinking that events “shouldn’t be happening” keeps us stuck in frustration, anger and worry. Among the myriad thoughts of Jesus, the phrase “this shouldn’t be” does not exist.

Acceptance of what is and willingness to do the next right thing are the best steps toward peace of mind. This happens in the present moment.

Boyce also writes about caring becoming controlling. Or more accurately, attempts at controlling. The only thing any of us can control is ourselves. But boy, how we try to prove that wrong! In Christian mindfulness, our caring is attached to God’s will. We cannot always understand how things are going to work. If we do what we think God wants us to do, following the Scriptures and prayer, bringing our concerns to God with thanksgiving, He will keep us in His peace.

Learning to Be Content No Matter What

Learning to be content in a pandemic is both a God-given grace and something we can learn. So is learning to be content in any time of suffering and injustice. Contentment is an inner condition cultivated in humility. We can have a teachable spirit prepared to bend to God’s will.

Rich Nathan, founding pastor at Vineyard Columbus, taught a sermon years ago that offered a three-part plan to develop contentment that I can’t improve on at all.  Here are his three points.

No. 1:  Acknowledge God’s sovereignty over your life. Practice surrender.

The Bible teaches that everything, even our loved one’s illnesses, has to pass through God’s hands before it happens.  As Elisabeth Elliott put it:  “Whatever happens is assigned.” God’s power is unlimited, and he rules all our lives.

Matthew 10:29-30:  Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  The very hairs on your head are all numbered.”

Romans 8:28:  “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who live him, who have been called according to his purpose.”  We will never suffer trials unless God allows them and watches over them.

The most important example of a person who trusted God under terrible circumstances was Jesus himself.  Have we ever been in so much agony that we sweat blood over it?  Yes, Jesus understands how we feel.

We learn things from suffering that we probably couldn’t learn anywhere else: reliance on grace, humility, perseverance, quality prayer, faith, trust, and a real relationship with God.

If we can’t accept this for a lifetime, Rich suggested that we accept it “just for today.”

No. 2:  Practice thanksgiving.

Start being grateful for the littlest things:  grass, sky, trees.  Spend a day looking for things to be grateful for.

No. 3: Practice abiding.

This means that you connect with God’s person.  This is the essence of Christian mindfulness. You focus on the present in the felt presence of God. You can do all things through God who strengthens you, but you have to abide in God to do so.

Rich encourages us to welcome the Holy Spirit into areas where we’ve grumbled, where we are discontented, where we are frustrated. Invite the person of the Holy Spirit to come into that part of your life. Contentment will grow where we abide in God.