Category: Mindfulness

Prioritizing Spiritual Work

Prioritizing Spiritual Work

If we are going to call our spiritual lives “big rocks,” then we need to treat it as such. That needs to be one of the priorities that is non-negotiable and doesn’t get edged out by the little things. 

Stephen Covey was an author, speaker, and business man best known for his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” One of his most popular teachings is to put “first things first,” and he spoke to the idea of “big rocks.” Picture a container in which you must fit big rocks and small rocks. (I’ve seen this illustration also include sand and water in addition to the rocks) If you first allow the small rocks to fill the container you will never get all of the big rocks in. If, instead, you put the large rocks in the container first, the small rocks will fill in the gaps and everything fits. 

In Covey’s principles, the large rocks represent the most important parts of your life, and the small rocks represent the little things that can so often distract us from what is necessary. It’s only when we first focus on the large rocks—the most important things of life—that we can truly live in healthy balance. As soon as we allow the small rocks of life to dictate our schedule and patterns of life that healthy balance disappears.

In my 20 years of ministry, quite often what I see is that individuals will call their spiritual lives a big rock, but then turn around and treat it like a small rock. What I mean by that is that is that there is a tendency to put priority on work, home life, hobbies, etc. and IF there is still room in the container then spiritual life gets included. The reality is that there will always be small rocks that make their way into our lives, trying to edge out the important things in life.

If we are going to call our spiritual lives “big rocks,” then we need to treat it as such. That needs to be one of the priorities that is non-negotiable and doesn’t get edged out by the little things. 

That means setting aside time intentionally to be in prayer and meditation, to read a portion of scripture, to be in worship with others, or to prioritize time with a spiritual director as you work through questions, difficulties, ups and downs.

Whatever it is that helps you draw closer in connection with God, and to further your walk in the journey, needs to be prioritized daily and weekly. If you don’t prioritize your spiritual work, it’ll become one of the rocks that won’t fit in the container of life.

>> Make a list of the “big rocks” and “small rocks” in your life. Does that list fit with the reality of how you spend your time?

>> What are the blocks of time you can prioritize to fit your spiritual life in first? 

>> How can you ensure that happens regularly and not get edged out?

The 12 Pounds of Christmas

I have found that my emotional, mental, and spiritual health tends to mirror my physical health.

This morning I stepped on the scale to get a reading on where I am physically in this post-Thanksgiving-pre-Christmas time of mid-December. I’m not one to obsess over the number on the scale, but I do appreciate the way it gives me a benchmark on where I am. 

I know that I have a tendency to emotionally eat. Bad day? Pizza. Stress? Treats. Busy and running out the door? Something quick (and likely unhealthy). 

I know that’s my default setting. As a pastor, the Christmas season is the second busiest time of my year.  There also tends to be an overabundance of goodies that accompanies any meeting, party, or event. If I’m not careful then the 12 Days of Christmas can easily turn into the 12 pounds of Christmas without even trying. So I need a plan for how I will eat that is healthier and kinder to my body in the midst of busy schedules and high expectations.

I have found that my emotional, mental, and spiritual health tends to mirror my physical health. When I am disciplined in one area then I am most often disciplined in the others. When I care for my body, I also seem to be more intentional in caring for my spiritual health.

If the 12 pounds of Christmas is a possibility, then I know that I may also move toward unhealthy patterns in other parts of my life. In that way, my stepping on the scale is also a reminder to get a reading on the rest of my life.

Q: How do you measure the health in the various areas of your life?

Q: How do you ensure that you are making space for healthy practices in your physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual life during this month?

Spiritual Direction is a great way to stop and make an assessment of where you are in your spiritual life. Message me, or book a session, and we’ll “step on the scale” together to assess where you are, and to make a plan on moving forward in health.

The 12 Pounds of Christmas
“I feel pain!”

“I feel pain!”

How often do we take an assessment of our current situation and give words to our feelings? Do we actually declare that we feel pain?

A small group of friends was gathered around the table at our house one evening. My son was small, and he was running around the house in his socks. He passed through the dining room like a rocket, and as he hit the kitchen linoleum lost his footing and wiped out. There was that brief moment of no sound, and then he let out a wail and yelled, “I feel pain! I feel pain!”

