Week Five: Welcoming Prayer.

It’s Week Five of practicing a new spiritual discipline, something Adele Calhoun calls ‘Welcoming Prayer.’ And let me tell you, this has been a sweet and dear practice.

Stained glass at a local Anglican church.
To me, it’s a reminder of the precious moment Mary said “Welcome, Jesus, welcome.”

So, overview:

Desire: to welcome Jesus into every part of my life, body, circumstances and relationships

Definition: Welcoming prayer is a way to detach from my need to be secure, liked and in control, and attach to the presence of Jesus instead.”

(Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, pg. 287).

Additionally, she describes that a ‘welcoming prayer’ can be as simple as uttering, “Welcome, Jesus, welcome” (pg. 287).

So that’s just what I decided to do – pray, “Welcome, Jesus, welcome” at various times throughout my day. It was a prayer I was aware of throughout the week, and whenever I felt nervous or lonely or confused or stressed, it bubbled forth from my heart: “Welcome, Jesus, welcome.”

Though three simple words, they bent my heart towards deeper and fuller attention of Jesus’ presence in my life. Here’s some specific moments I prayed this prayer:

  • When I was nervous merging onto the highway: Welcome, Jesus, welcome
  • When I was about to hop on the treadmill to exercise: Welcome, Jesus, welcome
  • When I opened up my homework to read: Welcome, Jesus, welcome
  • When I was getting ready for bed: Welcome, Jesus, welcome
*  *  *  *  *

I was shocked (and not so shocked) to notice that as I kept my attention focused on practicing this prayer, my focus was repeatedly turned towards Jesus – how His presence could be so tangibly felt if only I chose to be aware of Him. Usually when I am nervous or lonely or confused or stressed, my first thought is to sink deeper into those feelings instead of asking Jesus to be present to me in the midst of them.
By choosing to welcome Him into some of the most mundane moments, I started to taste the fruit Calhoun talks about:
  • “Increases awareness of triggers and the things that drive and control you
  • Ability to let go of the agenda and risk on God
  • Surrender of control
  • Growing awareness of the presence of Christ in the events of your life
  • Growing emotional health”
(pg. 287)
As much as I try to manipulate and clutch control onto many of my life circumstances, and as strangely comforting it is to nurture my fears instead of to surrender them, I know that Jesus invites me to taste the freedom He freely offers.

I’m reminded of Matthew 11. “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30, NRSV)

*  *  *  *  *

What are some ways you may invite Jesus into your life, even in the smallest and seemingly insignificant moments? Perhaps you could welcome Him before you write an email for work, before bedtime, during work, even while installing a light bulb? No moment is too simple to invite His presence into your life.

Week Four: Silence (Again).

Welp, as promised in last week’s post, I’ve sought to practice the spiritual discipline of silence this week…again.

While I had a good dose of resolve heading into this week, practicing silence was much more difficult than I had anticipated. And honestly, more times than not, I ran from it again and again; this tendency in me was quite confusing. I had a long week of school, filled with class lectures and studying and driving and conversations. Shouldn’t I be craving silence in the midst of all the noise? I thought so.

But on Thursday afternoon, I decided I would try one of Adele Calhoun’s suggested activities for practicing silence: setting a timer for just ten minutes and allowing the self to be present in the silence (Spiritual Disciplines Handbook, pg. 123). I thought this would be easy enough, so after putting my phone on ‘do not disturb mode,’ I set my iPhone timer for exactly 10:00. Then I was silent. I was even a good girl and turned off my ambient-noise-providing room fan.

First, I sat in my comfy reading chair. I moved my legs back and forth, thinking about what I should be thinking about. Then I picked up one of my teddy bears (yes, more than one reside with me), and I admired how soft and comfy he was to hold. Then I got up from my chair and started pacing. To be honest, I even checked my timer again to see how long I had to wait in the silence. Then I paced again until the timer sounded. Silence over. I was disappointed with my lack of being present. Couldn’t I be simply present?

I’ve been living off a diet of noise for so long that craving silence just doesn’t happen very often for me. Apparently when I am drawn towards introversion, I prefer noisy solitude (seems like an oxymoron, huh?). I like my noise. I like to set up the false dichotomy that noise and activity mean significance, while silence means insignificance. When I’m alone in my room, instead of being present, I think about what other things I could be participating in. Perhaps I could be studying or having a thoughtful conversation with a friend or watching “When Calls the Heart” (new fave Netflix show thanks to my friend, Jami), or taking a nap or listening to an audiobook. Even when I’m doing something that isn’t productive already, silence seems even more unproductive than that. However, I sense that something’s wrong with my diet. Even though silence is not yet ‘mouth-watering’ to me, I want to want to want silence.

I have a growing suspicion that silence is much more productive than I’d like to think, that distraction is just what the enemy of my soul would want me to live in (a sentiment I read this past week in C.S. Lewis’ Screwtape Letters). 

