Gratitude – The Feasting Life Skill

Enough is a Feast Buddhist ProverbDo you work at be grateful?

Hopefully, you do and it has become a life habit. If not, it\s not too late to start!

I don’t know of a life skill that is more important. Gratitude is a positive influence on health, outlook, and virtually aspect of life. If you need a little bit of help with being grateful, be sure to read today’s article!:

5 Reasons Giving Thanks Can Improve Your Life

If you’re older than 9, it’s hard to resist the urge to roll your eyes when someone at the Thanksgiving table suggests, “Let’s all go around the room and share what we’re thankful for!” It’s a pretty corny holiday ritual you mostly do to keep your mom or your most momlike friends happy, but a robust body of psychological research actually links these sorts of gratitude exercises with increased happiness, health, and overall well-being.

In other words, there are some very practical reasons to get into the spirit of things tomorrow by taking a minute to remember the reasons you’re #blessed. These are lessons that can be applied year-round.

You’ll get some decent sleep for once. For a 2011 paper in Applied Psychology, researchers asked a group of study participants to keep a gratitude journal (something many of the studies on this subject have in common). These participants were all students who said they had trouble sleeping “because their minds are racing with stimulating thoughts and worries,” the researchers write.

You’ll be happier. Giving someone a long overdue thank-you will increase your own happiness, and the mood-boosting effects of that simple act of gratefulness could last as long as a month. That’s according to a study led by Martin Seligman, the pioneer of the modern positive-psychology movement. Seligman gave a series of six tasks to more than 400 people to test different ways of improving people’s moods: Some participants were instructed to reflect on and write about their personal strengths, for example, while others were told to think about their personal strengths and find new ways to use them every day for a week.

Just one of those six tasks involved gratitude: The participants were asked if there was someone in their lives who was once particularly kind to them, but whom they never properly thanked. They then were instructed to write and hand-deliver a thank-you letter to this person. In the end, the gratitude task had the biggest impact on the participants’ happiness, and the effects were still measurable when the researchers checked in a month later.

You might actually even exercise. Once a week for ten weeks, researchers instructed study participants to list five things that had happened over the previous seven days that they were grateful for; another group was told to write about the five things that had most annoyed them that week; and a third was instructed to simply write about things that had happened, with no emotion attached. Not surprising, by the end of the experiment, those who’d done the gratitude exercise were more likely to feel optimistic about their lives. But they also reported exercising more than the people who’d spent the past two and a half months making a weekly list of grievances.

You’ll appreciate your partner more, even if you’re imagining things. For two weeks, researchers told 65 cohabiting couples to keep nightly diaries, jotting down the nice things that they’d done for their partners and that their partners had done for them. As you’d expect, when the researchers checked in with their subjects after this little experiment, the couples reported feeling closer to their partners and more satisfied with the relationship than they had before the study started. (The researchers call the tactic a “booster shot” for romantic relationships.)

But what’s also interesting is this: When the researchers compared the diaries, they found the stories they told didn’t always match up; sometimes, one half of the couple reported being grateful for something the other half didn’t mention. It doesn’t matter if their partner actually did something kind for their sake, just that they perceived an action that way.

Your underlings will work a little harder. In a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers visited a call center at a university, where employees call alumni to ask for donations. They observed one group of fund-raising employees on a regular day, noting how many calls they made. On a different day, the researchers observed a separate group of fund-raisers — but before they began working, the director of the department gave a little speech noting how thankful she was to the fund-raisers. That day, these employees made about 50 percent more calls than the previous group. Managers, never underestimate the power a simple thank-you has over your minions.

Today’s article is written by Melissa Dahl and is shared from the following website: http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2014/11/5-reasons-giving-thanks-can-improve-your-life.html

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Overcoming Depression – Creating an Attitude of Gratitude Part 5

You Find What You Look For

I took last Friday off to spend some much needed time with my family prior to my son’s wedding on Saturday. Thank you for understanding!

Because of that family time, I am finishing my attitude of gratitude series today.

The quote I used on today’s meme tells it all: You Find What You Look For.

