seasons

A Decade of Spiritual Formation

Reflection is such a valuable practice, for in doing so with God we can see things previously hidden or be reminded of things forgotten. It is profound to trace the work of God’s love in one’s life. It is a way to savor what he has been accomplishing and often to renew one’s intentions. If you liken it to looking through a photo book with your mother, or spouse, or child and together relish the memories caught within the pictures, you get a sense of the connection and benefit of such a practice. I like to reflect often for just this reason—it bonds me with my Father. So, this last month I took the opportunity to reflect on my spiritual formation over the previous decade. I wrote about it at anchoredvoices.com where I contribute regularly. It begins:

As 2010 opened, I had a 3-year-old, 2-year-old, and 3-month-old. Pouring myself into these young lives kept me so busy I scarcely noticed the new decade. I remember aching for 2020 when I’d have more independent kids. Motherhood has been the crucible within which I’ve been ground finer and made more malleable. My lessons were learned in the cloister of the bathroom, the blackness of midnight wakings, the raucousness of unfettered kid-fun, the rhythm of school years, and the pervading terrifying honor of showing these little ones how life is done well.

The first five years birthed in me a desperation to hold on to myself and God because caring for these kids felt consuming. So I clung to what I knew—go to church, study (at least read) the Bible, and praying lots of “help me” prayers—but my spirit floundered. My irritability and discouragement were evidence.

Read on for five things that did work in those first five desperate years and five more from the following five years at anchoredvoices.com. 

Posted by k2mulder in Anchored Voices Posts, Spiritual Formation, 0 comments

How do I practice Sabbath?

Last week, I wrote about Sabbath, how “God created us, and he created the spaces for us to inhabit. The creation account in Genesis 1 is of God establishing boundaries and shaping spaces so that all life can flourish in each their given niche…When we acknowledge and value the space and limits he’s given us, we “make space” for God. We can no better create space than we can create the universe. But we can inhabit our space humbly and wisely, thus not abusing the precious life God has given us but welcoming and cherishing it enough to take care of it.” (Click here to read last week’s post.)

This week, I want to give you my example of Sabbath so that you can start to imagine your own.

My governing idea when deciding on what belongs in a Sabbath and what doesn’t is Eugene Peterson’s “pray and play.”1

If it is something that connects me to God or something that delights me, it’s in. If it’s something that is work: job, housework, or buying things, it’s out. Some things are not so straightforward, like volunteering at church or gardening or writing. These are things that are, in some seasons, a joy, but in others, burdensome work. I need to recognize what season I am in to make that call. One thing that makes the cut every time—naps!

If you live with others, family or friends, it is more complicated. I have a husband and three kids whose ideas of praying and playing are different from mine at times. For example, for my extroverted son, play means games with other people. Often we will play a family game, but if my introverted daughter needs time to draw by herself, we don’t force her to play the game. Start with talking about what you each find worshipful and enjoyable. Observe, and have patience as you sort it out.

We designate Sunday as Sabbath, but that might not work for you, especially if you work or volunteer heavily at church. I encourage you to pick a day in the week that fits with your weekly rhythms and aim to be consistent in it. Our bodies and souls respond to rhythms, so it will be easier to stick with and be a richer experience. Many choose to follow a Jewish practice of Sabbath from sundown to sundown, others stick to the calendar day.

If Sabbath is a new practice for you, keep it simple at the beginning: pick a day, then one or two things you want to keep out of the day and one or two things you want to keep in.

