Take the Christmas Pledge

As the first week of Advent begins, decide to enjoy the season with Christian mindfulness. I always take a Christmas Pledge.

I wrote this down decades ago, and I can’t find the source online.  It has served me well.

The Christmas Pledge

  1. To remember those people who truly need my gifts.
  2. To express my love for family and friends in more direct ways that presents.
  3. To rededicate myself to the spiritual growth of my family.
  4. To examine my holiday activities in light of the true spirit of Christmas.
  5. To initiate one act of peacemaking within my circle of family and friends.

Amen to that.

Prepare for Advent

The first Sunday of Advent is the Sunday after Thanksgiving. It’s a great time to make sure you have your supplies, books and ideas ready for the season.

Having a mindful Christian Advent is a time of joy and wonder. It’s a quiet time spent intentionally concentrating on the miracle of Jesus’ birth rather than the commercial version of Christmas. This kind of Advent is build peace instead of panic.

two books for Advent

Some ideas for Advent prep include:

  • Get or make Advent candles. (We are doing beeswax candles from a kit this year. You can find the kit here.)
  • Purchase an Advent calendar or stock up one if you have a reusable model.
  • Get the Advent wreath out of storage … or buy one.
  • Order a new Advent devotional or order new ones. This year I’m using two favorites: “Preparing for Christmas” by Richard Rohr and “Living in Joyful Hope” by Suzanne M. Lewis.
  • Get out your Christmas music.
  • Organize children’s Christmas books.
  • Pick the name of a saint or devout Christian. You can study their life during the season. I’m doing Henri Nouwen this year.

Overcome Election Anxiety

Bombarded with fears about what will happen to the United States? Feeling the crush of election anxiety? You’re not alone.

I am a registered Independent because neither party has a platform that I fully endorse. I dislike the lack of civility, the tone of campaigning and the name-calling that has infiltrated our political system. And I’ve experienced fears for our democracy that I never expected to have in my life. As Sarah Young writes in “Jesus Listens,” “People are calling evil good and good evil.” This leads to anxiety.

Jesus does not want us to lead lives filled with dread. So we have to deal with anxiety thought by thought by thought. We can be sure this is possible because Paul tells us to “take captive every thought.” (2nd Corinthians 2:5) Christian mindfulness makes it easier to fulfill this advice.

To take your thoughts captive and overcome anxiety, you have to do five things repeatedly: Notice. Stop. Pray. Refocus. Act.

NOTICE: Listen to your thoughts. We know that paying attention on purpose helps us to listen to the chatter in our minds. It’s a good thing, too, because our thoughts direct our emotions. Whenever we get wound up in anxiety, bad thoughts are at the core.

STOP: Take a few deep, slow breaths.

PRAY: Once we feel a bit more calm, we need to pray for God’s grace to help us keep focused on Him. You can pray:

Lord, help me to not be overcome by uncertainty and fear. Help me not to wallow in fears of evil. I know none of what’s happened is a surprise to you. I know in the end You will triumph. And I know that I may not even be understanding this correctly. Instead, I trust in you as my constant companion.

REFOCUS: God wants us to focus on His presence in the moment. So visualize Jesus alongside you. Think about God’s character and all the ways He is with you. Focus on God’s goodness.

ACT: God wants us to be a light shining in the darkness. You can do this if you practice the presence of God. If you seek His will for what you should do to become a force for good. Fill your calendar with things that you know God wants you to do. Such as?

  • Spiritual practices, such as all types of prayer, Bible study, Sabbath, gifts of your time and money, and intentional Christian fellowship in church and small group.
  • The seven spiritual works of mercy: Counsel the doubtful. Instruct the ignorant. Admonish the sinner. Comfort the sorrowful. Forgive all injuries. Bear wrongs patiently. Pray for the living and the dead.
  • Acts of corporal mercy to address the needs of the poor and helpless: Feed the hungry. Visit the imprisoned. Buy clothing for those who need it. Care for the sick. Shelter travelers. Offer drink to the thirsty.
  • And what you say. If you can’t communicate in ways that show the gifts of the Holy Spirit, be quiet. Talk to God about your concerns, instead of dumping them on family, friends and social media.

Focus on the good you can do. God has prepared works in advance for you to do. As you become a force for good, your anxiety melts away.

