Spiritual Practices: Wings or Weights?

Spiritual practices should give believers wings to fly. That'll be different for everybody. What may be a weight to one person will give wings to another.

I recently met a delightful 80-some-year-old lady. It wasn't long into the conversation when I realized we had kindred spirits, so much in common. She ran consistently until she turned 70. She loves growing things, loves to work in the yard. She has such a positive and generous spirit, so others-oriented. I fell in love with her from the moment I met her smiling face. She walked just short of a mile to meet us for lunch. She even has a Fitbit and tries to get in 10,000 steps a day. I was impressed!

As we got to know each other, I discovered one thing that we don't have in common. She's a morning person, most likely daily in her life rhythm. She sets her alarm for 5:05am every night before she goes to bed. Up early, she finds her morning time with the Lord a great start to her day. That would be a burden to me, a weight that bogged me down with it's routine and repetition, not to mention a 5:05am alarm. But for her it's exactly the opposite. She loves the routine, the familiarity, the consistency of the every day. Those early morning times in the Word give her wings to fly. 

I, on the other hand, don't do mornings. I'd rather find time on any given day (not necessarily every day) to sit for a while to journal, to read scripture with an accompanying commentary or book. My intellectual side (Sacred Pathways, Gary Thomas) likes to study, ponder, research, and ask questions (within myself and in community). 

Currently, I'm beginning a study on the book of Romans. I've pulled Barclay's commentary off the shelf to read along side the passages of scripture. I'll read it in other translations, paraphrases. I'll discuss it with others. It will give words to my prayers. Taking time to understand the context, why Paul wrote what he did for the people of the time will give me understanding in the present day application. It will inspire my spirit, motivate me to live with a heart for the good news, and teach me how to extend my love to others in Jesus' name. 

That's how it works for me. Not everybody connects with the Scriptures in this way, but in my seasonal way of doing things, I camp for a season in the same place. Let me sit here for awhile and take it in.

This is a spiritual practice that gives me wings to fly.

 Photo credit: Dina Horne (thanks Dina!) 

Photo credit: Dina Horne (thanks Dina!) 

I don't know how long I'll be in the book of Romans. It took me a year and a half to memorize and study the book of Ephesians. I camped out six months in the book of James. And, though I won't read Romans every day, I'll be mulling over the words in thought, in the reality of my life, and in the spirit of my heart. This is my seasonal/yearly rhythm at play in my spiritual formation. 

What lifts your spirit? What gives you joy? What carries you in difficult times? For so long I attempted to follow a formula that was dragging me down, a heavy weight of expectations. Once I was free to engage with the Word and God in a way that fit my seasonal lifestyle, I gained wings to fly, to soar above the dutiful expectations I tried to live within too long. 

Are you weighted down by your current spiritual practices? Then, consider what practices will give you wings to fly.

What spiritual practices give you wings? 

 

Intentionality

Perhaps it's more about intentionality than discipline when it comes to spiritual formation. A welcoming word for this seasonal/yearly person. :)

I must admit, since my last season–January through April–I've been in a seasonal slump. Not feeling terribly productive (thus the lack of blog posts), but I am enjoying the lazy days of summer, spending time with grandchildren, and maintaining the flowers surrounding our house as they grow, bud, and bloom. 

Last season ended with hundreds of people cheering on runners as I ran the final 13th mile of the Indy Mini, the largest half-marathon in the country. Hearing the shouts of my kids (who finished ahead of me) as I ran the final mile was rewarding, but I didn't have any extra energy to "give it all you've got." I was giving it all I had, and was happy to cross the finish line. 

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Intentional training, building up to several long runs in the last month before the race, contributed to my performance and the ability to finish. 

 

Whether you fall into a deliberate daily routine,

or find yourself focusing on a purposeful weekly/monthly goal,

or creating a theme that matches your current season or year,

intentionality is necessary to spiritual formation. 

