Four Outstanding Options for Slowing Down to be with God
Welcome back to this special week on Health Spirituality – the 2016 Spiritual Summer School with the theme of Slowing Down to be with God. I am posting Monday through Friday and then live streaming daily on Facebook Live. You can find me about 1:30 eastern on my Facebook author page with the exception of Friday where I will be broadcasting at 9:30 am eastern. I hope you can join me there too.
Each day here on the blog and on Facebook live, we will explore different aspects of Slowing Down to be with God. So far we have set the stage for slowing down to be with God on Monday and on Tuesday we began to unpack the word SLOW starting with the letter S and I shared Six Strategies for Slowing Down to be with God. Wednesday we explored listening to our language and the language of God as we slow down to be with him.
Today we take the third letter in the word SLOW, the “O”, and explore four outstanding options for slowing down to be with God.
The skill of Observation is all important when living a reflective life, especially in the desire to slow down to be with God. Instead of living blindly or allowing busyness, interruptions and the world lead you, you become aware of those times when your heart isn’t tuned to God and realign yourself.
But you have to be mindful, aware, intentionally observing how you think, live and act so you can make those corrections.
I learned a few weeks a fascinating, yet somewhat frightening piece of trivia. An airplane is off course 95% of the time! The sophisticated instruments monitor its path and make small continuous corrections so the plane reaches its final destination.
Our journey is like that too. With God’s help, we need to continual observe and make those corrections so we live the life God is inviting us to. Don’t go through life on automatic pilot. Observation is a powerful skill for becoming more receptive to God’s presence.
Four Outstanding Options to Observe
- Observing and omitting obstructions.
- Observe the Obvious
- Observe what Occupies
- Observe Order
What is stopping you from pausing? What is keeping you on that hamster wheel of busyness? Omit those obstructions.
I find one of my biggest obstructions is time wasters. Confession time: I love Angry Birds. Now I don’t think there is anything wrong by playing an occasionally video game, but I do need to be mindful how much time I am giving to this diversion and how it distracts me from what is really important.
I start to play, thinking I will only take a 15-minute break with this meaningless amusement, but soon lose track of time.
I learned to rein in my game habit by observing the time and setting boundaries (well, most of the time, LOL).
One of the very worst uses of time is to do something very well that need not to be done at all.
What obstructs your good intentions? What blocks you from slowing down to be with God?
Life interrupts very often in our daily lives. Someone gets sick, a friend calls or drops by, the boss gives you a new assignment, the phone rings. Many of these intrusions into our carefully planned, ideal day are God moments in disguise. Yet to be honest, interruptions are difficult.
I am learning to accept these disruptions for what they are. They happen. I observe them. Can I change them? Maybe. Can I establish a boundary? Maybe. I do what I can do, then let them pass.
For example, often when I am writing, I don’t look at emails or answer the phone. I explain to my hubby I need an hour to complete the chapter I am working on.
The same method can be applied to slowing down to be with God. I observe my day, eliminate time wasters, seek and plan those moments for quiet and solitude.
The key is not to allow the frustration, but to observe where you get off course, just like an airplane and correct your path.
Wasting Time Is Robbing Oneself.
Observe the Obvious
Capture the moments of today that will wow your heart tomorrow
We already experience some wonderful times of being with God. They are present right now, but we miss them when distracted by our to-do lists or disappear when we fail to fully appreciate them.
Observe them. Watch for these God surprises throughout the day. A smile on a toddler face. The cool breeze in your backyard. A refreshing sip of water or the smell of coffee brewing.
For lack of attention a thousand forms of loveliness elude us every day.
— Evelyn Underhill
[Tweet “For lack of attention a thousand forms of loveliness elude us every day. — Evelyn Underhill”]
Stay alert for those moments of grace. In the everyday mud of living, the mundane of work and chores, and in the midst of ordinary routines, a world of wonder waits for us. You can learn to observe and discover God peeking out of the crevices of life when you pay attention.
What special moments can you capture during the day? How will you catch them to remember them in your heart?
“Always hold fast to the present. Every situation, indeed every moment, is of infinite value, for it is the representative of a whole eternity.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
For many people keeping a gratitude journal gives them the space to record these moments of grace and often provide insight and solace later in difficult times. Rereading a list of what you are thankful for reminds you of God’s constant presence and sometimes you see him clearer in those tender circumstances in the rear view mirror.
Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgivings, turn routine jobs into joy, and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.
William Arthur Ward
Observe what Occupies
What occupies your heart? What fills your mind?
The practice of being aware of, the observation of your emotions is essential to finding space to slow down to be with God.
Emotions are like a hungry toddler. Once you name emotions, give them a little attention, they settle back down. Now I am not talking about extreme mental health issues here. I have dealt personally with depression so know at times you need more help.
But normal ordinary ups and downs can be managed by being aware of their presence and naming them for what they are as they occupy your heart and mind.
Research show by use of brain scans that putting negative emotions into words actually calms the brain’s emotional center. Isn’t that amazing?
Reminds me of the story:
A Native American chief shared wisdom with his young son.
“We all have a terrible fight going on inside of us. It is as if two wolves were engaged in a back and forth battle. One of those wolves is pride, anger, greed, self-pity,fear and envy. The other wolf represents goodness, peace, joy, hope and generosity.”
“But Father, which one will win?”
The wise father replied, “The one you feed.”
One option we have in slowing down to be with God is to know what emotions are churning inside us, identify them, then manage them.
What practices help to establish order in your day? Spiritual disciplines provide a framework that helps you slow down to be with God. What actually would you need to implement to find that quiet moment with him?
One great practice is to write out what your ideal day would be. There is a power to identifying the elements you really want to include – like time for prayer, exercise, interacting with loved ones, creating, solitude and silence.