What a profound statement! I remember so vividly the night that I had my near-death experience. It was proceeded by a phone call from a bill collector. My severe depression and 24/7 migraines had created chaos of our business and finances. I was not able to keep up and several large clients filing bankruptcy had had a profound effect on our bank account.

I tried to explain to the bill collector that I was suffering from severe depression and 24/7 migraines in hopes that she would be more willing to work with me. Instead, she said, in the snidest tone of voice she could find, “You are depressed and sick because you want to be depressed and sick.”

That conversation was the last straw for my depressed mind that horrible, horrible day so many years ago. Thank goodness for the Divine Intervention that followed that night!

I have learned many things since that day. I have walked a path of healing and I have searched and studied hard. I am no longer depressed and I no longer have 24/7 headaches. I now have the health of someone much younger than my actual age. Nothing about my current situation is an accident. It came as a result of learning and following God’s guidance step by step.

Though I did not consciously choose depression or my headaches, I did have to learn a different mindset to overcome my depression. I had to deliberately look for light and goodness. I had to consciously recognize and acknowledge all that I had to be grateful for. And, I had to commit to using those new found skills for the rest of my life. The result? My life and health is better than it ever has been!

Thus far, we have talked about Depending on God, Delving into the Depths of Your Soul (Getting to truly know yourself), and having an Attitude of Gratitude. Those are the first three steps for overcoming depression.

There are no quick fixes. The law of the harvest is as applicable today as it ever has been. The rest of this week, we will share how the use of exercise can help overcome depression. Be sure to stay tuned! I hope you will enjoy today’s article on using gratitude to overcome depression:

Gratitude – A Cure for Depression?

This Is No Fun

Depression is no fun… none at all, I hated it. Obsession isn’t any fun either… all that relentless going over what happened, who said what, who did what, and how unfair it all was.

After a major life crisis I spent the next year, though it felt a whole lot longer, pretty much laying around on the couch bemoaning my life and feeling hopeless, pointless, angry, depressed, bitter and also quite a bit righteous. After all, I was the victim wasn’t I?

There’s A Train in My Brain

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It felt like I had a train in my brain going around and around carrying a relentless pattern of sad, mad, thoughts. I could not turn those thoughts off, could hardly sleep, and found it hard to think about anything else. The train was full of pain and every time it went around I hurt.

When I looked into the future and imagined living with that train long term it made me feel like jumping off a tall building. Fortunately I didn’t even have the energy to climb to the top of one.

Eventually I got desperate enough to go out and look for a way to change things that did not involve tall buildings.

So That’s How My Brain Works

I happened upon a course that taught me about how my brain works, what neural pathways are, and how flexible and changeable the brain is. During the course I had a profoundly life changing epiphany:

“You find what you look for.”

Those six little words changed the way I live my life.

Backtrack

To backtrack a little: I best explain that even during the worst of my depression/obsession I had been very, very, familiar with gratitude as an concept – I loved it.

I had a gratitude journal (mostly empty) and two of my daughters, Georgia & Hailey, had popular online gratitude projects. Unbelievably, given my mental state, Hailey and I had even written a short comedy film script about gratitude. Still, my gratitude journal sat lonely by my bed while I waited, not very hopefully, for something good to happen, something worth being grateful for.

Why Gratitude Works

While the course was not really about gratitude, the science that was presented in the course opened my eyes as to why and how gratitude could work to alleviate depression and why it had not worked for me so far. I began to understand that it isn’t, as I had thought, being happy that makes us grateful; it is deciding to be grateful that makes us happy (Thanks for that wisdom Dr David!).

I began to see that the intentional practice of gratitude, even when you don’t feel like it, has the power to change entrenched negative thinking and rewire the brain.

Very tentatively, and with some difficulty at first, I began to practice gratitude. In a surprisingly short period of time that relentless train in my head was mostly derailed and my depression faded off into the distance.

There are many reasons that gratitude worked for me, here are just a few:

Other Orientation

Brain rules Dr. John Madina

Gratitude practice forced me to start thinking about other people and the way they contributed to my life. I had less time to wallow, gazing at my navel and more time to notice how many kindnesses I was regularly shown. I’d been so self focused that I just took them for granted and didn’t even notice them.