 

In this new season, I've chosen a word for 2018: FAVOR. It came to me in May (yes, May, not January) while my husband and I were on a much-needed vacation in Yosemite National Park. We've had some not-so-great vacations over the past couple years for one reason or another, but this one was different. I sensed God's favor as we hiked the trails, enjoyed time reading in the lodge, or taking in the beauty in the High Sierras. And, just like that, "favor" became my theme for the rest of the year. 

 Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park

Since then I discovered Steve Moore's book, The Top 10 Leadership Conversations in the Bible. His first chapter is simply called, "Favor." Moore gains understanding on favor from the life of Joseph. He summarizes the "favor principle" like this:

There is a difference between the favor of God, and the power of God. The power of God moves in or through us to impact others to advance God’s kingdom. The favor of God moves in or through others to open doors for us to advance God’s kingdom. 
— Chapter 01 - Favor, pg. 18

Knowing Joseph's life, I realize that God's favor did not always mean living in an ideal world. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, falsely accused, and thrown into prison, but even there he gained God's favor. I'm looking forward to diving into this word deeper, and experiencing his favor in 2018. 

For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless. LORD Almighty, blessed is the one who trusts in you.
— Psalm 84:11–12

In what ways are you being intentional in your spiritual formation? 

Defining You!

Not everybody gets into assessments and test when it comes to self-discovery. I, on the other hand, find it intriguing.

I remember discovering my unique personality in my 20’s. It was in the day of books like Personality Plus by Florence Littauer and Transformed Temperaments by Tim LaHaye. Using animal names was one way to describe your personality: Lion, Beaver, Golden Retriever, or Otter. I’m half beaver and half golden retriever. My husband calls me a Beaver Triever. I'm loyal and enjoy relationship, but there are times when I’m on a mission when in beaver mode. Let me finish my work and then I’ll have time to sit and have coffee with you. Most of the time, though, I’m a Triever, and a golden one, at that.

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Then, there are the colors: blue like the ocean, green like the grass, yellow like the sunshine, and red like . . . well, I can’t remember! It might be fire. One day, years ago, when I was a young mom, I sat my four kids down around the kitchen table and shared which color depicted their personality and why. After a few minutes of explanation, our oldest, 12 years at the time, with a red personality said, “Mom, are we done yet?” In other words, keep it short and sweet mom, I have other things to do. Our youngest daughter, five years old, with her pondering eyes, in blue mode said, “Mom, I love you.” The kid’s personality colors were coming out in the moment. It was amazing to see their response according to their color coordinate. The oldest daughter was asking questions (green), and the middle daughter was proclaiming how fun it was (yellow).

It was in my 40’s when the book, Now, Discover Your Strengths, came out with an accompanying StrengthFinders online assessment. I don’t know if it was my age or what, but the conclusions to my assessment were so defining for my life. Maybe I had lived life long enough or been set free from condemning thoughts that I was able to embrace who I was. I listed out my top five strengths with short descriptions and tacked it to my bookshelf where it became a everyday reminder. I found that my strengths overlapped with my spiritual gifts of faith, discernment, and teaching. This assessment has been one of the most defining elements of my life. If you’re curious to know, you can find my top five strengths with short descriptions here at a now retired blog.

The enneagram is fast becoming a popular self-discovery resource, at least in my part of the world. Though Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert wrote a book on the Christian perspective of the Enneagram in 2001, The Road Back to You is the one I’m hearing about lately. I have yet to read it.

I created a Life Rhythm assessment in hopes that it will be a factor in discovering your unique rhythm. Just to be clear, Life Rhythms may overlap with your personality, but it does not peg personality characteristics as much as it demonstrates your way of doing life. As a seasonal/yearly person, I am prone to changing things up according to seasons whether I’m a beaver/triever or not. The three categories of Life Rhythms is a fairly new concept, one that may need some additional research for how it might relate to personality.

Determining your life rhythm as described by the chapters in the book is possible, but perhaps an assessment will narrow it down even more. I don’t know about you, but when I see it on paper, it makes it more official. You’ll find the assessment on the menu under “book,” a free download for yourself or as a resource in counseling/coaching others.

