Simple Practices to Keep Your Spirit Grounded and Your Heart Open in a Time of Social Distancing
“To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.”- Mother Teresa
Choose to begin or end each day by writing down three things for which you are grateful. They can be big – like test results that all is well, or small – like someone did the dishes without having to be asked, but be specific. Offer thanks for those on the front lines of this pandemic – healthcare workers, first responders, counselors, store clerks, truck drivers, food delivery persons – and pray for them and their safety.
If you begin to get aggravated during the day because of restrictions or what other people are or are not doing, return to your journal and write down three more things you are grateful for.We are in a time when so much feels out of control. Gratitude helps us to maintain perspective and to remind ourselves of the many ways that God provides for us.
Walk in Nature
Take a walk outside every day. Let the afternoon sun warm you. Feel the cool evening breeze on your face. Breathe deeply of the fresh air. Feel God breathing life into you.
There are many great reasons to get outside every day. Nature is one of the ways that God reveals himself to us. Even as I watch the geese and the turtles in the retention pond across from my house I am amazed at how God provides for the smallest of his creatures. How much more does he care for you and me!
It won’t surprise you that studies have found being in nature to be good for your emotional well-being, reducing anger, fear and stress. If you can’t take a walk, open a window. Look at a picture of your favorite beach or that last trip you made to the mountains. Delight in the beauty God has created.
God’s Spirit hovered over the darkness at creation and brought order out of chaos. In this moment in time when life is feeling out of our control, spiritual practices bring order in the midst of the chaos. They plant a flag in our day that says, whatever is happening around me, I put my trust in Jesus. Practiced regularly they develop spiritual muscle in us that knows more and more how to lean on God and to trust in him.
Do something for someone else. Call someone who lives alone and check on them. Pick up groceries or medicine for an elderly neighbor. Make a donation to a local charity on the front lines of fighting the virus. We are followers of Jesus who came, not to be served, but to serve.
Among the many challenges of life during this time of pandemic is a feeling of helplessness. Doing things for others in need reminds us of the great purpose we have in Christ and the important work he has given us to do.
When we get overwhelmed with our own feelings of frustration and anxiety in our current situation, helping others not only does something good for them, meeting a need and reminding them that God is present with them and cares for them, but it is beneficial for us as well. In addition to reducing stress and improving our own sense of well-being, doing something for someone else gets us out of our own head, our own problems, and gives us godly perspective.
PAUSE is the name we have given to FBC’s version of the Daily Office, an ancient Christian practice of “praying the hours” or praying at certain times of the day. The purpose of the Daily Office is to be reminded that all time is sacred and that our lives are meant to be structured around God, as opposed to squeezing God into the scattered moments of our lives.
Many of us struggle with the busy, fragmented nature of life today. ‘Hurry sickness’ has diluted our spiritual journey, diminished all sense of rhythm in our lives and left us exhausted! God wants so much more for us!
In this time of significant disruption, it is even more important to practice a Daily Pause; to be reminded that, no matter what is going on around us, our lives are centered and secure in Christ. Practicing the Pause will help you to:
> Anchor your life in God
> Listen for God amid all the clamoring voices in your world
> Be aware of God’s presence in your daily life
> Discern God’s guidance in the decisions that you make
Check out Pause.
When anxiety hits or fear tries to set in, when the latest news update or social media post sends your mind racing to unhelpful places, break the cycle of those thoughts by practicing a simple breath prayer. A breath prayer focuses on your breathing and invites God into your thoughts. For example, as you inhale you can pray the beginning of Psalm 46:10, “Be still…” As you exhale, complete the verse in prayer, “… and know that I am God.” Repeat this very simple prayer with each breath. Continue until your body and mind are both in a better state.
Be still, and know that I am God. – Psalm 46:10
Slow, deep breathing helps to calm your body. Your mind can only focus on one thing at a time, so as you focus your attention on the simple words of Psalm 46:10, other thoughts are kept at bay. Most importantly, as you pray this verse over and over again, you invite God into those thoughts and situations that are troubling you.
Abide in God
In John’s Gospel, Jesus talks about ‘abiding in him.’ He is the vine, we are the branches. For the branches to survive, for them to bear fruit, they must stay connected to the vine.
