Settle Yourself: Release
If you are able, go outside to a place where there are plants and other greenery. Take a few deep breaths. Begin to notice the life around you.
If my garden could talk, what wisdom for my soul might it provide?
Eat more chicken?
Don’t tread on me?
On the more serious side, maybe your garden might say:
- Give me boundaries. The weeds are intruding and the dogs are stomping my seedlings.
- Don’t crowd me. I need space to spread my roots.
- Hide that hose. God can provide our moisture. Depend on Him.
- It’s OK to randomly sow my seeds. Everything doesn’t need to be in orderly straight lines.
- No pesticides please. No need to poison others with what was meant to be good.
- I need time with you. Without your regular tending and attention, I wither and die.
- Prune me. This encourages new growth.
- Keep my soil healthy so I can flourish. Over time my needs may change. Adjusting the PH level of my soil today doesn’t mean it won’t change in the future.
- Don’t hinder my light. Nothing good grows in darkness.
- Remember that for everything there is a season: a time to plant, a time to grow, and a time to reap the harvest.
Oh Lord Jesus
work in us what you want of us,
For you are indeed the true gardener
at once, maker and tiller
and keeper of your garden
you who plant with the word,
water with the spirit
and give your increase
with your power.
— Cisterician Guerric of Igny (12th century)
Kathy Milans is the lead member of the Soul Care Collective Steering Committee.
As a minister, the times I feel most defeated are when I fail to show love in a difficult relationship. I don’t mean the warm and fuzzy feeling kind of love, I mean the kind that is spoken about in 1 Corinthians 13:4–13, the kind of love that is patient, kind, not jealous or boastful, not arrogant or rude. The kind that does not insist on its own way or keep a record of wrong. The kind of love that “believes all things, endures all things, hopes all things” (NET).
Failing to exhibit the kind of love that God calls me to show towards difficult people is a challenge for me as a minister.
I have had thoughts like: “Now what if that person decided to go and share with the world how I was easily angered, was insisting on my own way, was impatient, or was ready to quit because the relationship, the conversation, or the interaction just became too difficult?”
Perhaps you are thinking, “What difference does it make if they shared it with the world, Joycelyn? You are only human.”
I agree, but I want to be a credible witness for Christ. I am not aiming for perfection but for the credibility of my integrity. And perhaps you, like me, have people in your life who would be the first ones to call the Enquirer to sell what they know of all your “hidden faults” if you became well-known.
In fact, once someone told me that their goal was to expose me.
Initially, I was angry and afraid. Then I asked myself this: “Expose what? That I am still growing in my long-suffering and that there are just some attitudes and behaviors to which I have a very difficult time applying grace? That there are days when screaming is the “normal” pitch of my voice? That there are times when my words are not seasoned with grace? That not being easily angered is a description that doesn’t always apply to me? Or that I have a good memory and keeping a record of wrongs could be one of my spiritual gifts?”
A Changing Perspective
There was a time when having my “hidden faults” exposed would be a scary thing if I wasn’t willing to expose them myself. As a minister, I have learned that it is important to be transparent with my struggles. Then no one can threaten me with the words, “I’m going to expose you.”
When we keep our struggles a secret from ourselves and others, we leave room for the accuser to torment us with them.
As ministers, we must have a safe place to share our hidden faults. Scripture urges us to “confess our sins one to another” so that we can “pray” for one another to be healed (James 5:16). Who is that person that represents a safe place for you?
My E.M.S. Team
Along with scripture reading and prayer, I have created what I call my E.M.S. team. These are people whom I regularly see to make sure that I am emotionally, mentally, and spiritually healthy. When needed, I see a Christian counselor. Monthly, I see a Spiritual Director and I have my usual “go-to” friends. They are the people in my life who are not afraid to tell me the truth and let me know when I am wrong but they are also people who encourage me and build me up when I feel torn down.
I am intentional about meeting with at least one or two of my E.M.S. team members monthly to specifically keep me from simply leaving my hidden faults unseen, as well as to prevent me from being too hard on myself.
I have also learned that there are times when we must share our struggles with the people we minister to because it removes the power of Satan to make us feel like we are not qualified to preach, teach, be missionaries, sing in the choir, serve as ushers, work with children, lead small groups, pastor churches, lead ministries, etc.
Unexpected Ministry in Vulnerability
Sharing our struggles can even be beneficial to those who listen. As ministers, we must refuse to believe that sharing our struggles with those to whom we minister will spoil our credibility. Admittedly, we must share with safe people, but transparency can actually strengthen our integrity.
I was taught by a mentor to pay attention to my struggles, especially prior to ministering, as a way of God prophetically revealing to me the struggles of those I will minister to. And I have made this an important part of my preparation process.
A couple of weeks prior to speaking at a retreat, I was experiencing an intense spiritual battle in a very difficult relationship—I was failing at showing love. Suddenly, strange words popped into my head one day as I pulled into our garage:
“You should just take yourself out.”
Literally, the voice said,
“Just keep the car running and stay in the car.”
“What the heck?!” I thought.
So, I prayed and I felt that I should take materials on suicide prevention to the retreat thinking that there would likely be a woman there who was struggling with thoughts of suicide. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to pick up the materials in time.
While speaking at the retreat, the Lord led me to share about my difficulties of showing love along with the thought I had had while pulling into my garage. Quite honestly, I didn’t want to share that. It would have been much easier to address the issue through the materials on the table. More importantly, I didn’t want it to appear that I was struggling with those types of thoughts.
But the Lord insisted that I share, so I was obedient. Afterwards a woman came up to me with tears in her eyes and said, “Before you shared that you had thoughts of taking yourself out, I didn’t hear a word you said. I have had those thoughts too.”