I’m pretty sure our concern for his injury was mixed with some laughter at the particular phrasing he used to indicate he had hurt himself.

The way that he voiced his injury made us chuckle at the time, but it also is a beautiful picture of the way that a young person gives words to feelings that we adults should perhaps take note of.

How often do we take an assessment of our current situation and give words to our feelings? Do we actually declare that we feel pain?

I would venture to guess that most of us have little issue naming our physical pain, especially as age sets in and the aches seem to multiply—it’s more a case of singling out which pain is most noticed at the time. It’s even culturally acceptable to share that ailment publicly with others.

It’s far less common (and less acceptable) for us to name our mental, emotional, or spiritual pain. I’m not sure why that is. If my back is causing me pain I can let everyone know. If I feel some ailment in my spiritual life that is far less acceptable to voice.

But you know what? Sometimes “I feel pain.” 

There’s no reason that we shouldn’t feel free to voice our mental, emotional, or spiritual pain. The cultural norm has shifted more toward acceptance of seeing a therapist, addressing our mental health, and working any number of programs. That has not yet happened in the realm of spiritual pain—but it’s possible. And necessary.

Spiritual Direction is a safe environment in which you can declare your spiritual state and express that you “feel pain” for any number of circumstances. 

Spiritual Direction enables you to assess where there might be pain and to begin to give voice to the ways that you have been hurt, or are being hurt. 

Spiritual Direction offers a path to walk with a companion as you seek to move toward healing and look for ways to alleviate the pain of the past.

If your spirit is crying out, “I feel pain! I feel pain!” then let’s talk about how Spiritual Direction might be the right next step toward healing for you.

Capturing the Sun

What we can know is that our greater awareness of the goodness and light in the present is an equipping for the season of darkness that will come at some point.

I sat in my family room on a Friday morning enjoying a day off. I could see through the window that the sun was just cresting the neighbor’s house to the east, and I was about to be blinded by sunlight. My first inclination was to move to the other chair. My second inclination was to sit and enjoy the sun on my face.

I chose the second.

The sunlight broke the edge of the window frame and poured through onto my face. I leaned back against my recliner and allowed the sun to warm my body.  As I closed my eyes to bask in the sun, the light turned the inside of my eyelids red with delight. 

The experience brought to mind the numerous other times that I have paused to enjoy a moment in the sun—sitting on the beach with palm trees nearby, lying on a boat dock at the lake, standing in the parking lot at church taking in a beautiful sunrise. Each time I tried to absorb the sun’s warmth and energy while etching the memory of the experience into my mind to draw upon later.

St. Ignatius taught that these are the sorts of experiences to seek to be aware of in their moment, and to seek to hold on to, so that when you are in a season of desolation you have a well of experiences upon which to draw. This was a moment to capture and hold on to.

No one knows when a season of desolation or darkness might come, only that it will eventually come. That’s a reality of life and spirit. What we can know is that our greater awareness of the goodness and light in the present is an equipping for the season of darkness that will come at some point.

I could have viewed the sun coming through my window as a slight annoyance and changed seats. Instead I chose to be aware of the gift of this moment and to store it up. 

What moments do you store up for a later time?

Have you ever stopped to think about this concept?

How can you improve your awareness so that moments like this can be stored up in your life?

Capturing the Sun
Band-Aid or Balm?

Band-Aid or Balm?

Healing, especially of a spiritual sort, often takes time, presence, awareness, attention, and a balm that prevents further dis-ease in our soul.

When my kids were little we went through a lot of band-aids. We had boxes of them in the cupboard with all sorts of varieties: cartoon characters, super heroes, princesses, cars, unicorns, and more. We had normal brown ones as well, but those never quite did the trick when one of the kids had a boo-boo. 

It always amazed me how quickly a bright and colorful band-aid stopped the tears and took away the pain of a skinned knee or elbow. Out of sight—out of mind. In reality, their cut or scrape was still there. Under the band-aid there was still a hurt that we had simply covered up.