Experience Grace During Suffering

Suffering is a given in any life. But, for some Christians, suffering is a shock. A sign that God isn’t paying attention. Or a symptom that they are praying incorrectly. The idea that a Christian life is all prosperity and popcorn is widespread … and wrong.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

Jesus, John 16:33

How can we “take heart” when pain and sorrow, fear and loss take up center stage in our lives. God is omnipotent. God can do anything. God could fix this in a second. Why does He allow our suffering?

Jesus warned us that we would have trouble on Earth, but He encourages us to remember that He has overcome the world. In fact, He says “so that in me you may have peace” in almost the same breath. So what does that mean exactly when pain, sorrow and loss are center stage in our lives? And how do we get there? I believe some answers come from Paul’s words about his pain and trouble in 2nd Corinthians 12:6-10.

Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Paul, 2nd Corinthians 12:6-10

This statement makes perfect sense when combined with the idea of a God who consents to Satan’s request for test a person, as He did to Job (Job 1:6-22) and to Peter (Luke 22:31).

God knows that suffering develops humility, a true understanding of who we each are and who God is. Without this depth of awareness, we can’t be in a strong relationship with God. Our trials not only build faith and character; they also open our eyes to the reality of our existence

Jesus prays for us in times of temptation and suffering. For example, He told Peter that He had prayed that Peter’s faith would not fail. It’s notable that Jesus did not pray that Peter would not deny Him. He knew the terrible experience was necessary for Peter and for all who later learned about it.

The phrase “What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger” is not from the Bible. It’s from “Conan the Barbarian,” with the script slightly misquoting Nietzsche. Actually, suffering makes us weaker, which is a good thing.

Why? Because God wants people to see His presence in His Christians (and not just in Paul and Peter, either.) Suffering breaks up the vessel of our self-centeredness, our self-regard. A broken vessel displays the light of God’s presence within to others. Maintaining faith, joy and hope during a serious calamity is the best Christian witness we can ever give.

How do we do that? The good news is: It’s not up to us.

God tells us, as He told Paul: “My graces are sufficient for you.” I believe that this means that God will give us the abundant graces we need to deal with suffering without fear and anxiety, but with His peace and joy. All we need to do is be open to accept these graces.

I have found this to be true in my life. I open myself up to God in continual prayer and thanksgiving, using Christian mindfulness. God fills me up with peace and joy even in the hospital waiting room, in a locked psych ward with a loved one, at the funeral home, on the scene of the accident, in the board conference room and during the dark of the night. It’s not up to me. God is doing it for me and through me.

When we suffer and rest in God’s grace, God responds.

I will give you the secrets of darkness, riches stored in secret places, so that you may know I am the Lord, the God of Israel who summons you by name.

Isaiah 45:3

Kay Warren, co-founder of Saddleback Church, has called this experience “gritty grace.” Maybe the abrasion we feel is good for everyone.

woman picking up cell phone

Think When You Reach for Your Phone

Here’s a shocking statistic: Average Americans check their cell phone 344 times per day. About once every four minutes.

That statistic comes from a survey by reviews.org. I tried to find information that disproved it, and I couldn’t.

Our addiction to picking up the phone is scary and mindless. Christian mindfulness offers us an opportunity to approach our cell phones with curiosity. And to slow down the obsessive behavior.

Here’s a two-step practice that can help:

  1. Catch yourself when you pick up your phone casually.
  2. Ask yourself: “Why did I pick up the phone?” Are you bored? Are you worried? Is your job (or a person at your job, like your boss) getting to you?
  3. Pray about that condition. If you are truly bored, find a way to be a force for good at work and at home? Are you at work all the time now? Is that what God wants?

Once you start to think each time you pick up your phone, you will find yourself reducing the pattern. It’s addictive behavior, which is never good.

You also can make some guidelines for yourself about your phone usage. Here are some ideas:

  • Create specific ringtones for key people in your family and at work so you only react to texts from them.
  • Set a specific time to check the phone for emails and other texts.
  • Reduce or eliminate notifications for other things.
  • Use the do-not-disturb feature. (You can make exceptions for key people, such as a kid in college or an elderly parent.)
  • Turn your smart phone into a dumb phone by eliminating most apps.

Take a moment to think about why you pick up your phone. It can improve your life.

worms eye view of spiral stained glass decors through the roof

Add to the Light

If you are already in the fellowship, you should work unceasingly to keep it true to the whole gospel of Jesus Christ. You should see that your personal life and conduct cause no dimming of the light. With unflinching courage, you should seek to eliminate all barriers to genuine fellowship until men know that you are Christ’s disciples because you love one another. And above all, you should urge and encourage all people everywhere to forsake their evil, selfish ways and to come into the kingdom that they, too, might be part of the light of the world.

