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What Am I Actually Looking for on Social Media?

Once upon a time I woke up early and settled down to write in the sunshine of our Vermont home’s cozy living room at 6 am.

The walls had been painted in a rich colonial green color, and the ceiling lined with crown molding that a carpenter friend battled to line up for us. The pine trees surrounding our home filtered the light that shone through the windows that lined the room.

I wrote a lot in that room. Not very much of it was good. Some of it was quite negative and exasperated, but I still look back at those days as a kind of golden age for my writing. There was no better way to start the day than a quiet moment writing in the sunshine of our living room.

A few years later, my mornings had changed dramatically. I was trying to market my first book without the help of a marketing team at my publisher, and I heard that authors were using social media quite a lot.

Gradually, my mornings shifted from immersion in my writing to immersion in whatever people posted on social media.

I told myself that I was making connections for the purpose of promoting my books, that I was connecting with friends, and that I was keeping up with family from far away. I convinced myself that this time spent on social media was productive, but as I reflected on my motivations for using social media in subsequent years, I’ve gotten a bit more realistic in my assessment.

My most important shift in using social media since the days of my cozy Vermont living room has been asking what I’m actually seeking when I log in.

  • Do I have something to share?
  • Am I seeking interaction with any particular people?
  • Do I want to learn from someone?

Those strike me as good reasons to use social media, although they are rarely ever urgent reasons.

However, plenty of other times, my reasons are not so good…

  • I’m seeking distraction, disconnection, or affirmation.
  • I want people to like what I’ve written, I’m stalling in the face of something challenging.
  • I’m avoiding stress and anxiety over a particular situation.

Over time, tuning in to social media has become a habit. The engineers who studied the psychology of habit formation and addiction wanted social media and smartphones to function like a slot machine that can deliver something interesting or affirming at any moment. You need only pull it out of your pocket!

As I use longer blocks on social media, continue to limit my time on social media, and strive to make my smartphone as useless as possible, I’ve found greater freedom from the draw of social media. This is especially true first thing in the morning where it had become a habit of sorts.

By changing my habits, I’ve realized that I don’t really need social media in the ways that I thought I did.

The reality is that social media needs me. It needs my attention for the ads. It needs my engagement so that it can track my preferences. It needs me to become addicted to its features, scrolling endlessly without thinking all that hard about what exactly I’m looking for…

 

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I’ll be sharing more about these ideas in my newsletter and in my upcoming book, Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration from Digital Distraction (releasing June 2, 2020).

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Is Contemplative Prayer Biblical?

contemplative prayer biblical

 

If a Bible loving Protestant, especially an evangelical, asks “Is contemplative prayer biblical?”, it’s likely that this person is already assured of the answer.

“Contemplative prayer” as a defined concept does not show up in the Bible, and the same goes for the methods that contemplative prayer teachers share today. There is nothing quite like centering prayer or specific instructions about how to pursue silence in the Bible.

If you can’t find contemplative prayer methods in the Bible, then it appears to be checkmate, right? Without chapter and verse, there is no Biblical basis for contemplative prayer… except that the teachers of contemplative prayer quote a lot of scripture.

What gives?

It’s true that there is no specific instruction about how to engage in contemplative prayer, but there is plenty in the Bible about praying in silence, waiting on the Lord, seeking God in the solitude of the wilderness, praying always, and praying in secret/silence. You could say that we know about as much about prayer as we know about being a pastor.

We can list the limited details of serving as a pastor just as we could list the limited details of where and when to pray. If we made a list of how pastors go about serving today compared to the guidelines of the Bible, there is quite a bit that we could say doesn’t show up in the Bible–including just about all of the stuff in church leadership books that detail mission statements, vision statements, core values, and corporate leadership and HR guidelines.

I’m not listing those things to argue against them. Rather, within the biblical view of pastoring, we tend to expect the practical, day-to-day realities of pastoral ministry will require some innovation and problem solving on our own parts.

So, when we are instructed to pray in silence, to wait on the Lord in silence, to pray constantly, and to pray in secret, we are right to wonder exactly how to pray in this way.

What does it look like to pray in silence and solitude?

When we see that Jesus ventured off to solitary places, John the Baptist and Paul both sought God in wilderness solitude early in their ministries, and many key figures in the Old Testament experienced God in the wilderness, it’s only logical to ask how we should go about seeking God in these quiet, lonely places.