I don’t fault them for feeling better once their mom or I took the time to kiss their boo-boo, put on some ointment, and cover it with a novelty band-aid. The time, care, and attention certainly helped them to feel better. They attributed their miraculous healing to the super hero band-aid, while we knew the injury would take time to heal and required some ointment that would prevent infection and speed the recovery process.

If we’re honest with ourselves, even as adults, we are hoping for a band-aid rather than balm. We prefer something colorful or distracting to make us feel better in the midst of our hurts, cuts, and scars while what we really need is some balm; a source of healing which will truly bring about wellness.

In a chaotic and busy world with drive-thru’s, comforts, and quick fixes, our attention is typically distracted by ways to cover up whatever ails us. Chances are very good that if we stop and think about it a bit that our various coping mechanisms are simply colorful band-aids that have covered our wound but not truly tended to the source of the pain.

Healing, especially of a spiritual sort, often takes time, presence, awareness, attention, and a balm that prevents further dis-ease in our soul. Wounds can be superficial, or quite deep and lasting, and they need to be addressed with a balm rather than simply a band-aid. The trouble is that we often don’t put in the work, and we don’t allow for the space and time necessary for true healing to take place.

Have you been wounded spiritually? Do you have cuts and scrapes in your soul which haven’t been addressed and have led to lingering dis-ease of your spirit?

How are you making space for healing to occur? How are you giving your wounds their proper attention and presence rather than covering it?

Let’s make_space together through Spiritual Direction. Let’s sit together and take the necessary steps toward truly healing the wounds of your spirit. You need balm, not just a band-aid.

Affirmations of Self

If you tell yourself something long enough you are destined to believe it. It doesn’t matter whether that particular thing is true or false, the repetition will ultimately worm its way into your identity and it will become your belief.

I sat in a log cabin on a lake in a gathering of about 20 people. We had just spent time talking about our brains and our identity as followers of Jesus. Seems like an odd combination doesn’t it? Usually we talk about our spirits and identity when it comes to faith, not brains. The discussion circled around the brain’s job being to keep us from changing. The subconscious mind is geared toward maintaining the status quo, and therefore, we are literally wired to stay the same.

We talked about our language, the way that we talk to ourselves, and the perspectives that we allow to become a part of our identity. Negative self-image. Body shaming. Poor self-esteem. Pessimism. All of that can add up to a pretty unflattering belief system about who we are as people.

And then we looked at scripture. 

We looked at verse after verse about our true identity as followers of Jesus and the way that God sees us: chosen, dearly loved, adopted by God, saints, overcomers, and on and on the list went. Name after name, and characteristic after characteristic, scrolled before my eyes letting me know that what was rooted in my brain’s wiring wasn’t true. What I had grown to believe about myself was contrary to the truths found in scripture.

If you tell yourself something long enough you are destined to believe it. It doesn’t matter whether that particular thing is true or false, the repetition will ultimately worm its way into your identity and it will become your belief.

Far too often we tell ourselves that we are no good. Not enough. Defective in some way.

God tells us we are chosen by God. Holy. Dearly loved.

The disconnect is hard to overcome. A negative self-image is difficult to rewire. And so we talked about affirmation statements. Repetitive statements that aim at rewiring the brain and self-concept to create a new repetition that we might come to believe. I’ve done this off and on in the last 20 years or so; new statements aimed at helping me believe what God says about me rather than the false statements I tell myself.

If you tell yourself something long enough you are destined to believe it.

What sort of affirmations might you need to work on to rewire your thoughts? What statements have you used in the past that seemed to help? Leave a comment.

If you’re interested in this practice, check out my Affirmation Cards in the Resource store on my website. The pack includes 40 Affirmations for 40 days so that you might develop a new way of wiring the message of who you truly are. Message me to pick one up in person, or I can ship anywhere in the U.S.


Affirmations of Self
Wedges

Wedges

Spiritual growth can’t happen when wedges are a part of the picture.

I’m not terribly outdoorsy. When we moved to our current house, my father-in-law had to show me how to split firewood for our fireplace. We got a splitting maul, an axe, and a series of wedges, and he showed me how and when to use them in their various applications. I was impressed with how effective a small, steel wedge was in splitting even the thickest of logs. I recall stopping between swings with the sledge side of my maul and just listening to the sound of the wedge working as it popped, cracked, and separated the wood even without the added pressure of another swing.

