Tag: spiritual practices (page 1 of 4)

The Discomfort of Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday, and as evidenced by my “Spring it Up” post on Monday, I’d really prefer to focus on the positive than face my sin and Jesus’ sacrifice.

I’ve shared before and before that I’m pretty much a failure at Lent. Like John says, I’m more of a Christmas than Easter girl. Could we skip over the Lent chapter please?  But there’s no rebirth without death, no salvation without facing my sin, so I continue to try to enter in, to talk to God. This is a repost from a few years ago…

As I mentioned the other day, we’re on vacation in Florida and the other morning we decided to attend an Ash Wednesday service at a lovely little Episcopal Chapel near where we’re staying.

I was on high alert from the moment we entered because I’m not Episcopalian and I was sure I was going to mess up and kneel at the wrong time, or not know the secret handshake that would get me communion, or ask forgiveness for my “debts” instead of my “trespasses”.

I took my cues from a girl across the aisle who clearly knew the liturgical ropes, bowing to the Bible when it went by and making the sign of the cross on her forehead, lips, and heart.  I was fascinated.

Like I said, I’m not Episcopalian and I’m not Catholic either, but by turns throughout my life I have been disdainful towards, curious about, and, in the past five years, enriched by many of  their practices.

When I was growing up all I knew was that the Catholic kids went to St. Petronille for church (named after a guy who must have been on the JV team of saints because I’ve never heard of him since and neither has my husband who did grow up Catholic).  They got to get out of school early on Wednesday to go to Catechism and got to eat fish on Friday.  We never had fish in my family.  So they were special and kind of mysterious to me.

On Wednesday, while I still struggled to own the words of liturgy in a way that was meaningful, I deeply appreciated the silence, the reverence, and the simplicity of a worship gathering full of Scripture.  These guys really do repentance big time!

Anyway, all this has got me thinking about Lent and the question many people ask, “What are you giving up for Lent?”

Confession:  As far as I can remember I’ve never given up anything for Lent.

It’s just not been a part of my spiritual tradition.  And frankly, when I have considered it I’ve always thought “Well I could give up Starbucks if I wanted to, but I don’t have to so I won’t.”  I am so not into sacrifice.  I realize this exposes one of the idols I daily pray to relinquish – the idol of comfort.  Ugh!

I know it’s easy to abuse this practice…make it a badge of honor, a “work of righteousness”, an end instead of a means.  But, I’ve been reading about it and I’m wondering if it might be a good spiritual practice for me, identifying with Jesus in some small way, this voluntary sacrifice stuff.  I’m cringing even as I write this.  I find myself thinking, “Could I pick something I like, but don’t like too much?  Kind of ease into this maybe?”

I want to know… What is experience with giving up something for Lent?  Does it help you to see your sin and become more like Jesus?

If you’re reading this on email or on your phone and want to comment, just click on the title and then scroll down!

Couple quotes on Lent…

“Lenten disciplines help us to abstain from the daily distractions that prevent us from seeing and naming reality correctly. As we allow some of the external trappings of our lives to be stripped away, we can return to a truer sense of ourselves and a deeper pursuit of God.” Ruth Haley Barton

“Like going with Jesus into the wilderness for forty days, that we might come face to ugly face with our enemy.  Our sacrificing that we might become more like Christ in His sacrifice.”  Ann Voskamp

 Check out another great article on Lent by Ruth Haley Barton here! 

The Air You Breathe

Recently one of my closest friends was in a crisis situation – the worst day of her life – and in the midst of the chaos, as she was trying to make hard decisions, she had the wisdom to say, “I need to put on my own oxygen mask first.”

You’ve heard this one MILLION times on the pre-flight safety spiel, and have probably heard it as a metaphor for our spiritual rhythms.  

My friend was at a crucial juncture and knew she needed strengthening for what was ahead when family members and others would be needing a lot from her. She knew she couldn’t give what she hadn’t first received.

The other day I was feeling really down and I couldn’t figure out why. I texted a close friend who asked: “Are you tired?”

My first answer was, “No.”

After some reflection I texted, “Well, yes, but I shouldn’t be.”

And then after a little more reflection… “You know…I haven’t been doing a TON, but I realize it’s all been really draining relational stuff. Hmm…”

I realized I was just a little “out of breath”.

Our ability to give good to others comes from the good we first receive from God.

Here’s the thing… I think some of us are putting on masks that pump noxious gas into our systems. We primarily breathe in rants on social media and we absorb raunch and obscenities over TV and movies.

And some of us are putting on masks filled with sleeping gas. We inhale escapist stuff that isn’t real – isn’t pure oxygen, but rather lulls us into false complacency.

But what are the life-giving masks we need to choose?

The love of God is the oxygen we need to do good work in the world. If you want to bring heaven to earth you will need the oxygen the refreshes and renews.  Without breathing deeply of His love we are in danger of sucking in and spewing out bitterness, anger, and criticism, especially in these politically contentious days.

