This post is part of a series on spiritual disciplines called Merely Beloved. For more information, click here.
Spiritual discipline. The tricky word is discipline. Anything that requires some kind of deliberate action on my part that doesn’t have to do with my couch or bed feels like a herculean task. But spiritual isn’t so easy either. What was spiritual for me before I had children, before I entered the ministry, before I got hitched to Prince Harry’s doppleganger…was different. Different for each season. A Bible, journal, and quiet times. A guitar and a tree. A sink full of dishes. A piano and church sanctuary. A cinnamony cup of coffee and Jadon Lavik on Pandora. My running shoes and a secluded trail. A couch and snow storm. It seems to have gotten progressively harder…instead of easier, which I thought it would as I grew up.
I’ve already mentioned that back in college, Richard Foster’s books on spiritual disciplines provided some meat for me in terms of practices for cultivating my faith – various things like fasting, meditation, solitude – but as the culture around me changed, and the seasons impacted me in different ways, I’ve found other ways to sustain the spiritual life (which, I believe, by the way, sustains all the rest of my life, physically, emotionally, etc.).
What helps me to realize and live into my beloved-ness these days – the spiritual practice I employ that helps me keep it at the forefront of my life – is breathing. Seems kind of silly, I know. Breathing is voluntary – our bodies need it not only for good singing or running, but for being alive. Why should it be a spiritual practice? I can’t tell you how many times I catch myself holding my breath in tense situations, awkward moments, and those scenarios with uncertain outcomes. When someone says something that is offensive. When a driver in front of me is clearly texting and not able to do both well. When the babies throw their food on the ground for the fifth or sixth time. When I’m opening up an envelope that has news that could change my life.
It’s much more than simply counting to 10 when I’m angry. I breathe. And I pray.
Pray without ceasing. -1Thessalonians
For sure, prayer is a huge component of our faith, cultivating closeness to God, and awareness that God is near. Solitary prayer, meditation, and community prayer are familiar ways, and praying on Sunday mornings with my local congregation has always taught me how to pray, that is, gave me the space and language for prayer. And then, the seasons of life that actually led me to pray often – the continuous practice – were those that had to do with ministry (leading Young Life in college and doing ministry in seminary and afterwards, ordained ministry) and babies (specifically, my babies). My prayer life seemed to increase exponentially with my two associate pastor positions, and then skyrocketed with the arrival of the twins.
Except that I wasn’t getting up at the crack of dawn to pray for hours. Or staying up late to pray before bed. It was all those moments in-between. The brief pauses and transitions and moments on the precipice of a tantrum or some other kind of drama. When I could gather myself I would breathe. And pray.
And then, I discovered breath prayers. Short words accompanied by the natural rhythm of breathing. While the original intention might have been to pray them during the quiet solitude of the mornings I actually pray them first thing in the morning before I get out of bed. And then throughout the day. Then during bath time. Then in the middle of the night. Sometimes it would be the Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner.” Sometimes random scripture like “My help is in your name O Lord,” and “You Lord are my strength and shield.” Usually a psalm or maybe a line from hymn but usually always scripture. Not too unlike those motherhood mantras just more purposefully communicative towards God. To pause and say these prayers slowly three times – it’s like a cold drink of water in the middle of a marathon. Just enough to keep going.
Sometimes that’s all I need to keep remembering who I am and Whose I am. It’s the little things. The little steps. The little moments. The little practices. It’s not always about growing or deepening in leaps and bounds. Most times, it’s about what’s enough. Just enough to make it another day.