Sometimes the sharing of our struggles, weaknesses, and hidden faults is for the sole purpose of opening someone’s ears so that they can hear the rest of what we have to say.
I also spoke with several other women at the retreat who were having difficulty showing love in the same type of relationship that I had shared about. One woman confessed to me something she had never shared with anyone. That day, I learned that sharing my struggles hadn’t made my integrity less credible at all, rather it had given others permission to share their hidden faults as well. Even if it was only confessed to me, it was no longer their secret.
So, I invite you to form your E.M.S. team and become intentional about sharing your hidden faults with safe people. I also invite you to be open to hearing the Lord speak to you about sharing your past or even current struggles—it just may be what someone needs to hear to believe that Romans 3:23—“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”—not only applies to them but also to you.
Joycelyn Lewis is a member of Soul Care Collective’s Steering Committee.
I recently learned that I am a “Xennial” since I was born between 1977 and 1983, and yes, much of my life was (sadly) lost using dialup. The technology boom, with all its wonder, presents you and me with numerous explicit and implicit choices that have a significant impact on our lives and the world around us.
For example, there are serious ethical questions to consider, such as sourcing the key ingredients (coltan) for our phones from places like the D. R. Congo. More close to home, we regularly endanger ourselves by falling into manholes or causing car accidents while texting. It is not an understatement to say that our relationship with technology is life threatening when it has no boundaries and we have no discipline or common sense.
At a more profound and formative level, technology also impacts us in less noticeable ways, ones that involve our posture towards others and our own formation. Before we go another day mindlessly using our devices, it is time to ask how we can safely integrate technology in our lives.
Enter, Andy Crouch and his Tech-Wise Family, available for under $10 on Amazon!
Point of the Book
To sum his book up in a simple phrase, it is this: technology is wonderful, useful, and most would argue necessary—so long as it is put in its proper place. The formative danger of technology is that it often nudges us in the wrong direction and exploits our weaknesses (p. 35). To counter this, The Tech-Wise Family suggests practices that reverses the direction of the nudge—not by removing technology but repositioning it.
So, the real question is not whether technology is in our lives, but how we let it in. Crouch reveals “the real heart of the paradox: Technology is a brilliant, praiseworthy expression of human creativity and cultivation of the world. But it is at best neutral in actually forming human beings who can create and cultivate as we were meant” (p. 66).
With using a phrase like “almost almost Amish” (p. 28), I was worried that his book might lean in a legalistic direction, but he is clear and upfront that being tech-wise “requires discernment rather than a simple formula” and that the “proper place for technology won’t be exactly the same for every family” or even remain the same throughout each season of life (p. 19).
Layout of the Book
Following the introduction, Crouch makes his case for how to be tech-wise in a very familiar way: the 10 Tech-Wise Commitments. While his schema is inspired by the 10 Commandments, he is careful to distinguish his commitments from commands. Each chapter unpacks one commitment and concludes with a very brief “Crouch Family Reality Check” where he describes his own family’s successes and failures.
The 10 Commitments are arranged in the following two groups:
Fundamental Character Choices
- Develop wisdom and character together as a family
- Create more than you consume
- Live according to the rhythm of work and rest
Further Nudges and Disciplines
- Devices “go to bed” before we do and they “get up” after we do
- No screens before double digits (age)
- Use screens together for a purpose, not aimlessly and alone
- Car time is conversation time
- Spouses have one another’s passwords and parents have full access to children’s devices
- Sing together (create music) rather than consume the music of others
- Show up (physically) for the big events of life
The 10 Commitments in Closer Perspective
This overview does not do justice to the book, so please consider getting the book and reflecting on it further. Also, while Crouch’s views are not necessarily my own, I don’t find much to criticize in what he has laid out. In fact, I’m attempting to lean in the direction of his nudges!
Commitment 1: Develop wisdom and character together as a family
Technology presents us with seemingly infinite knowledge and the ability to consume to our hearts desire. The family—and he allows this to include more than just the biological family—is ideally a place where we cultivate relationships that enable us to learn wisdom (i.e., how to use our knowledge in a healthy way). It is question of posture: consumption vs. relationships / knowledge vs. wisdom. Or better, it is learning how to consume and utilize the knowledge offered by technology in appropriate ways.
Commitment 2: Create more than you consume
The goal here is to shape our space so that the nudge of technology is not at our fingertips. The competing postures here include consumption vs. engagement or creation / cheap vs. priceless. That is, the nudge of technology makes us passive consumers of cheap entertainment instead of engaging in the hard work of creativity.
Commitment 3: Live according to the rhythm of work and rest
Most of us use technology to “relax” from our “work.” This is a deception, according to Crouch. Most people live in the cycle of toil (“excessive, endless, fruitless labor”) and leisure (“fruitless escape from labor” purchased from other people’s work), which is quantitatively different from work and rest. Rest is life-giving and does not depend on the labor of others (p. 87).
Commitment 4: Devices “go to bed” before us and they “get up” after us
Technology is especially dangerous when it comes to sleep—it is a nudge in the wrong direction. Not only does research show that screen time before bed interferes with our ability to fall asleep, but it also begs us to exchange sleep for more entertainment. To overcome this, put your devices to bed outside the bedrooms before you go to bed and don’t pick them up until you are ready for your day.
Commitment 5: No screens before double digits (age)
This will perhaps be the most difficult to adhere to, especially because families usually have children of various ages! The intent is not to justify unnecessary screen time so kids can become “computer literate” (p. 130). Since the best learning is embodied, encourage kids toward learning activities that involve their bodies over just their eyeballs. Crouch admits that this is, strictly speaking, impossible for most Americans, so if you can’t adopt a no-screen policy, at least put some sort of limits in place.