Clarence Jordan

Making Jesus Known as He Is

Every Christian life reflects on Jesus. Sometimes we can make Him look terrible. We hope that walking with Jesus in Christian mindfulness makes it easier to help people to see how wonderful He actually is.

That is not because we are wonderful. It’s because we are surrendered. When we strive to see the presence of God in the present moment, we grow closer to the Lord. That allows Him to shine in our actions and words, just a light would do through a lantern. Only God can empower us to show His spirit.

The August issue of “Give Us This Day” magazine contained writings from two believers, a century apart, who were practicing Christian mindfulness, rather they knew it or not.

Fr. Daniel P. Horan is director of the Center for Spirituality and a professor at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana. He wrote a sentence that stirred my soul:

In a world that encourages us to take care of ourselves above all else, it does not make sense to love the unlovable, forgive the unforgivable and heal the brokenhearted as Christ did.

The choice is ours, he said. We can “shirk the Gospel by living according to the standards of worldly interests, or risk appearing foolish because we are striving to walk in the footprints of Jesus Christ.” To me, Christian mindfulness is the best way to walk in Jesus’ footprints.

Another inspiring piece of writing in the issue came from Elisabeth Leseur, who died in 1914. These were some of her resolutions:

  • To persevere steadily with my daily prayers and meditations and my communions at least weekly.
  • To increase and strengthen, by divine grace, my spiritual life.
  • In all circumstances to remain gentle, serene and full of love for those around me.
  • By my words and actions, to try to make Jesus Christ known and loved.
  • To ask that He work through me for the good of those for whom I can be the instrument of Providence.
  • To work first for God and then for my neighbor each day.
  • To speak to each one in the language they can understand.

These resolutions are mine as well, although I fail far more often than I succeed. If we all tried to live in the presence of Jesus in the present moment, we might make his nature more obvious to a skeptical world.

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.

Get Ready for a Calm Christmas

As we hide away from heat advisories in sweltering August, preparing for Christmas is a fun item on the to-do list. I picked up “Calm Christmas and a Happy New Year: A Little Book of Festive Joy” by Beth Kempton for this purpose.

I already consider myself a mindful Christmas practitioner. Yet Kempton took an approach that I found fascinating. She proposes that Christmas has five storylines:

  1. Faith: The celebration of the birth of Jesus and the Christmas story involving church-based traditions and rituals like Advent candles, the creche and traditional Christmas carols.
  2. Magic: The story of Santa Claus, his reindeer and the elves, plus magical Christmas movies and songs.
  3. Connection: Things that connect us to Christmases past, such as “The Christmas Carol,” Christmas trees and treasured ornaments, Christmas dinners, holiday events and Christmas movie traditions.
  4. Abundance: The joy of getting and giving presents.
  5. Heritage: The Christmas practices of your family of origin and your background.

As a Christian, my Christmas celebrations focus on faith. But I was surprised to realize that my family also finds Connection as very important. For one family member, doing the same things that we have done, as in Heritage, is deeply important.

Talk to your family to see what about your Christmas celebration is most important to them. You can create an intentional approach to the season that meets everyone’s needs and desires.

“Calm Christmas” also offers a variety of ideas for a mindful approach to the whole season. I especially liked the author’s idea of spending the time between Christmas Day and New Years Day’s as a “hush” season. This is, she writes: “A time of long walks, hot coffees, languid lounging with leftover chocolates, adding birthday dates to the new diary, telephone catch-ups … and everything on pause.”

Wow! Can I have that in August, too?

Christian Mindfulness in Exercise

Research shows that people who focus on the sensations of exercise and on their surroundings enjoy the experience more. Christian mindfulness can support our exercise program, and the exercise program can build our Christian mindfulness.

How can we do it?

  1. Pray before your exercise, offering thanks for the body you have been given.
  2. Unplug. Exercise without music or other input so you can focus on the experience.
  3. Pay attention to the changes you feel as you exercise: changes and strains in your muscles, your mood and emotions, your breathing and all else you experience.
  4. Notice pain and decide what to do about it. Be nice to yourself.
  5. Observe the surroundings, whether they are nature or the walls of a room.
  6. Listen to your thoughts. Are you in dread? Watching the clock? Feeling competitive with others around you?
  7. As you cool down, offer gratitude for your body, inside and out.

Exercise can be many things, ranging from an addiction to an experience to avoid as much as possible. Bringing Christian mindfulness into the activity can add some calm and clarity to it.