Take Your Meds For Jesus: How to Turn Any Daily Routine into a Prescription for Contentment (Spiritual Practice of the Month)

 

Surrender (Instagram.Blog)

This post is part of my ongoing series on monthly spiritual practices. I’ve adapted this practice from friend, fellow spiritual director, and glowing newlywed Kimberly Malone. Her original suggestion was to turn taking your daily medication into an opportunity to relinquish control to God.

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I’ve always aspired to be a shower and go kind of gal: Throw on some leggings and a comfy shirt, run a comb through my hair, slap on some sunscreen, and run out the door looking as glowy and pure as a Dove commercial. (Except clothed. Clothing is good.)

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The ideal. (*Not what I look like in the a.m. Or really ever.)

Unfortunately, God had other plans for me: a DEFCON-threat level assortment of allergies and skin issues including year-round eczema that ranges from mildly irritating to infuriatingly itchy. As a result, I have a twice-daily routine that includes oral medications, nasal spray, and smearing various over-the-counter and prescription creams on myself. By the end of all this, I’m about as greasy as an arctic seal dipped in Crisco, but my skin will still be dried out within a few hours.

Then, I have to add in the time it takes me to deal with contact lenses, the allergy eye drops, and the retainers I’ve worn since high school. At bedtime, I kick my routine up a notch by adding in the nightly warm compress that keeps my tear ducts from backing up and swelling my left eyelid up to the size of Jupiter. I didn’t know you could have both oily tears and dry eyes, but, hey, I’m a complicated woman.

 

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The Reality: Hot Mess Barbie (Except Asian. And itchy. And not a 5’11” Double D.)

Basically, by the time I get myself to bed in the evening, my husband is already having a cigar with his BFF the Sandman over scotch, a cheese platter, and a roaring fire.

(Does scotch go with cheese? I actually have no idea, since I think scotch is a gustatory experience somewhere between cough syrup and drinking gasoline.)

But back to the spiritual part of this whole mess. Although that’s a misleading statement, because the truth is there is no division between the spiritual part of our lives and all the rest of it. God is in all of it, from the mundane to the awe-inspiring.

That’s why I love my friend Kimberly’s suggestion to turn your medication routine into a time of giving up control to God. And it’s why I am adapting it into this month’s spiritual practice. Medication is not usually something I approach with surrender. It’s something I do grudgingly – because I have to. I dislike the time, the expense, and most of all, the daily reminder that my body is flawed and that I am literally physically uncomfortable in my own skin.

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But what if I approached taking and applying my meds not with tolerance at best, resentment at worst? What if I spent that time giving thanks for the ways that God is present to me each and every day, and especially in my body? What if as I took a pill or slathered on a cream, I offered up control of my body and my life to the Holy Spirit? If I was less focused on the way my body falls short and instead marveled at how I am fearfully and wonderfully made? How God used my hands and my feet over the course of the day? How he might choose to use them tomorrow? What if I used this Thanksgiving season to be thankful for all the ways God is present in my life, even those things I’d rather avoid? How might God turn my grumbling into gratitude? My discontent into contentment?

While I’m going to apply this practice of surrender and gratitude to taking my meds, it can work in any daily routine you have, anything you might normally do by rote: Drinking your morning coffee, getting dressed, brushing teeth, tying shoes, folding laundry. Once you’ve identified the routine you want to invite God into, here is a simple, basic three-step prayer to follow on a daily basis.

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As you practice this discipline of relinquishing control and giving thanks, may God bring you new awareness of his gifts and grace in your life. And may your Thanksgiving season be blessed!

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Come find me on Instagram @ravishedbylight.

“To Steal, Kill, and Destroy”: Anxiety and Spiritual Direction

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I’m excited to share that I just had a short article published in Connections, the online publication of Spiritual Directors International, which is – quite self-explanatorily – an organized community for spiritual directors, also known as spiritual companions, or people who help other people become more aware of where and how God is present in their lives. (Hint: He’s everywhere – if we just learn to look!) SDI claims “more than 6,500 members in 42 countries around the world.”

In my article, “Facing Performance Anxiety in Spiritual Direction” (p. 7 of the newsletter), I describe a bit of what it’s like to be a new spiritual director and to feel my inner “demons” of insecurity and fear triggered by something that happens in a direction session as well as how my peer supervisors helped me get to the bottom of what was bothering me.

Here are two short snippets from the piece.Screenshot 2018-05-25 at 11.42.41 AM

 

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And here’s the header image the editor chose: Screenshot 2018-05-25 at 11.47.33 AM

That’s me, facing down my fears! Obviously on a day where I’m wearing fake eyelashes.

(You can find the complete article and the full edition of Connections here.)

Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation (Book Review)

Day 12 of my 30-day writing challenge

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Many Christians undertake Bible reading, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines like fasting out of a desire to “work for Christ” or out of guilt for not doing more. Ultimately, these activities can drain and frustrate, drawing us further away from God, not closer. God invites us to something different: spiritual transformation and a deeper life with him. 