Commitment 6: Use screens together for a purpose, not aimlessly and alone
The irony of this insight is thick: “the more you entertain children, the more bored they will get” (p. 141). That is, screens do not address the larger problem, they only make it worse. In a nutshell, technology invents a false, overly vivid, alternate world that does not actually exist. More disturbing is that “our capacity for wonder and delight, contemplation and attention, real play and fruitful work, has been dangerously depleted” (p. 146).
Commitment 7: Car time is conversation time
This is one commitment of Crouch that I can say from personal experience is dead on. Even on brief errands, my son who is otherwise not disposed to freely offer up the cherished information that parents seek will open up for deep conversation. This has even taken my wife by surprise since it has also happened to her. This is not to say that we always ban devices from the car, but often, we go without them.
Commitment 8: Spouses have one another’s passwords and parents have full access to children’s devices
This commitment requires deep trust and vulnerability. Given our wedding vows and the other obvious ways that deep trust and vulnerability are required between couples, this should not be something difficult to do. While some may find this creepy, it is perhaps creepier that “30% of all internet traffic” relates to pornography; in fact, 62% of teens report having received nude images and 40% claim to have sent one (p. 169)! The rationale for this goes back to Commitment 1—parents need to both demonstrate great wisdom and courage themselves, but also to help their children grow in these areas because, Crouch warns, “if we build our family’s technological life around trying to keep porn out, we will fail” (p. 173). Although most of the chapter is framed against porn, other issues are assumed under the principle: “no technological secrets, and no place to hide them” (p. 177).
Commitment 9: Sing together (create music) rather than consume the music of others
Of all the chapters of the book, I found this one the oddest. Yet, his point is well taken. “In too many of our churches [and society in general], however, we have settled for a technological substitute for worship: amplification, which allows a few experts to do the worshipping on our behalf while we offer far too little of our own heart, soul, mind, and strength” (p. 192).
Commitment 10: Show up (physically) for the big events of life
The importance and value of this Commitment is beautiful; the remainder of it, which I abbreviated in the summary list above, concludes by adding, “We learn how to be human by being fully present at our moments of greatest vulnerability. We hope to die in one another’s arms” (p. 197). The nudge here is that it makes decision about attending weddings, graduations, etc., easy and it places high value on events that matter.
Notable features of the book
A useful highlight of the book is the inclusion of numerous types of charts, graphs, and info graphics (18% of the book to be exact) conducted by the Barna Group that helps to frame Crouch’s discussions and connect them to empirical research instead of anecdotal evidence.
While there is not extensive research provided in the endnotes, which is the norm for non-academic books, Crouch includes insights from the fields of medicine, science, and psychology. Additionally, he includes a brief section called “For Further Reading” at the close of the book that offers Crouch’s advice on what to read next to dive deeper into the issues raised in the book.
In a world that is running headlong into more tech, we all need to take a moment (or several) to examine how technology impacts our lives. Crouch offers families an introduction on how to do that well, and one that is based on both his own family’s experience and research done by the Barna Group.
*This has been a review of Andy Crouch’s book, The Tech-wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in its Proper Place (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2017).
Ben Snyder is the Editorial Assistant and senior Book Review Editor for Soul Care Collective.
Settle Yourself and Release
Find a quiet place to relax and be with God. Settle into your seat. Let go of any distractions. Hand them over to Jesus.
Encounter: Feast on God’s Presence
Read this passage over several times. Let the words take shape inside of you.
He will yet fill your mouth with laughter, and your lips with shouting.
Look carefully at this sculpture of Jesus laughing.
Then, read and ponder the following words from Martin Luther.
Christ is a God of joy. It is pleasing to the dear God whenever thou rejoices or laughest from the bottom of thy heart.
Prayerfully consider these questions:
1. Am I able to laugh, not at, but with myself when I goof up?
2. Is laughter something that lightens my day? Is my “mouth filled with laughter?”
3. Do I see Jesus as “the heavy” or do I see him as this sculpture depicts him?
Prayer for Good Humor
by St. Thomas More
Grant me, O Lord, good digestion, and also something to digest.
Grant me a healthy body, and the necessary good humor to maintain it.
Grant me a simple soul that knows to treasure all that is good
and that doesn’t frighten easily at the sight of evil,
but rather finds the means to put things back in their place.
Give me a soul that knows not boredom, grumblings, sighs and laments,
nor excess of stress, because of that obstructing thing called “I.”
Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humor.
Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke to discover in life a bit of joy,
and to be able to share it with others.
**The sculptor of this work was Jim Carlos. He and his wife, Freida, were members of Sterling Heights UMC, in Sterling Heights, MI. This was sculpted after Jim had retired from working for years as a welder on the assembly line in an auto factory.
Kathy Milans is the lead member of the Soul Care Collective Steering Committee.
Perhaps you have said your nightly prayers since you were small. Whether it be a prayer of gratefulness, concern for others, or a personal longing, saying a prayer before bed is a nightly practice that allows you to give God your worries before you rest.
A major reason adults lose sleep is due to the amount of stress in their day to day life. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 7 out of 10 adults experience negative stress daily, and it affects their sleeping habits. Learning how to lean on God for help with your stress and your worries can help lift the stress out of your mind. Turning your troubles over to God or asking God for ways to deal with stress can significantly help your stress levels as well as improve your sleep.
The following are some practices you can use to prepare for bed so you will have a peaceful night of quality rest.
