The Body Series: Are There Limits to the Body-Spirit Formation Analogy?

Winter in New York.

A few days back, a friend shared that she’d recently gotten caught up on this body series and had a question for me. It had to do with this idea that the formation of our bodies might mimic the formation of our spirits

She said:

“Presumably, over the course of our lives, our spirits are meant to grow stronger and stronger — more vibrant. But our bodies, as we age, are getting less and less so. What do you do with that, in terms of the analogy?”

It’s a good question.

To clarify, here is where I see the overlap between the two: 

  • The good things we put into our bodies — food, exercise, supplements, rest — interact with our bodies’ interior processes at a level we can’t control. We are just one part of the equation, and there’s a point at which we do our part, trusting our bodies to do the rest. This is similar to what happens in our spiritual formation: We participate, and God and God’s grace do the rest.
  • Our bodies are meant to move in the direction of health, just like our spirits. They can certainly move away from health, and our spirits can, too, but we are meant to live with health and vitality at whatever stage of life we’re in, to the extent we are able.

I keep thinking of the older folks I see at my gym — men and women in their 70s and 80s who are fit and trim and limber and alive because they’ve continued to tend to their bodies as their bodies have aged. Many of them are in much better shape than I am at 34 years old! 

As they are moving toward the end of their lives, they serve as an image to me of what vitality and health can look like at an advanced age. In the midst of our decay, we can still be moving toward life.

Ultimately, though, I think my friend has a good point. 

Our bodies, in this life, will die. Our spirits won’t. But on the other side, in some mysterious way I don’t understand, our bodies join our spirits in different form. Even as our bodies progress toward decay in this life, then, that decay is not the end of the road for our bodies. 

Maybe the breakdown of the analogy has something to do with putting things in their proper order. Jesus spoke often of the inward person of the heart being of core importance, more than what our outward bodies do. (I’m thinking of the passage where he tells the Pharisees that they’re more concerned with cleaning the outside of their cups without realizing what’s on the inside of them.) Not to say that what we do with our bodies isn’t important, and not to say that the body isn’t important, either, but our inward reality is where it all begins. Everything else flows from it. 

And perhaps what I’m trying to say is that the process — what happens when growth is happening, whether in body or spirit — looks similar in both.

What are your thoughts on all this?

The Body Series: What If Our Cells Mimic the Formation Process?

Light shines through.

Body and spirit, both reaching toward light.

So, here’s the kind of person I am. 

When I tumbled down the Wikipedia rabbit hole in my workaday education about the body and nutrition, my mind started spinning on the possibility that our cells mimic the formation process that happens in our spiritual lives. 

Track with me here a moment on this. 

  • What if the enzymes our cells need in order to experience the chemical reactions that spur them down metabolic pathways mimic the work of the Holy Spirit or God’s grace in our formation process?
  • What if the choices I make every day in my food consumption and exercise mimic my participation in my formation process through the practice of spiritual disciplines? 
  • What if the outcomes of healthy body formation — health, vitality, energy — mimic the outcomes of healthy spiritual formation, which include a strengthened spirit and a greater capacity for love and good deeds?

The possibility that our body’s formation could mimic our spirit’s formation made me smile and shake my head in delight. Of course God would do that. 

Here’s a little bit more of what I mean.

When it comes to spiritual formation, I’ve written quite a bit on the principle of indirection — namely, that it is the process by which God handles our formation but utilizes our participation. We are partners in the process, and our part is to be faithful with undertaking small acts within our power, trusting God to do the parts we cannot do ourselves. (If you’d like to read more on indirection, you can find some more thoughts on this here, here, here, and here.)

I think the body’s formation might work something like that: I put certain things into my body, trusting that the mysterious work of God inside my body through mechanisms he created will bring about my growth and health. I need to do my part, and then let go, trusting that he’ll do his and that the outcome will be a body increasingly like the one he intends me to inhabit.

And so it made me ask myself:

Will I care for the formation of my body as intentionally as I care for the formation of my spirit?

Will you?

Ash Wednesday: A Time to Return


At the invitation of a friend, I woke early this morning — before the sun came up — and drove to our little church for the 6:30 a.m. Ash Wednesday service. 

It was a gift to be inside that place — one of my favorite places to be in all of Winter Park — at such an early hour and with just a handful of other journeying pilgrims, praying together. 

I’m so glad I went. 

I shared with my Cup of Sunday Quiet readers this past week, as well as in a guest post for the MSFL blog at Spring Arbor, that this season of Lent could not be coming at a more perfect time. I’ve just emerged from a difficult season in my life with God, and here on the other side of it, I find myself starting anew with practices and commitments that were a long-held, integrated part of my life and routine before things changed. 

I feel so much like a beginner. 

I feel so much like a penitent. 

Accordingly, it was so meaningful to pray the liturgy for Ash Wednesday this morning.

We prayed Psalm 103, and my eyes teared up upon saying aloud, “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” There were many times in this past season of fallowness where I did forget the Lord’s benefits and where I stopped asking my soul to bless the Lord. 

I gave thanks when we prayed: 

“For as the heavens are high above the earth, 

   so is his mercy great upon those who fear him …

For he himself knows whereof we are made;

   he remembers that we are but dust.”

