Do you remember a time when you were told who you are? It’s nice to hear that you’re kind or smart. But sometimes you hear that you are clumsy, stupid, ungrateful or worthless.
Where do those names go? Yes, they are still in your head. And often they become part of the inner critic who doesn’t like much of what you do. Today’s Christian mindfulness exercise is helping us to recognize that your inner critic is talking and to learn how to stop listening to it.
It is all part of detachment, the art of experiencing feelings without allowing them to control you. Numbing out feelings is unhealthy. That’s not what I’m suggesting. Detachment steps in to allow us to make choices about our thoughts and actions. In Christian mindfulness, we allow ourselves to walk with Jesus and to do God’s will.
Learning to focus on the presence of God helps us to recognize the negative impact of our inner critic. We do what we should do, regardless of how we feel. This allows us to be loving to people we don’t like and to participate in situations where we have felt awkward in the past. We can do hard things with hard people.
The first step is to pray. Ask God to help you listen to your thoughts. Spend some time writing down what you hear. Are you getting criticism and ridicule? That’s the inner critic. Be aware of what the inner critic sounds like. Keep a list of what you hear, if that helps. These hurtful statements from the past have little to do with your identity in Christ.
Once we recognize our inner critic’s voice, we need to deliberately ignore it. When the words arise, pray before you take any action. Ask for an increase in God’s presence. And turn your thoughts towards praise and gratitude. Then do the next right thing.
Ignoring your inner critic can help you to detach from emotional reactions and walk in the ways of peace.
My former boss died last week. I worked for her for 13 years. She taught me how to be a communications strategist, how to embrace New York, and how to deal with difficult people without losing your cool. We went through her divorce, the deaths of her parents, my son’s disability, and the deaths of my father and sister-in-law. I have many good memories and a little sadness from difficult times.
The last time I saw her was at a Christmas party just before the pandemic. She was busy with a client, and I needed to leave. So I stood near her, waiting for an opening. It was brief. I gave her a hug and wished her well. I don’t remember what she said to me. It was the last time I saw one of the most monumental people in my life.
Sometimes we are fully conscious that we are saying goodbye to a loved one. It was so at my dad’s deathbed when they took him off a ventilator. My mother, brother, sister and I watched him take his last breath in full awareness of the finality of the moment.
But those times are rare.
This Christian mindfulness exercise helps us be less cavalier about seeing your loved ones. It’s simple: Just remind yourself that this could be the last time you talk to them. This sounds like Debbie Downer created the exercise, but it also helps you to be more aware of the person. After all, death comes to 100% of us, and not always in the order we were expecting.
We are often distracted, particularly around our family. We half-listen. We get annoyed. We don’t recognize how important every interaction is. I even think this colors our reaction when we lose someone to death. I wish I’d known … I wish I’d said … I wish we’d gotten past this.
Try listening to a loved one with the idea that it could be the last time. It makes the future better.
I met Jan Johnson on Zoom doing a class during 2020. Calm and funny, she seems like a person who has great insight into God. She also was a close associate of Dallas Willard, so she was well taught.
Her wonderful short book gives examples of how others have spent the day … and night … with Jesus during their ordinary circumstances. As the back cover says, “It shows that continual awareness of God is not just for the super-spiritual, but that anyone can sense His companionship in the mundane, in-between moments of life.”
Easy and quick to Read, Yet Profound
The contents are divided into three sections: Moments to Turn Over, Skills to Develop and Questions to Ponder. The first chapter is “Trying Too Hard,” which has been a serious problem for me. I have tried to practice the presence of God by talking to him continually, which gets tiresome, I’d guess, to both of us.
Jan Johnson talks about weaving prayer into activities and praying without words. She also dispenses good advice about asking God questions and addressing our deeper fears, including coming to believe that God actually loves us.
For example, in the chapter “Hearing God,” she writes, “Continual conversation with God means that there are moments when God speaks and we listen. Even though it may be scary to think of God speaking to us, it is normal and not weird.” Some of those ways include:
Works of art
I’m not alone in loving this book. It has an average 4.41 star rating with 150 readers on GoodReads and a 4.9 star average rating with 87 readers on Amazon. Trust me. This book can change your walk with God.
Ash Wednesday is this week, so today is a good time to prepare our Lenten resolutions. I’ve used Lent to give up bad habits, but more often I take this time to create positive habits.
Think about how we can improve our prayer life, fasting and giving. Some families pick a charity and put their change into a bowl each day. Others give up eating out and give away the money they saved. My church took a recent pledge to not have cell phones at the dinner table. We can find many things to improve if we think and pray about it.
I also always have a Lenten reading program. In the past, I read a biography of a Christian I admired, a devotional and a general book about faith each Lent. Today it’s a lot more random. I just look at the bookshelves to see what I think would be helpful and inspiring.
Take some time today to figure out how you want to spend Lent. Your resolutions can be positive and prayerful. May you have a blessed Lent.
Breath prayer is an important part of my Christian mindfulness practice. That’s common. The Christian breath prayer is a supercharged mantrum: the repetition of a word or phrase repeated in conjunction with a breath to center the mind on the presence of God.
I have used the phrase “Come, Holy Spirit” frequently during the day for more than 20 years. I inhale on the word “Come” and exhale on “Holy Spirit.” I plan to continue that practice for the rest of my life, but there are times when I could use another phrase.
Some Christians use short pieces of Scripture in breath prayer, and I see an advantage to this. I’ve found several ideas on Christian websites. For example, a piece written by Joe Iovino for the United Methodist Church website nicely summarizes various ways to expand our prayer lives, including using breath prayer. As he says,”The Holy Spirit is as near as the air we breathe.”
The mennoniteusa.org website offers a pdf on breath prayers with good ideas for using breath prayer. Two are different from anything I’ve seen before:
Confessional Breath Prayers: Exhaling, you breathe out a confession of a personal failing or worry. Inhaling, you breathe in an assurance of God’s love. An example that they give is: (exhaling) I breathe out worry. (inhaling): Grant me your peace.
Breath Prayers for the World: In this style, we exhale as we live up the sins of the world. We inhale as we breathe out corrections, such as “I am the hands and feet of God in the world.” The corrections are about love and justice. One example from me: (exhaling) I lift up all the suffering in Ukraine. (inhaling) May you bring peace and justice.
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.
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.
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.
Are you trying too hard to be at peace? Fighting hard to practice mindfulness?
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.