This is where a bit of church history can help us and show us how contemplative prayer intersects with the Bible.

The desert fathers and mothers sought to imitate the wilderness spirituality of Jesus and many other figures in the New Testament. They still ventured into cities to minister, wrote letters to the churches, and made themselves available to visitors, but they devoted the bulk of their time to prayer and work.

As these early Christians worked, they typically sought to make themselves available to God in silence, with some either breathing in a rhythm where they imagined the Holy Spirit filling them or praying the Jesus prayer which is based on the prayer of repentant tax collector (“The publican’s prayer”). Some used other ways to pray in silence, but over the years a simple breathing practice or prayer word/phrase stuck as the primary ways to pray in silence and solitude.

Most importantly, there is no dogmatic approach to a single way to pray. These Christians engaged in a variety of forms of prayer, giving thanks, making requests, and praying with prophetic insight. They didn’t demand only silent prayer, and different forms of silent prayer took shape over time as they learned to encounter God in the depths of their being.

This inner prayer that takes place in a heart that is still and receptive to God rather than reacting to thoughts and fears is often called contemplation or the prayer of the heart. While Jesus never described this precise outcome for silent prayer, he most certainly modeled this form of prayer and intersected with the biblical tradition that made space for silent prayer and waiting on God.

The teachers of contemplative prayer who pass down these traditions and practices for silent prayer that are grounded in biblical directives don’t pretend to teach centering prayer as the only way to pray in silence. Rather, it is a helpful way to be receptive and aware of God.

The point is to be silent, aware of God, and receptive to the Holy Spirit as directed by the Bible, but the details of the silence are up to us. While the traditions of the church are not the final word on these matters, there is a lot of wisdom in seeing which prayer practices have stood the test of time and proved their worth to Christians in a variety of settings over the years.

We are more than welcome to experiment with our own ways of being silent in solitude before God, but let’s not kid ourselves that our modern innovations are somehow superior or more biblical than the traditions passed down for generations. I’m personally most interested in doing what the historic church has found most helpful.

No one is going to argue about the Bible’s teaching to pray in silence and solitude, and so arguing over the details of how to do that strikes me as unhelpful. The teachers of contemplative prayer have literally based their prayer words and repetitive prayers on scripture, using simple phrases and words to let go of their troubling thoughts, to let scripture fill their minds, and to be fully present for God.

One final point bears keeping in mind here, and it’s a big one.

I have yet to read a critique of contemplative prayer from someone who had actually practiced it and had received spiritual direction from an experienced director. That critique may be out there, but regardless, the majority of the critiques I’ve heard and read are based purely on hearsay and conjecture without real first hand experience.

If you aren’t comfortable with a practice like centering prayer or sitting in silence isn’t helpful and life-giving for your soul, there is no one condemning you. I was once in your shoes, so I get it better than most.

Yet, I encourage you to consider that a large number of Christians throughout the history of the church have benefitted from contemplative prayer. Why would any Bible-believing Christian dismiss a practice like this based on modern conjecture and hearsay?

 

Learn more about contemplative prayer by checking out my related post: Is Contemplative Prayer Dangerous? 

 

Read More about Contemplative Prayer…

Based on my own resistance to and experiences with contemplative prayer, I’ve written an introduction to this historic Christian practice. The book is titled:

Flee, Be Silent, Pray:
Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians

On sale for $8.49 (Kindle)

Amazon | Herald Press | CBD

 

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How Social Media and News Work Together to Crush Your Soul

If I had to choose between shouting out my front door, “Hey, what’s happening today?” and learning about current events on social media, it’s at best a toss up in my mind with a slight edge to my neighbors.

That isn’t to say that I follow unreliable people on social media or that my neighbors are all current event experts. My greater concern is with the medium of social media itself. If I want to fast track my overreactions, fear, dread, and envy, then social media is the perfect place to go.

While I can and do log on to social media in order to find the viewpoints of experts, I am also exposed to despair, conjectures, and divisive remarks. The most extreme versions of popular viewpoints are sure to pop up one way or another. It doesn’t take too much to spark some fear and to send my mind spinning off course.

Of course these conjectures or despairing comments may not be true, and they may even be said in jest. Yet, they still get the job done: introducing troubling thoughts into my mind.

I have learned how to better manage these thoughts, but they remain a distraction that can leave me sidetracked and struggling to get back to a more productive direction with my day.