This is not an easy deal! Can we help each other?

What does putting on your own oxygen mask first mean for you today?  

There are a couple of apps that have been helpful to me – Centering Prayer app and Pray as You Go app. Both provide a short portion of Scripture and silence for reflection.

What are the ways you breathe deeply of life-giving relationships, experiences, and practices? 


3 Questions I’m Asking About Spiritual Disciplines

When Katy was about 5 years old she did something I thought deserved a “time out” so I told her to sit on the stairs. A few minutes later, I walked by and heard her mumbling something.

“What are you saying Katy?”

Scowling and with the most disgusted, put-upon tone she could muster she said, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, later on however it produces a harvest of peace and righteousness to those who have been trained by it!”*

So if “discipline” is unpleasant,  “spiritual disciplines” will be something I hate…a necessary burden to make me more like Jesus, right?  But then I read Matthew 11:28-30:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

And then there’s Matthew 15:8-9 where Jesus says:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’”

A spiritual practice is not an end in itself – not something we do to get spiritual brownie points, but rather, training we choose, like training for a marathon, that bit by bit, stretches our spiritual muscles, draws us closer to God, and transforms us into people who are more like Him.

In Adele Calhoun’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook,** she writes, “The simple truth is that wanting to keep company with Jesus has a staying power that ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ seldom have.”

So, three questions I’m asking myself:

  1. Where is my desire and longing? Where am I least like Jesus, but long to be?
  2. How do I want or need to be with God? (For example, I am an extrovert, so the discipline of silence and solitude has been stretching, but so fruitful)
  3. What spiritual practices might the Holy Spirit be inviting me to step into? As I do, they may be hard, but do they foster love and intimacy with the Lord, or resentment? Is this something I am doing with Jesus, or something that is ill-fitting and legalistic?

The post on fasting seems to have hit a nerve!  Some of you identified with my struggle, and some of you thanked me for being authentic, but you guys are way too shy about sharing your wisdom, insights and encouragement that could benefit everyone!  So many of you respond directly to me instead of posting in the comments. I thought you’d like to see some valuable thoughts that folks sent me or posted on FB:

I trained like you would for a marathon. I started out fasting from sugar . . . the next time I added bread . . . meat . . . vegetables . . . fruits . . . juice . . . until I could just drink water. One day a week. These days I am working on fasting from all electronic devices one day a week!

My husband and I have been regularly fasting over many years. It is challenging yes, but the benefits so outweigh the discomfort, that we actually enjoy it, especially the 21 day fast Daniel fast we do at the beginning of the year. The awareness of God, how He strengthens and enables us to go through is amazing.  Starting can be difficult but when it becomes a part of your life, it’s much easier. Drawing closer to God in this way is worth it.
Fasting? You have come to the right person!
When I became Orthodox I knew right away this was not something I was going to like. We fast on Wednesdays and Fridays — Wednesdays because it was the day Christ was betrayed and Friday because that was the day Christ was crucified. It is all done to remember our Lord . These are not strict fasts– only no meat or dairy but that is bad enough for a little fat person who loves her ice cream, yogurt, cheese and COOKIES. However I’ve discovered that Oreos are legal!
Seriously, I have grown to look forward to the discipline especially of the 40 day fasts of Nativity and Lent. Still only no meat or dairy for those. The process has drawn me closer to my Lord and His sacrifice. Easy? No but so worthwhile and beneficial to my spiritual growth. Forgive me for sounding”preachy” but the whole experience has has been an eye- opener for me and among other things has taught me that I am never too old to learn new helps in my spiritual life.
Disclaimers also come with these fasts– do not make anyone else uncomfortable by fasting ( as if invited out or there is no other food available)  Thinking of someone else always comes first.
 *Hebrews 12:11 which we had memorized as a family.
** Highly recommend this book! In it there is a chapter on fasting.
Some posts on this blog contain Amazon affiliate links – I receive a tiny commission on any purchases you make from links, but I’m not paid to recommend any particular item. I’d never include a link to anything I didn’t own or feel great about endorsing.

One Practice to Make Today More Meaningful

Advent. Just the word rolling off your tongue, and the feels it conjures up, are such a contrast to “holiday hurry”, “cyber Monday”, and kids insisting “I NEED this for school TODAY!”

I pause at a stoplight, in morning traffic and think about that tension between the pace of life today and the measured minutes in Nazareth and Bethlehem long ago.

500 years of silence. The plodding slowness of Mary and Joseph walking 90 miles over dusty roads towards a stable where Glory would be delivered after hours of labor. The time to reflect. The lack of iPhones or speed or 24/7 news cycles.

No it wasn’t quiet. Or easy. But there was a slower rhythm built into life.

A life where conversations happened in person. Experiences were chatted about and evaluated while walking rocky roads or while doing unending chores of water-hauling, bread-baking, seed-planting.