Ruth Haley Barton’s practical, introductory book, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, is for all of us who experience an “invitation” to a deeper life: a longing and searching for connection with God. Barton helps us to recognize and follow this invitation to deepened relationship through the practice of spiritual disciplines. Prompted by the desires of our truest selves, we enter into the mystery of God’s transforming presence. 

Sacred Rhythms leads us through step-by-step guides to a number of spiritual disciplines, with the goal of making these disciplines part of our regular practice. These disciplines include approaches to Scripture reading and prayer, but because they are focused on being with God, rather than doing for God, they lead us towards a new way of life in relationship with God instead of more task-oriented work. As we embrace these disciplines, we will discover openness to the “everyday beauty and fullness that comes from paying attention and finding God in the midst of it all.”

In each subsequent chapter, Barton introduces a new practice or grouping of practices: solitude (especially important in an age of technology), Lectio Divina, prayer (silent, breath, intercessory, community, and life-as-prayer), cultivating bodily wholeness (caring for and listening to your body through exercise, prayer, and meditation), the examen of conscience, Sabbath rest, and creating a personal rule of life. These practices do not necessarily have to be learned in the order the book gives, but they each build on and support each other. Together they all lead up to the logical end of creating the rule of life: a set of prayerfully determined, individualized commitments to “values, practices and relationships” that determine what one does daily, weekly, monthly, yearly in order to sustain openness to God.

The book is a valuable resource for any individual seeking a deepened journey with God, whether new to the spiritual disciplines, needing a reminder, or hoping to create a rule of life. It can also be used by a small group, a spiritual director and directee, or a couple.

Appendix A is a guide for taking a group through the book, with prompts for the leader and study questions for everyone. Barton emphasizes that anyone who wants to go through this book as a small community must commit to the journey together – to the prayer and practices outlined, as well to creating a safe environment of support for all, where God (not any person or persons within the group) is understood to be in charge of each person’s spiritual transformation. Appendix B offers a short list of disciplines that may help an individual counter particular sins and negative patterns; for example, the practice of Sabbath keeping as a way of transforming patterns of over-busyness.

Although Barton confesses at one point that it is only in solitude with God that she does not feel lonely, she also establishes the importance of entering into spiritual transformation within the context of Christian community and spiritual friendship. She names Christian community as a discipline in itself, and a vital element of the formation process. It was first modeled by Jesus and the disciples – both by the larger group of 12, and by the select few that he choose to be with him in more vulnerable moments.

Barton is a gentle and encouraging guide, modeling the kind of unhurried listening to self and to God that she is advocating. Without making the book about herself, she helps the reader identify with the physical and spiritual exhaustion that led her to seek transformation. Her simple confession at the end that she has slipped out of her own sacred rhythms while finishing this book also demonstrates the generous acceptance of self that comes from a fuller understanding of God’s love for each of us, and his patience for wherever we may be on our journeys.  

Awakening the Creative Spirit: Bringing the Arts to Spiritual Direction (Book Review)

Awakening the Creative Spirit: Bringing the Arts to Spiritual Direction

by Christine Valters Paintner and Betsy Beckman

The book’s premise is that “a primary way that we can experience God’s mystery is through the process of our own creative expression,” that the “arts are the language of the soul” and that “God has been inviting us into this sacred dialogue since the earliest awakenings of humanity.” Art is individual, but also collective, rooted in human memory (the authors are fans of Jungian dreamwork) as well as in the primal rhythms and movements of communication between mother and child. The authors link art with right-brain activity, and claim that art making can bring balance between the two hemispheres of the brain, with their different kinds of wisdom. They conclude that we all have divine creativity within us, meaning we are all in essence artists, and write from this same perspective of openness towards many religions and spiritual experiences.

The authors describe the expressive arts as similar to prayer in that the focus is the process, not the outcome. The art-making process is a kind of pilgrimage – a journey that risks the unknown as a way to encounter the sacred. It is also a way to create a tabernacle for the inner self – to create space and welcome for one of the many voices inside you clamoring for attention to emerge, and be heard.

In the context of spiritual direction, the spiritual director becomes an “artist for the soul,” and the artistic process is an invitation to listen to the self without judgment, and to be fully present in the moment.  The book includes guidelines for the direction experience – confidentiality, mindfulness, honoring limits, risk-taking, honoring wisdom, and expressing needs to the group – as well as initial guidelines for engaging the arts that are too many to list here, but would be useful for any practitioner.

The book is broken into three sections: Spiritual Direction and the Arts, Explorations of Different Art Modalities, and Working in Different Life Contexts. It’s a nice mix of background and underlying philosophy, examples of exercises, snippets of artistic products (poems, Psalms, photographs of artwork, descriptions of dances), and responses to exercises from a variety of people, both directors and workshop participants. Each exercise is keyed with a symbol so the reader can easily tell what modality is used, whether storytelling, imagination, movement, visual art, music, or poetry.

Paintner and Beckman have created a useful resource / toolkit for those interested in using art in spiritual direction, either with individual directees or with groups. I do think that experiential learning in addition to reading the book would be helpful, and perhaps necessary, for most people who wanted to use these modalities, especially if (like me in several of these areas) you lack expertise or comfort in the arts.