I was given the assignment a few years ago of writing out what I imagine my ideal job would look like. I shrugged this homework off as non-important but completed it and turned it in. I kept a copy though and threw it into a desk drawer. About ten years later, I found that paper and to my surprise, my current job was quite similar to the one I concocted in my imagination. Amazing.
Create your ideal day – adding in slow times for the deep work of God and see what happens. What would you add? What would you leave out?
A regular rhythm of praying at certain times gives order to a day. I plan to write a little more about this practice tomorrow.
I have mentioned throughout this series about the effectiveness of keeping a spiritual journal. Some people write for five minutes every morning or just before bed. There are even five minute journals formats available.
Don’t get troubled by how often you need to journal – just aim for a consistent habit. You don’t have to write daily. I tend toward weekly or even twice a month. I do write every day when I am on retreat, though or going through a particular tough time or a time of discernment when I am seeking clarity for a decision.
“A personal journal is an ideal environment in which to “become”. It is a perfect place for you to think, feel, discover, expand, remember, and dream.”
Order can also be found in the spaces around us. Last spring, I felt restless, overwhelmed and frustrated. I looked around my office and I was surrounded by piles of papers – full of some great ideas – but basically an unorganized, cluttered environment.
I went to work. Straightened up the office. Made sense of the piles of papers. Arranged and rearranged my furniture and sorted out my bookshelves. I smiled coming into an orderly, ready to go office atmosphere. It changed my whole attitude; actually empowered me with renewed energy to tackle the work ahead of me. External reordering of my space gave me that gift.
What about internal order? I took out my white board and a marker and wrote down all the stuff I had been thinking about onto that board. This is called a brain dump. I unloaded every thought, dream, to-do, wish and smidgen of possibility. Once I could see my list – mmm, this sounds like naming those negative emotions once again, doesn’t it? – I could identify what fit into my priorities, what could be eliminated and what important things I needed to attend to first.
Order to my prayer life, order through journaling and order to my internal and external space brought me calmness and I felt reconnected to God and the mission he has called me to. Instead of being wrapped up in my ego’s chaos and the world’s expectations – I focus on God. Order gives me the structure that I need to slow down and retune into God.
One last practice that fits well under the word “order” and has helped me in slowing down is walking a labyrinth. Have any of you ever done this?
A labyrinth is not a maze, but a continuous circling inward into a center. The path twists and turns back and forth many times. As you deliberately take each step towards the middle, you let go of busyness, worries and tensions. Once in the center, you praise and thank God for his presence. Often as you walk out, your mind turns to others, the vocation God has given you and how you could serve.
When I walk a labyrinth, I hear my voice and God’s voice clearer. I gain insights and encouragement on my spiritual journey. I slow down.
Last fall I walked a labyrinth at a local retreat center. I walked about a fourth of the way through when I stopped to watch a tiny red ant carrying a large stick across the path. The ant worked hard at his job of moving his cargo. He had no idea I was watching him, rooting him onward. He soon passed and I continued knowing God too watches over me as I lug along each day my burdens, my gifts and my piles of things I want to do. I think I may have heard God cheer me onward that day.
I slowed down walking that orderly labyrinth and felt God’s presence in the simple act of observing an ant.
“Sometimes you will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory.”
You can overcome the overwhelm. You can correct when you find yourself off course. We have outstanding options to slowing down in our lives to be with God: options like observing (and omitting) the obstructions, observing the obvious, observing what occupies our minds and our hearts and what gives order to our days.
One last “O” word: Remember you are an Original, a beloved child of God who wants to spend time with you, his masterpiece!
So the homework today is to listen to yourself and to listen to God. See which options appeals to you and try one of those practice. Pray about your situations and ask God for insight and guidance. God is very creative if we just listen.
Each day I will share Spiritual Summer School homework: Here is today’s assignment:
- Choose a question from below to talk with God about and listen deeply to where he is guiding you.
- Journal what you think and how you are feeling. Name your emotions as we explore slowing down.
- I will be on Facebook live on Thursday at 1:30 eastern and on Friday at 9:30 eastern, on my author page, talking about the day’s topic. I hope you can join me live or watch the replay on that same page.
Here are some questions to pray and ponder over:
Like an airplane most of the time we are off course, how do you continually correct your path back to God?
What are you observing/learning about how you spend time that help or block slowing down to be with God?
What are your obstructions that keep you from slowing down?
What keeps you on that hamster wheel of busyness?
What are your time wasters?
Observe the obvious. How will you capture moments of grace throughout the day to remember them?
Take a day to “check in” every hour – what are you observing? Feeling? Experiencing?
Train yourself to name the feeling/emotion that is most active in the present moment. What is making you feel that way? Is this an emotion you want to “feed?” What wolf are you feeding?
Review a typical day for you. What would be your ideal day including slowing down times to be with God? How could you incorporate those changes into your life?
What occupies your heart and fills your mind instead of God?
Where can you find order or where do you need order in your life?
Remember, I compiled a workbook about this series with places to write your thoughts, daily homework space, resources and inspirational quotes. You can get this resource by clicking on the button below:
I have two books that may also help you on this journey:
Spiritual Retreats: Slowing Down to be with God. Right now the e-book version is only 99 cents on Amazon
Today we explored the O in the word SLOW; tomorrow will finish up with W: Wait and Worth. Please share with your friends about this series and invited them to Spiritual Summer School. Post this on social media and I would love to hear some comments what you are learning so far. And if you haven’t subscribed to this blog, I invite you to do so. I publish usually only twice a week and promise not to bombard your inbox!
Let me know below how you like this series so far. What thought has resonated most with you? How do YOU listen to yourself and listen to God?