To show you how my Sabbaths have evolved with the different seasons in my life, I give you three outlines of mine:

  1. As a college student years ago, I lived with roommates, some of whom observed Sabbath and some who didn’t. We basically went our own ways, but the two of us who consistently observed it would sometimes eat together after church. I went to church in the morning, hung out with friends, went for walks or bike rides, and did NOT do schoolwork, paid work, or practice (I was a music major). If exams were looming, I was sorely tempted to study, but found that sticking to it really helped my brain recover from the strain. During those times, I’d allow myself to study for a few hours after dinner if I had the energy.
  2. As a stay-at-home mom with young kids, since my work was primarily in the house, I would plan and make our food the day before or get something extremely easy to make on Sunday. I would not do any cleaning or laundry (beyond diapers, of course). We would go to church, and after naps we’d often go to a park, play in the snow, or play games. I would read if at all possible.
  3. As a mom, a student, and with a job, I still don’t clean on Sundays. Sometimes I make a good meal because now I don’t spend as much time doing that daily, and I enjoy it. We don’t shop, and we still play games or go outside together. Because I am in seminary, I don’t read much on Sundays. If I do feel like reading, it is always a novel. Instead I paint a picture, listen to music, or talk with others. I don’t do my paid work.
    • A practice we’ve added at my husband’s request, is a Jewish one of ending the Sabbath with something sweet. We don’t usually have dessert, so having a dessert is a reminder that God gave us this delightful gift of Sabbath.
    • After dinner, in place of our usual family devotions, we do an extended one while we sit or lay comfortably in the living room. It is from Jared Boyd’s book Imaginative Prayer which is written to help kids (and adults) engage imaginatively with God.
    • To end the day, Don and I will have a glass of wine.

As you can see, my Sabbaths have evolved, and continue to do so. There are times when they become watered down and activities creep in. When God calls my attention to that, I apologize, and gently but firmly turn myself back to these practices. I don’t beat myself up for it.

Next to daily silence and solitude (for a minimum of ten minutes), this practice of Sabbath has been a primary and foundational way for me, and generations of others, to make space for God—or shall I say, inhabit space with God!

I encourage you to take some time to consider: In this season of your life,

  • What do you consider work?
  • What do you find helps you connect with God?
  • What rests and delights you?
  • What day of the week would work for you to take a Sabbath?
  • What’s one or two things you could do this week to start or deepen a practice of Sabbath?

As always, I love to hear from you: questions, comments, ideas and thoughts are always welcome. If you enjoy my posts, please follow me on Instagram where I share shorter reflections a few times a week—I call them sips, to help us all find God in our every day.

 

1Working the Angles: The Shape of Pastoral Integrity, by Eugene Peterson, Eerdmans, 1989.

Posted by k2mulder in Spiritual Formation, 4 comments

Beloved in Grief and Disappointment

I am so glad to host Kristen Leigh Kludt on the blog this week. She wrote A Good Way Through, which I have on my resource page as a book that helps you find God in disappointment and gives guidance on practices that are helpful during that time. Be sure to check her offer for you to get a discount on her Field Guides for the Way at the end of the post!

Without further ado, here are her words about finding God’s love in the midst of facing disappointment and disillusionment in the midst of infertility.


Grief in the unknown: It is baffling. How do you grieve the loss of something that never was? I had so much need in that time, so much pain I couldn’t contain. Many days, I just didn’t want to be the sad one. People were careful around me, and I needed them to be, but their being careful didn’t help the pain. My pain was obvious, no matter how I masked it, no matter how high the walls I built around my heart. Even when I smiled, my eyes were glassy, empty. I was ragged, broken, trying to keep it together enough to be appropriate in public, then screaming silently behind closed doors. How else could I function? We have to go on at times like that. There is no choice. So I danced back and forth between grief and pretending. I let out enough pain often enough that it did not consume me completely, and I faked it the rest of the time.

Where was God in all of this? In my heart, God was distant, angry. I assumed God was disappointed with me and maybe didn’t love me much. In reality, I was the distant, angry one—distant, often, even from my own emotions. How could the God I loved let this happen to me? Was I just not worthy of having something to love?

These questions intensified in our months of infertility, but they were not new to me. I first remember questioning God’s love for me in high school.

Behind my childhood home there was a silver maple, five stories high, with branches that wrapped around the house and hugged my room on two sides. Outside my bedroom window was the roof of the downstairs porch, and I used to climb out onto the roof at night, just to sit under my tree, to watch the wind in its branches. I cried, sang, prayed, and dreamed under that tree. In the minutes before a coming storm, I heard the voice of God in that tree, singing anticipation in its branches, silver leaves shimmering in the wind, whipping through the air like my hair on a windy day.

