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

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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

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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.

What is the Fruit of Emotional Intelligence?

Photo by travis bradberry

Photo by travis bradberry

In the tree to your right, you will see the fruit of emotional intelligence (EQ). If you reflect on your current work environment, you will immediately see why these are so important! They are also incredibly important for all of your relationships.

In his book Emotional Intelligence, Dan Goleman talks about self-control and empathy. If we are going to evidence the types of attitudes and behaviors that we see in the diagram, we have to understand just what it is we need to focus on as we seek to grow in EQ. Goleman says:

For one, impulse is the medium of emotion; the seed of all impulse is a feeling bursting to express itself in action. Those who are at the mercy of impulse—who lack self-control—suffer a moral deficiency: The ability to control impulse is the base of will and character. By the same token, the root of altruism lies in empathy, the ability to read emotions in others; lacking a sense of another’s need or despair, there is no caring. And if there are any two moral stances that our times call for, they are precisely these, self-restraint and compassion.

So you can see how very important EQ is. Understanding our emotions and expressing them appropriately is no simple matter. In addition, empathy is at the core of creating safety in our relationships. It is that impulse of emotion that we need to understand in order to grow. That is no small challenge because the time between emotion, impulse and action is a fraction of a second! Often, we are reacting to people and situations based upon perceptions that may or may not be accurate.

Roger Birkman, who developed the Birkman Method assessment, understands that EQ is challenging to grow in because most of us live life based upon our own perceptions of ourselves and others that can often be wrong. He says this,

Individuals naturally have selective perceptions about the way they see themselves and others…We each tend to approach tasks with our own bias ‐ the window through which we see the world. When we perform our assigned jobs, naturally we see things our way and tend to find other groupsʹ ideas different and strange – even wrong or threatening. Because we view the world through our own filters, often we base our beliefs and subsequent actions on wrong perceptions. These understandable but inaccurate expectations can lead us to behave in ways that cause problems for ourselves and for other people.

Below are some of those perceptions that bias our judgement:

  • I'm normal, it's other people who have a problem.

  • Most people feel the way I do.

  • The best way to do something is my way.

  • The way someone acts is the way they want to be treated by others.

  • There is an ideal personality style------mine!

Given these biases, you can see why we often fail to slow down. When we don’t, we either run over others or miss them altogether. Slowing down enables us to push against our natural inclination to view the world through our narrow perspective and consider our limitations and the perceptions of others.

Scripture is replete with encouragement to slow down and not get hijacked in the moment. In Ephesians 5:15, Paul says, “Pay attention to how you live, not as unwise but as wise.” Additionally, throughout the New Testament, Jesus uses the word, Behold, over and over to get our attention.

In our next blog, we will look at the 12 competencies that EQ has found that can enable us to slow down. If we combine these skills with a secure relationship with God through his self-giving love and grace, we have the potential to see significant change in ourselves and in our relationships and become more proficient at the skills listed on the tree above.

Copyright © 2018 Timothy S. Lane

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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.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

image by travis bradberry

image by travis bradberry

Anyone can become angry—that is easy. But to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not easy.
        Aristotle, The Nichomachean Ethics

In our first two blogs, we defined emotions and we looked at a basic understanding of how the brain works. Now we want to define Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and why it is so important. As you can see by the illustration on the left, EQ is different than IQ and Personality. There is overlap, but they are also distinct.

So where did the idea of EQ come from? To answer that question, you have to go back to 1995 and read a book by Daniel Goleman called, Emotional Intelligence: Why it  Can Matter More Than IQThere is a 10th anniversary version that was published in 2005. In the introduction, Dan Goleman says this:

In 1990, in my role as a science reporter at The New York Times, I chanced upon an article in a small academic journal by two psychologists, John Mayer, now at the University of New Hampshire, and Yale's Peter Salovey. Mayer and Salovey offered the first formulation of a concept they called "emotional intelligence."...I was electrified by the notion, which I made the title of this book in 1995. Like Mayer and Salovey, I used the phrase to synthesize a broad range of scientific findings, drawing together what had been separate strands of research--reviewing not only their theory but a wide variety of other exciting scientific developments, such as the first fruits of the nascent field of affective neuroscience, which explores how emotions are regulated in the brain.

Dan Goleman goes on to say how, in 1995, he wanted the concept of EQ to become a common idea in the culture. The proof is that he was wildly successful. The term is ubiquitous. But what does it mean?