Try to make sure that you have a consistent nightly routine. Get ready for bed, practice mindful meditation, say your prayers, and as you begin to wind down for the night, you will be training your mind and body to do the same. It will take some time and effort on your part, but if you can ask God for the focus and steadfastness to stick to your routine, you will be getting better, more consistent sleep in no time. You can make any of the following helpful practices a part of your nightly routine.
Improving Your Sleep with Prayer
Religious people tend to be more social, yet they also tend to worry. According to Huffington Post, people who have a strong religious upbringing have a religious identity which affects their behavior and the entire being of who the person is. These aspects of their lives serve them well when it comes to longevity. Overall, those who pray each day tend to live longer than those who do not. Chances are, they will sleep better as well.
While you may already be praying for better sleep, some additional spiritual practices can also improve your sleep. While praying for better sleep, pray for help to find techniques to sleep better or for the motivation and strength to stick to a nightly routine. One technique I started using was meditating half an hour before I wanted to go to bed.
What are the Best Prayers to Use for Sleep?
While we each have our own relationship with the Lord, there are several different prayers you can use to ask God for sleep. According to Aleteia.org, one of the best ways to get a great night’s rest is to once again claim inner peace and unite your heart with God. On their article, they include a helpful prayer to use before bed. While there are different prayers, short or long, saying or thinking words you find meaningful to God will allow your heart and mind to empty of stress and worry and be filled with peace and calm.
Find a prayer that means the most to you and your relationship with the Lord. You may choose to use the same one each night as a part of your ‘going to sleep’ routine, or you can choose to say a different prayer, depending on your personal needs or the day you have had.
Mindful meditation can allow you to relax and release your burden or worries over to God. Focusing on your closeness with God and turning all your fears, worries, or anxieties over to him before bed will enable you to fully relax and take your mind to a calmer place. When you are relaxed and calm, and your mind is not overreacting, you will be able to achieve sleep faster.
Another practice that promotes better sleep is the act of Lectio Divina, a Latin phrase meaning Divine Reading, which includes reading Scriptures and meditating on them, as well as praying to further promote your communion with God. Lectio Divina will also help to increase your knowledge and understanding of God’s word. Those who practice Lectio Divina do not see the religious texts as something only to be studied, but something to be lived. Bringing yourself closer to God each day can allow you to live a more calm and peaceful life.
Furthermore, going alongside Lectio Divina, make sure to cultivate a healthy holy imagination. In order to do this, you must be prepared and willing to respond to God on His terms. Allowing your mind and heart to be open, honest, and willing to see what God wants to show you is what Holy Imagination is all about. Set down your worries and ask Him to reveal Himself to you. Be ready to take comfort and delight in Him!
Use Essential Oils
God created things in nature that can help us! Essential oils such as lavender or chamomile can allow you to feel calm. Whether you want to place a few drops directly onto your wrists or on your temples or use an air diffuser if your skin is sensitive, deeply breathing in the essential oils will bring you a stress-free sense of calm.
What Else Can I Do to Relieve Stress and Sleep Better?
Besides mindful meditation and prayers, you can use other techniques to combat stress during the day. This way, when the time comes for sleep, you are not feeling as stressed out.
Practice a Hobby
Talk to God about finding a hobby or an activity you can enjoy each day. Take time to indulge in this activity regularly and be mindful to simply enjoy it. Whether you are taking time in nature, reading the bible, walking your dog, taking a class, or learning a new skill, make sure the time you have dedicated to your hobby is all about that: the hobby. Staying busy with an activity you enjoy will help you to take your mind off stressful things as well as make you feel more tired at the end of the day.
Get Plenty of Exercise
Make sure you are getting plenty of exercise. Taking care of your health and working up a sweat through exercise can improve your mood and decrease your stress levels, as well as expend energy and make you more able to sleep.
The Final Word
No matter which avenue you choose to decrease your stress and improve your sleep, always remember that God is by your side and there to give you the help you need. Call upon the Lord, and He will be there to guide you.
Do you have a certain prayer or practice you use to help you sleep? If so, comment below and let us know how you turn to God for sleep and for longevity!
Sarah Jones is a guest blogger from the site, sleepydeep.com, a hub for all things sleep-related. Thank you for your contribution, Sarah!
I pull out the recipe card, stained and bent on all the corners, though I’ve memorized most of the steps and measurements by now.
I pour the warm water together with the yeast, adding in the honey and melted butter. I watch it swirl together, then I carefully measure out the flour, adding it slowly as the dough forms. I knead the dough until it’s smooth and elastic. It goes into the green speckled bowl, covered with the thin towel.
Then I wait.
I punch it, shaping and kneading it again until it resembles loaves.
Then I wait again.
Into the oven it finally goes and the smell begins to permeate the entire house. And when I think I can’t wait anymore, the timer dings and I pull hot, fresh bread out of the oven. Five loaves in all.
The kids explode through the door after a long day at school. “You made bread today?” they exclaim as I smile, pulling out the butter and jam.
“The world gives scant attention to what it means to live, to really live, to live eternal life in ordinary time,” Eugene Peterson says in his book The Jesus Way.
You may think it’s crazy for me to take an entire morning every few weeks just to make bread. After all, there’s an entire aisle of the grocery store dedicated to bread alone. However, there’s a gentle re-focusing that happens in my soul as I knead the flour into the dough.
When I make bread, I’m forced to arrange my day in a way that allows me to be present. There is no rushing the dough as it rises, no skipping a step in order to get to the end quickly. My errands must wait and I can’t schedule a meeting…. I must wait for the bread to rise. And in the waiting, my ordinary task becomes sacred as I force myself to slow down and breathe deeply.