I felt close to God as a child. I prayed a lot and read my Bible. My belief ran deep; faith in Jesus was the ground I walked on. I believed God was good and Jesus died for me to save me from my brokenness. I worked hard to live up to that gift. I was kind to kids who others disliked. I gave 10 percent of my allowance to church. In high school, I met every week with a mentor, and I took summer trips with the youth group. I discovered the power of musical worship in a new way. I loved my God and the life I lived.

When I was a senior in high school, in the month before my first experience of depression, my beautiful silver maple started to split down the middle. It was a windy summer, and I had to sleep downstairs on a mattress in the family room for a few nights before the tree was taken down, in case it fell on the house.

Men came. First, they stripped the tree of its branches. It became a naked lopsided trunk. Piles of limp silver-leaved limbs littered the yard. My beautiful tree, provider of summer shade, creator of golden drifts to run and play and hide in during autumn, the screen through which I looked down upon the white winter world, was now bare, its majesty lost to a couple of men with a chainsaw.

The sky behind my parents’ house still doesn’t look right to me.

What do we do when the symbols of God-in-this-world are stripped away?

There were other precipitating factors, but the loss of that tree sparked my first downward spiral. I had my first panic attack.  I didn’t eat well. I wanted my body to mirror what was happening in my heart—to feel sick, lusterless. My mom cared for me well, talking me through my first panic attack and making me rice with butter when I wouldn’t eat anything else. She trusted, through what I now know was plenty of fear in her own heart, that I would come out of it, and I did. I made new friends, tried new things, and found God and myself in new ways. I grew up a little.

In adulthood it was harder, more complicated. My mom was now two thousand miles away. From the outside, I looked much the same, but inside something was different. My self-talk turned cruel. How could you do that? Why did you say that? That was so stupid. I would never speak to another human being in that judgmental, degrading way. In my deepest heart, a part of me believed this was God’s voice, and God was angry with me because I wasn’t good enough.

I had two strategies to escape the self-talk: I napped a lot, and I kept moving, filling my life with people and activity. I hid from the fear of what was happening in my own heart. I could only hide for so long.

I started therapy. It helped, though it was awkward at first. I wasn’t sure what to do, and Dr. L. didn’t ask a lot of questions, so I just talked a lot and tried not to feel weird. As she got to know me, she said a few things and asked a few questions. She would say, “Wow, your god sounds really angry and hard to please.” I would say, “No, he isn’t!” but then I started to realize my god was angry, and I was serving a god who I would never profess I believed in. The God I wanted to serve and thought I knew was infinitely more patient and gracious and loving than the one I was serving.

People asked if I was angry with God because of my infertility. I wasn’t. That would have been healthier. Instead, I was terrified of God. I was certain God was angry with me. I felt abandoned, unseen, unworthy, and unwanted. I was looking first at myself and then at people around me to figure out who God was. Now I try my best to reverse the order, and look to what I know about God to try to understand myself and other people.

After my first session I brainstormed in my journal ideas for “homework”—what could I do to live differently after realizing some new things about myself? How could I practice a new way of being? My list of ideas was hazy, mostly having to do with trying harder not to try so hard to be so composed all the time, to act and look and be so darned competent and responsible.

It took a few more months before I stumbled into a much better, more concrete practice: field trips. For four months, every Saturday afternoon I went on a field trip. The only rules were that I went by myself and invited God along.

It’s hard to describe how hard this was for me. The person I was least at ease with was myself. Perhaps it was not myself, but this projection of God that I had created based on my deepest fears and hurts. In this moment of desperation, I decided that in order to learn to like myself, I was going to have to hang out with myself. In order to be less afraid of God, I would have to be alone with God.