Wedges were effective in splitting logs that the maul couldn’t handle. Wedges, in a spiritual and metaphorical sense, can be tools of harm rather than good. 

A couple years ago I had a conversation with someone who described their feeling of disconnection from God. They asked questions as to what they could do to reconnect and feel that sense of intimacy with God once more. As we talked, and peeled back some layers, it became clear that there were a series of wedges in this person’s life that had dramatically contributed to their situation and the sense of disconnection. 

The question is sometimes asked, “why does God feels so distant?” God’s tendency is to move toward people, not away, so it is far more likely that our own wedges have created distance and separation. A moment of quiet and honest examination would likely reveal the continual splitting sound as those wedges of separation grow wider. 

The wedges aren’t anything that God has done. Wedges are all about what we have allowed into our life which create separation between us and God. Identifying those wedges, and removing them, is necessary in order to move forward spiritually. 

Spiritual growth can’t happen when wedges are a part of the picture.

When it comes down to it, we can desire spiritual growth and connection with God, but, unless we are willing to first take care of the wedges in our life, that disconnection is fully our doing. God is willing to assist in the process of reconnection, of course, but God is first waiting for us to initiate the work of removing the wedges that we have put there.

What sort of wedges typically find their way into your spiritual life? 

What sort of work do you need to do to eliminate wedges in your life?

Let’s set up a time to talk about this in a Spiritual Direction session.


Gauging the Tank

There is a need for a similar monitoring process to gauge our spiritual tanks. It’s not enough to coast along in life and suddenly realize that our spirits are on empty.

With three (soon to be four) drivers in our family, we have multiple cars. I’ve noticed something very different between two of them. Our Subaru, which has a smaller tank, is able to go further on that tank than our Jeep. The strangest thing about the Jeep is the gas gauge, or I should say the warning light of the gauge. Most cars have a warning light that lights up and lets you know when the tank is low. Typically when that light comes on I check the digital readout that tells me the DTE: distance to empty. I don’t pay much attention to that until the warning light comes on. The problem with that approach while driving the Jeep is that the warning light doesn’t come on until the DTE: 10 miles.

How is that helpful? How is it helpful to let me know that I have 10 miles to go until my car will just stop running? The Subaru lets me know when I have about 60 miles to go.

“Thank you kind sir, I will plan accordingly to get to a gas station soon.”  But with the Jeep, everything has now changed and I have to get to a gas station right away. Not helpful if I’m on the highway, and it’s even worse if I’m in the middle of nowhere. The gauge is supposed to be helpful.

Since this realization, when the needle in the Jeep drops to a quarter tank, I now push the buttons on the console to find out my DTE so I’m not surprised. I have to keep watch on that readout so that I can plan accordingly and not be caught off guard.

There is a need for a similar monitoring process to gauge our spiritual tanks. (Obviously keeping the tank full is the best approach, but life happens and we can forget to “fill up.”) It’s not enough to coast along in life and suddenly realize that our spirits are on empty. That’s dangerous in a car and dangerous to our spirits. I’ve tried to operate on empty and it simply doesn’t go well. We need to gauge the tank routinely, and preventatively, so that we aren’t caught off guard and running on fumes. 

That gauging system is different for everyone. For me it requires the accountability of relationships and my Spiritual Director. It’s often not until I am faced with talking about my spiritual life that I sometimes realize the gauge level. When I am faced with getting in touch with my spirit I sometimes discover that the gauge is quite low and I have no idea how it happened. On occasion I have been confronted by others, people whose opinion I value, who have spoken into my life to point out the warning signs. These are helpful gauges for me.

What is your process for gauging the tank of your spirit?

Let’s book a session to talk and gauge your tank.


Gauging the Tank
12 Stones

12 Stones

Sometimes we don’t realize the ways in which God has been at work in our lives until we stop and contemplate that activity—the ways that were obvious as well as the more subtle ways.

As a kid I always loved the stories in the beginning of the book of Joshua—“Be strong and courageous.” The spies and Rahab. The crossing of the Jordan River.  The marching around Jericho. 

