Neon Signs or Gentle Nudgings?

Sometimes it’s like I’m looking for the next step to be flashing in the sky like a neon sign, when all I need to do is heed God’s gentle nudging.I want to write something worthwhile and be published.
God says, “Send that friend an encouraging email.”I want to make a difference in someone’s life.
God says, “Call that relative and see how she’s doing.”

I desire to be a woman of prayer.
God says, “Just learn to listen to me.”

I want to do something meaningful and significant with my life.
God says, “Plan to help your sister after she has her baby.”
I want to be effective at sharing the good news of Christ with others.
God says, “Spend time listening to ________.”
I long to clearly see God’s big picture for my life.
God says, “Just take the next step.”

The Experimental Life

microscopeA few years ago, a group of us walked through The Invitation to the Jesus Life: Experiments in Christlikeness, a wonderful study written by Jan Johnson in which she explores the many ways Jesus lived out spiritual practices in the Gospels. What I especially appreciated were the many creative options she offered at the end of each chapter for putting some of the ideas and principles into practice. And I loved that she called these suggestions “experiments.”  These weren’t scientific experiments with the purpose of determining if spiritual practices work; rather, they were challenges to observe how they work in our lives, with the goal of transforming us more into the image of Christ.

“What would that look like ?” has become a really important question for me. It’s an invitation to try a new or uncomfortable way of doing something, with the goal of observing how I respond–heart, mind, soul, and strength. Even as I write this post, it occurs to me this might be likened in some way to fasting. And yet I think fasting, for the most part, has become just a superficial practice. By that I mean we may succeed in our attempt to abstain from something, but we can fail in being aware of what’s going on inside of us.

For the past thirty days, I’ve abstained (more or less) from FB (if you don’t know what that stands for, just Google it!) I did so because I felt it was negatively affecting my outlook in many ways. I needed to step back and examine how it should work for me, if indeed there is a place for it in my life. It was a very enlightening month. One of the big realizations was how much I prefer to think deeply, as opposed to living life in snippets. It’s probably to blame for me writing less though in recent years, as my human nature prefers immediate gratification in the form of likes and comments. And yet I realized also that FB merely reflects my nature–my personality, insecurities, etc., more so than it shapes it; it can only shape it to the extent that I allow it. Stepping back for a bit helped me think about what place I will give this technological phenomenon in my life.

So I’m liking this idea of thirty-day experiments to try and address some things in my life, to affect growth in several areas. I think the key for me to these experiments are fourfold:

1. Be specific and limited. It would neither have been feasible nor enjoyable for me to toss my computer out the window for good. Nor would it have been practical to shut down my internet for . But a small, specific goal of staying off FB worked great.

2. Make allowances and modifications as needed. I deleted the app from my phone and ipad, but I needed to stay connected to FB Messenger, for example.

3. Enlist help. I’m all for accountability but sometimes that can result in some awkwardness in relationships. If you seek help, it’s your responsibility to check-in with your friend; don’t expect them to keep tabs on you! And do more than merely check-in. Have a conversation with them about how it’s going for you. How is it working? Harder than expected? Struggling with temptation in unexpected ways? Open yourself to receiving insights from others can be invaluable in this process.

4. Observe, observe, observe. Rather than shut yourself off from any uncomfortable feelings and thoughts that arise during this process, give ear to them. What are your desires telling you about the state of your heart? Are you focusing more on “what not” than “what is”? And perhaps do some kind of debrief or journaling to capture what it is you want to take away from this experiment. What changes might you make going foward? (For me, obviously I’m back to using FB–but I’ve come up with some different ways of doing so–another mini-experiment perhaps?)

This month I’m giving myself a thirty-day water challenge: to drink nothing but water for the next thirty days. Saturdays and Sundays I will indulge in coffee though (see No. 2 above). Actually this might be more difficult than the past thirty days, since a daily trip to Starbucks has been my habit since my hospital stay in May. I’m looking mostly for some changes in how I feel physically, but I can’t help but think that some changes to my coffee habits will be good for the budget!

Conversation: Does the idea of experiments resonate with you? And if you’re brave enough to share, in what areas could you see yourself trying one?

Photo image courtesy of morguefile.com

 

The Gift of Work

phipps-mossAfter a rather scary, unusual, overwhelming sort of spring in which I found myself in the hospital not once, but twice, followed by weeks of recuperation that seemed to roll into months, I can pretty much say “I’m back.” And just what exactly does being “back” look like for me? Well, back to work, of course!

But before you brace yourself for an expected pile of complaints typically heard when someone is asked about their work, I want to assure you that is not the case. In fact, it was while I couldn’t work that I realized just how much I missed it. One of the strange side effects (unbeknownst to me) of the pain meds was blurred vision–a real problem when your work involves reading and editing manuscripts and formatting documents. Alas, I had to spend a few more weeks laying around, watching Perfect Stranger reruns and napping with my dogs. As the saying goes, a little bit of that goes a looong way!

So yes, I missed work. And not just the “day job” sort of work (which in my case is often carried out at night as I seem to get my bursts of mental energy around 4PM!) I missed doing all the physical stuff like gardening and cooking and even cleaning (I’ll draw the line at laundry, my absolute least favorite chore). I missed filling up the bird feeder and hauling flower pots out of the shed and well, you get the idea.

Ironically, throughout this whole illness and recovery period, the big project on my plate was helping my pastor with his book project entitled A Movable Feast. It was not lost on me that I was working on a book about feasting during a period in which feasting, let alone eating, was literally impossible for me. Anyways, in one of the chapters, he introduces the concept of worship as work. What would it look like to offer our work back to God as an offering?

In recent years I have started to try and view the work that comes to me as a gift. I truly am grateful for all that I get to do. Yes, I have my days of wanting to tear my hair out. I drop the ball more than I like to admit. I worry about where the next project will come from. I have frustrations and misunderstandings and seemingly impossible deadlines. I stress as I wonder “are my efforts good enough?” But at the end of mostly every day, I go to bed with a grateful heart for the gift of work, and somehow there I find the grace to offer my imperfect efforts back to God.

My Work, My Prayer
Guide me, O Creator God,
into a place of garden connection.
Restore me to a place of wholeness,
where no part of me hides from you.
Shade me with your right hand of purpose;
satisfy me with your abundant love.
Grace me with patience and strength
and the wisdom to see every task as a gift from you,
And fully received,
I offer back to you
my work, my prayer;
my life, an offering.