I began tentative and became joyful. I took myself out for tea a few times and brought books or my watercolor paint set. I tried to be kind to myself. I walked in the Huntington Gardens and remembered that I love to be outside under big trees. I started to look forward to these trips.

Time passed. I came to a place where I could sometimes be happy and I liked myself a little bit. I became less afraid of my own darkness. I didn’t exactly hear from God, but the anger I had perceived from God began to dissipate. I started to believe there was something else surrounding me instead.

Maybe it was love.

Discovering my belovedness required two disparate movements. First, there was an inward movement, a deep dive into my own darkness. I needed to be alone with God in my most tender places and discover I was OK. I needed to find a source of joy within my own heart.

Second, was an outward movement toward other people. In reaction to a broken friendship, I had retreated almost completely. I had put walls between my heart and everyone around me except for Dave. His friendship was enough for a little while, but now I needed to find a measured path toward openness and vulnerability. When I experienced my belovedness alone, I could then experience it more deeply with other people. Out of a growing assurance that I was loved, I could let other people in.


“Excerpt from A Good Way Through by Kristen Leigh Kludt, ©2017. Used by permission.”

Field Guides for the Way, www.fieldguidesfortheway.com

Field Guides for the Way

Kristen now creates Field Guides for your own creative field trips with God. 

Journey deeper into God’s love with spiritual practice kits delivered to your home. Explore, discover, create, and remember you are Beloved. 

Field Guides for the Way offer the intentionality and practice of a contemplative retreat woven into your everyday life. Each beautifully curated kit contains invitations and supplies for a journey deeper into your relationship with God, your own heart, and your life.

As a special offer for you, Kristen is offering 10% off your entire order (enter MULDER10 at checkout)! Purchase by next Saturday, March 2. For more on what the field guides are and to order, click here: Field Guides for the Way.

http://www.kristenleighkludt.com/

Kristen Leigh Kludt

Kristen Leigh Kludt is a writer, speaker, and contemplative adventurer. Creator of Field Guides for the Way and author of A Good Way Through, Kristen is a gifted story-teller and teacher. She is growing daily toward a life of integrity and love and invites others to do the same. She is a member of The Chapter and serves on the board for ReIMAGINE, a Center for Integral Christian Practice. She lives, works, and plays in San Francisco’s East Bay with her husband and two young sons.

Posted by k2mulder in Beloved, Guest Posts, 0 comments

Where was God in 2017?

Without reflection we could see nothing. Our world would be void of colour and shape.  We depend on the reflection of light off of objects to bring them into our awareness, granting them their hue and bend. All things of substance remain hidden.

This necessary property of reflection that brings substance into life and contours our world physically, can be applied to the spirit as well. Our spirits need reflection to bring into view the substance that lies there.

Light shines on the world of our spirits but without reflection we shall never see it. It is imperative to reflect in order to bring into focus and shape that which the Light is illuminating. What is the Lord bringing into high relief in your life? Where are the shadows and the bright edges? Where is He in the midst of gray fog and what might He be showing you there – His touch?

Pursuing Jesus’ presence in reflection, allowing Him to draw into substance His presence in your past moments, be they a lifetime’s or a day’s, is a rich practice for your spirit. There are times we are aware of His presence and working at the moment, but so much of the time we are unaware of it and reflection, under His guidance, unmasks that which was lost in the moments before. At times, it is like watching a city on a distant horizon grow into vast view – naught was there to your vision before, but now you behold a great, solid, hope.

So, in these few days as we turn from an old year to a new, look not only forward. Allow the mirror embedded in this turning to have full view before you look through the window into next year.

There is an aged practice, called the Prayer of Examen, that is especially helpful in allowing the Lord’s light shine in one’s reflections. Originally implemented as a daily practice (which I encourage) it can also be used as a weekly, monthly, or yearly practice.

Rather than our reflection simply be a recounting of the year, we look at it under His guidance of our memories allowing Him to bring to light those things He wishes to show us. Invariably, whatever He shows You is shown in order to illuminate His presence in your life.

Below, you will find my paraphrase of the practice, fitted for a year’s consideration.

