Christian Mindfulness?

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If you are alive and reading these days, you have probably heard the term “mindfulness.”

You might know people who are practicing mindfulness to help them navigate the pressures of daily life. Maybe it’s used in your school or workplaces as a tool to reduce stress and boost creativity. In recent years mindfulness has been promoted by public health bodies as a way to promote mental wellbeing, and as a treatment for depression and anxiety. The guided meditation app Headspace—one of dozens you can find in your app store—has been downloaded over 31 million times.

So what should Christians make of the mindfulness trend? Should we jump on the bandwagon? Should we be suspicious and hold it at arm's length? Or is there another way?

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us (https://www.mindful.org/what-is-mindfulness/).

The theory is that when we are mindful in the present, we can avoid the pitfalls of letting the past or the future hijack us from living in the moment. While definitions can vary, the word “meditation” is often used synonymously with “mindfulness”.

Here’s a sample step by step mindfulness practice:

  1. Take a moment to be still and relax.

  2. Pay attention to the sensations in your body. If you are anxious, angry, sad, etc, where can you locate that in your body? What is your body saying?

  3. Stay present in the moment and focus on what you are thinking and feeling. Do this without judgement, even if it is a “negative” emotion like sadness or anxiety.

  4. Label the emotions you are feeling with as much precision as possible.

  5. Ask yourself why you feel this way, and what triggered it.

  6. Let the emotions pass.

  7. Re-enter your world with calm and a commitment to be grateful and caring.

In recent years, scientific research has confirmed what most religious traditions have been saying for a long time: practicing meditation is good for the body and soul. That is why you will find most religious traditions include meditation as a vital element to living out the tenants of one’s beliefs. This is true of the Christian tradition as well.

Today, most mindfulness practices are secular. They don’t emphasize any faith component, which is partly why it has become so popular—mindfulness is for everyone. You don’t have to necessarily believe anything in particular.

What is Christian mindfulness?

I believe that there is a way to practice “Christian mindfulness”—something that connects with the secular trend, but adds a very important dimension. In my new book, Unstuck: A Nine Step Journey to Change that Lasts, I walk through nine steps that share some similarities to the steps above with one main difference: the presence of a personal God, who communes with us and redeems us as we are mindful of his presence with us in the moment.

It is impossible to overstate the difference this makes. Secular mindfulness is personal and horizontal: you pay attention to yourself, so as to be more present for others. Christian mindfulness introduces a vertical dimension: you are paying attention to who God is and your relationship with him through his grace to you in Jesus. This is what is utterly unique about Christian mindfulness.

In one sense, all Christians should be “mindful” Christians. Paul encourages the believers in Philippi to be consciously mindful of the present benefits of being united to Christ.

"Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion…" (Philippians 2 v 1).

His next statement is a call to live in light of that present reality and awareness.

"… then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others." (v 2-4)

Christians have a personal, loving, accepting, forgiving, gracious and present Savior, who aides us day by day through the work of the Holy Spirit within us. As we go about our daily lives, with all of the stresses and busyness, we are constantly invited to be mindful of God’s presence with us, his care for us and new power in us that he has provided to face each moment of each day.

One way we are to be “mindful” Christians is through prayer: we are to live our lives as we “pray without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5 v 17). The word “without ceasing” does not mean “non-stop” but “constantly recurring”—in other words, we are encouraged to punctuate our daily lives with intervals of prayer. You might describe this as living with a moment by moment mindfulness of God’s presence with us.

As you go about your day today, you can practice Christian mindfulness. It isn’t that complicated, and you don’t need an app. Find ways and times to slow down and allow yourself to be mindful of your connection to Christ. As you do, allow his love to calm you and encourage you.

You don’t have to call it “mindfulness”, but all Christians are called to be mindful—mindful of our unity with Christ, and the presence of his Spirit. And it’s with that awareness that we can live with gratitude and move towards others with compassion.

Copyright © 2019 Timothy S. Lane

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

"Unstuck" Available for Pre-Order!

This book has been brewing in my mind for over a decade.

The ideas were forming as I counseled, traveled and spoke to churches across the globe. My primary goal was to find a way to encourage people that change was possible and what they needed was a way of connecting the lines between their daily struggles and their relationship with God.

In the fall or 2016, I was invited to teach a class on worry at Carriage Lane Presbyterian Church. Near the middle of the class, I had been mulling over Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan and the thought occurred to give the class “steps” they could take to grow in grace. Soon after that class, a series of blogs began to take form that eventually shaped this book.

In late 2017, the final stage came as I reconnected with The Good Book Company and pitched the idea of a book on change that was short, accessible yet nuanced enough to capture more complex struggles. They accepted and provided an excellent editor, Rachel Jones, who gave wise feedback through every iteration of each chapter.