So much of our lives are lived in small moments, aren’t they? We’re trained to think that it’s all about the big, flashy loud moments. The funerals and births, graduations and weddings will always stand out against the other days, but what about the everyday, ordinary moments?
Baking bread reminds me that the ordinary times are where I live most of my life. It brings my focus back to who I am and who God is. This humble task pumps life into my soul.
Brother Lawrence was a monk who lived in the 1600s. He spent many years in a monastery kitchen, washing dishes. “Men invent means and methods of coming at God’s love, they learn rules and set up devices to remind them of that love, and it seems like a world of trouble to bring oneself into the consciousness of God’s presence. Yet it might be so simple. Is it not quicker and easier just to do our common business wholly for the love of him?” Brother Lawrence did decades of seemingly menial tasks, but he discovered an important truth. Experiencing God’s presence can—and should—happen everywhere, no matter what else is swirling around us.
If I’m not careful, my life becomes one big blur of busyness. It takes no time at all to fill up the squares on my calendar. And before I know it, the margins on the page and in my life have all but disappeared.
We weren’t made for this constant loudness in life. So when things feel out of control, I am thankful for the bread pans and the flour that help quiet my soul. There may be any number of things going on in my life, but when I clear my schedule to make bread, my heart is realigned. Richard Foster wrote in his book Prayer, “The discovery of God lies in the daily and the ordinary, not in the spectacular and the heroic. If we cannot find God in the routines of home and shop, then we will not find Him at all.”
This week may you find your quiet rhythm, your bread-making. May you re-focus and claim back some of the quiet for which your soul longs. Your ordinary tasks can become sacred when you truly live in the small moments today.
If you haven’t already heard of Tish Harrison Warren’s new book, The Liturgy of the Ordinary, it is my pleasure to bring it to your attention. I have already purchased three copies for dear friends, and if I had an unlimited budget, I would buy half a dozen more today. At just under $12, this Amazon #1 best seller is well worth your money and time.
The book is practical, easy to read, and Warren is transparent about her own life’s challenges. It isn’t an abstract or esoteric guide to spiritual formation. Rather, it consistently deals with the concrete quest that every follower of Jesus wrestles with sooner or later—how do I experience God’s presence in the ordinary moments of life? These form the basis for each chapter:
- Waking: Baptism and Learning to Be Beloved
- Making the Bed: Liturgy, Ritual, and What Forms a Life
- Brushing Teeth: Standing, Kneeling, Bowing, and Living in a Body
- Losing Keys: Confession and the Truth About Ourselves
- Eating Leftovers: Word, Sacrament, and Overlooked Nourishment
- Fighting with My Husband: Passing the Peace and the Everyday Work of Shalom
- Checking Email: Blessing and Sending
- Sitting in Traffic: Liturgical Time and an Unhurried God
- Calling a Friend: Congregation and Community
- Drinking Tea: Sanctuary and Savoring
- Sleeping: Sabbath, Rest, and the Work of God
I only regret she didn’t do a 12th chapter to make the number “biblical” but maybe she was being intentionally ordinary.
These ordinary moments, the essence of life’s drudgery, which reminds us all, from Hollywood stars and Presidents to our small-town neighbors, that we are fundamentally equal when the façades are pulled down. With spectacular precision, Warren not only exposes the ineffective (but dearly beloved) ways in which we deform ourselves and those around us in the way we respond to life, but she also offers insightful ways to reframe these moments with a view toward formation and a God centered orientation.
Chapters 1 (waking) and 11 (sleeping) bookend her reflections by underscoring that all of us come face to face with our humanity and vulnerability, our identity and our limitations. We awaken each day with morning breath and slacken our jaws as we drift off to sleep. How is it possible that such activities could possibly relate to spirituality?
After waking, there are various approaches to “making the bed” (chapter 2). What is the same for everyone, however, is that we each frame our day in our own unique way. This frame has a powerful influence on what unfolds. For example, Warren admits that she wakes slowly (as do I) and in a sleepy stupor grabs her phone to check the news or Facebook (as do I). Yet, the imprinting from entering the fray of political drama or Facebook controversy in these waking moments continues with us throughout the day.
As we go about the day, our bodily “maintenance,” such as “brushing teeth” (chapter 3), distracts us from more important tasks at hand. How many of us attempt to multitask while doing these types of activities? Many of us would prefer to dispense with these mindless activities altogether. Yet, we are created as embodied beings both now and for eternity. Could it be that God cares about our bodily “maintenance”?
At some point, everyone experiences moments when our false sense of control crumbles. Warren rightly asks how a tiny piece of metal could ruin her day by “losing keys” to her car (chapter 4). How is it possible to have a “spiritual moment” in the throes of a day altering crisis such as this when the logical outcome will mean being late for work, a critical meeting, the airport, or to pick up one’s child?
Eating is a mandatory part of daily life that at some point involves “eating leftovers” (chapter 5). What possible relevance could meals, most which we can’t even remember, have on our formation? Warren suggests that our inattentive posture toward food and the way we source it may offer a helpful analog for how we are “dulled to the wonders before” us (p. 68).
Anyone who is married will fight with his or her spouse. So, what could “fighting with my husband” (chapter 6), friend or coworker possibly have to do with formation? Warren paradoxically observes that, “most often what we’re fighting about […] isn’t really what we’re arguing about” (p. 74).
In chapter 7, “Checking Email,” explores the fact that most of us do not associate our secular work with God’s sacred work. Yet, Warren explains that missio Dei is not realized in theological platitudes, but rather in ordinary moments: “as I hone the craft of motherhood in small moments when I’m weary and frazzled and kneel down on my kitchen floor to listen to my crying child” (p. 94).
