Botox is temporary. Soul work is lasting.
Are you feeling spiritually flabby? Do you feel your spiritual "get up and go" got up and went? My prescription for you? Soul-training exercises!
Spirituality is an important component of wellness that often gets overlooked. What are we doing to tend our souls? Like a garden overrun by weeds, a soul neglected quickly becomes a field of bitterness, judgment, and resentment. In contrast, a soul tended yields fruit of love, joy, and peace.
Lent (which begins today) is the perfect time for us to become intentional about our spirituality. Lent is the season in the church calendar set apart as a time for reflection on our need for a Savior and for drawing ever closer to Him. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness and so we, too, take 40 days to re-focus, repent, receive and renew.
So, where to begin? How do we roll up our sleeves and tend to our neglected souls?
Here are a few soul-training exercises to get you started.
1. Read a good book. I actually came across the phrase "soul-training exercises" in the book "The good and beautiful God" by James Bryant Smith. Check it out, literally! It is a book designed to have us re-think how we see God. Plus, it has some practical tips that can benefit every body and soul. The first chapter deals with sleep. Sounds intriguing, no? "Life together" by Bonhoeffer is a quick read. But it contains profound insights on Christian community that helped me understand the power of faith lived out with others. "Circle maker" by Mark Batterson challenges us to dream big in our prayers and then to dream even bigger. These are just a few books that I've been reading over the past few months. Many books entertain. Not all uplift. Look for something that will nourish your soul. (Oh, and, of course, the Bible is the ultimate source for soul nourishment.)
2. Establish a holy habit. (Or re-establish a holy habit.) I used to be so methodical about my prayer life. I had a little notebook that listed groups I'd pray for every day of the week. Monday, I'd pray for my church and its leadership and members. Tuesday, i'd pray for my city, etc. And then I had kids. My life (and prayer life) changed. It wasn't worse, but it was different. With my kids, I found myself praying more spontaneously---over meals, of course, but also in the car, before school, at bedtime, etc. Now that my kids are (mostly) out of the house, I am working on re-establishing my earlier prayer habit (hopefully without dropping altogether the sporadic, "arrow-style" prayers we prayed together).
Consider blocking out 10-15 minutes of your day to intercede for others. Among other things, prayer puts your life in perspective and reminds you that there are bigger things going on, beyond your own small little world and worries.
3. Give something up. Sacrifice is a necessary part of spirituality. A friend told me today that she is giving up crossword puzzles for this season. Naturally, it's not that crossword puzzles in and of themselves are a spiritual stumbling block. But she wants to make space and time for Bible study and prayer and for other important things that she's been putting off. Time is not going to magically appear in your life. You've heard the phrase "something's gotta give." Give something up to make space for something better this season.
4. Find a spiritual community. You will need people to check in with you on your soul-training exercises. Find like-minded people who love God and those around them. You will grow in community as you could never grow alone. By yourself, it's easy to be holy. There is no one to challenge or confront you, stretch you or prod you. But in relationship with others, your sins move into a spotlight of sorts, which is both painful and delightful. Painful, because it's embarrassing and uncomfortable. Delightful, because you can then treat the area (submitting it to God and your neighbor) and receive forgiveness and healing. You may have found a group like this already, but life's busyness has gotten in the way of your connecting with them. Go back to them. Consider the Lenten 6 weeks as a reacquaintance period. They'll be there, ready to receive you with arms open wide.
Please add your own soul-training exercise ideas below. May this be a powerful season of reflection and renewal for all of us.
Are you weary of inspirational posts on how to make new year's resolutions that'll stick? Does making a change in your life seem impossible or daunting? I've been there! Who am I kidding? I haven't just been there, I am there! Unhealthy habits can appear like immoveable mountains in our lives. And no nice, neat little checklist from a magazine can budge them. .
Deep inside me, though, I long for a fresh start, a reboot. I think we all do.
So this little post offers some reverse psychology on this December 31st, in the hope that it will stir something inside us. Motivating us to do something, anything, that will help us grow and learn and move closer---even if it's just a tiny bit---to the people we were meant to be.
So, yeah, what's all the to-do about a new year? It's just another date on the calendar. There is no need to set goals or try to improve yourself. You're good enough. It's so much easier to coast. Stick with what you know and hold onto the status quo. No need to grow or learn something new. Here are tips for keeping things the same (or worse) for 2015.
Thomas Edison, the prolific inventor of the 1800's, should have given up when as a young boy his teacher labeled him "addled." (I'm not exactly sure what that word means, but I'm pretty sure that it could be used to describe me, as well!) Later in his life, after inventing the phonograph, the incandescent light bulb, and much more, he was dubbed a "genius." Same person, different label. The label didn't stop him, but it probably should have. (If it had, you might be reading this post by candlelight, which is much more flattering, anyway.)
2. If it occurs to you that it's time to start some kind of exercise program, let the feeling pass. You'll forget about it once you binge-watch your favorite t.v. series on netflix. If it crosses your mind more than once, come up with a list of excuses for why you shouldn't begin it right away. Actually, forget the list altogether. One excuse is enough to stop you from trying. (And if the excuse is good enough, by the way, you can use it year after year, until your health deteriorates so, your poor health becomes your new excuse for not exercising!)
3. Don't add even a tiny bit of exercise or movement to your day. Studies show that even a minute of activity is enough to make a difference in your fitness level and overall health. So, take care not to do anything different at all. Take the elevator, never the stairs. Don't squeeze in any extra movement if you can help it. The minute(s) you may have spent exercising are minutes you can use to check FB feeds, instagram, twitter and tumblr. And all with just a few clicks from your fingertips (which hardly counts as moving at all)!
4. Stay busy at work. Burn the candle at both ends. Allow no time for home-cooking, a full night's sleep, or exercise. People will notice you looking weary and pasty. That's great! Wear your busyness as a badge of honor. It will make you seem important.
5. Let your relationships suffer, as well. (See #4. It can naturally help with this.) Relationships take too much time. Plus, they're messy. You have to listen and care. Love is hard and hurts periodically. Better to stick to things that require less energy and effort. Use any spare time on "liking" posts and pics on social media, and on video games. Far more entertaining and less involved.
6. Neglect spirituality. Health is only about the physical. There's no need to cultivate a relationship with God or a community of faith. Be your own savior. You probably will struggle with that pesky matter of "sin." Just follow Adam and Eve's example and do your best to cover it up.
Stress, anxiety, and guilt will be natural by-products of trying to manage life on your own, but that's okay. Don't worry about being worried. These are all normal consequences (even if they do shorten your life-span and make what life you do have less joyful).
7. Lastly (and related to #5), do not cultivate gratitude in your life. Keep thinking about how you deserve all that you have. And in all things, take the path of least resistance. Get comfortable---physically, spiritually and emotionally---and stay that way. Don't pay attention to others' needs, because if you do, you might feel inclined to act. Convince yourself that others should do that.
So, is 2015 going to bring more of the same? Or have I succeeded in jolting us into some action? Let me know your thoughts below. Any small step is better than none at all. And let's help each other out. Maybe one of the secrets of resolution-making and -keeping is doing so in community, rather than on our own!