Heaven help me if I jump into the fray with a comment on a controversial post. That’s a whole other downward spiral of defensiveness that leaves me with a lingering desire to appear clever.

This particular week American news stations and social media networks are speculating on and lamenting the possibility of further escalation of military conflict with another nation. It’s a mess. I could spend the better part of my afternoon wringing my hands about it on social media, reading endless analysis, speculation, reactions, and predictions.

Or, I could spend two minutes reading an article about the main contours of the situation and avoid social media conjectures and debates like the plague. I will likely come away knowing just as much about the issue at hand and have far less fear, anger, and dread consuming my thoughts.

I love the way that social media exposes me to a wide variety of perspectives on the issues of the day and gives a platform to smart, prophetic people who may otherwise be overlooked. Yet, tapping into the best of social media often results in exposing us to its worst aspects as well.

In certain current event situations, the best way to remain informed and level-headed may include a bit of a fast from social media–at least that’s true for me. Perhaps you can sort through the speculation, fear, and hysteria, only holding onto what actually helps.

Personally, I’m not at that place with social media. I need to limit my access to social media in a time of public crisis, but any time really since everything can be turned into a crisis, because it crushes my soul with conjectures, fear-mongering, and seething anger.

If your soul is feeling weary or even crushed this week, consider how you can make a bit more space for silence, prayer, and simple awareness of what’s on your mind–especially if you feel unsettled. Consider where the troubling thoughts on your mind are coming from and replace those soul crushing sources with something you find life-giving.

I certainly don’t run every morning with the Jesus Prayer on my lips because I dig waking up at 5 am, but that bit of mindful and prayerful headspace always feels better than scrolling through social media in fear of the latest insanity du jour.

 

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The Magic Silence Button for Meditation and Contemplative Prayer

There is no magic silence button for meditation and contemplative prayer. Sorry if my title is a bit misleading. But I do know about the next best thing: mindfulness paired with meditation–at least for me.

Consider my typical struggles with contemplative prayer…

I sit down to pray, and my feet are fidgeting, my mind wandering, and my chest is a bit anxious because I have all of the things to do, or I worry that I should be DOING something, anything else. I desperately want a magic silence button that will help me pray and meditate.

Absent such a button, I need to pay attention to my thoughts and soul BEFORE I pray. In other words, if I’m sitting down to pray and my mind is running all over the place, I’m making prayer difficult for myself.

That isn’t to say I should skip prayer if my mind is too busy. It’s still worthwhile to sit in silence before God and to meditate when my mind is unruly and my anxiety begins pulsing. Yet, I won’t see a big difference in my approach to prayer until I pay attention to my mind and soul prior to prayer.

Awareness of my thoughts prior to prayer may be one of the most important factors in my attentiveness to meditation or contemplation. It’s not a science for sure, but if I have a better handle on what’s going through my mind, I’m more likely to settle into prayer.

There is no magic silence button, but I can begin shifting my mind toward silence and awareness of God by dealing with my thoughts while I do the dishes, drive around town, go for a run, or wait in line at the store.

Another way to say this may be “praying constantly.” I’m developing a capacity to be aware of God by examining what’s on my mind, releasing my thoughts, and moving from the cycle of endless thoughts to the presence of God in the moment.

 

Distracted? Need to Reconnect with Prayer?

Protect your time. Prioritize relationships. Restore your spirit.

Technology teaches us to crave the hum and buzz of activity and the dopamine hit of notifications. Yet social media and technology have shortened our attention spans, disrupted our connections with others, and even muddled our spirituality.

Grounded in current research into the impact of technology, Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration from Digital Distraction helps Christians rewire their technology addictions and train themselves to be present and aware of God rather than tuned into the constant distractions and deceptions of this digital age.

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Can I Find Time to Pray While I Travel?

My daily prayer practices can fall into chaos during the holidays where schedules are scrapped due to travel and I certainly can’t focus on prayer if my mind is swirling with packing lists, present lists, and managing family relationships. How can I find time to pray over the Christmas and New Year’s travel season?

I was on the road last week, and there were certainly plenty of moments when I considered how to fit prayer into my schedule and plans. Here are a few practices that I’ve been using in my own travels and shifting schedule:

Develop Habits to Prompt Prayer

The easiest way to pray is to make it automatic. For instance, there’s a good chance that, like me, you are tempted to whip your phone out when you’re waiting in line or sitting in traffic.

