My 2017: The Practices

As much as I love to read and consume knowledge, art and experience, it’s probably this much shorter list that had the most impact on my life in 2017.

I believe the heart of the gospel—the “Good News” of Jesus Christ—is an invitation to grow, to heal, to transcend our brokenness and become, very literally, just like Jesus. 

Accordingly, I’m always looking for ways to push deeper into practices and habits that allow me to more tangibly and effectively experience God’s Spirit in my life.

So here are some of those habits and practices—some new and some continued for years now—that shaped my 2017:

Five-Minute Journal

I saw this described in a Tim Ferris YouTube video. It seemed like an effective way to cement a few very powerful habits into my daily life: journaling, being grateful, and trying to re-direct the negative talk and tapes that can derail my life.

There is an official “Five-Minute Journal” product that you can buy, but since I’m so picky about my tools, I just decided to modify the concept, and just use my normal journal (a Leuchtturm1917 Dotted notebook).

Here’s how it works, pretty much every morning:

  1. I write 3 things I’m grateful for (personally, I write these as complete sentences; it forces me to engage more).
  2. I write 3 things that would make today “awesome.”
  3. I write 2-3 affirmations about myself (one of mine is always, “I am LOVED.”)

In addition, I always write a quote from whatever my morning reading was, something that inspired me or challenged me.

There is also an evening/end of day component, but that’s been more difficult for me to develop and maintain:

  1. Three things that happen that made the day awesome/wonderful.
  2. Two or three ways that I could have done a little bit better.

The whole practice typically takes (a) no more than one page in my journal, and (b) no more than 5-7 minutes.

The Daily Office

I want to be a person of prayer. For me, I believe it’s actually the foundational spiritual practice that can change me.

And it’s a struggle. My mind wanders. A few years ago, I discovered centering prayer, which has radically transformed my understanding of prayer and of God. About six months ago, I felt the desire/leading to add a little more to this practice, and I thought about my annual trips to the Trappist monastery in Conyers, Georgia. Part of the monastic life there is to sing/chant the Psalms in their gatherings. I found it to be moving and intriguing, and also I felt a conviction that the 150 Psalms represent such a depth of human emotion and spiritual experience that I wanted to make them more “mine,” and take them more deeply into my own life.

I have had a Book of Common Prayer since about 2002, and over time I have been able to make more and more effective use of it (not being a part of a liturgical community, it was quite a mystery to me for a while).

So I began to follow the “Daily Office” which provides a formal structure for prayer (4 times a day), including a reading of the Psalms.

I added to this to my morning practice of silence and centering prayer, and I loved the way that I began to experience the Psalms on a more powerful level.

You can find an online Daily Office here (look under “Daily Devotions”).

Breathing/Smiling

I can’t remember where I heard it first, but the phrase, “salvation is a life” has always resonated with me. Like it or not, my life in God is lived in the here and now, with all of its mundanity and challenges.

The truth is, I don’t handle conflict or high-stress conversations all that well. But as I learned more about life this year (which, again, is also learning about salvation and “eternal life now”), I encountered some practices that have helped me be more compassionate, attentive and even loving in the moment.

We are physiological beings, and when we encounter high stress situations, certain things can happen that make it difficult for us to respond with the love and compassion that God calls us to.

Specifically, when my “fight or flight” reaction is activated (which, unfortunately, doesn’t take much for me), my brain becomes quickly deprived of the oxygen that is necessary for me to respond with maturity and love. What I am starting to learn is that deep breathing (at least 2-3 deep and slow inhales and exhales) can help keep my brain centered and calm.

In a similar, I am also learning that if I can keep a relaxed smile on my face, I am able to process information better, even in the heat of an intense meeting. Smiling actually releases stress, and helps me to open my mind and heart up to God’s Spirit again, so that I can allow Jesus to “live his life through me.” Most of the time it is a simple act of discipline to monitor the stress of my face, and to deliberately relax.

These two practices continue to have some of the most practical impacts on my day-to-day leadership that I have encountered.

Yoga

This is relatively new to me, but I have recently enjoyed the benefits of focusing my mind and stretching my body. Yoga emphasizes “practice and not perfection”, and thus really connects with my disciplines.

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