For us slow is counter-cultural. It takes a commitment to go against the flow. But what might we notice of God and ourselves if we entered into a different rhythm? Continue reading

The Bible, Jesus, and Check Marks

So when I was in college, “The Rule” (or at least the way I remember the Rule) was you had at least one half hour at 6 a.m. in a Solitary Place for your Official Quiet Time – 10 minutes of prayer time and 20 minutes of Bible reading.  Extra credit for journaling and lighting a candle. The truly Spiritual would be silent and HEAR A WORD FROM THE LORD. It felt legalistic and a little oppressive rather than life-giving, but what the heck, I’m a first born rule-follower so I gave it my best shot.

Then I grew up and realized (maybe in one of my Official Morning Quiet Times) that Jesus never Tweeted about #quiettime. He never added an 11th commandment about rules, regulations and minute breakdown for what was the minimal requirement for time with Him.

Instead He said, “Come to me…”, “Abide in Me”, “Learn the unforced rhythms of grace…”come to me
Continue reading

Two Practices to Help you Get off the Moving Walkway

Returning to Real Life after a vacation (even a short one) in a Warm Place is a little like jumping onto one of those moving walkways at the airport in the “keep walking” lane. You’re concentrating on getting Somewhere and thinking about Things, while juggling luggage and trying not to run over other moving walkers.  It’s easy to be absorbed with lists and tasks rather than present to God and others.


This was my challenge last week. Real Life kept getting in the way of a Real Relationship with God – you know, where you actually are still, and listen, and talk to Him and say “What do You have to tell me about Yourself and myself, Jesus?”  I’d be humming along, getting things done – even good things like reading the Bible – and all of a sudden realize that being with Jesus was kind of like brushing my teeth – I was going through the motions without thinking about it.

Here’s what happens when being with Jesus is like brushing my teeth – I start feeling fat and ugly and discouraged and cranky, tired, and out of sorts – kind of like a toddler who needs a nap or a time out. Continue reading

The Spiritual Practice of Toilets, Parking Lots, and Crying Babies

In spite of the fact that I’ve had a lot more years to mature, there are many ways my daughters are way more Jesus-y than me.

I was uncomfortably aware of this again over the holidays when we were sitting around the dinner table and Maggie was sharing how she and her husband were talking about the possibility of adoption down the road because they feel it might be selfish of them to bring another child into the world when there are so many who need homes and parents to love them.  They know this isn’t for everyone, but were discussing it.

My immediate response was to recount the tremendous heartache and family upheaval of ALL OF THE PEOPLE I know with adopted kids.  Dealing with violence, mental illness, rejection, personality disorder, resulting divorce…

In that moment of conversation all my Mama bear protection and control impulses went into over-drive.

As I reflected on this later when I went to bed, it struck me how selfish I am, and how comfort is my true god.  That I couldn’t fathom disrupting my “Wonderful Life” to consider adoption as a way to live out God’s love for orphans is a sad reflection on my lack of spiritual maturity. I was disappointed in my small heart.

Now, I don’t think this is an easy or uncomplicated decision. It has far-reaching implications and consequences not only for parents, but for extended family as well.

But this post isn’t about adoption. It’s about our willingness to enter into pain and inconvenience.   Continue reading

One Tool For Growth in 2015

I know, I know…it’s almost New Year’s Eve so it must be time for another one of my “journaling is so valuable” posts.  Some of you will delete as soon as you see the word “journal”, just like me when I read “gluten-free” or “ab crunches”.  Just not gonna go there.

But wait! Hold on just a minute (or 5 as the case may be).  There’s a new resource I want to tell you about that is NOT these: Continue reading

One Way to Shake up Your Devotional Life

Let’s face it, we all get into spiritual ruts when it feels like we’ve been on a diet of gluten-free for days on end.  We don’t really taste or see what we’re eating. It’s boring. We don’t pay attention to the experience of eating.

I love what Mark Batterson writes about this:

“The key to spiritual growth is developing healthy and holy routines. They are called spiritual disciplines. But once the routine becomes routine, you need to disrupt the routine via a change of pace or change of place. Why? Because sacred routines can become empty rituals if you forget why you started doing them in the first place.”

Continue reading

What to do When You Want to Flip off the Other Guy

I was stuck in a single lane of traffic, late for a meeting, with a car in front of me from Rhode Island and a driver who couldn’t decide which way she wanted to turn (bless her heart).  AAARRRRGGHHH!  I found myself, once again bemoaning the fact that Christians don’t seem to have acceptable hand gestures for situations like this.

My road rage was just one of the times recently that I’ve noticed an increase in irritability, and impatience.  My “one word” for this year is “choose life”, but recently I started to notice a pattern of “not life” and needed to address it.

Like my friend says, I’m more of a “jet fuel drinker” than a “candle-lighter”.  I realized that in a summer of activity I had abandoned some of the spiritual practices that feed my soul.  I naturally resist the slower more contemplative disciplines of life with Jesus, but desperate times call for desperate measures. Continue reading

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