— Psalm 103:12, 14

I was reminded of my frailty — and that my frailty does not surprise God. I was reminded of his mercy toward those who fear him, and I was (and am) thankful he has given me a heart that fears him.

Later, after we had received the imposition of ashes, I was thankful to be reminded that “the sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart [he] will not despise” (Psalm 51:18). I received in that moment what God offers today on Ash Wednesday: absolution. I accepted that I can stop berating myself for the things I regret having done or said or thought or felt in these last months. I accepted God’s forgiveness, knowing that my heart, indeed, is troubled, is broken, is contrite over all these things.

And now begins the time of my returning.

May these next 40 days be a disciplined return that grows anew within me a heart that praises God and seeks to build up and to serve. May it be for you the invitation God has set before you, too. Amen.

Prayer Can Be ... Gratitude

My beautiful girl.

One of the components of my life for which I feel great gratitude.

On Sunday, I was in two gatherings at church where the concept of gratitude entered in.

The first was a gathering to learn about the healing work of God, led by an older Australian gentleman who has given his life to the ministry of healing in the church. He shared that gratitude is important to healing in the sense that if we don’t recognize what God has already done in our life (gratitude), it makes it harder to be open to what he can do (healing). 

Later in the day, our assistant rector spoke along similar lines at the contemplative eucharist service. He said that gratitude creates an opening in us for God. It helps us see, and then we have a greater capacity to see more. 

I know some people who keep a daily gratitude journal, just looking out upon their lives and writing in that journal each day the things for which they have to give thanks.

For myself, I find that practicing the review of the day increases gratitude in my life in a very natural way and in significant measure. When I begin to see on a regular basis that God is present and working in my life in so many ways that I might not have seen in the moment they happened, that increases my posture of gratitude toward God and toward life. 

How might gratitude become a form of prayer for you?

Prayer Can Be ... A Review of the Day

Time will tell.

I’ve written on two different occasions about something called the prayer of examen. It’s a simple, daily practice of taking 10-15 minutes at the end of each day to review the events of the day and look for evidences of God.

Sometimes we’re aware of God’s presence with us in the day, and sometimes we’re not. The prayer of examen, or review of the day, gives us a chance to acknowledge God and to find God in places previously unseen. 

When I practice a review of the day, a wide variety of moments can be called to mind:

  • Being saved from a potential car crash
  • The chance to participate in the eucharist at church
  • A text from a friend or loved one
  • An email that deeply touched me
  • That moment at the end of the day when all four of us — Kirk, me, Solomon, and Diva — pile on the bed to snuggle and make each other laugh
  • Remembering to pay a bill coming due
  • The chance to sit in quiet on my couch for a half hour, just reading and praying
  • Beautiful weather

These are evidences of God’s goodness toward me. Ways God provided for soul and body. Ways I was opened to love and grace. 

It is a chance to notice and give thanks.

Could a review of the day be helpful to you?

Into This Dark Night: Another Way Contemplation Can Look

Julian of Norwich. She inspires me.

For a long time, before I ever experienced contemplation as St. John of the Cross really meant it — as a “loving attentiveness to God” — I had heard contemplation described that way and never really understood it. It seemed strange to me. What did it mean to “just be” before God? What did it mean to put ourselves before God without any thought or image at all? 

Truthfully, it sounded odd. 

And then when I learned of the two Greek words used to describe two diverging ways to experience God in prayer — kataphatic and apophatic — the type of contemplation described by St. John of the Cross seemed even more foreign to me. 

Kataphatic prayer makes use of words and images.

The kind of imaginative prayer described by St. Ignatius of Loyola that I mentioned in a previous post is this kind of prayer. In this kind of prayer, we hold images in our minds and experience ongoing conversations with God. We’re conscious of our thoughts in prayer, and we’re able to “hear” God’s words in response to us interiorly. 

Apophatic prayer, in contrast, is wordless and formless.

It’s an experience of prayer in which the soul acknowledges that God cannot ever be fully held in the mind and actually transcends all images — and therefore the soul lets go of any impulse to relate to God in these ways. This kind of prayer is often connected to relating to God in “a cloud of unknowing” or “darkness” or “nakedness of being.” 

The first time I heard these two terms used to describe the two major categories of prayer, I had an immediate aversion to the description of apophatic prayer. I had been living in a long season of consolation where the imaginative life of prayer had become my regular means of connecting to God, and especially Jesus. My prayer life, experienced in this way, was very active and incredibly dear to me. And this way of prayer had born much fruit in my life. Love for Jesus had erupted in me, and I was irrevocably changed. 

Why would I ever want to give that up? 

Weren’t the experiences I had with Jesus in prayer more beloved and preferable — even to God — than an experience of darkness and nothingness? 

Who would want to experience that?

(I mean, really.)

So I continued on my merry way, relishing the images and word-filled conversations I had with Jesus on a regular basis, continuing to fall more and more in love with God.

Until a little over three years ago. 

One day I sat at my desk, opened the Scriptures before me, and couldn’t taste words. They didn’t seem enough. They couldn’t hold God.

I went to pray and felt an immediate aversion to the images I’d been holding in my life of prayer with God. God was so much more than any image. God was

On that first day, I sat at my desk with my eyes closed and just let myself be in the presence of God. God was this massive greatness, creating everything and upholding everything, far beyond what I could imagine or understand … and I was grateful for that.