Let me know how it works for you. Did the assessment turn out how you thought it might or was it completely different than you might have guessed? Any questions?

Self-discovery and self-awareness is a wonderful thing. It’s not about being selfish, but having a curiosity as to how God made you and knowing that you are wonderfully made for the good works that he prepared in advance for you to do. Discovering your life rhythm will help you relate to how you go about doing those good works. 

When in a Seasonal Slump, Declare a Rallying Cry

October, November, and December were full months for me. Not so much because of the holidays, but for all the other things that were going on in my life. 

Here's what made up that season:

  • this website was launched (big learning curve)
  • preorders began for Unforced Rhythms
  • spoke at a women's retreat
  • podcast interviews (another big learning curve)
  • book released November 1
  • preorders shipped out, followed by more orders (and another big learning curve)
  • spoke at a conference
  • book signing at a local coffee shop
  • Nov trip to Egypt, Azerbaijan, and Hungary
  • celebrated a very important birthday
  • family Christmas (for kids/grands nearby) during 5-day turnaround
  • packages to CA kids/grands before we left on next trip
  • Dec trip to South Africa, Singapore, and New Zealand
  • NZ Christmas with more kids and grands
  • plus "just life" in between - the usual stuff like laundry, finances, household chores, and catching up with local kids/grands, and the not-so-usual stuff, like dealing with an insurance company for a totaled car (I was rear-ended in Oct and just now bringing closure to that)

I returned from NZ ready to go into hibernation, especially with the bitter-cold temperatures we were/are having in the mid-west. BUT, life doesn't allow for a dormant state. For one thing, I have a half-marathon to get ready for come May.

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Three years ago...

In May I'll be running with three out of four of my grown children. They're all hoping for a PR. I just told them to cheer me on as I cross the finish line. 

Let's do this!!

After a highly productive season, a seasonal slump can often follow. So, I'm declaring a rallying cry for February, March, and April, to change things up, to motivate. 

A rallying cry is just the sort of thing seasonal/yearly people would love. It has a start and a finish. I always think of the phrase "rally the troops" when it comes to a rallying cry, but instead of rounding up troops or forces to fight a battle, it's about focusing on a theme that inspires, revives, and motivates one to action. It could be a house project you've been wanting to get to, or a personal goal towards better health, or a focused study. 

If you've read Patrick Lencioni's book, The Three Big Questions for a Frantic Family, you'll know what I mean by a rallying cry. I posted about this book back in 2009 on a blog I had at the time. Lencioni suggests a 2–6 month rallying cry. I usually make mine three or four.  You'll find posts on each of the three big questions here, here, and here. Dennis and I are empty-nesters, so I can't say we have a frantic family, but we do manage a considerable amount of travel. That calls for a way of life that is made up of packing, unpacking, time differences, weather differences, night flights, crowded jets, long flights, lots of people connections, jet lag, regrouping once home, catching up on life, and recovering from the toll of travel. 

So, today I joined the YMCA. I needed motivation, plus the cold temps and snow make running hazardous. My theme is staying healthy, which means only rewarding myself once a week with a pastry (maybe twice), and cross-training for the half. This all begins in February, so still enjoying a more than once-a-week apple fritter or sticky bun or persian pecan from a local bakery. I know, it's my downfall! I can walk through a candy store, no problem, but a donut shop. . . 

This morning it felt so good to put on my running clothes. I ran consistently in 2017, but took a 3-month break because of the above list (and my seasonal mode). I went as my daughter's guest (who joined the Y two days ago), but left as a member. I can't tell you how good it felt to run on the indoor track. And then, the weight machines to work on my upper body strength. The Y was just the motivation I needed.

 My cheering team 

My cheering team 

I'm also planning a 5-day getaway where the sun always shines for writing inspiration and spiritual renewal. A long retreat of sorts that will energize and refresh this seasonal person. 

