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.

Look Back … Do You See God?

New Year’s Eve is a traditional time for reviewing the past year. We create annual Good Riddance lists to burn during the evening. Those lists contain the things that we hated about the year.

This year, we also created two more lists: a gratitude list and a list of events where we saw God at work The gratitude list is self-explanatory. The list of God at work takes a little more thought.

I look back through the journals of the year to find days of unexpected blessing … when I can see God at work. Sometimes it’s obvious: a sermon that hit me over the head and changed the way I acted for the rest of the year. Or a family member who agrees to take medicine needed to improve his life.

Other times I can see God is little acts and coincidences: the time I accidentally knocked a treasured prayer candle I’ve had for decades off the mantle. The glass part separated from the candle and the metal, landing without injury in an empty basket. How did that happen? I think it was God, who demonstrated His presence in the tiny, but deeply important, aspects of my prayer life.

Looking for God in all the small places and the big events is an excellent way to begin 2022. Please join me in having a holy encounter on this New Year’s Eve.

Mindfulness Behind the Wheel

Driving during the Christmas season is a chance to start a new habit: practicing Christian mindfulness behind the wheel. It’s an exercise in awareness and kindness.

So often we drive in a semi-conscious state, not truly sure how we got there when we arrive. Have you ever “accidentally” started driving to work, when you were going somewhere else? I know I have.

So first, we respect the reality: We are operating driving a potentially deadly piece of heavy machinery. We don’t want to be distracted. Staying aware helps us stay alive.

Awareness allows us to be intentional about practicing kindness and courtesy to fellow drivers, pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclers. Allow people to merge, for heaven’s sake. (And I mean that literally.) Watch out for those walking and cycling around you. And calm yourself when someone is actually obeying the speed limit in front of you. How many times have drivers raced around your car to find themselves sitting next to you at the next light? Plenty, for me.

Author Judith Hurrell, in a recent article in either Breathe or Oh! magazine (I lost the reference), suggested that we remind ourselves that everyone who is driving experiences happiness and suffering. She uses words from the loving-kindness meditation to bless people as they go by.

Blessing our fellow drivers helps us to recall that Jesus loves all of us, even the motorcyclist roaring by you without a helmet.

Bringing words of peace and kindness into the car with you also helps, whether it be a helpful podcast or beautiful music. In my former job, my commute could range from 30 minutes to 90 minutes depending on traffic. I truly enjoyed every moment because I was listening to calming (or funny) audio the whole time. I always arrived at work in a better mood than when I left the house.

The mindlessness of driving can be converted into a flow experience. When you bring intense focus to a task that involves skill and the ability to respond quickly, you can become deeply immersed in your driving. You can enjoy the shades of blue in the sky and the colors of the trees. This time of year, you can enjoy the lights and holiday displays, giving thanks to God for the joy that they create.

It’s a great time to communicate with God, who made all these things. Praising the Lord as you head to an appointment is a good way to be open and attentive during the day.

Starting now to be a holy driver can create a habit that brings joy all year.

exterior of decorated mood box

Create a Mood Box

Developing a mood box or book is a good exercise in contemplative Christian mindfulness, particularly when you are fighting against negative thinking. I’ve used this practice with people struggling against serious illness and/or depression. It is just as effective for the ups and downs of daily life.

The first step is to determine what mood you want to feel. You can create mood boxes or books to encourage hope, joy, optimism, trust in God, contentment and more.

Select an attractive box or blank book that, if possible, reflects this emphasis. This is a private exercise, so the box has to speak to you and no one else. You also can decorate the box or book to please yourself. I’ve also used decorated photo storage boxes to get a head start on the look I wanted.

Then fill the box or book with cues that encourage the mood you want. Try to appeal to many of your senses. You can add:

  • Scripture verses
  • Quotes from books
  • Song lyrics
  • Photographs
  • Images cut from magazines or books
  • CDs
  • Essential oils
  • Souvenirs
  • Fabrics
  • Items from nature

If you are creating a book rather than a box, you can put essential oils or perfume on the pages to get scent. Continue to add to the box over time, or to remove things if they lose their appeal.

One of my friends has a mood box based on hope, originally created as she served as caregiver for a sick loved one. When the person died, she made a ritual of emptying the box and starting to collect box contents again.

Put the mood box or book in a place where you can see it daily. When you feel far from your desired mood, use it for a few minutes to help yourself go on the right path.

Be Kind With Your Phone

Super Sad True Love Story, published in 2010, was set in the near future … also known as now. Author Gary Shteyngart wrote about Americans who were tied to their devices, rarely looking up and rarely putting them down. It was appalling at the time.