I just wanted to be with God without having to understand God.

And so each day in that season, I came and sat with the “cloud of unknowing” that was God beyond my concepts of God. And it was truly enough — more than enough, really.

Into This Dark Night: Existing in Contemplation

Sun pushes through.

I mentioned in the last post in this series that “doing nothing” and “just being” in the dark night of the senses becomes a form of spiritual discipline in this season, and today I’d like to talk about what that means. 

Here’s how St. John of the Cross describes the intended activity of this portion of the dark night: 

“The soul must content herself with a loving attentiveness toward God, without agitation, without effort, without the desire to taste or feel him. These urges only disquiet and distract the soul from the peaceful quietude and sweet ease inherent in the gift of contemplation being offered.”

A loving attentiveness toward God. I just love that description, don’t you? This is the soul’s only necessary activity during this time. 

John of the Cross calls this practice of applying simple, unencumbered, loving attentiveness toward God contemplation. That’s a mouthful of a concept, and it is one that has carried a couple different connotations throughout the centuries for different spiritual writers. 

For some spiritual writers, such as St. Ignatius of Loyola, contemplation referred to the use of imagination in prayer — a kind of contemplation that sat with scenes from the Scriptures or scenes given to the soul by God and noticed the details of those scenes. This kind of “praying with the imagination” became, for St. Ignatius, one way for the soul to reflect upon its posture and relation to God, which then became a gateway to conversation with God.

For another group of spiritual writers, contemplation has referred to a kind of intense, singular study of an object in order to notice — really notice — it. A common example here would be the contemplation of a single flower, staring at it for a long period of time to notice all of its intricacies and, through such intense noticing, be led into spiritual experience. The perspective regarding this type of contemplation is that by studying a single object with such continuity and faithfulness, we deepen our ability to truly see.

John of the Cross meant something quite different by the word contemplation. For him, contemplation meant being present to God without thought, study, activity, or imagination. Simply being before God.

Have you ever experienced this kind of contemplative prayer before?

Into This Dark Night: Moving Toward Pure Encounter

Late afternoon shadows.

I’m still sitting with how strange it is, I’m sure, for you to hear St. John of the Cross prescribe inactivity during the dark night of the senses.

Even if we don’t feel it, wouldn’t it be a good thing to be faithful to the various spiritual disciplines, like reading the Scriptures, prayer, fellowship, meditation, fasting, worship? Why stop those things? What harm — rather than good — could they really do? They’re good things, aren’t they? The church has been practicing them for centuries upon centuries, encouraging us toward the goodness they offer the soul.

It’s true. The spiritual disciplines are good and effectual for us and our growth. And there are certainly times when faithfulness to God through spiritual activity — even when we don’t want to do it or seem to gain nothing from it — is warranted. 

But in this particular season, when God specifically seeks to wean our dependence on our senses and to grow us up at the level of the spirit, those activities actually hinder the work intended for this time. 

Here’s how the saint puts it:

“It would be as if a painter were composing a portrait and the model kept shifting because she felt like she had to be doing something! She would be disturbing the master’s work, preventing him from accomplishing his masterpiece. What the soul really wants is to abide in inner peace and ease. Any activity, preference, or notion she might feel inclined toward will only distract her, intensifying her awareness of sensory emptiness.”

This goes back to what we learned earlier about the night of the senses being aimed toward removing our dependence on our senses. The more aware we are of our activity, or of the felt effects of our activity, the more something serves as an intermediary between us and God. Something is between us — either the activities we do or our noticing the effect of those activities on us. 

In the night of the senses, God is moving us toward pure encounter.

Here, he is teaching us how to exist with nothing standing between us and himself. Spirit to spirit. Pure encounter.

In a way, this “doing nothing” and “just being” takes its own form as a spiritual discipline during this season. Tomorrow, we’ll learn what it looks like to exist in this way before God. 

Into This Dark Night: The Invitation to You Here

Purple beauty.

This may be hard to believe, but when you are in a dark night of the senses, you don’t need to do anything. 

In fact, any activity you might do to help things along hinders the progress of this dark night. 

The temptation in this place is to stir up spiritual activity in the hopes of bringing back that feeling or confirmation we used to have that God is here and things are right with our soul. These efforts are in vain. Since the dark night is, in essence, a darkening of the senses, any effort to stir up those feelings in order to gain reassurance will prove fruitless. The senses are turned off for this season.

Another misdirected belief that can crop up in this place is that we need to cling to the spiritual disciplines so our faith won’t run aground here. There’s a belief that doing things will keep us grounded — that we need to keep our faith afloat during this dark time.

Spiritual activity isn’t the need of this season. 

The need is rest … quiet … stillness … inactivity. 

Does that strike you as odd? We’ve been talking about moving from milk to solid foods, from the mother’s breast to our own two feet. Oughtn’t that mean doing things to strengthen our limbs — like a bunch of activity to grow strong? 


Here’s how John of the Cross puts it:

“If only souls that this happens to could just be quiet, setting aside all concern about accomplishing any task — interior or exterior — and quit troubling themselves about doing anything! Soon, within that very stillness and release, they would begin to taste subtly of that inner nourishment, a nourishment so delicate that if they were purposely to try they could never taste it. This work only happens when the soul is at ease and free from care.”

