Monthly Archives: March 2015

Everyday listening

Our church has been focusing on ways of connecting with God and one another during Lent.  And instead of giving up something for Lent over the past few years, I’ve also tried to make a concerted effort to pay attention to God’s work in my life and the lives of others.

But it’s not that easy.

This past weekend, instead of a sermon, our student pastor led us in an Ignatian Examen prayer practice where we reflected on the day prior, examining our emotions, our failures, our desires, and God’s calling on our lives.  It was such a simple gift–those fifteen music-filled moments during which I shut my eyes and reflected on all that God is doing.

But I’m often missing it.

Like so many of us, I’m a do-er, a thinker, and in my eagerness to use my time wisely, I forget that listening to God is time that is never wasted.  I’ve been doing  a spiritual discipline during Lent where instead of jumping into tasks when I arrive in the office, I put on music and write for just one minute, reflecting on my fears, worries, and where God is in the midst of my life.

And God is there.

Beneath all of those very present needs and fears, God is always there–working and patiently waiting for me to quiet myself and connect.  In my own Ignatian Examen last weekend, I realized I’m missing valuable moments of connection with others and with God in my life.  In this week, I haven’t made great strides, but I’m thankful to God for making me aware of this connection that exists even when I fight or ignore it.

What’s so powerful about the Ignatian Examen is that while our moments of reflection are but fleeting, God’s call and action on and in our lives is omnipresent.  I realize how, not just during Lent, but everyday, I need to commit to turning off my mind and using my heart to listen to what God is doing.

What about you?  How do you connect with God?  How do you listen and find meaning in the everyday?

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Practicing Gratefulness

If somebody had told me even a few years ago that gratefulness is a skill, like dribbling a basketball or tying knots, and you have to hone it if you want it to stick, I’d have been unconvinced.

But while we might assume that gratefulness comes naturally, in a world where ambition is praised, we’re constantly in pursuit of more, and success is golden, gratefulness often falls by the wayside.  I think we often confuse gratefulness with complacency; we think that if we become grateful, filled with praise for what God has done and what God is doing, something of ourselves, our own unique gifts and promise in this world will be lost.

A friend of mine wrote a little post the other day where she warned of the danger of “all or nothing” thinking, the kind of thinking that makes us worthy and good when we are at our best but turns us to nothingness, lousy, and down and out when we inevitably fail others and ourselves.  She talked about the goodness and meaningfulness instead of living in the in between, especially during this muddy season of Lent.

God's beauty.  Rice terraces in Guangxi, China.  Photo by Evan Schneider.
God’s beauty. Rice terraces in Guangxi, China. Photo by Evan Schneider.

A practice of gratefulness affirms that our worth is not based on our own failures or successes but upon God’s gracious and everlasting love for us.  Being grateful in the “nothingness” teaches us that despite the in betweenness of life, God’s love is constant.  Instead of doing, being, and having it all on our own and for us, we rejoice in our own need for God, the beauty of relying on others, and the wisdom of finding joy in the everyday.

So often I am astonished to stop and realize the things I working so hard and aiming for (a job, a house, stability and security) will not actually make me all that happier in the long run.  The danger of this kind of thinking is that by focusing on future happiness and success, the gift of the present passes us by.  Instead, at this moment, praise God, I really have all I need–a God who loves me, faults and all, and people around me who feel the same and who I am blessed to love.  Isn’t that what life is really about?

As you can see, gratefulness, for me at least, requires great practice.  It’s a mental practice that requires turning from the things the world preaches to the things that God teaches.  It’s a practice where God quietly reorients my will to God’s service and God willing, I obey.

Photo by Evan Schneider.
Photo by Evan Schneider.

How do you practice gratefulness?  What is God showing you during Lent?