“Sitting in traffic” (chapter 8) in a standstill is probably one of the least agreeable places to experience God. We are hurried; God is not. We believe that time is money; God does not. Waiting is painful and unproductive, so we turn to our smartphones to redeem inefficient time. The problem comes when we fail to be present with those around us; our schedules are jam packed and our watch lists are so full that we are no longer aware. What if we changed our assumptions about time?
Part of being human means that we are designed to live in community. In chapter 9, “calling a friend,” Warren explores the fact that most of the body of Messiah are not like us. Not only do we experience tensions with our closest friends, but we quietly hold reservations about those with whom we worship. How could God love someone who supports _____? Yet, the universal church is only experienced in the particular church in a particular neighborhood with the particular people whom Jesus loves.
In chapter 10, “drinking tea,” Warren turns to our perennial struggle with pleasure. Some people are such dedicated workaholics that they feel guilty taking a break of any sort. At the other extreme, others are tempted to overindulge every pleasure that they can get their hands on. Ironically, the more we indulge, the more it dulls our delight. Yet, she contends, “A culture formed by the gospel will honor good and right enjoyment, celebration, and sensuousness” (p. 131). So, how do we do this?
Of course, I have only provided enough of a preview that I’ve hopefully piqued your interest to discover exactly how Warren responds to these sorts of questions. The astute reader will notice that she connects these ordinary, daily moments with elements of Anglican life and worship. To be clear, however, you do not need to know anything about the Anglican tradition to benefit from her insights. In fact, none of the friends for whom I purchased this book are Anglican!
If you take time to mull over and digest the feast that Warren offers, then attempt to implement these ideas, significant formation is bound to occur in your life. I am thrilled at what she has offered to the body of Messiah and eagerly anticipate the fruit this wisdom will bear.
*Review of Tish Harrison Warren, The Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017).
Ben Snyder is a member of Soul Care Collective’s Steering Committee.
Hi Soul Care Community!
Have you noticed we have been a little more quiet than usual, lately?
Our team has some big news that we want to share with the world! Recently, the decision was made for Seedbed.com to no longer host the collectives blogs. This was a decision they took lots of time making, and it seems to be the best move for Seedbed at this time. We certainly wish them well, and we will be open to any ways we might be able to partner with them in the future. However, this decision has actually afforded us an opportunity for some exciting growth and forward movement!
Asbury Seminary is creating a new hub to put resources and help at easy access for those of us who are on the front lines in ministry and in the helping professions. It will contain tons of opportunities for personal and professional growth for students, alumni, and for the public. This new hub will also provide opportunities to both give and receive prayer and other ministry with our family in Christ.
We are pleased to announce that we will be rebranding and expanding our site to partner with Asbury Theological Seminary’s Alumni Office on this one-stop hub for all things related to faith and caring for ourselves and others!
They will be providing our web hosting, IT, and and some funding, while we will be providing transformational and useful content for their users to access and find help in their own ministry contexts. They have found us to be a helpful ally in our mutual efforts to equip the Body of Christ. The sentiment is certainly shared.
Our team has already been working hard for a couple of months to make this transition as seamless as possible and to unveil a new, user-friendly, easy to navigate site on this hub. It will give our writers more visibility, as well as open up their reader base to us and ours to them. We will also be more able to accurately track our site traffic data. This will help us determine which topics appeal the most to our audience and which articles people are finding helpful.
We believe that all these coming changes are exciting opportunities to learn, to grow, and to serve you better.
Here is what you can expect from us:
1) Communication! We will keep our writers and readers informed about coming changes so they will not need to miss any of our amazing content. Updates will be given primarily via posting on our site, which will also be sent out to our email list. We will be posting an announcement similar to this one in a few days on the blog. Don’t worry! We won’t let you get lost in the shuffle!
2) Articles! We will be operating on a limited calendar while we spend the majority of our staff-hours working on the logistics and tech aspects of our website transition. We will continue to post engaging content at a rate of one to two posts per week until the new, shiny site is unveiled. Temporarily decreasing the rate of publication will allow our staff to spend more time making sure the new site is ready on time and works well for all our users. Once the site is up and running, we will resume our former three-per-week schedule, with the potential to increase frequency of posting as we add more contributors.
3) Inclusion! We will still be providing content that is relevant to all people who visit our blog. Our partnership with the seminary does not mean we are only interested in reaching a seminary audience. We are excited to add their audience to ours, but we will still be addressing the same themes we have always addressed, though we may include some new ones!
In the meantime, this is what our team needs from you:
1) Patience! If you submit an article in the next month or so, we will be choosing the best and brightest articles to showcase when the new site unveiling happens. So, if your article has not posted, never fear! We liked it so much that we decided to showcase it! This is a good thing! If your article did post, that doesn’t mean we didn’t like it! We still need good articles to keep our readers engaged during the transition time! You didn’t get rejected unless you received an email from our managing editor directly stating that.
2) Articles! We are working on building up a storehouse of posts so we can work a couple of months in advance. It really helps our team in terms of planning for special series and seasonal articles. So, if you have something you would like to write, you are all welcome to submit work to our blog. If you would like to know more about our submission policies, please don’t hesitate to drop us a note! If you know anyone who might make a good addition to our contributors, encourage them to submit something.
3) Communication! If you have suggestions for topics or other improvements to our blog, please do not hesitate to contact us! If you are confused about something or have questions about an article you have submitted, email us!
4) Excitement! It’s time to get excited! Many of you have been with us since we began as a tiny little group of caregivers with something to say, and you have watched us grow into a legitimate blog. Many of you have invested in us, and are very valuable to us. We want you to be as excited and encouraged by our growth and growing visibility as we are! Our hard work is paying off!