The invitation to you in this place is rest. You are growing up — taking on solids and growing to stand and walk on your own two feet — but this happens at the level of the spirit, not the senses. It’s something God infuses in you. 

In short, he’s the one who grows you up. Your task is to let him. 

Let go. Rest. Be still here in this place.

Is that something you can allow yourself to do?

Finding God in the Daily :: Choose One Thing

Gentle beauty.

A gentle beauty.

When it comes to finding God in the daily, it’s so easy to go from zero to 60, in terms of hyper-awareness and intention. We think, God is everywhere! He can be found in everything! All that I do is weighted with significance and meaning. I must attend to this. 

And then we crash and burn. We get defeated and overwhelmed. This can happen so easily.

I’d like to encourage you to choose one thing. One thing. Through the course of this series, we explored many avenues and angles for finding God in the daily. Some of the practical methods have been:

Instead of trying all of these possibilities at once, choose one. Try it on as an intention for a week. Or a month. Allow it to become a singular method of transformation right now.

You don’t need to be in hyper-mode about all this. God is about your transformation, and that is a lifelong process. He’s in it for the long haul, and he’s about going deep with you. He’s about changing you to your core. And he can do that much more effectively through your focused partnership.

That is the heart of spiritual discipline and formation, as we’ve explored here before (see here and here): we choose something that’s within our power to do (a singular set intention) so that God can use that energy and focus to transform us from the inside in ways we can’t transform ourselves.

Choose one thing. Let it be enough. Let that one thing be your means of transformation right now.

What one thing will you choose?

Living a Rhythmed Life (Online): Choosing What We Ingest

Type, type, typing away.

I’ve been looking forward to this short miniseries-within-a-series about living a rhythmed life online.

Mostly that’s because the places I’m called to work are in the online arena. These are my stomping grounds each day and the place I am called to love and serve others, and so I am continually thinking about this and learning what a healthy interaction and rhythm looks like for me in this area.

But I’ve also been looking forward to this part of the series because I know it’s something we’re all learning in the midst of this new internet era. Right? 

So, yesterday we talked about cultivating rhythms of generosity in online spaces, specifically Facebook and Twitter. Today I’d like us to think about being intentional about what we ingest. 

There. Is. Just. So. Much. To. Ingest. 

Isn’t there? 

As I mentioned yesterday, it can get quite overwhelming. And that’s one of the most adverse effects of the internet on our daily lives. There’s such an onslaught of information brought into our awareness at all times, it can totally upend us. (At least, it can upend me.)

It can upend me through the subtlety of distraction.

First I’m doing one thing, like checking my Twitter feed, and suddenly I’ve clicked over to a New York Times article, which leads me to another New York Times article, which leads me to a Google or Wikipedia search, and then I decide to go check Facebook and my email because it’s been about 15 minutes and maybe something new has happened since then, and then suddenly I can’t remember what I was trying to do in the first place.

Crash and burn. Ineffectiveness in total effect.

It can also upend me by disconnecting me from who I am and what I’m here to do.

This connects to what I said yesterday about so many voices clamoring for attention in the online space. On the one hand, the internet is amazing in that it breaks down message barriers and allows each of us to connect to people we would never otherwise be able to meet or reach, and if you’ve got a business or a social cause, that is especially incredible.

But man, it’s like the internet has made the world both vastly huge and microscopically tiny at one and the same time. Now we know everything that’s happening all around the world every second of the day — which not only makes India and Syria and Kenya feel like our next-door neighbors but also makes our minds and hearts practically explode from all the information we learn about what’s happening in all those places. 

It’s hard to hold it all, and it’s especially hard to know what to do with all that information. 

And lastly, the internet can upend me because the voices I hear in that space can affect my interior affect.

If I tune in to snarky, sarcastic banter through the blogs I read or the people I follow on Twitter, I become a bit more sharp-edged too. Or if I choose to ingest too much — subscribe to too many blogs in my feed reader, for instance — I start to feel like I’m constantly behind and a sense of obligation and dread creeps in. I feel pushed to read and read and read, just to catch up. 

And so, we need to be intentional about all this. Don’t you agree?

So, I’m going to lay out for you what living a rhythmed life in the online space has come to mean for me. I’ll tell you what my rhythms and parameters look like, and you may find these to be helpful guidelines for yourself as you work out your own relationship with the internet in your daily life. 

Here goes.

1. It means giving myself clear parameters for my online time.

Sometimes I’m just catching up on Twitter and Facebook for the relational aspect — to see what my friends and family and acquaintances are doing — and so I’m clear within myself that I’m not going to click on a bunch of links to read “extracurricular” material. Sometimes, though, I’m settling in for an hour-long spell of blog reading, so anything that catches my eye to click over and explore (bringing with it the possibility of getting lost in the internet maze) is totally OK. 

What this looks like for me: Usually my relational check-in times happen in the morning, at the end of the work day, and before bed. My open-ended blog-reading and browsing sessions only happen about once or twice a week and usually take place after dinner but before Kirk and I settle in together for the evening.

2. It means unsubscribing from lots of email newsletters.

You know how you buy something once from a company and suddenly end up on some newsletter list? Or how you care about an organization and a cause so you sign up for their email updates?