Dr John Medina, author of the NY Times Bestseller ‘Brain Rules’ spoke, during an interview film for our (still in production) documentary Goodness Gracious Me!, about how effective ‘other orientation’ is for getting out of depression.

Lots of Good Chemicals

I found gratitude practice reduced my stress levels almost immediately. There is so much science backing this up – research shows that gratitude practice reduces the stress hormone cortisol and dramatically increases the feel good hormone DHEA. There is nothing like an all natural ‘happy chemical’ cocktail to make you feel better. You might enjoy this page on the Science behind gratitude.

New Tracks

It turned out I did have a train in my brain going around and around on tracks I had laid for it: neural pathways! These little guys are the highways for information travelling through our nervous system and they are built by our own thoughts. It works, very simplistically put, like this: Thoughts create neural pathways and the more thoughts on a subject the stronger that neural pathway becomes. Our brains have to automate most of our thinking just to get through the day so the strongest neural pathways are the default thinking. My nasty, sad, self pitying and angry thoughts had created a super highway and it was no wonder I couldn’t think about much else.

As I began to deliberately think grateful, thankful, good thoughts the more my brain began to think positively and the less traction the old super highway depression pathway had. In time I found it more natural to default to a positive take on things that happened.

Different Picture

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When I said I had had an epiphany around the six little words “You find what you look for.” I meant it.

Just simply deciding each day to look for the good in my life, and express gratitude for it, has meant that my life has become filled with good. The more I look for good things in my life the more my brain becomes alert to good things, scans for good things, and finds good things.

It is hard to be depressed when there is so much good around. Previously my brain was wired to scan for bad, and it was exceptionally good at finding it.

Named My Own Game

Once I understood how my own thoughts could play a part in depression I realized that I was often making the choice to replay certain things for a variety of self-serving reasons.

Firstly I had developed a victim mentality – starring in a victim role comes easily to me and I have learned to become more aware of it, avoiding it as often as possible. Bad stuff happens to everyone and it is my choice if I let myself play the victim.

Gratitude teaches me that I am not a victim but the undeserving recipient of so much beauty and grace.

Gratitude is an instantly rewarding practice that gave me positive emotions that transitioned me to a place where I was stronger emotionally and able to be a little more self controlled.

Another game I was playing was the sympathy game – if you are depressed people treat you kindly and give you sympathy – yay! Gratitude is teaching me to give empathy to others and stop making myself the center of my own, and everyone else’s, attention. I also began to glimpse how draining on everyone my misery was – not a pretty sight.

I also secretly enjoyed knowing that I did not have to be strong and self controlled if I was rolling in my own misery. Everyone understands that when you are miserable it’s hard to be strong and so there is tolerance for much self indulgent behaviour. Gratitude is an instantly rewarding practice that gave me positive emotions that transitioned me to a place where I was stronger emotionally and able to be a little more self controlled.

My own experience tells me that gratitude is a powerful antidote to depression, many people I talk to feel the same way.

mountains joy awe

Feeling grateful brings emotions of awe, wonder, happiness and joy, to name a few, and those emotions shove depression aside.

As I have researched the subject of gratitude I have come across loads of scientific studies that back up my own experience regarding depression. I have looked a little at depression research too and more and more there is an understanding that our own thoughts have a huge role in this affliction.

Certainly the widespread acceptance that depression is just a chemical imbalance or a random disease is under review among many scientists and psychologists at the moment.

Kill Depression With Kindness

Which brings me to my other depression killing tip: Random acts of kindness – if all else fails for me, and I find myself getting a little down, I just go out and do secret acts of kindness for strangers and friends. Works every time!

This article was written by Toni Powell and is shared from the following website: http://gratefulness.org/grateful_living/gratitude-cure-depression/


smiling woman Toni Powell

Toni Powell is a recovering worrywart, author, storyteller and award-winning filmmaker. She spends most of her time teaching people about the life-changing power of gratitude through very funny workplace seminars, professional development for teachers, public How To Have a Happy Life workshops and videos like the surprising, hilarious and helpful video, The Yellow Car.