My hope is that this short book would be read by individuals, couples, families and churches. But I would also love to see it used in one-on-one discipleship relationships, as well as a foundational supplement for counselors as you seek to help others grow in grace.

Thank you to each and every person who had a shaping influence on this book.

Tim Lane

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Finding Grace in Loss and Transition

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Recently, I had the great opportunity to share time with Corey Pelton of FishFoodMedia to discuss grief and how God has helped me in seasons of transition and loss of loved ones. In 2 Corinthians, Paul speaks of the comfort he received from Christ as though it belonged not just to him but others. This is the economy of God in seasons of trial. His desire is for you to find deep comfort in the grace and mercy of Jesus. As that grace and mercy is experienced, it then becomes a gift that we can offer to others.

Thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, that he is our Father and the source of all mercy and comfort. For he gives us comfort in our trials so that we in turn may be able to give the same sort of strong sympathy to others in theirs. Indeed, experience shows that the more we share Christ’s suffering the more we are able to give of his encouragement. This means that if we experience trouble we can pass on to you comfort and spiritual help; for if we ourselves have been comforted we know how to encourage you to endure patiently the same sort of troubles that we have ourselves endured. We are quite confident that if you have to suffer troubles as we have done, then, like us, you will find the comfort and encouragement of God.

2 Corinthians 1:3-7 (J. B. Phillips)

Listen to the episode here:

Fish Food on iTunes

Fish Food on podbean

Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

The New Normal: Resurrection Living

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What is the “new normal” for life in light of the resurrection of Jesus? What are the implications for the person who believes it to be true? In Revelation 21:5, the resurrected Christ says, I am making everything new! That everything is everything. Jesus has come to bring cosmic renewal to all that he has made.

In Colossians 3, the apostle Paul draws out some of the most central things that are a part of this amazing renewal that Jesus promises. He begins by saying this: Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. He then says that the following two areas are at the center of Jesus’ renewal agenda.

Character Renewal

In verses 5-11, Paul calls on those who belong to Jesus to put to death the things of the old order and live in light of the new order. Here is a list of things that are passing away and should be put to death in the life of anyone who names Jesus as their King:

  • Sexual immorality        
  • Impurity
  • Lust
  • Evil desires
  • Greed, which is idolatry
  • Anger
  • Rage
  • Malice
  • Slander
  • Filthy language
  • Lying
  • Divisions among people groups and classes

There is something heartening in Paul needing to tell Christians to put away these types of behaviors and attitudes. Why? Because we are far from perfect. We continue to fight against the reality that all things have not been made new, yet! Including you and me. This should keep us very humble.

Relationship Renewal

Here are the things Paul says should be replacing the list above:

  • Compassion
  • Kindness
  • Humility
  • Gentleness
  • Patience
  • Forbearance
  • Forgiveness

What a contrast! Jesus has come to change you and me so that we live very different lives personally and with one another. This can feel overwhelming because the second list of virtues does not come naturally to any of us. In fact, you might feel like it’s not even worth trying. That is why we must see one more thing in this passage.

How?

Paul grounds all calls to change in the fundamental reality of the resurrection. Look at these promises and the resources that are yours as you continue to grow in grace:

  • Colossians 3:1 -- Since, then, you have been raised with Christ,
  • Colossians 3:12 -- Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved
  • Colossians 3:13 -- Forgive as the Lord forgave you.
  • Colossians 3:15 -- Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.
  • Colossians 3:16 -- Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.
  • Colossians 3:16 -- Gratitude for God’s grace.

Personal and Community renewal is the new normal in light of Jesus’ resurrection. Let’s pray together with one voice, “May your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven!” Make all things new!

Copyright © 2018 Timothy S. Lane
Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.

Parenting and Emotional Intelligence

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As you look back on your childhood, how did your family of origin approach feelings? How has that shaped you and the way you interact with others? If you are a parent, how does that play itself out in the way you interact with your children?

This is what researchers call “meta-emotions”; your underlying narrative that interprets how you think and feel about feelings. There are significant implications for parenting. In his book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, John Gottman says this:

They (parents) want to teach their kids to handle problems effectively and to form strong, healthy relationships. But there’s a big difference between wanting to do right by your kids and actually having the wherewithal to carry it off. That’s because good parenting requires more than intellect. It touches a dimension of the personality that’s been ignored in much of the advice dispensed to parents over the past thirty years. Good parenting involves emotion.

Positive and Negative Emotions

There are basic families of emotions. Some have categorized them into positive and negative. Examples of positive emotions are happiness, excitement, empathy, pleasure and interest. Examples of negative emotions are sadness, anger, contempt, embarrassment and fear. Labeling some emotions as positive and others as negative might imply that you should encourage the good ones and suppress the bad ones. But that would be the furthest thing from the truth. The goal is to understand and express positive and negative emotions appropriately.