The crossing of the Jordan River, on dry land no less, was always a favorite. The Ark of the Covenant was carried to the middle of the river, the water was held back, and the people crossed on dry land. Before the Ark was taken fully to the other side, God gave Joshua some instructions. Here is what follows:

“So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”  —Joshua 4:4-7

They took the stones, stacked them on the bank of the river in a memorial, and it served as a reminder of the miraculous work and activity of God in their midst. In Spiritual Direction, I always ask new directees to share their story with me so that I can learn and know better where they are coming from. This is in essence a stacking of their own “12 stones.” 

Sometimes we don’t realize the ways in which God has been at work in our lives until we stop and contemplate that activity—the ways that were obvious as well as the more subtle ways.

You, too, have experiences in life where God held you, provided in some way, acted mysteriously, or boldly blew you away with goodness. There are also likely experiences where God seemed distant and hard to be found, and even in those times there was a formational faith experience.

Take some time to sit down with a journal, or your computer, and begin to stack your own “12 stones.” Record your story of God’s goodness in your life, no matter how big or small those acts might seem. Consider the moments where goodness seemed elusive.  Take time to think about the activity of God in your life over the years. What are your “12 stones?” 

As you write about these remembrance points in your life, pause with each one and give thanks for how they influenced who you are today.  Re-read them often, and allow them to be a memorial of the miraculous works of God in your life, especially in the times and places where everything seems to be going poorly. Sometimes we just need that “12 stone” reminder.

Let’s get together and talk about this! Spiritual Direction is an excellent way to begin to recognize the activity of God in your life. Let’s talk about your 12 stones experiences. Read here on Spiritual Direction and let’s book a 1-on-1 session.

Putting up fences

Fences for the many parts of your life can keep those details in their proper circle while ensuring that they don’t allow outside circles to cross over and cause issues.

When I was about five, my favorite toys were Matchbox cars, Lincoln Logs, and the Red River Gang western set which consisted of cowboys on horses, cattle, and lots of fences. I would spend hours making log cabins, setting up corrals for the cattle, and driving a small red Jeep Wrangler matchbox car around the homestead. I remember the fence sections would interlock with one another and I could make circles and squares of corrals to keep the cattle in, but making one long fencerow wasn’t really an option. Sometimes they fell over in that configuration, there weren’t enough pieces, and logically only one long row wouldn’t keep the cows from wandering off. I had to stick with smaller closed corrals.

This came to mind awhile back when talking with a friend. We were lamenting about the busyness of life, the intrusion of work into home life, and the general difficulty of maintaining balance when there is little margin in our lives. I’m sure we aren’t the only two who experience this.

The day I got my first smartphone was an exciting one—the Blackberry Storm. As exciting as it was, it was also another step toward blurring the lines between work, home, and entertainment. I remember thinking about how effective I would be once I was able to access calendars and emails while away from the office. I would be able to balance all of the areas of life in the palm of my hand and it would be glorious. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it would become all-consuming for me.

Years later I still struggle some with how to disengage in my off hours. People have access to me all the time. I rarely turn off my phone and work stuff constantly comes right to me. I know that I’m not alone in this. Some people have phones for convenience and keep a rein on the intrusion. Others have a more difficult time with that, including myself. 

Back to the fences. My friend and I began to talk about putting up fences in life—not a long fence row to divide work and family—but instead smaller corrals to create separation in the pockets of life and identity. Work can be all-consuming, but that doesn’t mean that it belongs at the dinner table. Sabbath days help the body, and sabbath from technology helps the mind and the heart. Constant blurring of lines increases stress, prevents rest, and certainly impacts our relationships when we don’t strike a balance with the many facets of life and schedules.

Putting up fences can corral some of those unruly aspects of life. Those squares or circles of fencing for the Red River Gang kept the cattle IN and the pests OUT. Fences for the many parts of your life can keep those details in their proper circle while ensuring that they don’t allow outside circles to cross over and cause issues.

What do you need to put a fence around to keep it in the proper place? 

What systems do you need to put in place to ensure that your many circles remain separate? 

How can the use of fences give more honor and space to your relationships? 

 

Putting up fences