 

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Overcoming Depression – Creating an Attitude of Gratitude Part 4

Gratitude and Attitude are not Challenges; they are Choices Robert BraatheI hope that you have been spending this week like me: concentrating on all that we have to be grateful for.

So many of us want sunshine in our lives and feel that if life is not without it’s storms, then we have been dealt an unfair blow. The truth of the matter is that how we view our world is our choice.

I am reminded of the story in which two new families moved into a small town. The father of the first family asked a long-time member of the community by the name of Bill what kind of town their community was. Bill asked, “What kind of town did you just move from?” The father replied, “It was horrible. No one was kind or courteous. Everyone gossiped and we never felt welcome.” To his dismay, Bill told the father, “Oh, I think you will find this town just about the same.” Then, the father of the second new family approached Bill. He asked Bill the same question. Once again, Bill asked the father, “What kind of town did you just move from?” The second father responded, “Oh, the town we just moved from was wonderful! We loved it there! We made many friends! Everyone was wonderful and friendly!” Bill responded, “Well that’s wonderful! I know you are going to love living here as well!”

The moral of the story was that each father was going to get what they expected. We often are no different. Our expectations (attitude) most often dictate the outcome.

If we want the most amazing outcome possible for our lives, we must practice gratitude – not just as an occasional meandering into the area but as a deliberate way of life.

I love the article I share with you today! I hope you will enjoy and keep practicing that Attitude of Gratitude!:

5 Simple Ways to Develop an “Attitude of Gratitude”

by David A. Christensen

Our attitude is defined by the way we think and feel about life. It all begins with the way we see the world—which triggers a reaction, response, or behavior. Developing an “attitude of gratitude,” or seeing the world in such a way that spawns a thankful heart, produces many positive results.

Studies in what has become known as the “science of gratitude,” show that being grateful helps us feel more alive, promotes better sleep, fortifies our immune system, and even influences our looks. In short, grateful people are friendlier, healthier, happier, and even more attractive.

If you’re having trouble developing this habit in your life, then here are five suggestions to help you master an attitude of gratitude:

Develop the habit of “looking up.”

We live in a world where we look downward while we text on phones, check our email, view iPads, or even when we walk. Much of the news is centered on looking at the downside of life and what’s wrong on this planet. How much better would life be if we remember from time to time to look up, look outward, and look heavenward?

Years ago—before email, text, and Facebook connections—we moved our young family from Arizona to Michigan. My ninth-grader had to leave a lot of her friends, which created quite a bit of stress. When she came home each day from school, she would look down at the table or the desk for snail mail from her friends. I decided this might make a good teaching moment for her.

Since my wife and I were the ones who normally picked up the mail, we placed the letters and cards in high places in our home—a hanging light fixture, a high fireplace mantel, the top of a picture frame on the wall. This helped teach our daughter to “look up”—that’s where we find happy things. Looking heavenward can bring happiness. Heavenly Father wants us to notice His blessings by looking to Him. At our house, “looking up” stuck! It’s helped us be more thankful.

Start a gratitude journal or a tender mercy board in your home.

Anything that helps us to put our busy lives on pause—long and often enough to count and chronicle our blessings—will go a long way in developing an attitude of gratitude. On a daily basis, find a way to pause and take in these blessings.

Writing and remembering blessings every day will make you more aware of His hand in your life. Maybe even try switching up your individual or family prayers, at least for a while. The morning prayer could be focused on asking for blessings that you or the family needs and the evening prayer could be centered on giving thanks.

Have you ever tried to offer a prayer of 100% gratitude? Not asking for anything? It surely makes you think about your long list of blessings, which can often seem overwhelming.

Make a list of all the people you are grateful for.

Take some time and make a list of all the people in your life that have changed your life for the better. As you make the list, write a few notes by their name stating why they are special to you and what they did that qualifies them to be on your list.

Go back as far as you can remember—teachers, friends, advisors, grandparents, parents, siblings, and anyone who touched your life for good. Make it an open list that can grow as you remember more experiences or meet new people.

Make a list of all the enriching experiences in your life.

Let your mind wander from your earliest recollections to what happened in recent days. What experiences, both hard and joyful, have blessed your life? Make a list and add a description of what the experience taught you and how you’ve become a better person for having lived it.