It’s really easy for me to unsubscribe to those business newsletters, but it’s been tricky for me to navigate the newsletters that come from organizations on causes I care about. I used to care about receiving all those emails, reminded each time I got one that I cared about the work represented by that organization. But I noticed over time that I hardly ever read them — and if I did read them, it was after they sat in my inbox for several weeks and I just wanted them archived already.

In regards to this, I’ve recently re-discovered the amazingness of the “unsubscribe” button. Done!  

What this looks like for me: I don’t sign up for business newsletters when I buy something. If I get added to a random list anyway, I unsubscribe immediately. When getting emails from organizations I support for causes I care about, I wait and see how I respond to the experience of getting the emails. If they sit in my inbox for a while and I only read them it in order to archive them, that means I don’t really want to be on the list — so then I unsubscribe and move on.

3. Unsubscribe from blogs and unfollow Twitter peeps. 

This one’s been historically hard for me. I’ve been reading blogs for about 6 years now, and reading them in a feed reader for about 4 1/2 of those years. There are some bloggers I’ve been following that entire length of time, and I still really love reading their stuff. But there are others, over the course of those years, whose interests slowly diverged from mine, and I read their content with less and less enthusiasm. 

There comes a point periodically where I just have to be real with myself about this and do something about it. And so I go through “spring cleaning” of paring back the subscriptions in my feed reader. I have never regretted this. Instead, it felt like relief. 

Or there could be people I followed on Twitter because I thought I wanted to hear what they have to say. Celebrities and popular bloggers and new people I find because a blogger I like recommended them usually fall into this category. I follow them, but then within a couple weeks — or sometimes a couple months or even a year — I realize I don’t really care what they have to say. Maybe their perspective grazes me, or maybe it pushes me toward becoming a person I don’t really want to become. 

Whatever the reason, I’ve gotten pretty good at tuning in to my interior responses to this and responding accordingly.

What this looks like for me: It’s hard to unsubscribe from blogs I used to love, but interests change and so I periodically do it — especially when I notice that a certain blogger’s posts keep piling up, unread, in my feed reader. It also takes a bit of a “close my eyes and just do it” kind of courage for me to unfollow people on Twitter. If they’re big-name people, I don’t sweat it so much. But when they’re just normal folks, I always feel bad. I just have to remind myself that I only have so much energy and attention to give, and I want to be purposeful about where I give it.

How do you choose what to ingest online? Have you ever needed to set parameters for yourself like this?

Living a Rhythmed Life (Online): Cultivating Generosity

Taking a moment to breathe.

I don’t normally post here on holidays, but since the theme of the July 4th holiday in the United States is freedom, I thought it made for an appropriate time to talk about the freedom to be generous. 

And specifically, the freedom to be generous online.

The seed of this practice, for me, got planted a couple months ago.

Mid-morning one day, I clicked over to Facebook to get caught up on my news feed — the usual morning check-in to see what’s been going on with friends and family since I checked in the night before.

I’ve talked before about the value of delaying this morning check-in until after I’ve spent time in the quiet, and I’m not always faithful to that spiritual practice, but on this particular day I was. I’d been up for a few hours and had spent time writing, reading, and in prayer, and I was ready to engage with the world. 

Normally when I enter into these check-in routines, I scroll and scroll and scroll, tapping or clicking on occasion to “like” or “favorite” a status update on Facebook or Twitter, but not often taking the time to comment. I’m doing it to get caught up, to add my two cents by way of my own status update, and to stop and click on a few updates that I particularly noticed or appreciated. When I do comment, which I’ve noticed has become more and more rare over the last year, it’s usually in response to people I know really well or whose updates connected with me in an unusually poignant or timely way.

But on this particular day, for a reason I still don’t completely understand, I commented on almost every single person’s update that presented itself in my Facebook feed — people close to me and people not close to me, people I talk to regularly and those I very rarely connect with at all. For about 10 minutes straight, I clicked in those little comment boxes and typed out responses to almost every single one of them — an encouraging word here, an acknowledgment there, a question maybe, a “hooray!” sometimes. 

At the end of it, I felt completely energized and overflowing with love for each one of those people.

And a few days later, the same exact thing happened when scrolling my Twitter feed. Again, I clicked and replied to many of the people showing up in my stream, even those I’d never replied to before that day, and I found myself full of energy and love as a result. 

This is unusual behavior for me, and again, I’m not exactly sure why it happened or where the energy and desire to do it came from. It felt a bit like an “encouragement sprint.” It lasted about 10 minutes, and then it was over and I felt nothing but the headiness of love.

Why don’t I do that more often? I wondered. Why do I withhold responses as a usual matter of course? Why do I keep generosity all to myself? 

I think there are several reasons.

Sometimes it’s time — I’m just doing a quick check-in and don’t have time to stop and respond. Hitting that “like” or “favorite” button is a quick and easy way to feel a pulse of connection without asking too much of me.

Sometimes it’s overwhelm. There’s far more information than I can possibly take in. So many people saying, “Check this out! Read this! Go here! Buy that!” I just can’t do it all, and so I tune it out. I scroll, passively, and in that passivity, I’m actively shutting out the noise. I say no to all that noise by scrolling silently by.

Sometimes it’s insecurity. I begin to think and then believe that people won’t want to know me. I think they won’t notice I’m there. I anticipate their judgment. And so I stay small, whispering my own updates through the bullhorn, pouring judgment on myself the whole way through.