Because this is a yearly examen, set aside 20 minutes to an hour to be in a quiet, undisturbed place. A daily examen is usually shorter. Turn off any devices that might distract, and get comfortable. Some like to take a walk in nature, others sit with a candle lit, others like the anonymity of being in a library. It is helpful to take notes, especially for the next year’s examen when you can look back at this year’s and be reminded of all He has been to you during this year!

A Yearly Examen

Become aware of God’s presence. Relax, let tensions drift away, breathe deeply. Remember that God is present and is looking at you with love. He is glad that you are here now, regardless of anything you have done or not done before. Spend some minutes simply enjoying this fact. If your mind wanders, gently, without condemning yourself, come back to God who is still here loving you.

Ask God to reflect on your year with gratitude. Allow the year to gently surface and focus on the things you are grateful for. Don’t choose what to be grateful for, but allow God to bring clarity to what emerges. Take note of the joys and gifts He’s given you throughout the year. He may bring very small things to mind, these are gifts of His in the details. Give thanks!

Ask God to show you His presence in your year. Ask the Holy Spirit to show you particular times that He was present, whether in a situation, in another person or in your internal experience. Allow Him to bring to mind these things, then ask Him to show how He was present. Take note of any themes or patterns He shows you, or things that stand out to you.

Take note of your emotions. Recognize your emotions regarding these things the Holy Spirit is showing you. God’s presence is in our emotions too. What is God saying through these feelings? He may show you where you fell short, allow him to speak life into you. He may show you pain, allow him to bring healing. He may show you exhilaration, allow him to be glorified. There are a multitude of ways that He is present to you in your emotions, let him in to lead.

Ask God to show you your need. Allow God to lead you in identifying your needs. Ask Him to fulfill these needs and look forward with hope and trust that He knows them and wishes to provide for you.

From these reflections pray for next year. You may have something arise from your reflections that you wish to pray over for the coming year – a particular situation, a need, a desire for growth or more experience of God. Again pay attention to your feelings regarding the upcoming year. Allow your reflections and feelings shape your prayer for the coming year.

Our Father, beloved Lord, and welcomed Counselor – Great thanks we give you for your ever presence and your willingness to show yourself in our lives. It is so reassuring to meet you in our reflections and to look forward knowing you will be there too. Thank you for this time, thank you for 2017. Thank you for all that you have shown us. Where we are still tender and smarting, bring your balm and grace. Where we are invigorated and hopeful, flow your direction and guidance. Lead us into this new year after having brought the old into relief. May this year be filled with your presence and glory. Amen.

Posted by k2mulder in Spiritual Formation, 0 comments

Tis the Season of Preparation

During 2016 Jesus graciously led me to focus on receiving from Him, resting, and pursuing joy. It was a year like no other before it. It was a year of surrendering my striving and discovering He is my friend, not just my teacher. Like a paint-by-number, He walked me dot-to-dot until I saw that the destination of this life I walk is JOY.

It is his JOY to be with us! What says “I love you” more than wanting to be with someone? Jesus, Emmanuel, God-With-Us, came to earth for a short time and suffered death for the JOY of having us be with him. The anticipation of this complete joy is what motivated and guided His every action while on earth. As we receive Him, so it becomes our anticipation of this very same joy that motivates and guides our actions every day.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are tangible, temporal expressions of the joy that awaits us in eternity. All the delights of these celebrations: family, fun, and food, beckon to us as we plan and prepare. The joy of it all gives us patience, perseverance and purpose as we deal with the governing lists of preparation details these days.

If you are one whose holiday gatherings are a joy, then the burden of preparation is light. Each task, however mundane or bothersome, is infused with a bit of the joy ahead through the anticipation of it. For you my prayer is that you follow the thread of joy throughout your days and let it lead you to our destination: Joy!