Image by travis bradberry

Image by travis bradberry

In the previous post, we talked about how the "rational brain" and "emotional brain" must work together. For that to happen, we have to find ways to slow down to avoid the emotional brain from hijacking the rational brain. That is a skill that can be developed. To the right is a chart that describes the skills that are necessary for one to grow in EQ.

As you can see, these skills involve being self-aware of one's perceptions of one's self as well as others. The particular skill that is needed is focusing on emotions and managing them well. This is what the Bible calls wisdom. If you take a moment to scan through the book of Proverbs, it is littered with sayings that are in the same direction of EQ. Here is just one:

In Proverbs 26:4-5, the writer says this, "Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes." As you can see, the decision about which action you chose requires a high degree of self-awareness and other awareness. This requires incredible discipline and self-control. It also requires a high degree of awareness of one's own emotions and the emotions of the other person. These skills or character traits come more naturally to some than others. The research is emphatic that everyone can grow in EQ, though.

While the language of EQ and the research is new, the concept is not. The Scriptures regularly call the believer to greater self-awareness. We are called to live a life of humility where we don't think too highly of ourselves but only in the measure of gifts that we have been given (Romans 12:3). This admonition is given within the context of understanding our place within the larger body of Christ. This requires other-awareness.

What is reassuring in the pages of Scripture is the message that we have someone greater outside of us who can form these character qualities and skills within us by his grace and kindness. In fact, it is an experience of that very kindness and grace that enables us to move in the direction of humility while being a conduit of the kindness and grace we have been given.

In our next blog, we will be looking at the specific skills and character qualities EQ is seeking to foster in each of us.

Copyright © 2018 Timothy S. Lane

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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.

Emotional Intelligence and the Brain

Three level brain.gif

In the previous post, we saw how important it is to answer the question, "What are emotions?" before we could answer the question, "What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?" The next thing we need is a brief overview of how the brain works. Using the triune brain theory helps to simplify something that could get very complex! This perspective is just one of many since the brain involves much more complexity than we will be discussing here.

As you can see in the photo, three layers control different aspects of human functioning. The two regions we are most interested in when it comes to EQ are the limbic region (where our emotions live) and the neocortex region (where our high-order thinking operates). The goal in EQ is to have these two regions work in tandem with one another. The challenge is that the limbic region can easily hi-jack the neocortex region because it is processing data before if reaches the neocortex. In his book, Emotional Intelligence, Dan Goleman puts it this way:

These two minds, the emotional and the rational, operate in tight harmony for the most part, intertwining their very different ways of knowing to guide us through the world. Ordinarily there is a balance between emotional and rational minds, with emotion feeding into and informing the operations of the rational mind, and the rational mind refining and sometimes vetoing the inputs of the emotions. Still, the emotional and rational minds are semi-independent faculties, each reflecting the operation of distinct, but interconnected, circuitry in the brain (p.9)

The skills that are taught in EQ are precisely aimed at helping us to slow down, so that we don't experience an "emotional hijacking." I am reminded of James' simple exhortation in James 1:19:

"My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires."

Notice how James has to get our attention by first saying, "take note of this." It is as if he knows that we need a lot of help slowing down, so he asks us to slow down before he tells us to slow down! Jesus does something similar when he utters one simple word: "Behold!" You see it over and over again in Jesus' teachings. It is another way of getting our attention before he gets our attention.

It appears that long before the advent of modern research and neuroscience, keen observers of human behavior saw this tendency. Unfortunately, some concluded that emotions were less than human and tended to view them as inferior to thought. God is the creator of our physical bodies, and he created us with emotions. They are intrinsically good. It is what we do with them that matters. They are to be managed, but emotions can play a significant role in wise decision-making.

Goleman addresses this:

While the world often confronts us with an unwieldy array of choices (How should you invest your retirement savings? Whom should you marry?), the emotional learning that life has given us (such as the memory of a disastrous investment or a painful breakup) sends signals that streamline the decision by eliminating some options and highlighting others at the outset. In this way, Dr. Damasio argues, the emotional brain is as involved in reasoning as is the thinking brain.....The emotions, then, matter for rationality.

In essence, what Goleman is stating is that IQ and EQ, when working together create the best decision. In light of this, it is important that we do not fall into the trap of minimizing emotions or even viewing them in a negative light. When we do that, we will not grow in wisdom.

When the Apostle Paul calls us to be "transformed by the renewing of our mind," he has in view the whole person. The word that is used for "mind" is not just speaking about one's cognition but one's affections. In order to be transformed, we need the Holy Spirit to aid us in linking the thinking and feeling brains together.

In our next post, we will begin to more clearly define EQ.

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.