And then sometimes it’s judgment in my own heart. There are people in my news feed I just don’t enjoy. Their comments affront my sensibilities and sense of well-being. Or I find them judgy and exclusive, so I judge and exclude them right back. I pass by their updates and, while doing so, push them out of my mind and close them out of my heart. Sometimes I even close them out of my feed completely.

But in this generosity burst? I let all of that go. I chose embrace, acceptance, and the olive branch of friendship. I believed in abundance rather than scarcity. I made room in my heart for connection and care.

And I remembered: that’s the person I want to be. 

And so I’m choosing, more and more, to cultivate generosity in my online life. When I’m tempted to just scroll on through to get caught up, I remind myself how much an encouraging word or a simple acknowledgment of response can mean to someone else, even if it’s just a quick, “Hey. I see you. I hear you. I care.”

And when I find myself getting stingy or closing up my heart online, I know it’s time to practice this in a more focused way. I know it’s time to take 10 minutes for an others-focused “encouragement sprint.” 

This practice opens me up. It connects rather than isolates. And it builds into me more of the person I really want to be: one of welcome and love. 

Can you relate to any of this?

Living a Rhythmed Life: What It Is

I love these trees all reaching up toward heaven.

Limbs reaching up toward heaven. 

It creates freedom. 

It creates space. 

It makes your “yes” and “no” more clear.


It relieves anxiety and worry.

It lets you settle in. 

It increases presence.

What’s more: 

It removes the ineffectual and unnecessary.

It creates a sense of purpose.

It generates life.

It invites joy.

Is there anything you would add to this list?

Living a Rhythmed Life: What It Isn't

Thank you, light.

It isn’t about rigidity.

It isn’t about conformity.

It isn’t about ignoring reality.

It isn’t about losing yourself.


It doesn’t look the same for each person.

It doesn’t remain the same always.

It doesn’t suffocate you.

It doesn’t snatch away your life.

What’s more: 

There isn’t one right way.

It doesn’t require having your life figured out.

It doesn’t make your life perfect, with no spots or mess in it ever.

What about this list surprises you or reveals something about your assumptions?

Living a Rhythmed Life: A New Series

His morning routine.

Kirk’s desk.

When we celebrated a year of being faithful in this space a couple weeks ago with an open call for topic requests, one reader requested some meditations on cultivating the spiritual disciplines in our lives. Specifically, Terri said: 

“I’d love it if you covered more on the journey of cultivating spiritual disciplines. It seems as though writing this blog has become something of a spiritual discipline for you and I’d love to hear more about the obstacles you encountered and what was required of you to push through those obstacles.”

I’ve been musing on this request since receiving it, and that musing has formulated itself into a new series I’m going to offer here about living a rhythmed life. 

So much of learning to write faithfully in this space has been due to cultivating a rhythmed life. Rhythms have always been a part of my life in some way, but it’s only been in the last couple years that I’ve realized how much I truly need rhythms in order to thrive. And so — especially in this last year — I’ve become much more intentional about the way I live and spend my time.

And now I’ve realized that I have quite a bit to say about all this. :-)

The way this series is shaping up on the pages of my brainstorms about it, we will cover more ground than just my experience of growing into a life of greater faithfulness through the experience of writing posts for you in this space, though it will definitely include reflections on that experience. We will cover things like:

  • The rhythms of our online lives
  • The rhythms of our households
  • How a rhythmed life cultivates self-care and love for others
  • Exploring our personal rhythms
  • Obstacles to the rhythmed life

Some parts of this series will delve into the spiritual realities of living a rhythmed life. Other parts of it will be more practical, more tactile, more down and dirty in the nitty-gritty dailiness of our lives. But I often find God in those nitty-gritty spaces, too. 

Will you join us in this new series? 

What questions, challenges, or even frustrations do you have about this idea of living a rhythmed life?

Indirection as a Daily Choice

Calendar girl.

So, yesterday was a success. I consumed healthy food at regular intervals and showed up and worked hard at the YMCA kickboxing class. (The class made me so incredibly aware of the unconditioned state of my body!)

But this morning I face a new day. 

That reality has the potential to sideline me.

And that’s because yesterday was hard. It took focus and continued commitment to accept the choices I had made for the day. I was tempted to stop by 7-11 for a Slurpee on my way home yesterday, for instance. Several times, I looked at my bag of carrots and was ungrateful for them. I was sorely tempted to skip out on the kickboxing class because Kirk and I were enjoying a very real and meaningful conversation on the couch before I needed to get ready and head out for the class. 

When I see how much mindfulness and energy and commitment it took for me to be faithful to those decisions yesterday, I can get sidelined when I look ahead to the future and see day after day after day, stretching out to seeming infinity, of more days just like that. More days of decisions and commitments. More days of giving up my own preferred appetite for junk food, easy fixes, comfort, and a sedentary life. 

But here’s the thing about indirection. 

It isn’t about will power. It isn’t about gritting our teeth and bearing it. It isn’t about muscling through. And it isn’t about mastery, either.

It’s about small choices made each day in the mindfulness of God’s greater work within us.