We are absolutely humbled by the way the Lord has taken our efforts and so graciously added his blessing to them. Little really is much when God is in it, and we could not have gotten this far without you: our writers and readers! Thank you!
When people have experienced true difficulty in life or a deeply tragic event, there often comes a moment when we come to a point of utter hopelessness. Enter the well-meaning people who always inevitably say, “God won’t give you anything you can’t handle!”
Those of us who have been through such a trauma are painfully aware that this cliché platitude is utter bovine excrement.
To say God would “give you” such a horrible trauma is terrible theology, and life is full of hardships and pains that we do not possess the capacity to handle. There are times when, without intervention, we simply cannot continue putting one foot in front of the other. Mark 5:21-43 sets right this theology of suffering and shows the power and compassion of God for all of humanity in the telling of two people with seemingly hopeless situations who have a transformative encounter with Jesus.
We begin with Jesus crossing over the lake with his disciples, seemingly to get away from the pressing of the crowds after casting the Gerasene demoniac’s demons into a herd of swine. However, as Jesus arrives at the other side of the lake, he finds that the crowds are not any better on this side. He is approached by a leader in the synagogues, whose name is Jairus. Jairus proceeds to throw himself at the feet of Jesus in a desperate plea for him to heal his twelve-year-old daughter, who lay dying at home. Here, we start right off with a seemingly hopeless situation. There is also some level of irony in the fact that a leader in the synagogues would come to Jesus for help of any kind, considering how critical of the religious leaders Jesus often was. However, despite the fact that Jairus was a member of the religious elite, Jesus shows compassion on him and follows him to his home.
As they are traveling there, Jesus is approached by a woman who has been suffering from a bleeding condition for twelve years. As the woman draws near to Jesus, she reaches out and surreptitiously touches the hem of Jesus’ outer garment. She seems to have some idea that there is something magical about Jesus that might transmit to her through his clothing. Of course, this is not the case. However, Jesus chooses not to rebuke her about that. Perhaps it is an act of mercy and understanding, given the shame she has been under for so long.
In spite of her desire to remain undetected, she is instantly healed, and Jesus becomes aware that power has gone out from him somehow. Jesus asks, “Who touched my garment?” (I do take this to mean that he was, indeed, limited in the fullness of his humanity and did not know who touched him.) The disciples are floored that he would even ask such a silly thing, as people are pressing in on him from all sides, but Jesus knew someone touched him in a way that was very different than the typical jostling.
The woman throws herself at Jesus’ feet and admits to all she has done. This is a big deal, because she has done something that would typically be punishable by death. She, someone who is ceremonially unclean, has put herself in contact with someone who was clean. However, instead of becoming ritually unclean himself, Jesus, in healing the woman, not only remains clean, but makes her clean as well.
This woman, who has been healed, is a member of the most vulnerable in her society. Not only was she a woman (who had no rights in that ancient culture), but she was continually unclean due to her bleeding—a true outcast from her community. Here, we see her cast as an interruption in Jesus’ trek to aid Jairus’ daughter—an interruption that would prove very costly, as Jairus’ daughter dies before they can get to her. However, Jesus did not value Jairus or his daughter over and above this low-class, outcast woman. He devotes the same attention to declaring her clean as he does in journeying out of his way to save a little girl: the daughter of a man who is part of the religious elite.
Before Jairus, Jesus, and the crowd can make it all the way to Jairus’ home, someone comes to meet them and let them know that it is too late. The girl had died, and there was no point in Jesus coming any further. However, this story does not end here. The interruption of the bleeding woman and the girl’s subsequent death are merely setting the stage for a greater work than anyone had expected. Jesus continues to the home, reassuring everyone that the girl is simply asleep. He goes into the home with only a handful of his disciples, and he commands the girl to rise up. She does, and she walks around. Jesus commands everyone to be silent about the miracle (though it is clear they are not going to be able to keep the crowd from knowing she is alive again), and he tells them to get her something to eat. He cares as much about her physical hunger as he does about her living again.
The bleeding woman had spent all she had to try and find healing through every avenue available to her. The task of being healed seemed impossible for her. Indeed, in her own power, there was nothing she could do to prevent what was surely her eventual death. It is a difficult place to be when you have resigned yourself to die. But, Jesus had other plans for her, and he had the power to change the situation when no one else could.
Jairus, for all his power and authority, could not save his own daughter’s life. He was watching her waste away before his very eyes, even as he was likely petitioning God to save her. How desperate must he have been to throw himself at the mercy of someone who was critical of his kind—someone he had heard so many bad things about? Surely everyone in the crowd knew who he was. But, he knew he had no other hope left.
This passage serves to teach us that Jesus does not value people differently based on the world’s standards of worth. But, it also serves to teach us that no matter how dark things look or how defeated and helpless we feel, God is often not finished yet. Even when we are at a place where we cannot go on, He has the power to change our odds and give us what we need to keep going. Even when we get the theology wrong (Jesus has magic clothes?) or when we don’t have enough faith (she’s dead; it’s no use), Jesus shows us that he cares and will act on our behalf to help us when there is nothing left we can do to help ourselves.
Patricia Taylor is the managing editor for Soul Care Collective and a member of the Seedbed Farm Team.
Lent was not a season I grew up observing. I was one of those jokers who offered to take everyone’s chocolate, after all I was free from that liturgical bondage. Of course, I still resonate with the Evangelical critique of “empty” rituals, but I’ve since learned that many evangelicals celebrate Lent and that liturgy is not by definition “empty.” It’s a matter of the heart and one’s intention. As Robert Webber points out, Lent (like the other seasons) is intended to orient us around a pattern of “remembrance of God’s saving deeds and the anticipation of the rule of God over all creation.”