I long to taste the fruit Calhoun writes about:

  • “being attentive to the voice of Jesus
  • having freedom from negative habits of speech (deception, gossip, impulsive chatter, small talk, impression management, the need to express your opinion or critique)
  • freedom from addictions to noise or sound (radio, TV, phone, iPod, etc.)
  • receiving quiet from the chaos and the noise in your life
  • having deeper intimacy with God
  • growing in self-awareness as the silence invites the subconscious to move into deeper levels of knowing
  • developing increased listening skills” 
(Calhoun, pg. 121)
*  *  *  *  *

As I sit with these past two weeks of ‘practicing’ silence, I pray that my appetite increases for moments when I can simply rest in the silence. The lyrics to Will Reagan’s song “In the Quiet” have been circulating in my mind, reminding me that even when I’m afraid of silence being a void, God is there. 

“In the quiet, I know You are there.”

[Also, I know it’s a little ironic that I’m sharing a song with you when I’m writing about silence. 
But may it touch you like it has touched me.]

*  *  *  *  *
Day-by-day, I pray I can make simple steps to live into silence, even if that means entering into the seeming cavern of ‘insignificance’ and ‘unproductiveness.’ I pray that I can trust that God will meet me in the silence, even when it frightens me. I pray, too, that you will be encouraged to turn the noise off once in awhile, even if your inner self is chaotic, knowing that Christ’s love will meet you in that chaos.

Week Three: Silence.

This week, I chose to practice the spiritual discipline of silence, though I did not do very well at it.  Let’s just say that I realized how *radically* tied I am to any kind of noise – from my Spotify playlists to the whirring sound of the fan in my room.  Goodness, I’m even writing this blog to background music!

A photo I took of a lone dandelion this past autumn.
Here’s how Adele Calhoun describes silence as a spiritual discipline:
Desire: to free myself from the addiction to and distraction of noise so I can be totally present to the Lord; to open myself to God in the place beyond words
Definition: Silence is a regenerative practice of attending and listening to God in quiet, without interruption and noise.  Silence provides freedom from speaking as well as listening to words or music. (Reading is also listening to words.)
Practice Includes: 
  • Setting a period of time in which you don’t speak but isolate yourself from sounds (other than perhaps the sounds of nature)
  • Driving or commuting without the radio or CD player turned on
  • Leaving the TV off; spending time in silence with God alone
  • Exercising without attending to noise; listening to God
  • Having personal retreats of silence”
(Calhoun, pg. 121)

This week, even if I wasn’t consciously choosing to listen to noise, it seemed to follow me everywhere I went. It’s absolutely rare (and a little bit creepy) for a coffee shop to not have music.  And workouts seem to lose a lot of their luster when no music is playing in a gym.  And to be fair, I did my fair share of pursuing noise throughout the week.  While I was alert to pursuing the spiritual discipline of silence, I became acutely aware of how little silence I have in my daily routine.  In fact, I have a separate music playlist for many of my daily activities:  getting ready in the morning, doing my devotions (my ‘quiet time’ with the Lord), working on homework, exercising at the gym, driving in my car, and even falling asleep at bedtime.  Each playlist is well-curated to best fit each activity, and if I can’t access my music, I’ll often substitute with other background noise.

Each time I tried to sit in silence, I couldn’t do it for very long.  For example, on Wednesday I was sitting in the prayer chapel doing some journaling.  After a while of listening to music, I decided to turn it off.  After a few seconds of silence, I’m pretty sure I said aloud, “NOPE,” then turned the music back on. 

*  *  *  *  *
Why am I in love with noise?  
Even though I’d like to say that I don’t know the answer to this question, I know at the core of my being that I’m afraid of silence.  Solitude I can do just fine.  Stick me in a room alone with a good book, a relaxing album of classical music, a sweet-smelling candle, a comfortable reading chair, and a tasty cup of tea, and I’ll be content for hours.  Take away the book and the music and watch me panic.
Why am I afraid of silence?

At this point in my life, it’s scary to be face-to-face with a void of noise.  All the things I’ve used to distract my mind are gone, and then it’s an onslaught of fears and worries and concerns and anxieties.  When it’s silent, I no longer sense the benefits of solitude.  Instead, I start to feel lonely.
What would it take to invite God into the silence?

I want to know, too. Therefore, instead of moving on to another spiritual discipline next week, I’ve chosen to focus on silence again next week – consciously inviting God into the silence I most fear.
*  *  *  *  *
I like (in theory, not yet in practice) what Henri Nouwen has to say about loneliness as it’s on its way to solitude:

“This difficult road [from silence] is the road of conversion, the conversion from loneliness into solitude.  Instead of running away from our loneliness and trying to forget or deny it, we have to protect it and turn it into a fruitful solitude.  To live a spiritual life we must first find the courage to enter into the desert of our loneliness and to change it by gentle and persistent efforts into a garden of solitude.  This requires not only courage but also a strong faith” (from Seeds of Hope, pg. 61-62).