Be sure to include the adversities that made you stronger. Remember those special experiences which magnified your testimony or lifted your self-esteem. These experiences enlighten our view and generate gratitude in our lives.

Make a list of people you need to forgive.

Every major religion teaches about the renewing power of forgiving and letting go. The wellspring of gratitude is sometimes dammed in our minds when we cling to unkind feelings for others.

Is there someone in your life that you need to forgive? It could even be something so simple as a sarcastic comment or unintentional slip of someone’s tongue. Let go of those unkind feelings and see what happens to your heart. We become more grateful for those around us when we do as the Savior does. He forgives us and expects us to do the same. Love for life and thankfulness expands in our hearts as we forgive and let go.


5 Simple Ways to Develop an

If you need more help developing a grateful heart, check out more ideas in David A. Christensen’s book, A Thankful Heart: 31 Teachings to Recognize Blessings in Your Life.

Today’s article is shared from the following website: http://www.ldsliving.com/5-Simple-Ways-to-Develop-an-Attitude-of-Gratitude/s/80062

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The D’s of Depression – Depend on God, Part 3

You attract the right  things when you have  a sense of who you are   Amy PoehlerWe have been addressing overcoming depression for the last couple of weeks. There is nothing, in my opinion, more essential in overcoming depression than knowing who you truly are.

I know that overcoming depression is not an easy task. For me, utilizing the strength that God was willing to lend me and relying on His guidance were key in my recovery.

Listening to God’s voice does not always come naturally. It often has to be worked at. So often, we are in the mire of depression because we have allowed ourselves to become overwhelmed physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally.

There is no better way to get back on track that to use God’s power to heal and instruct. He knows what we need and He can both strengthen us and guide us to the resources we need.

For some, realizing that God can and does speak to His children may be a foreign concept. I assure you that He does and can talk to us. I have been the beneficiary of His guidance many times. It was through His guidance that my husband became a chiropractor and I found and received the help I needed to overcome both my depression and my 24/7 migraines.

I cannot promise miraculous healing but I promise that as you seek and learn to listen to God’s messages to you, you will find strength, comfort and answers!

Today, I continue with the series written by Rev. Mark Roberts and listening to the spirit and the divine guidance of God. I hope you will enjoy his thoughts and I hope as you come to know yourself better, that you will find God, find yourself and find healing! My prayers are with you!:

Divine Guidance and Spiritual Direction

In my opinion, spiritual direction can be a valuable means through which God can guide us. Allow me to explain what I mean and why I think this way.

For most Protestant and/or evangelical Christians, the phrase “spiritual direction” is an unfamiliar one. The title of “spiritual director” conveys very little and can in fact be misleading. Those who lack understanding of what a spiritual director does might be apt to misunderstand the role because of what the term “director” conveys. We might picture a spiritual director as somebody who “directs” our spiritual lives, giving orders, telling us what to do, and so on. We might even envision the kind of authoritarian discipleship that was popular while I was in college, but has been rejected by most Christians as unbiblical and unhealthy. This is not what spiritual direction is all about.

Folks in the Catholic and higher-church Anglican traditions, as well as a growing number of Protestants, would be much more familiar with the notion of spiritual direction, whether or not they have personally experienced it. I first became familiar with the whole idea of spiritual direction through the novels of Susan Howatch. In her Church of England Series, sometimes called the Starbridge Series, her characters, who are Anglican Christians in some sort of crisis, are “in spiritual direction,” that is, they are regularly seeing a spiritual director. The chief task of the director is to help them discern God’s presence and guidance, both of which they need quite desperately. (Who doesn’t?)

Howatch’s portrayal of spiritual direction is sometimes more animated than reality, but she basically hits the nail on the head. The spiritual director’s job is not to give directions so much as to help someone pay attention to God’s directions. Thus, spiritual direction is a process that helps people to discern and follow the direction of the Holy Spirit.

In general, spiritual directors are wise, experienced, spiritually-sensitive Christians. They may or may not be ordained ministers, though most spiritual directors have been specifically trained and credentialed. Their training may include reading lots of spiritual classics, taking extended time for personal spiritual growth, seeing a spiritual director, being in a group with fellow trainees, and doing spiritual direction as a supervised intern.

