See the Suffering God

Yesterday’s Christian mindfulness exercise focused on noticing the suffering in our lives and all around us. We looked at everything from minor irritation to deep grief. This is life.

Today, while doing a spiritual exercise in “Emotionally Health Spirituality Day by Day” by Peter Scazzero, I heard an important concept. I confess I’ve never thought of this before.

Scazzero writes about how we want to follow Jesus, but not necessarily to Gethsemene. I’ve been struggling with decades-long unanswered prayers and the accompanying suffering lately. So I can relate to that. He says:

It is said of God that no one can behold his face and live. I always thought this meant that no one can see his splendor and live. A friend said perhaps this meant that no one can see his sorrow and live. Or perhaps his sorrow is splendor.

Peter Scazzero, “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality Day by Day: A 40-Day Journey”

This is a good thought to meditate on after we have observed the suffering around us. We can ask for the courage to walk our path, no matter how crowded with thorns.

I am mid-way through Scazzero’s Day by Day book, which can function as a daily office and prayer book. It is a companion to his widely-respected “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality,” which we discussed here.

Observe Suffering

Jan Chozen Bays, MD, suggests a practice that sounds grim at first glance. In her book, “How to Train a Wild Elephant and Other Adventures in Mindfulness,” the Zen teacher says:

As you go about your day, pay attention to the phenomenon of suffering. How do you detect it in yourself or others?

We shouldn’t just look for obvious suffering such as death or starving children. (Those things are good to meditate on with the intention of determining if we can do more to help.) Dr. Bays wants us to be mindful of the spectrum of suffering, from minor irritation to full-fledged grief.

Gaining awareness of the suffering in our hearts and the hearts of those around us is good. But it is most helpful if it unlocks compassion. As Robin Williams once said:

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.

Observing our own suffering also gives us motivation to change. How can we stop it? How can we think about it differently? I’ve always believed that your greatest suffering can become your most effective ministry. Could that be true for you?

Dr. Bays also suggests that we use the Loving Kindness exercise when we are suffering to lift up others who are in pain as well.

Are we brave enough to notice suffering today? Let’s see how it changes us.

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Read Old Journals

A great Christian mindfulness exercise is to visit own past … and really look around. Reading old journals allows you to see yourself with some mindfulness and perspective.

If you are not journaling, I encourage you to start. Five or 10 minutes filling a blank page every day allows you to document your own condition. Link journal writing to another habit, such as doing it before breakfast or after a meditation practice. I prefer to handwrite my entries, using prompts to help. This can be as easy as starting a sentence with the words “Yesterday, I.”

Your journal can also become the home of answers to reflection questions in retreats or readings.

Those who have old journals can read them with an eye to seeing patterns. Do you complaint constantly? When are you joyful? When are you angry? Are you experiencing God’s peace on a regular basis? Can you see connections between events and your emotions, between people and your reactions? Do you think you want this to continue?

When you write, you can express yourself freely and truthfully. When you read it, approach your journal with prayer and curiosity. Ask God to show you something that you need to know about yourself: What do you need to start? What do you need to stop?

Proceed through it calmly and mindfully, giving yourself lots of grace. In the end, you may see some changes that you need to make.

Create Your Own Childhood Summer

The happiness expert Gretchen Rubin has a great idea to “design your summer” by planning to add enjoyable activities to your schedule. While you are planning, be sure to re-create activities from your own childhood summers.

In elementary school, summers were wonderful and endless. I would create a tent out of a old blanket hanging off the backyard fence and use another old blanket for a floor. There I would spend hours outside (yet inside the tent) reading books from the library.

Mother, who was a housewife, carted us to the pool when she could get the car from Dad. Otherwise we had a baby pool to roll in when we got hot, sprinklers to jump through and a garden hose to drink from when we were thirsty. We played school and other games in neighborhood basements.

Box fans tried to cool the hot house. No one in the neighborhood had air conditioning. So we often sat outside and watched the lightning bugs. Or we’d pack up snacks to go to a drive-in movie.

In junior high, my sister and I rode our bikes uptown to the bakery for doughnuts and then to the library. The pool was a constant, and we enjoyed heading there on hot days from our non-air conditioned house.

Fast forward a number of decades. The community pool is down the street, and I haven’t been in years.

This summer join me by making sure you add at least one activity to your summer routine that reminds you of childhood.  I’m going to read outdoors. I’ll be on a comfortable outdoor sofa instead of a tent. But that’s okay.

When we’re enjoying that activity, let’s praise God for our good memories of summer.