{Oh, how I want to lean into loneliness so that it becomes fruitful solitude, 
a solitude that nestles me closer to Jesus}
*  *  *  *  *
So, in summary, this week was much more about awareness of my lack of silence than it was about making headway in practicing silence.  As I’ve realized how very little I allow silence in my life, I have a deepening desire to cultivate spaces of time – no matter how short they may be – to be silent. 
Stay tuned for next week, probably an even more difficult week, as I ask the Lord to help me turn my awareness of silence into the actual practice of silence.
I pray that in this week ahead, you also might glimpse the stillness that the Lord is drawing you into. That even though it may be difficult to see the attractiveness of silence, that it can be a channel for you to undistractedly know how loved you are by God.

Week Two: Gratitude.

“Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!” 
(Psalm 118:1, ESV)
My 2.5 year old plant, the little bit of green in my room I ever treasure.

For this week, I’ve practiced the spiritual discipline of gratitude.  Though I wish gratitude was my default mode, I too frequently miss out on seeing the blessings God has given – the ones so clearly present if I would just give a moment to say, “Thanks, God.”

Here’s some of the basics of the discipline of gratitude, per Adele Calhoun’s perspective:

Desire: to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s prompting to live with a grateful heart, cognizant of God’s work in my life and my abundant resources.

Definition: Gratitude is a loving and thankful response toward God for his presence with us and within this world. Though ‘blessings’ can move us into gratitude, it is not at the root of a thankful heart. Delight in God and his good will is the heartbeat of thankfulness.

Practice Includes:

  • Prayers and songs that focus on God’s generosity
  • Gratefully giving and sharing all you are and have as a sign of your thankfulness to God
  • Expressing gratitude to others; the habit of saying ‘thank you,’ ‘I am so grateful,’ ‘you are so kind’ and so forth
  • Gratefully noticing God’s presence and gifts throughout the day
  • Practicing an abundance mentality; counting the blessings of life
  • Keeping a gratitude journal of the myriad gifts God has brought you”
(Calhoun, pg. 31)
Throughout the week, I jotted down some of the gratitudes that came to mind, things I would probably overlook had I not been intentional about noticing these blessings:
  1. A warm room and a comfy bed
  2. Silence
  3. Caring suitemates who love me, and whom I love
  4. A ‘happy light’ for my room and my mental health
  5. Having a part-time job
  6. My new Harvard course about the Eucharist
  7. Times of rest and restoration
  8. For my new Henri Nouwen book
  9. Friends who seek me out to spend time with me
  10. My mentor & friend Katherine and the pearl necklace she gave me
  11. A fun work environment
  12. My new C.S. Lewis class (so excited)
  13. For parents who send me Cyan ink in the mail for my depleted-ink printer
  14. My church family & prayer time with them
  15. Honest conversations
  16. A car I adore and that runs well
  17. Fun suitemate conversations while we’re brushing our teeth before bed
  18. A constant thread of Facebook messaging with my best friends
Also, when thankfulness came to mind for someone in my day-to-day life, I decided to speak it out or write a ‘thank you card’ instead of keeping it inside.
*  *  *  *  *

My most meaningful moment this week, though, was when I was sitting in the Gordon-Conwell campus prayer chapel, sitting cross-legged on a pillow and listening to some songs by Audrey Assad play from my phone, allowing the words to wash over me and resonate as prayers to the Lord. When her song “I Shall Not Want” came on, my heart leaned into its true gratitude:  the opportunity to be in relationship with God, through Christ. Here’s the song, if you’d like to listen:
Some lines that stood out to me were:
“And I shall not want. I shall not want. When I taste Your goodness, I shall not want.”

“From the need to be understood. From a need to be accepted. From the fear of being lonely, Deliver me, O God. Deliver me, O God.” 
In that moment, I was surprised that these lyrics resonated so much with me. However, in my last semester at seminary, I’m well aware that I’m in a pretty transitory season of life; while I’m still settled here, the calendar is steadily moving me closer to graduation. This transition feels pretty lonely to me, and that can be scary.  Instead of my nestling closer to God’s heart in this loneliness, choosing to be grateful for His presence, I have tried to find this security in other places – in people, in places, in books, in routines.
But I have tasted His goodness, and it is unmistakably satisfying. His goodness frees me to be satisfied in Him, but for a long while now, I have chosen to overlook that His goodness is the source of my flourishing. Somehow, the practice of gratitude this week has restored awareness to me, reminding me that my restless heart can only and ever find its true rest in Him (a sentiment written by St. Augustine). And for this true rest, I am grateful.
*  *  *  *  *
How is the Lord calling you to pay attention to His satisfying goodness in your life today and throughout this week? I’d love to read your thoughts and discoveries.