In the last thirty years or so, Christians outside of the Catholic (or Anglo-Catholic) tradition have become more familiar with spiritual directions. This may be a result of the lowering of the wall between the Protestant and Catholic traditions. It may also be the result, in particular, of the popularity of the writings of Henri Nouwen (a Roman Catholic priest) and Susan Howatch (an Anglican novelist). For basic information on Catholic spiritual direction, visit Catholic Spiritual Direction. For a Protestant/Reformed perspective, see this informative discussion by the Rev. Kenton Smith.

I began seeing a spiritual director in 2006. I did so because it seemed like a good way for me to grow in my relationship with God. My expectations were more than realized, as I had the privilege of a wise companion in my spiritual pilgrimage. It was good to have a place to sort out my joys and frustrations as a Christian, and to have help in discovering God’s presence in my life. Though I did not begin spiritual direction with the thought that I’d be changing jobs, my spiritual director was invaluable when I was trying to figure out if God was guiding me to leave Irvine Presbyterian Church and join the team at Laity Lodge in Texas.

My experience confirms the fact that spiritual direction is not the same as counseling or therapy, even if both counselor and counselee are Christians. Though some of the methods are the same, honest sharing and sensitive listening, a counselor focuses on the individual and his or her needs, experiences, hurts, etc. In most counseling, there is quite a bit of emphasis on discovering historical and psychological causes for current feelings and behaviors. So, if I’m feeling lots of anger towards a colleague at work, for example, a counselor might help me see that this colleague reminds me of my father, and therefore my anger may be more about my relationship with my father than my relationship with my colleague. A good counselor would take me a step further, helping me to see my colleague more clearly and relate to him more fairly. A spiritual director might also be interested in the roots of my anger. But his or her focus wouldn’t be in the past, or even in my feelings and behaviors. Rather, a spiritual director would help me to discover God’s presence in my current experience. This might include finding God’s power to be less angry, or to communicate my anger more appropriately. But a spiritual director would want me to consider what God might be saying to me in my anger, and how I might experience God’s peace in a way that helps me deal with my anger in a healthy, even a godly way.

Given what I have experienced in spiritual direction, and given what I’m seeing in the Protestant/evangelical/Reformed world in which I spend most of my time as a Christian, I expect that the popularity of spiritual direction will greatly increase among folks in my tradition. There is a longing in people for spiritual growth and spiritual guidance. Spiritual direction can help satisfy this longing, and it is surely one way in which God can direct us through the Spirit. Moreover, though you can’t find the title of “spiritual director” in Scripture, the notion of discerning God’s guidance in relationship with other Christians is central to the New Testament understanding of the Christian life. The best spiritual directors both reflect this biblical understand and use Scripture in the direction process.

Today’s article was written by Mark. D. Roberts and is shared from the following website: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/how-does-god-guide-us/

 

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The D’s of Depression – Depend on God, Part 2

Yesterday we started our conversation about depending on God. I know of no other way to successfully combat depression. God is a complete source of truth and a complete go-to-guide on you! You may think you know all there is to know about yourself, but the truth is that you are just a newbie when it comes to knowing yourself. The tried and true source of knowledge is your Creator!

I know from my near-death experience that this thing we call life is a school of sorts. We have come here to learn and to improve. A part of that learning and growth comes through exercising faith. Our experiences and our decisions also contribute.

We need to know ourselves and learn the truth about ourselves. The problem is that we are generally our harshest critic and the person most inclined to punish our self. Therefore, what we believe about our self is most often incorrect. However, we do have a resource at our disposal – God.

Communicating with God takes effort on our part. While God is ever waiting and willing to assist us – most of the time we have to initiate those conversations. And then…we have to listen.

Sometimes the spirit commands our attention in a dramatic way but most of the time the spirit whispers. In order to be receptive to those whispers, we must create opportunities to hear and receive those whispers. Meditation, prayer, silence, pondering, and a nice walk are wonderful ways of creating those opportunities for God to speak to us.