I don’t blame you, and that was my default until I tracked my daily phone pickups with the Moment app. Now that I’m trying to limit myself to 40 phone pickups each day, I have reconsidered how I wait.

Waiting can act as a kind of trigger for prayer, using a few moments in line to quiet my mind with a deep breath and to return to a prayer word to guide myself toward greater awareness of God. Prayer is described as waiting on the Lord, so it’s just about the perfect invitation to pray.

Even if my regular prayer times are filled with travel and family gatherings, a regular prayer trigger or prompt can help me make more time for it.

Keep Track of Your Mental State for Prayer

Travel and family gatherings can be stressful and busy. For instance, I’ve caught myself becoming unreasonably anxious about getting to the airport on time and catching my flight.

I have finally figured out that, in my mind at least, I had treated the urgency of travel with the same alarm as a threat to my life or family. I have a little mantra that I say when I travel, “It’s urgent but it’s not dangerous” that helps me calm down when my mind ramps up into its highly alarmed threat avoidance mode.

Whether journaling or using an app like Examine or Examen Reimagined, a simple prompt to remain aware of my mental state while traveling can help me keep the events of each day in perspective and saves my mind from the afflicting thoughts that can make it so difficult to focus on prayer.

Make Space for “Quiet” Prayer When You Can

Even five minutes in a quiet room, a little time sitting alone, or a ten-minute walk can prove healing for my soul when I’m traveling. Of course the quiet I’m talking about is often personal quiet when I’m traveling. I have no control over what other people say or do!

If I can at least keep in mind that quiet will be good for my soul and my mental state, I can remain attentive and intentional about seizing that time whenever I can. This could be while doing the dishes in the kitchen by myself, sitting on an airplane with headphones on, or playing through some Taize songs while in the car with my family.

Give Grace to Yourself When You Struggle to Pray

Prayer has been practiced by Christians for centuries around fixed times and schedules because it works. When your schedule falls apart due to holiday travel, don’t fall into the trap of shame or guilt.

If you didn’t find time to pray, that’s a great opportunity to ask why and to look a bit deeper into your expectations for prayer, your priorities, and your habits. Judgment and shame can be paralyzing, but if you believe that God desires to be present for you, then you have an opportunity to address what keeps you from praying.

Mind you, I still prefer to have a set schedule where I know when and where I’ll pray, and I am always trying to be mindful about prayer when I’m on the go. Perfectionists may not find these tips very helpful!

By cultivating some habits, growing my awareness of my thoughts, and becoming more intentional about my time, I’ve managed to hold onto some prayer practices while I travel. Imperfect though they are, they are so much better than watching my spiritual practices fall into chaos when I hit the road.

 

Reconnect

Distracted? Need to Reconnect with Prayer?

Protect your time. Prioritize relationships. Restore your spirit.

Technology teaches us to crave the hum and buzz of activity and the dopamine hit of notifications. Yet social media and technology have shortened our attention spans, disrupted our connections with others, and even muddled our spirituality.

Grounded in current research into the impact of technology, Reconnect helps Christians rewire their technology addictions and train themselves to be present and aware of God rather than tuned into the constant distractions and deceptions of this digital age.

Learn More Today

But the Prayer Book Didn’t Teach Me to Pray Like That!

I have turned to different spiritual teachers and prayer books to teach myself how to pray, and I have often found myself starting out far below the bars they set.

If one teacher suggests praying for twenty minutes at a time, I’ve started with five.

If another teacher recommends two sessions of prayer daily, I’ve managed to at least get one.

If yet another tells me to pray sitting up straight in a simple chair, I’ve laid down on my yoga mat, letting out the nervous energy through my hands and feet.

My goal is never to stop where I am and call it good enough. Rather, I need a starting point, a place to get into the habit of daily prayer. Once my prayer habits are established, I can take the next step of actually working toward better posture, longer prayer sessions, and more frequent prayer.

But taking that first step? Or the second, third, or fourth steps after that can be challenging, if not dispiriting. I can fall so far short of my ideal that I can forget that prayer is a daily “practice” that also requires… practice.

Much like everyone thinks they can write well enough before seeing how a professional editor can whip a project into shape, we may overestimate our ability to settle into prayer, to slip into an awareness of God, or to trust our worries and cares with God rather than clinging to them with an unending swirl of thoughts. The letting go of our cares and the simple receptivity of prayer can take time to develop.