It will be a different season than the past three months, but that's the way us seasonal people roll. We need to change things up to keep motivated and inspired. Forget a new year's resolution. Here's to a new season!

If you're rhythm is seasonal/yearly, what's your current season look like? 

The Seasonal/Yearly Person

It was a liberating day when I discovered that I lived life to a seasonal/yearly rhythm.

For so long I had struggled to live within the confines (for me, anyway) of a daily box. The spiritual angst I felt from the guilt and defeat of trying to be daily wore me down spiritually. Wouldn't it be like the enemy of our souls to discourage and torment in something considered a spiritual discipline–daily devotions? 

I felt guilty when I missed daily devotions, yet deeply desired an authentic and meaningful relationship with Christ. What a relief when the concept of Life Rhythms shed light on the tension I felt.

Once I realized repetition and routine bog a non-daily person down, it all made sense. The defeat I felt wasn't because I didn't love God or desire to know his Word. It wasn't because I didn't want to spend time in prayer. It was simply because I wasn't daily.

No more condemnation. No more guilt. No more accusation. I am free to connect with God out of my seasonal/yearly rhythm and in this, I find great joy. 

We like a start and finish to things. Making an indefinite commitment to a service, activity, or responsibility saps the the energy out of a seasonal/yearly person. They need to know that things are going to change up after so long. No wonder the consistency of daily devotions rob the seasonal/yearly person of their joy. 

Creativity stirs the soul of a seasonal/yearly person. Music, art, writing, and other creative outlets can motivate and draw the seasonal/yearly person closer to God. Times with God will flow in and out of each season, setting the tone for life. Engaging in spiritual practices with flexibility, variety and change will give a seasonal/yearly person a fresh perspective to one’s spiritual walk.

Seasonal people anchor themselves in processing life in blocks of time. This could align with the seasonal changes of the calendar year or in just what's happening in life during a certain timeframe. Unlike the daily rhythm with to-do lists, or the weekly/monthly rhythm with calendars and priorities, the seasonal/yearly rhythm lives in the ebb and flow of life. Where's God moving in this season of life? Processing life in order to determine a theme enables them to focus on what matters most in a particular season or year.

 

 

 

The Weekly/Monthly Person

I am married to a weekly/monthly person. You'll get to know Dennis in Chapter Nine of Unforced Rhythms, "When A Plan Comes Together."

Dennis loves his calendar(s). Believe me, I know. How many times have we sat across from each other, laptops open, looking over the calendar. With frequent travels, it is important to plan, to make sure we're on the same page for future events and engagements, but seasonal gal that I am, it's not long before I begin to let out big sighs, trying to consider life from four to six months out.

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Understanding our unique life rhythm has given us more grace for each other. 

Weekly/monthly people might have a calendar on their desktop, on the wall, on their phone, and on their computer. And, they will use all of them. it might even be marked up with different colors for different categories. Rather than a daily to-do list, the weekly/monthly person may have a whiteboard or large post-it notes on their wall prioritizing the details and assignments that will complete the task at hand. My husband uses small post-it notes to create priorities on a large post-it pad. 

Unlike the daily person, no one day will look alike. What matters is that the plan is moving forward. This is often accomplished by teamwork, something highly valued by the weekly/monthly person. And when a plan comes together, the weekly/monthly person has good reason to celebrate.

My husband has been taking a DAWG (Day Along with God) since his 20's. Weekly/monthly people will find their spiritual sustenance includes longer lengths of time with God at less frequent intervals than every day. A full day with God once a month or a half a day every two weeks fills Dennis up for the weeks ahead and carries him until next time. Sundays are often a refresher in the week-to-week schedule.

Weekly/monthly people anchor themselves in the tasks and goals of work and life. They have the capacity to spin several plates at once, embrace spontaneity, and have the ability to keep life well organized. 

Dennis and I are definitely opposite in personality, strengths, and life rhythm, but I'm so glad to be married to this man of mine, even if it means I sometimes have to be a calendar girl. :)