In times of crisis, we often feel like we’re scrambling trying to make things happen; trying to ‘fix it,’ whatever it is. We live by our own strength. But Jesus calls us to abide in him, to rest in him, to make our home in him.
Take five minutes every day and sit in silence before God, resting in God’s presence. To abide. Find a comfortable chair, sit at your desk, hide in your bathroom if you have too if you’re sheltering in place with lots of little ones around you. Close your eyes and empty your mind. Empty yourself before God. Without words. Without actions. Just rest, empty, before him.
God receives you just as you are – his beloved child. God desires your presence as much as you long for your own child to crawl up on your lap and rest. Be still and know that there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God.
Rule of Life
What have you been learning in these days of social distancing? About yourself? About the pace and practices of your life?
When our normal rhythm and patterns are disrupted, we get to see our lives from a different vantage point. Some activities that we used to hurry to get to aren’t as missed as we thought they’d be. Sharing conversation around the dinner table is more life giving than we remembered. We realize that our children’s teachers and caregivers are grossly underpaid, that we are far more addicted to our digital devices than we want to admit, and that our spirit is different when we stop at regular times during the day to pray, to speak to neighbors, to reach out to someone else.
In Christian practice, creating a Rule of Life is simply writing down practical, concrete actions that we want to be habits; habits that deepen our capacity to love God and love others in the ordinary stuff of life.
There is opportunity in this moment when we have hit “Pause” on life as we know it. God is at work. What is he showing you about ways your life can be different when we hit “Play” once again? Write them down. Live them out. Let God re-create you.
Don’t worry about your artistic ability, your crafting skills, or your green thumb! Take some time today to make something with your hands. Bake a cake, plant some flowers, put those pictures in a scrapbook. If you are really ambitious, tackle a new skill like distressing a piece of old furniture or learning how to knit.
Personally, I’m restoring an old chalkboard/abacus to use to hang keys and leave encouraging notes by the front door. I would say it’s an antique but it belonged to my husband when he was little and I don’t think he would appreciate that description!
Research has shown that doing creative projects like these with your hand decreases stress (don’t worry if it’s Instagram photo-ready!) and relieves anxiety. They are purposeful and practical and the routine action of sanding or digging or stirring gives our mind a chance to rest and our spirit room to breathe.
Our God is a creative God. He knit you together in your mother’s womb. He formed the mountains and the seas. He fills the earth with beauty and color and life. When we allow ourselves moments to freely create, we join with God as he makes all things new.
Centering prayer is a time when we can empty ourselves of all of our thoughts and feelings, when we can shed our ‘to do’ list and just be before God. During this time of social distancing, it is an especially important practice because it tunes out the many competing voices around us and within us and invites us to be present before God alone; to anchor the ship of our lives, whether it is in calm waters or about to be capsized by the rough seas of life.
Many times when we pray we seek to block out the distractions the fill our minds in order to focus on God. When we engage in centering prayer, we are instead invited to allow our distractions to be gathered together to be set at the feet of Jesus. It is almost as if Jesus pulls our distractions to himself so that we can continue to focus on him while at the same time offering him the scattered thoughts of our days.
A centering prayer involves very few words, if any, and so it may not seem as though it accomplishes much. However, as we continue to allow Jesus to gather our thoughts and distractions, we find that we become more centered on Christ as we go about our days. The busyness of life has not disappeared. However, what we begin to notice is that our attention has shifted from the to-do list to the One through whom we can do all things.
A method for engaging in Centering Prayer*:
- Set aside 15 minutes. Make sure you are in a comfortable position.
- Place yourself in the center of God’s love.
- Choose a word or verse that represents your desire from God (love, grace, peace, etc.) This will be the centering word you will repeat anytime you find your attention straying.
- As you become distracted do not worry about quieting those thoughts. Instead, let them run through your mind, and then let them go to God.
- Repeat your word anytime you need to center yourself back to the place of God’s love.
- Do not try too hard to find yourself in God’s presence. Instead, trust the Holy Spirit to do the Spirit’s work of connecting you to God.