By assuming I could dive into prayer without a period of learning and adapting, I’ve set myself up for disappointment and disillusionment. I was lost in a maze of my own making, uncertain about what to do next because I just couldn’t manage to meet the expectations I’d set for prayer. I thought that I could hit the ground running, immediately putting prayer practices into place without a time of struggle or even failure.

I finally found my way forward by embracing each faltering step toward the goals of contemplative prayer teachers. I gradually built my way toward longer and more regular periods of prayer.

My mindset has shifted from focusing on results to focusing on the process. I still have the guidance of teachers and authors in mind, but I’m not drowning in guilt or shame either.

Of course there’s a risk of setting the bar too low. That’s the risk of grace after all. In my own past, the fear of “abusing” grace has pushed me too far toward the fear of letting God down or suffering God’s wrath and anger.

There is a lot of hope to be found in the promise that we are God’s beloved children imperfectly reaching for God, failing at times, but ultimately finding that we were being held all the while as we tried to find God in each daily moment of prayer.

 

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Should I Use the New NIV Life Application Study Bible for Family Bible Reading?

My days of studying the Bible with piles of commentaries are a distant memory along with the seminary degree tucked away in the closet announcing my Master of Divinity. While I still read and pray with the Bible daily, often using the NRSV version at Bible Gateway for my book projects and personal studies and praying with the scripture readings in the Divine Hours compiled by Phyllis Tickle, I’m in a new season where my kids are growing up and they have lots and lots and lots of questions about God and the Bible.

Many of those questions revolve around whether God can bring dinosaurs back to life, but occasionally they either learn something in Sunday School or, in the case of our preschooler, come to me with some incomplete facts he has cobbled together from the Wednesday chapel service at his preschool. We have discussed the days of creation, how Jesus performed miracles, how Jesus died, and what it means that he rose from the dead.

Also… those resurrected dinosaurs.

The questions are not getting any easier, and so when Bible Gateway offered a chance to review the newly revised NIV Life Application Study Bible Third Edition,  I wanted to consider it from the perspective of a parent who is leading kids in a discussion of the Bible. Not every translation or study Bible is the same, with each offering their own advantages, drawbacks, and quirks.

The NIV is fine with me for study and reading, although I tend to lean toward the New Living Translation for reading longer passages with my kids. Nevertheless, they seem to be tracking with it just fine at this point.

I won’t compare this Life Application edition to other Bibles such as the NIV Study Bible. My main concern is whether this particular study Bible stands on its own as useful in adding to an understanding of the scripture, considering interpretive options, and addressing the kinds of foundational questions that are routine in the discipleship of children.

Here a few thoughts to consider:

Evaluating the Bible Itself

I received the imitation leather NIV, Life Application Study Bible, Third Edition, Leathersoft, Brown, Red Letter Edition to review.

The Bible opens up well and generally stays open on its own. It has a nice cover and gold edged pages that immediately caught my kids’ attention. It looks like a special book, which may not be a big deal in the long run, but they were interested in checking it out just based on the design.

The Days of Creation Bible Study Notes

I couldn’t resist starting with the first chapters of Genesis since I’ve been discussing the days of creation with my kids. I am especially concerned that they understand the different perspectives on translating the Hebrew word “yom” as either a day or a period of time. Would the notes address this? How many views would be addressed?

I know former Christians who left the faith over this very issue after growing up in a church that insisted on six 24-hour days. I still remember my seminary professor, a respected Hebrew scholar involved in both the NIV and NLT translations, pounding the podium over this. There is nothing in the text that demands a 24-hour day according to him.

Thankfully, the study notes in Genesis dig right into the two views and doesn’t demand one view over the other, a welcome win right off the bat.

I was also encouraged to see maps, character summaries, such as Cain and Noah, and significant notes explaining unfamiliar and meaning-laden phrases throughout the text. While there is still plenty of life application here, it also digs into the background, word translations, and related scripture verses.

Overall, if someone knew nothing about the Bible’s background, this study Bible has more than enough information to get by while still not getting lost in the weeds with theology or historical information. The theology behind some of the notes would be expected to be on the more conservative end of the spectrum, but most of the notes struck me as helpful rather than dogmatic or restricting.