Since Lent has not been a longtime tradition for my family, my wife and I don’t know the “right” way to observe it, and it is especially challenging with children who don’t immediately grasp what is fasting, testing, or death. So we’ve been learning as we go (our boys are now 11, 5, and 2 1/2). In what follows, I will share some resources, practices, and ideas that have aided our family to live into the Lenten season and be shaped by it.
One of the most helpful orientations to Lent and other seasons of the Christian calendar is Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year (2004) by Robert E. Webber.
Gertrude Mueller Nelson provides a combination of Lenten background combined with practical ideas in her book, To Dance with God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration (1986).
Finally, Tevor Hudson offers a 40-day devotional that is very helpful for all ages (Pauses for Lent: 40 Words for 40 Days). Each day’s reflection, which focuses on a given topic, only takes one small page. It features a verse, comments by Hudson, and a “daily practice” which is simple and concrete. One can always adapt the daily practice to be appropriate for children of various ages.
Themes of Lent: Death, Fasting and Testing
There are numerous themes associated with Lent. We emphasize death, fasting, and testing.
The theme verse for Ash Wednesday is, of course, Gen 3:19 – “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It is always a struggle to know when and how to introduce death to children, but we decided not to “hide” or “protect” our kids from the concept, even when youngsters. While they have felt the “weight” of death when we explain it, this has been a positive experience overall. It reflects the wisdom of Ps 90:12 “So teach us to consider our mortality, so that we might live wisely” (NET). We are also sure to recall that our Lenten journey into death actually leads to new life! Here is a great time to introduce our resurrection hope.
We explain fasting to our children this way: it is a way to weaken our attachment to the things of the world. What we fast from varies from year to year, so each of us reflect on what it is that has most captured our attention (e.g., dessert, sweet drinks, music, FaceBook, tablet use, or a combination of things). We don’t force our children to fast since the point of fasting is personal formation, not an obligation. Instead, we invite them into the experience. Our oldest started fasting from things around age 9. (Don’t forget Sundays are Feast Days when the fast is broken!)
Testing, of course, relates to fasting. While there may be other ways that testing will occur in our lives, fasting is the most immediate manifestation during Lent: will we honor the fast? Testing also pertains to the reason we fast. That is, through the test of fasting, we are weakening the hold that the world has on us—we are becoming more attentive to the Lord’s presence when we would otherwise be distracted, indulged, or entertained.
Lenten Centerpiece: A Centering Practice
This is the most important practice our family does because it is a visible, tangible, and daily reminder of God’s presence during Lent through the themes of death, fasting, and testing. Our centerpiece consists of the following:
- A small rectangular tray of molding sand represents the desert. This is the place of testing, where Satan may tempt us, but also where the Spirit leads us and where angels may minister to us.
- In the tray of molding sand we place a small basin of water which represents our baptism. After Jesus’s baptism, the Spirit led him into the desert for 40 days of testing. Baptism represents the start of our discipleship and new life.
- Next, we place a large round candle in the middle which recalls the Holy Spirit’s presence. We must continually walk in the Spirit, for we will have no fear, even in the darkest valley (Ps. 23).
- Finally, we place a wooden outline of Jesus which is in the shape of a cross. At the ends of the cross are notches to remind us of the nails in Jesus’s hands and feet, as well as in his side. One side is rough and the other is smooth to remind us that while some days are good and others are bad, Jesus is with us just the same.
At least once a day at a meal, we will light the candle and talk about Lent using this centerpiece as a guide. The children (eagerly) touch the sand, the water, the cross, and then blow out the candle when we are finished. As part of this ritual, we read a page from Pauses for Lent (see above). This practice captures the attention of even our 2 year old twins and frames our day.
Lenten Practices for Children
In addition to the above, here are a few other practices which we find helpful for children, to make Lent concrete, even if the little one’s don’t fast.
- Go outside or somewhere you can find dirt, and have the child pick up a handful. Then talk about dust and the cross as you reflect on Gen 3:19 (from Pauses for Lent)
- Make a banner, poster, or sign around one of the themes of Lent. Consider cutting images out of magazines and newspapers to make a collage, or have the kids draw things that come to mind (from To Dance with God).
- Create a mask which has a normal or happy face on one side and another which looks sad or dreary to illustrate Matt 6:16-18 (from To Dance with God).
- Place a cross made of twigs in a small pot, or hang one on the wall with the text of Matt 10:38 to remind us of our discipleship posture (from To Dance with God).
- Have the kids slowly sip a cup of water after talking about the desert where water is scarce. Pray “Lord, in my thirst for you, give me your water of life” (from Pauses for Lent).
- Lie on the ground, either face up or face down, with the children and together offer yourselves to God (from To Dance with God). Consider also praying the “body prayer” which is found at the bottom of the post, “How Rituals Can Knit Your Family Together.”
An Objection: Family life is so complicated and busy – there’s no time to observe Lent
Whether Lent is a new observance or a familiar habit, our lives are busy, especially so with children! Our family’s goal is to observe Lent together every day, not because of obligation, but because we desire the transformation which God brings through it. That said, there are days when we forget or don’t make time for one reason or another. Instead of feeling guilty that we didn’t satisfy the “checkbox” of Lent, we let it go and start afresh the next day. This is one further reason the Lent centerpiece and the short devotional, Pauses for Lent are so helpful to our family.
Ben Snyder is a member of Soul Care Collective’s Steering Committee.