I knew something needed to change as I hiked one summer along the Pacific Crest Trail. I had looked forward to the seven-day backpack for several months. I had entertained frequent day dreams in which I visualized myself hiking across open alpine meadows, surrounded by the snow-laced peaks of the Cascades and swimming in cold sky-blue lakes. But as my fantasy became reality I notice something troubling. My mind had trouble staying on the trail.
Instead I would discover that my thoughts were ruminating about some worry or concern back home in Minnesota. For a moment I might be able to enjoy a colorful alpine flower or a striking mountain peak, but all too quickly my mind jumped to some pestering concern at my church or my family. My intention was to be on the PCT in Washington; my mind seemed to be at dozens of other locations. And I wanted that to change.
When I came back to Minnesota, I began to hear about “mindfulness” – the ability to be in the present moment. My health plan offered a simple six-week exercise that focused on mindful eating. I thought it would be easy to simply focus on my meal as I ate. I discovered that it was incredibly hard for me. My eyes continually looked for something to read; my ears sought the noise of the radio. The challenge was to simply be present to my bowl of cereal, to see the color and texture of the granola, to taste each bite, and to give thanks to God for the meal.
I began to read more about mindfulness and my emotional impulsiveness. A key book was The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson. I remember reading about how our brains have plasticity, that they can be rewired or remolded with certain practice. The author discussed how people who have participated in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction classes have been able to deal with their chaotic, impulsive mental thought patterns. After reading the book, I signed up for a MBSR class.
“Courage to change the things I can” is the second part of the Serenity prayer. I once thought courage was reserved for the “big” things like racism or sexism. I admire Dr. Martin Luther King’s courage to challenge the racial injustice of his time. We need such models of courage in every age.
Yet there is also the daily kind of courage to face our own flaws. Through the MBSR class I learned the practice of daily meditation. The practice has begun to calm my busy mind and to live in the present. I am thankful that God gave me the courage to change the ways I look at the world and to be fully alive in each moment.
How do you stay living in the present moment?
Lord Jesus, thank you for your promise to be always with us.
One of the joys of writing for Resurrection Lutheran and others is that I learn from other blogs. Recently I discovered a blog from a Jewish rabbi in Pennsylvania who has great perspective on the story of manna in the wilderness.
One of the recurring themes of the Exodus is complaining. The people whine about being thirsty, hungry, tired, scared, or because they want to go back to Egypt. No matter how much Moses reassures them, or how often they see God’s power displayed, they remain discouraged and depressed. This week, we see them rebel against the manna.
The manna, however, is really just the symptom. The Israelites aren’t dealing with the real issue and the underlying problem that permeates every other situation: They don’t want to be there! They would prefer slavery to independence, because it means they don’t have to move, they don’t have to change, and they don’t have to try. How often don’t we see this happening today? People put up with an awful lot if it means they can avoid change.
Only once the Israelites take ownership of the Exodus, and feel a desire to conquer Canaan and become a nation, are they able to enter the Land. As long as we keep avoiding the real problem, we’re really just going around in circles. We have to face our fears and take on challenges head-on, otherwise we’ll keep chewing on the same bland manna for 40 long years.
How is God challenging you to change? In what ways are you resisting?
Lord God, teach me again to trust in your grace and mercy to lead me into the changes you desire.
Serenity in Winter
I have always been a great fan of the Serenity Prayer:
“God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change,
courage to change the things we can,
and wisdom to know the difference.”
It is used not only at AA meeting, but throughout the church. The author of the prayer was Reinhold Niebuhr, an American pastor and theologian of the last century. His original prayer continued
“Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
I am one who believes in the power of prayer, but that prayer is not some magic bullet that offers instant results. Prayer is always based on the ongoing relationship we have with God, and God’s expectations for us. There are things we are meant to change and we need to discern what they are and our role in the change. Whether at home, at work, or in our congregation, there are attitudes and behaviors that we can change. Asking for God’s guidance in our relationships and daily life is critical to healthy change.
Which brings us to those things that we can not change, like the weather. This winter started early and will probably be around at least two more months. I know that I can complain about it, but I am asking for serenity to enjoy this day as a gift from God. I believe there might be some wisdom in that.
How has prayer shaped your life this winter?