Reading the Psalms with This Study Bible

The Psalms have been a significant source of spiritual direction and wisdom for me, providing a backbone of sorts for my prayers, supporting me when I have lacked the words I need. The notes throughout the Psalms are extremely practical, adding related scripture references and explaining the meaning of the verses.

While it lacks insight into the poetic form of the Psalms, the life application focus comes through, and certain concepts come through with greater clarity if you consider the notes. For instance, Psalm 14 offers an explanation of how the word “fool” is used in the Psalms, giving readers a better understanding of what the Psalm is about.

I also really liked the additional call out box under Psalm 14, addressing the themes of troubles and complaints that arise throughout the Psalms. Simply knowing that these are common themes can be helpful in both study and application.

The Final Judgment

It would be easy to pick a passage (or ten) where I may quibble with the notes or interpretive options provided, but for what this Bible is and what it offers, I think it gives readers a lot of value with the maps, cross references, application ideas, and background information. If I’m reading the Bible with my kids, this won’t answer their every question, but it will give us enough details to bring them up to speed on the major points of the story.

In addition, if you’re new to Bible study and application, it can help to have some notes guide you through ways to think about scripture. For the more experienced student of the Bible these application notes may come across as spoon feeding and perhaps restating the obvious. However, from the perspective of teaching my kids about the Bible, it can help to use those prompts to get them thinking about what the passage may mean to them. It’s not just a story we learn about, like American history. It’s revealing God’s presence among us.

The list price for this study Bible is a hefty $75, but if you check out the deals on Amazon.com, you’ll find that that price slashed by more than $20. So you can support your local bookstore or you can bargain hunt online, but regardless, someone who is relatively new to the Bible or who is studying with kids will find this a useful Bible to have on the shelf.

Preview the NIV Life Application Study Bible

Shop on Amazon for the NIV Life Application Study Bible

 

I was provided a free Bible to review courtesy of Bible Gateway.

 

Thomas Merton Shares about Silent Contemplative Prayer vs. Our Reliance on Words

merton contemplative prayer

“We thank [God] less by words than by the serene happiness of silent acceptance. It is our emptiness in the presence of His reality, our silence in the presence of His infinitely rich silence, our joy in the bosom of the serene darkness in which His light holds us absorbed, it is all this that praises Him.”

– Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation

What should I say to God?

That was one of the most pressing questions I face each day as I sought to prayer. I’m not sure if it was hard to find time to pray in the first place because I didn’t know what to say. Perhaps I struggled to find time for prayer because it seemed almost impossible or even fruitless at times.

Plagued by uncertainty and insecurity, I put so much pressure on myself to get prayer “right” by saying the “right words” to God in prayer.

If nothing happened, then it was on me. I simply hadn’t said the magic words to capture God’s attention or mercy.

I couldn’t tell you where this kind of prayer practice came from in the first place. My main theory is that my prayer life was more or less a void that lacked information about “how to pray” in the first place.

Without a clear idea of how to proceed with prayer, I filled in this blank slate with what I observed, what I heard, and what I reasoned on my own. Over time, I drifted away from grace and mercy, developing a more performative form of prayer where just about everything rested on me getting everything right–or more right than wrong.

Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation was like a slap in the face, shocking me out of this misconception of prayer. Through his teachings on silent prayer and silent contemplation in particular, I learned to trust more in God’s merciful presence than my own words.

I could even say that Merton gave me the language to characterize prayer as silence in the first place. Silence before God is prayer, but at one point in my life I would have denied that.

Since reading New Seeds of Contemplation, I’ve found that I can bring something to the practice of prayer, but the “success” of prayer has nothing to do with me. God is present regardless. My enjoyment of God’s presence may hinge on my ability to stop, but God is not dangling mercy to me based on my performance while praying.

Contemplative prayer can be restful, trusting in God alone while clearing away the clutter of our minds. That is the gift of prayer that we can receive by faith. I’ve found that prayer tends to involve saying fewer words, not more words.

And if I can sit in silence before God, I may have a much better idea of what to say when it’s time to make my requests known to God.

 

Photo by Ales Krivec on Unsplash

Am I Doing Authentic Contemplative Prayer Right?

So much of my Christian spiritual formation has been hindered by a nagging question:

Am I doing this right?

I want to pray in ways that are authentic and sincere.

I want to be pray with the right techniques.