And so this means, first of all, that I’m not in this process alone. God is here, and he’s working new realities in me that are so much greater than the small choices I make along the way to participate with his work. (I’m so thankful he’s the one doing the bigger, harder part of the job!)

It also means that this is not about how much I can do — how hard I can work at this to make myself better. That is not the point. The point is my acknowledgment of what God wants to do. He is about the work of forming in me a greater respect and care for my embodied existence — a respect and care that I don’t currently possess.

My part is mere participation, accomplished through small choices that acknowledge my acceptance of what he is doing.

And so today, I will not seek to overwhelm myself in this process. I will not look at the string of days ahead of me. I will not look at the one lone day behind me. I will not take on the task of being perfect or strong or full of power I do not possess.

I will identify small choices I can make today that cooperate with God’s active, greater work in me. 

In what way might the principle of indirection come alongside you in your own life right now?

Caring for the Body Through Indirection

Yummy snack.

Over on my personal blog this year, I’ve been sharing pieces of my journey toward learning how to care for my body. This is an area of life in which I feel quite inept. I don’t have many resources to pull from or habits built up in my lifestyle to know how to care for my body in an intentional, good-ward direction. 

But as I shared this morning in that space, last night Jesus told me in no uncertain terms that he cares about my body. This led to an exchange in which I could see that the nutrients I put into my body and the ways I strengthen my muscles and bones matter to him. 

However, I’m a complete novice at this.

There was a short-lived time in my life, about nine years ago (nine!), when I was exercising regularly and in the best shape I’d ever known in my life. But then I moved and couldn’t quite find a rhythm of exercise in my new surroundings, and the habit languished and died. 

I have never recovered that ground since.

It’s been interesting, in the aftermath of that conversation with Jesus last night, how pronounced his statement continues to be today. As I’ve sat in the quiet with him this morning, seeking to hear what he wants to say in this space today, all I keep hearing him say, over and over again, is that same line: “I care about your body, Christianne.” 

No matter how I’ve tried to focus in prayer to discern his words for you today, I just keep seeing and hearing him say that exact same line: “I care about your body, Christianne. I care about your body, Christianne.”

When I first heard him speaking it again this morning, I stopped what I was doing and wrote the post over on my personal blog about it. Then I came back to prayer. But again, he was still speaking the same line. So I started asking myself, “What could it look like to care for my body today?”

I decided that I could bring carrots and almonds and a bottle of water to the place I’m going to work this afternoon. I also realized that I could bring some leftover pad thai that I have in the refrigerator and heat it up in the microwave there, so that I’m sure to eat a real meal today. (The last several times I’ve gone to work there, I didn’t eat beforehand and didn’t bring anything with me to eat, leading to no food in my body all day long.)

When I still heard Jesus speaking that same line to me after all that, I checked out the YMCA classes being offered this evening and discovered a kickboxing class. (Kickboxing just happens to be the form of exercise I discovered that I love those nine years ago.)

So, yes. I can do those things today. Make a couple snacks, bring some leftovers, and attend a new class tonight.

It reminded me of the principle of indirection. And when Jesus — even still, after all those thoughts and decisions and steps had been taken by me this morning — kept speaking that line as I leaned in to hear his words for you this morning, I realized that perhaps it is this principle of indirection related to the body that he wants to speak to you, too.

Basically, this is the idea that we cannot transform ourselves. I cannot make myself into someone who cares for my body. I cannot make myself into a healthy person. That isn’t currently in my makeup. Only God can transform my character and overall makeup into one of healthiness.

But I can do small acts within my power to cooperate with him. These small acts — bringing a couple snacks, attending a new class, for instance — are my way of cooperating with God’s intention to form me today.

We do what is within our power to do, so that God can do in us what is not within our power to do. 

How might the principle of indirection be helpful to you today in the places God is seeking to form you?

"Blissfully Unaware": A Valuable Spiritual Practice

Morning glimpses.

When I wake up in the morning and choose to say yes to Lady Wisdom’s invitation to start my day, then checking my phone for e-mail is not the first thing I do. Getting up to date on Facebook’s news feed is not the second thing I do. Reading my Twitter timeline is not the third thing I do. Scrolling through my Instagram feed is not the fourth thing I do. 

When I say yes to wisdom’s invitation in the morning, I check my phone for the time, and that is it.

Then I stretch out and feel the softness of the pillow against my face. I revel in the coziness of the flannel sheets and heavy blankets keeping me warm. If Kirk is still in bed beside me, I turn to him and enjoy a few moments of conversation and connection. 

Then I make a french press pot of coffee and take the piping hot tumbler to my desk. I open my worn blue Message version of the Bible to the psalms, then flip to the other sections of the Scriptures that I’m steadily making my way through at the moment. I give Diva attention as she sits and begs for affection at my feet or jumps onto my lap or stands beside my Bible on the desk. I look out the window at the day unfolding before me — the wind waving through the moss hanging from the trees, the color of the sky, the squirrels running around on our driveway and our lawn.

On those days I say yes to wisdom’s invitation, I’m present to the morning, to the quiet, to my own heart, and to God in ways decidedly different than the mornings I launch straight into the clamor of technology. 

These are the days I feel centered. I feel rooted. I feel focused on the most important things. 

But when I connect to technology first, the day — and even my body — have a completely different feel.