Today, I continue to share a multi-part post by Rev. Mark Roberts from Patheos.com. I hope you will read it and think about ways that you can create better communication between yourself and God. I hope you will feel God speaking to you often!:

Developing an Ear to Hear the Holy Spirit, Part 1

Occasionally, the Holy Spirit almost shouts at us. Indeed, “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over mighty waters” (Psalm 29:3). But most of the time, the Spirit deals with us as God did with Elijah, through what we might metaphorically call “whispering.” This presents a irksome problem for us: How can we hear the Spirit’s voice when our hearts are so overwhelmed by the cacophony of our busy lives and hearts?

When my children were young, I would often study in a McDonald’s Playplace. I’d read or tap away at my laptop computer while my kids would race through a maze of giant plastic tubes and slides. Invasive and syrupy Musak filled our favorite Playplace, though I could hardly hear it because of the competing racket from nearby video games. Babies were crying; toddlers were squealing; parents were shouting as they tried to get their children to come out of the play structure. It was noisy chaos.

Does your heart ever sound just like a McDonald’s Playplace? Have you ever sat down for a moment of quiet, only to notice that your mind keeps racing at breakneck speed? Do you ever try to hear the voice of God, only to be overwhelmed with dozens of other voices, including your own, and those of your parents, friends, colleagues, not to mention the culture? It’s no wonder that we find it hard to hear the Spirit’s voice, or that we mistakenly attribute some random thought to God. If we are going to be ready to hear the gentle whisper of the Holy Spirit, then somehow we have to quiet our hearts and learn to focus upon God. For most of us, this is much easier said than done.

Several years ago I participated in my first silent retreat. My wife and I, along with some Christian friends, planned to spend a weekend in silence at a secluded retreat center in the hills above Santa Barbara, California. When we arrived on Friday evening, our bedroom was stifling because the temperature had climbed into the 90s and the window had been shut. Cranking it open for some ventilation, we left for the start of the retreat. The leader explained the importance of keeping silent for two days, though warning us how difficult it might be when we first started. He had no idea how prophetic his words would be for me!

When Linda and I returned to our room, the temperature had dropped considerably, but in its place we found about a hundred ravenous mosquitoes. Following the rules of silence, we quietly divided our efforts at bug swatting until most of the little vampires had perished. In the process, I received a dozen little red bites. For most people this would be an inconvenience, but for me it was a nightmare because I am allergic to bug bites. Soon my body was covered with quarter-sized welts that itched worse than anything I could remember. For hours, I sat in agonizing, sleepless silence, trying not to scratch my bites, while occasionally jumping up to swat a remaining mosquito. I couldn’t remember a more miserable, night. Finally, at about five in the morning, Linda awoke and took pity on me enough to break silence.

“Are you OK,” she asked. “Is there anything I can do for you?”

“No,” I replied. “I’m miserable. I itch like mad. I haven’t slept one bit. And I can’t even complain about it because of this crazy silence! But there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Finally, exhaustion got the better of me and I was able to sleep a bit. By late morning I had recovered enough from my ordeal to take a walk into the woods–with plenty of insect repellent applied liberally to my body. Finding a tranquil spot by a stream, I sat down to be quiet before God. Yet, as I tried to be quiet, I still heard a hundred buzzing “mosquitoes,” not real ones this time, but those that lived inside my head: the obnoxious buzzing of the things that filled my life, the demands, needs, ideas, hopes, fears, memories, disappointments, and dreams that controlled my life. These bugs couldn’t be swatted. They began to quiet down only after many hours of solitude and prayer, during which I surrendered to God everything that buzzed within my heart. In retrospect, I think God stirred up those inner mosquitoes so I could relinquish them to him. In some small way I began to obey the command of God found in Habakkuk: “The Lord is in his holy temple. Let all the earth be silent before him” (Hab 2:20).

Although my initial attempt at disciplined silence began with such great frustration, it turned out to be an exceptionally quiet moment in my otherwise noisy life. I began to discover why so many spiritually mature Christians set aside regular times for extended silence and solitude, and resolved to do so more myself.

As you read this, you may be thinking: “Well, that sounds great. But you’re a pastor. You can make time for this sort of thing. I can’t imagine getting away for a weekend of silence, or even for a half-day. What would you suggest for somebody like me?”