What was science fiction in 2010 is reality today. Research shows that Americans spend an average screen time of 5.4 hours on their mobile phones daily. About half of that is time spent on social media. We have 294.15 million smartphone users in the United States. The U.S. population is 329.5 million. That means almost everyone who isn’t a little kid has a cell phone.

Like every piece of technology, smart phones can be used for good.

Ten ways to use your phone as a force for good

  1. What apps would Jesus have? You can read the Bible, do a meditation, read a devotional and pray a piece of liturgy on your phone. Some recommendations about apps to download are in the resource section here.
  2. Be intentional about what you post on social media. Think it through and decide what you want to accomplish. You can only post things that cause people to smile (or laugh). You can spread thoughts of peace and kindness. You can be intentional about who follows you.
  3. Make rules for yourself about cell phone use. Such as, put the phone on recharge during meals to keep it off the table during a meal. Or, never read email until you’ve done morning prayer.
  4. Designate time to read emails and calm yourself first. Pray before you open your email. Ask for wisdom, discernment and calm. Scheduling time to read them keeps you from constantly scanning your phone for emails. If people need to contact you from work, you can let people know that you read your emails at these specific times. If anything is too urgent to wait until that time, they can text or call you.
  5. Express your appreciation to someone. Write a post giving someone (a friend, colleague or a person you admire but don’t know personally) a compliment. This is especially nice if you are sending it to a person who means a lot to you, but doesn’t have hundreds or thousands of followers.
  6. Write a recommendation about a colleague or vendor on LinkedIn. Taking the time to give positive reviews is very welcome.
  7. If Starbucks has a personnel shortage, don’t offer to pay for the person behind you. Counterintuitive, I know. But paying for the person behind you makes the cashier’s job more difficult. In a time of personnel shortages, that can be tough. Find another ways to pay it forward.
  8. Promote a small business. If you’ve had a good experience with a small business, say so in a nice review. You can also share their posts on your social media.
  9. Like a newsletter or blog, If you’ve been reading someone’s blog for a while and like what they doing, let them know. You also could pick a favorite, never-miss podcast to sponsor on Patreon.
  10. Compliment a parent on their kids. Be specific.

Having the intention of using your phone and your social media in kindness and caring can turn a big time-sucking problem into a blessing for others.

Use Your Fork. Your Mind Will Follow.

Mindful eating can be an impactful element of Christian mindfulness. When we stay present and grateful to God’s presence, the experience of wolfing down a meal changes. Better health and a deeper understanding of God’s role in “our daily bread” can result.

Some new ideas for building the mindful eating practice were in a recent article in Good Housekeeping by Stefani Sassos, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N. Her article suggests combining intuitive eating, which rejects prescribed diets and helps people come to peace about food, with mindful eating, which requires staying present during the meal.

Sassos’ tips start with a body scan to see how hungry you actually are. Then she suggests eating without distraction … no screens, phones on mute and off the table.

Her third tip centers on gratitude. This is where we can give thanks to God for the food and the circumstances in which you are eating. Bless all those involved in the creation of your food, from the fields to the plants to the kitchen. If you’re the cook, thank God for your arms and hands, for your ability to read or create a recipe, and for the ingredients you found.

Then you eat. Your fork can be your best friend in eating mindfully. Pick it up to give yourself a bite, and then put it down. Eat the bite completely, paying attention to the flavors and the textures. Praise God and the cook for creativity. Then pick up the fork again. If you concentrate on putting your fork down after every bite, staying present with your food is much easier. You can find more on my approach to mindful Christian eating here.

Sassos also has some wise words about practicing mindful eating when children are adding joy and chaos to the meal. Just pick one thing, such as one bite at a time, to do. The kitchen table is also a wonderful place to inspire the rest of the family by saying grace that thanks all involved in the food, including God. The prayers can lead to real conversations about food production that kids will remember for years.

Observe Water

Praised be You, my Lord,
through Sister Water
who is so useful,
humble,
precious,
and pure. 
Francis of Assisi, "The Canticle of the Creatures"

It’s essential to keeping us alive. So today let’s pay specific attention to water.

Observe water all around you … in nature and in your home, in your body and in your life. Those of us with clean running water are lucky people, and we need to give thanks.

According to World Vision.org, 785 million people around the world don’t have access to basic drinking water. Many drink impure water out of necessity. This leads to disease. Dirty water and sanitation issues cause more than 800 children under age 5 per day (297,000 per year) to die from diarrhea.

We can focus on water as a Christian mindfulness exercise multiple ways.

First, we can pray for clean water for everyone. World Vision is among the organizations in the world working to end the lack of clean water by 2030. This issue has become more urgent, if that is possible, because of the need for hand washing in the pandemic.