I shake my leg at my desk and impulsively grab my phone to check for updates every few minutes. It’s hard for me to get quiet inside. Pulling my Bible in front of me and settling into its pages doesn’t hold much appeal. 

The day garners a frenetic energy, and I lose momentum on the most important things. I have a hard time being present to Kirk, much less anyone else. I feel lost and confused and unsure which way is up or which direction I should go next. 

It’s hard to remember sometimes, in those few seconds after waking, that ignorance really is bliss when it comes to starting my day. But hopefully, as I continue to notice the decidedly different feel the two different starts to my day offer me, I will choose more and more to be blissfully unaware from the start. 

Can you relate to this at all?

We Form by Degrees

One lone beauty.

I was talking to a dear friend of mine earlier this week who just finished her second half-marathon. I am so not a runner and can’t imagine doing something like that myself, but I absolutely admire and stand in awe of her for setting her mind and body to doing it and then accomplishing it. 

Because this was her second half-marathon, running has clearly been a part of her life for some time now.

I remember when she declared her goal to run a half-marathon the first time, and then I watched her join a formal running group and incorporate training runs into her weekly schedule. 

After her first half-marathon, she shared with me that she’s discovered running is most fun for her in the sweet spot of about 5-6 miles. She wasn’t sure she’d run a half-marathon again since she’d learned that about herself.

But then last fall, when she came to stay with me for a week, she’d recently made the decision to train for this second one.

I remember waking up one morning during her visit last fall to learn that she’d already gone for a 2-mile run in our neighborhood, having pulled up our address on Google Maps and mapped out what seemed like a good route for herself. And then I watched her sit at our farmtable in our front room that same morning and plan out her training schedule for the next few months, steadily marking an increase in mileage for each week that would get her up to the 13.1-mile race day.

When we spoke earlier this week about the race she’d completed over the weekend, it just struck me with so much force: 

“Katy,” I said. “It’s kind of amazing that you’ve become the kind of person who can run 13 miles in one go. All your training has led to you being someone who has that capacity now.”

She didn’t used to be the kind of person who could run 13.1 miles. But now she is. Her wise and intentional training led her there. 

It gets me thinking about spiritual formation. 

We are human beings designed for growth.

We grow in the womb, and then we proceed to continue growing outside the womb in so many different directions. In fact, it seems the nature of every living thing is bent toward growth. Animals do it, trees and plants do it, and sometimes I wonder if the growth element God seemed so keen on implanting in living things will continue somehow still in heaven.

And our growth always happens by degrees.

It’s so tempting to think of the ideal life of Christ — or even just our ideal notion of a Christian — and expect ourselves to be able to live like that once we have given our lives to Christ.

We forget, or perhaps do not even know, that life in Christ is about formation. We grow in Christlikeness over time. We grow deeper into our true selves over time. 

Growth always happens by degrees. 

In what places are you growing right now? What is it like for you to focus on this “next right degree” Christ is about forming in you, rather than an ideal, fully formed image of Christlike perfection?

Our Burden Really Is Light

Light and pink.

Normally I have no idea what I’m going to write here in this space until I sit down and spend time in the quiet with Jesus each morning. But I’ve known since yesterday that I was going to write this post today, when I was in the process of writing that our role is simply to say yes

What I want to share with you is something that totally changed everything for me when it comes to understanding what we do and what God does in our process of formation. 

Yesterday, I wrote that our role is simply to notice God’s activity in our lives and then to say yes to it. Our role is to say yes and to embrace his work. I wrote that God does the hard work — all we do is choose to participate. 

But what does our participation look like? What does it mean to say yes? 

Enter the principle of indirection. This is something I first discovered about three years ago, and it completely blew my mind. 

The principle basically says this: 

We do what we can do (something within our power to do) in order to provide an opportunity for God to do in us what we cannot do for ourselves (something outside the scope of our power). 

Usually this means choosing something tangible to practice intentionally and regularly for a season — something it is not difficult for us to exert our will to do — and doing it with the trust and intention for God to do the hard work of changing our character in the places he wants it changed. 

That’s what I mean about him doing what we cannot do. We cannot change ourselves; only he can. But we can participate by acknowledging that we’re aware he wants to work in us and by choosing something small to practice as an acceptance of that work.

This is the idea that backs up Jesus’ words that he came to heal the sick, for the sick cannot heal themselves.

It’s the idea that backs up what Paul promises about how God, who began a good work in us, will be faithful to complete it. It’s the idea that backs up what is told to us about Jesus washing us and then presenting us clean and perfect and pristine before the throne of God in the end.

It’s the idea that backs up all those passages I quoted from Romans 3-5 yesterday about God’s role and our role in the life we share with him.

Our burden really is light because our participation — our saying yes — simply means choosing to do something that is safely within our power to do, trusting that God will supernaturally use it to change our very nature. 

This is not onerous work. It is not meant to be. But it is meant to be intentional. And it is meant to be done with the trust that God is the one who changes us.

Hat tip: I actually wrote about the principle of indirection here about three years ago, when I first learned about it and was starting to have my mind blown by the concept. If you’d like to hear some specific examples of what the principle of indirection can look like in an ordinary life (my own), check out the original article that shares the way I began to practice it from the beginning. 

What simple, faithful choice might you adopt to enter into the acceptance of the work God is about in you right now?