The Psalms are a good representation of how to express both kinds of emotions. They show us that positive and negative emotions can either be expressed in godly or ungodly ways. So sadness, anger, fear and embarrassment can be expressed in godly ways and positive emotions can potentially be expressed in ungodly ways. For example, I can be sad over the loss of a loved one and express that in a way that is appropriate and godly. On the other hand, I can be happy and excited due to a misuse of an intoxicant and that would be ungodly.

Parenting and Emotions

John Gottman identifies four parenting styles as they relate to emotions. The first three are unhelpful and the fourth is helpful.

Parenting Style #1: The Dismissing Style

This style of parenting is the “just get over it” style. In an effort to avoid negative emotions, the parent will say something like, “You don’t need to be sad. It’s not that bad. Put a smile on your face. There’s no reason to be unhappy.” Gottman says that while the parent may be well-intentioned, the child is taught that certain emotions aren’t to be experienced and should be avoided.

Parenting Style #2: The Disapproving Style

This style actually punishes negative emotions. Disapproving parents view negative emotions as unacceptable and controllable, so instead of trying to understand the child’s emotions, they discipline or punish them for the way they feel. This rarely enables to child to calm down and it places a great deal of guilt on the child. They may grow up thinking that something is wrong with them.

Parenting Style #3: The Laissez-Faire Style

If the first two styles are not helpful, it may be tempting to think that you should just let children feel and express their emotions any way they want to. It sounds like, “That’s it, just let the feelings out. Whatever you feel like doing is okay.” This style makes the child feel safe with their emotions, but it places no limits on their behavior and there is little guidance on how to deal with their emotions.

Parenting Style #4: The Emotion Coaching Style

This style of parenting engages with the child and their emotions and seeks to understand them while also helping the child express their emotions in appropriate ways. “Tell me how you feel. I’ve felt that way, too. And you can’t hit someone when you are angry. Let’s think together about other things you can do when you feel this way.” There are five basic steps for this style of parenting your children:

  1. Be aware of your child’s emotions.
  2. Recognize emotions as an opportunity to connect.
  3. Listen with empathy.
  4. Help the child name emotions.
  5. Set limits and find good solutions.

Ephesians 4:26: Be angry but do not sin

While Paul may not have had the language of emotional intelligence, he does understand that a so called “negative” emotion like anger can be godly and it can be expressed appropriately. Not only that, he makes a case for emotional intelligence in the latter part of the same verse where he says, do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity for the devil.

What is Paul saying here? Does he mean that you need to make sure you go to a person and deal rightly with your anger before the literal sun actually sets over the literal horizon? I think not. Paul is encouraging us to deal with our anger, and the first thing we need to do is slow down and deal with our own hearts before we go to someone else. It is quite likely that Paul has Psalm 4:4 in view:

Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.

Do you see what the Psalmist does? He acknowledges that anger can be expressed without sin, but one must slow down and deal with their own hearts before the Lord before moving forward. This is a call to self-awareness. But the self-awareness that Scripture calls for is one that has the kindness and mercy of God in view. What is an acceptable sacrifice that the Psalmist has in view in verse 4? King David says this in Psalm 51:16-17:

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

The next time you experience any emotion or encounter an emotion in your child, you would do well to slow down and ponder God’s mercy for you in Christ. Allow that experience to move you to engage with your child so that you can help them process their emotions and find helpful ways to express them. You might even have the opportunity to disciple them by letting them know just how the mercy and grace of Jesus is helping you to do this.

This blog borrows from two books by John Gottman. I would highly encourage you to read them both:

What Am I Feeling?
By John Gottman PhD
 
Copyright © 2017 Timothy S. Lane
Comment

Tim Lane

Dr. Timothy S. Lane is the President of the Institute for Pastoral Care and has a counseling practice in Fayetteville, GA. He is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA), having been ordained in 1991 and a member of Metro-Atlanta Presbytery. Tim has authored Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace, and co-authored How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making. He has written several mini-books including PTSD, Forgiving Others, Sex Before Marriage, Family Feuds, Conflict, and Freedom From Guilt.

He has experience in both campus ministry (University of Georgia, 1984-1987) and pastoral ministry where he served as a pastor in Clemson, SC from 1991 until 2001. Beginning in 2001 until 2013, he served as a counselor and faculty at CCEF in Philadelphia, PA (Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation). Beginning in 2007, he served as its Executive Director until 2013.

In 2014, Tim and his family re-located to his home state, Georgia, where he formed the non profit ministry the Institute for Pastoral Care. His primary desire and commitment is to help pastors and leaders create or improve their ability to care for the people who attend their churches.  For more information about this aspect of Tim's work, please visit the section of this site for the Institute for Pastoral Care. He continues to write, speak and travel both nationally and internationally. Tim is adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries where he teaches about pastoral care in the local church.