And these desires all lead to one overarching need when it comes to prayer: I want to guarantee a particular outcome from prayer. If I do this “right,” then authentic contemplative prayer guarantees a particular kind of encounter with God.

Everything hinged on the outcome and my belief that I could control it. If I just meant it a little bit more, prayed with a slightly better focus, examined my conscience a little more thoroughly, or practiced sitting in silence a little bit longer, then perhaps my prayer life would finally take off.

And by take off, I mean that it would yield RESULTS–stuff I can point at as evidence of God and of my own goodness. Of course the risk with such evidence of God and my own holiness is that I don’t really need all that much faith to pray and I will face the temptation to hold my own holy experiences over the mere novices that can hardly string a few minutes of prayer together.

Such an approach to “authentic” prayer is more like I’m taking myself off the rails.

Seeking a spiritual experience or “consolation” as an outcome from a time of prayer is a common trap that Christians face in their spiritual growth. Contemplative prayer teachers such as Thomas Merton and Martin Laird warn us that such examination or prayer is quite common. Thomas Keating notes that the thought of enjoying contemplative prayer can turn into a distraction that pulls us out of a moment of intimacy with God.

So, what does authentic contemplation look like?

Cynthia Bourgeault writes that it’s a returning, again and again, to a sacred word, image, or practice, such as breathing. It is a complete reliance on God who has given us everything need and dwells within us before we even had a chance to prove our piety and worthiness.

God’s grace is upon us while we pray, and so we can let go of our desire to prove ourselves or our techniques as authentic. We can only clear space in our schedules and our minds for what God provides.

You don’t have anything to prove to God. You can only receive what God gives. The pressure is off. The silence is an invitation, a moment to live by faith in the present love of God that has always been here for you through the work of Jesus the Son and the indwelling of the interceding Holy Spirit.

 

 

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

Why Smartphones Are Terrible for a Little Bit of Zoning Out

“I’m just going to zone out on my phone for a little bit.” I’ve said that many times, assuming that staring at my phone would somehow be restorative or relaxing. I hear it quote often from others as well.

When I felt tired, stressed, or overwhelmed, I typically needed to take a break for a bit of zoning out and restoration. In the past I may have turned to a book, a run, or to even a darkened room for a little bit of rest. Then I started turning to my smartphone.

It felt a bit like giving salt water to someone dying of thirst or dumping a bag of lollypops on a dinner plate.

I noticed this tendency to zone out on my phone the most while parenting. When my kids wore me down with complaining, arguing, or crying, I began to zone out on my phone or tablet to give myself a break.

This is a common solution among parents and many adults I know. Smartphones have really useful and fun apps, from games, to articles, to friends on social media. A bit of fun on social media may feel really great in a moment of exhaustion or distraction.

The problem with using a smartphone for distraction is that phones and apps are designed to be as irresistible as possible. When we’re tired and worn down, our willpower is especially vulnerable, making it hard to set limits on our time or to respond to troubling news in healthy ways.

If Facebook alone aims to hook us for 50 minutes every day, and if the engineers who designed autoplay on YouTube or the infinite scrolling on Twitter and Instagram can’t regulate their own usage, we should beware using these apps for aimless diversion when we are most worn down.

Considering that thousands of engineers and psychologists have teamed up to make these networks addicting and consuming, it is ideal to only use them with intention and limitation.

Perhaps it’s most helpful to ask why we believe that using our phones will actually be restorative or helpful in times of stress or exhaustion. Do they actually help? Perhaps certain apps can, but for the most part social media also exposes us to disturbing news stories, divisive reactions, and the latest controversies. A game may be fun, but is it allowing our minds to process the day and to unwind what may be bothering us?

Perhaps it will be more helpful to plant a garden, to start a craft project like woodworking or knitting,  to keep a writing or art journal, or to go for a walk or a run when we feel most worn down.

The more space we give our minds to process our days, the better prepared we’ll be for the highs and lows of each day. That will also help alleviate some of the swirling thoughts that make it challenging to pray.

If I turn to my phone for a distraction or an escape, I try to ask myself what I’m running from and whether there is a better way to restore my mind or spirit. In my experience, turning to my phone as an escape has often left me feeling more trapped than when I began.

 

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I’ll be sharing more about these ideas in my newsletter and in my upcoming book, Reconnect: Spiritual Restoration from Digital Distraction (releasing June 2, 2020).

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