We can support this effort financially and in prayer. This is one prayer for that:

Loving God, we ask for Your blessings on children, mothers, fathers, and communities who are thirsty. Purify, protect, and multiply their water sources. Strengthen their resolve so they may fully enjoy the benefits of clean water — essentials like education, gardens of fresh produce, and good health.

We also can pray for the global will to ensure everyone has safe drinking water. At the same time, we can pray for the women and children who walk long distances to carry water. This has been women’s work since Biblical times.

In fact, a Samaritan woman who came to get water from a well had a memorable encounter with Jesus. He told her:  “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water,” (John 4:10). While we pray for the gift of clean water for all, let us also ask for Living Water for ourselves and the rest of the world. Here’s another prayer from World Vision:

We are grateful to You, Lord, for being our Source of living water — the One who satisfies our soul’s deepest desire with the joy of salvation. Open people’s eyes to recognize You as the only Source of living water for their parched souls. Let them be refreshed in Your love when they enjoy clean water to drink.

Another Christian mindfulness exercise is to be deliberate in giving thanks for our own clean water for a day. Each time you drink, hold the glass in front of you, and spend 10 seconds looking at it. Understand all the work and effort … and think of all the people … involved in getting the water to you. Then thank God for your drink. Or your shower or bath or laundry water.

For an even more thought-provoking exercise, take the Matthew 25 challenge from World Vision. Here’s how.

Observing water can provide us with many lessons. One unit of water can easily change from liquid to solid to gas, reflecting the impermanence of life. Water can show us how to flow through changing circumstances. And water can show its power, just when you think that people have conquered it. “Respect the river” is a motto in my boating life.

I hope you can take time to observe water this week. Let me know what you see.

Take Jesus on a Picnic

As summer starts to wind down, let’s go on a picnic packed with Christian mindfulness. It’s easy. Pack a lunch filled with the healthy food that the Lord wants you to eat. Include the Bible or a devotional, either in the basket or on your phone. Then go out into nature to intentionally spend time with the Lord and His creation.

Creating space with silence and beauty allows us all to open up to hear the Lord’s still, small voice. I do these picnics alone, but you can invite companions if they agree to the concept.

We spend so much time indoors, particularly if the weather is difficult. The concept of weather can help us to see the totality of God’s creation. Yes, God made the perfect sunny, breezy day. But He also made the rain, the wind, the searing heat and the gray skies. A daily walk in creation is always a good idea.

For the picnic, pick some time when you can devote at least an hour. Stay in the present moment, thanking God for the sky, the insects, the trees, the grass and everything else around you. Pray to God to bless the other people that you see. Quietly read your devotional or Bible, asking Him to speak to you. Bring a journal if you’d like to think through questions or concerns.

You can also add some fun. Bring some bubbles. Watch some birds. Borrow a child’s magnifying glass to look at insects. Revel in the wonder of nature. Doing this mindfully can help us all to feel God’s presence in the present moment.

Like many of us, I have missed having the opportunity to go on a retreat in the last two years or so. This is a retreat that you can take any time, and you don’t even have to wear a mask outside these days.

Jesus often went off by himself to commune with His father. I’ll bet he would love to go on a picnic with you.

Check out the menu to find other summer mindfulness exercises.

Three Steps to Mindful Worship

My journey has taken me from liturgical music to contemporary Christian worship music. It took me a while to learn how to worship intentionally and mindfully while the band plays loudly. Here are three steps that will help you to practice Christian mindfulness as you participate in worship music.

  1. Sing to God, not about God. This is a similarity between liturgical music and contemporary Christian worship songs. But it’s different from some from mainline Protestant denominations. John Wimber, a musician who founded the Vineyard movement, and his wife, Carol, noticed that they experienced God deeply when they sang songs that personally addressed Jesus. Carol Wimber wrote, “Those types of songs both stirred and fed the hunger for God within me.”
  2. Worship with your body. During the pandemic, many of us have watched our services online, singing while we slouched in an armchair. Now we are back in church, standing and lifting our hands. The songs feel much more like worship. The Wimbers saw this, too. “Because the word worship means literally to bow down, it is important that our bodies are involved in what our spirits are saying. In Scripture, this is accomplished through bowing heads, lifting our hands, kneeling and even lying prostate before God.”
  3. Worship throughout the day. Worshipping can lift you up when you are doing something that normally brings you down. I realized that I was thinking very negatively when I was getting ready to go to work. So I started bringing worship music into the bathroom with me. Now I sing to God while I dress. It helps so much. Think about times of the day when you are feeling the worst and see if you can add worship music to the routine!

Do you have any suggestions of how to bring Christian mindfulness to your worship times? I’d love to hear them.