I’ll respond to this question in my next post in this series.

Developing an Ear to Hear the Holy Spirit, Part 2

In my last post, I talked about how important it is to quiet our hearts if we’re to receive guidance through the Holy Spirit. I suggested that literal silence, such as what we might experience on a silent retreat, helps promote internal silence. But how is this helpful to ordinary folks, to people who can’t easily make time to get away for a silent retreat?

First, in my experience I am able to make time for that which I value. Whether it’s a favorite TV show, exercise, or hanging out with my family, I am disciplined enough in the use of my calendar to make sure I do the important things, in addition to my work. I think this is true for most people, even extraordinary busy ones. Indeed, there may be short seasons of life when it’s almost impossible for you to get alone with God for a while–like when you’re a new mom with a tiny baby–but most of us can set aside at least an hour for quiet if we truly want to. The question is: Do we truly want to do this?

Silence can be scary, especially for those of us who aren’t used to it. We can be afraid that silence will be boring. Or we may be afraid that in silence we’ll have to deal with hard things in our life that we’d rather avoid. For example, when I spend quiet time with God, I’m sometimes reminded of things I have done wrong. God brings these to mind so that I may confess them and be forgiven, and so that I may talk with him about how I can do better in the future. But the experience of remembering forgotten sins isn’t particularly pleasant. Many of us fill our lives with noise because we don’t want to face our fears, our hurts, or our disappointments, in addition to our sins.

If you find yourself resistant to the whole notion of being quiet with God, I’d encourage you to talk about this with a trusted Christian brother or sister. Perhaps your first efforts at silence can be shared with this person, who will be there to support you in prayer and other ways.

Second, I think many of us don’t take time to be alone with God because we set the bar too high at first. We might read about saints who spends days in silence and decided to imitate them. But when we try, our efforts quickly fail. Most of us need to begin more humbly and realistically, not with days of solitude and silence, but with minutes or hours.

Some years ago, I encouraged members of my congregation at Irvine Presbyterian Church to set aside one hour once a month for solitude. More was fine. But one hour once a month was a great start. I recommended that folks go to a place that fosters silence, perhaps a secluded park or beach, or maybe a quiet retreat center. Personally, I find it difficult to be quiet and alone when I’m at home or work. Others might have more discipline and focus than I do, but it seems that most people are helped when they’re in a place that fosters quiet fellowship with God.

Moreover, I’d urge you to work with your natural inclinations, not against them. For example, I know people who can pray for long periods of time when sitting or kneeling. I’m not one of these people. Yet if I’m walking, and especially if I’m walking in a place where I can pray out loud, then I can go for longer stretches. Similarly, some people are helped to pray by going to a church sanctuary. I, on the other hand, find nature to be my best “sanctuary.” The beauty of the natural world reminds my of the beauty of God, and helps me to sense God’s presence.

For most of my life, I prayed either out loud or silently. Then, about eight years ago, I began to write out my prayers in a journal. I discovered that the practice of journaling helped me to focus, both on what I wanted to say to the Lord and on what he wanted to say to me. Of course I don’t journal when I’m walking! But many of my non-ambulatory prayer sessions now involve writing. This may or may not be helpful to you. If you haven’t tried journaling before, you may want to give it a shot.

To sum up, here’s what I’m saying in this blog post:

1. If you value solitude and silence, you’ll find a way to get it into your calendar.

2. If the whole idea of silence is scary, find a partner with whom to share your hesitations and your experiences.

3. Be realistic in your expectations. Commit to spending one hour in solitude once a month. More is fine, but start with what you can manage.

4. Work with your natural inclinations, not against them.

5. Try writing out your prayers in a journal.

As with every facet of the Christian life, learning to discern the voice of the Spirit is something we should do as a committed member of Christian community. Certainly, times of solitude are essential, but not a lifetime of separation from our spiritual family. A healthy Christian community will help you listen to the whisper of the Spirit, discern which voices are really from God, and speak in a way that doesn’t trivialize spiritual guidance by turning everything into a word from the Lord.

These two segments written by Rev. Mark Roberts have been shared from the following website: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/markdroberts/series/how-does-god-guide-us/

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