No Complaints for 24 Hours

The best way I’ve found to monitor my own ungrateful heart is to have a complaint-free day. I’ve put a rubber band or an easy-to-remove bracelet on my arm. Then, when I do get ready to complain, I move it from arm to arm.

This points out the problem. Gratitude is the solution. Whenever we are ready to complain or grumble, we need to follow the suggestion/command in 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

In everything give thanks. For this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Gratitude is also the answer when we are prepared to be proud or boastful about ourselves. It’s not us, after all. God has given us the gifts we have, and He has provided graces to make things possible for us to do.

So try a complaint-free day. Change the band on your arm when you feel you want to complaint and consciously move to gratitude. You may find that it feels so good that you can stretch it into a complaint-free week or more.

What Do You Want?

This Christian mindfulness exercise allows us to monitor our wants and desires during a calendar day. It’s a self-awareness tool that can help to see just what we cling to, what we “have to have.”

Set up an hourly timer and make a list of the hours when you are usually awake. Start in the morning if you can. Then when the timer rings or buzzes, write down what you want.

It could be coffee, more sleep, a chocolate bar, a nap, a hug or something else. Looking at the patterns may help you spot things that you cling to when stressed. Are you running to the Lord or to the refrigerator first?

Try the exercise to see what it is you want. Then you can decide if that’s OK with you.

Celebrate Pentecost

Jesus told us that we would encounter plenty of false teachers in this world. How to detect them? It’s simple. You will know them by their fruit.

The fruits of the Holy Spirit is an excellent measuring stick to determine if someone (even ourselves) is a true witness of God. They are:

  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Goodness
  • Faithfulness
  • Gentleness
  • Self-control

The American Christian church is going through a lot of tumult and soul searching these days. Measuring the tone and content of these various voices against the fruits of the Holy Spirit provides insight into who is speaking best on God’s behalf.

I am so grateful for the Holy Spirit’s appearance in my life. Indeed, Jesus predicted just how incredibly important the Spirit would be to his disciples.

Prayers for Pentecost

Today, let’s celebrate Pentecost by meditating on these prayers:

Prayer for Pentecost in the Pandemic (from America Magazine)

Come, Holy Spirit. Come, Spirit of God, come with your peace, your power, your light. Come with forgiveness, courage and hope. Come, Spirit of God, unite us with the risen Jesus. Turn us again to the Father of Jesus.
Together they pour You daily into our hearts. Come now to our suffering world, sick with a killing virus
and everywhere threatened with silent death, but most cruelly among your poorest children.

Prayer for Life-Changing Power (from connectusfund.org)

Breath of Life, on this Pentecost Sunday, we ask that You breathe on us once again. Make our consciences tender to Your touch. We hunger for the life-changing power that Your Holy Spirit brings. May our lives exemplify the fruit of Your Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. May we use the gifts of the Spirit that You have distributed to bless the church and build Your Kingdom on earth. Amen.

Prayer to Walk as Children of the Light

Joy of Heaven, we are so blessed that You came to dwell in each of us on Pentecost, when Your church was born. Surely, through Your Spirit, we have died to sin and are alive to holiness. May we serve You faithfully, in praise, prayer, and loving service to others, as we are changed from glory to glory. May we walk as children of the light, in all goodness, righteousness, and truth. Amen.

Do You Want to be Holy?

As we prepare for Pentecost, we are meditating on holiness, a gift of the Holy Spirit. Do we even want to be holy?

Ironically, holiness, or piety as it’s called in some lists, has a bad reputation in our times. It’s seen as false, self-righteous, judgmental, rigid, unhappy and even mean.

But there’s a big difference between being holy and being holier-than-thou. True holiness is all about love. That’s not a surprise. Because God is all about love, too. Yet so many people have the impression that the Christian God is about hate speech and condemnation. Not true. Although it is true about some of His followers.

The gift of holiness inspires us to love people, not just certain people. It’s OK to be saddened about sin, but never to turn against the person who is involved in it. After all, that would mean turning against everyone, including ourselves. No matter how much of the gift of holiness we receive, we are going to be sinners as long as we are on this Earth.

The concept of seeking holiness first impressed me when I heard a statement about marriage. The pastor asked, “What if marriage is meant to make you holy, not just happy?” That statement is also true about life.

We can take each event … good, bad and very bad … in our lives as an opportunity to grow, to become more of a light in this world. When we look back, we might see how that has worked in previous situations/disasters in our lives.

Today let’s meditate on the gift of holiness. Perhaps we will find that we want it after all.