However, if you are one whose holidays are bothersome at best, painful and wounding at worst, then preparation becomes almost a mockery. Each task is drudgery, a press of sharp flint into a scarred and painful place. Your hope is simply that it speed by as quickly and painlessly as possible. For you my prayer is that even in the pain and burden of it all, you bravely expect Jesus. He has no fear of the dark places and wants to meet you there. Joy and suffering do mix. Paradoxically, it was His great joy to suffer death. He went before you in the darkness and will lead you out of it. Joy Himself stood in the tomb.

Jesus says in verse 11 of John 15: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.” What was the “this” he told His disciples so that they could live in joy now? It was to remain in Him. The verses before are peppered with his repetitive “Remain!” Rabbis of the time used repetition to teach important points, much like parents and teachers today. In the span of these eleven verses He says “Remain” eleven times! This is how you prepare for joy – remain with Him wherever you are.

As eternal guests at the table of joy, we need to be well-practiced at receiving. If a guest is uncomfortable receiving hospitality, the joy of the giver is incomplete. Think of the guest who self-deprecatingly turns down every offer. Or the guest who jumps up to help with everything because they are uncomfortable receiving hospitality. As host, you may feel disappointment or even irritability because your gift is being negated. Likewise, we, in our proud, broken ways we sit not with our Host, but constantly say “That’s ok, I don’t need that” or jump up to help Him. Jesus’s joy, nor ours, is complete then. So fellow guests, practice well your reception. Receive with gratitude what the Lord has for you today. When we receive well, we remain more comfortably with the Giver.

Jesus honored Mary’s choice to remain with Him. He urged Martha to do the same. The great Host told his host that it was better to receive from Him than strive to make a perfect place for him.

As you prepare for the holidays ahead, let their promise and joy color your plans. Let them remind you of our destination: JOY. Practice being a guest by focusing on your Host and receiving from Him. May your season of celebrations and all the preparations they entail bring JOY to life in your soul this year.

 

 

Posted by k2mulder in Spiritual Formation, 0 comments

Prep Work Season

Autumn gardens are not pretty. They are all mold and cold, dark and decay, mess and muck. But if autumn death is not plied into the ground, no spring is nourished. Spent and anemic, the soil will respond to the force of spring with random, unintentional growth of opportunistic, oppressive weeds. Spring will draw great jungles from them, jungles we did not want when we plotted the plot.

But autumn is hopeful preparation. Why else would any gardener go out in almost freezing temperatures to fork another layer of compost into the dark ground under gray skies?

A week or so ago, I spent the majority of my day winging walnuts into the forest behind our house, then mulching and fertilizing our lawn. The light was the seepy white gold of October, the air refreshingly not too hot.  Our yard was peppered liberally with puce orbs fallen from the scraggly-leaved trees arching overhead. These same trees had been the “wow” that convinced us to make an offer on this house just three months before. Now I understood why the grass underneath was so pocked. Every autumn it is pummeled by thousands of black walnuts! And now it became my task to undo the happy work of autumnal ripeness.

As I practiced my pitch (something I hadn’t done for, oh, 20 years or so), I prayed. Not that I wouldn’t hit a squirrel, or a neighbor child playing in the woods (thankfully they were all at school), but the listening kind of praying where I am delighting in the moment and aware of Jesus being there. He drew my attention to the fact that I was doing prep work.

I thought of all the ways I engage in prep work: commercial kitchens, my own kitchen, my garden, for the school year, for travels, for blogging, readying for the day, the season, the year. I felt in my spirit that I was in a season of prep work. This put a context on my life that had previously been missing and I found it encouraging. For that means I am being prepared for a future, for a purpose, that Jesus has a place and goal for me. There are seeds he plans on planting! It has been a year of great change, of digging up roots, and in the transition it has felt scary at times. But He has placed me now in this new “plot” of life where we are working in the soil of my soul.

This context has cast new light on my life. Typically I think of autumn as a time to wrap things up, to finish and to put away. It is that, and in some ways I am finishing with previous pursuits in order to prepare for new pursuits. Apparently, what I choose to spend my time on this autumn will have ramifications many seasons ahead. If there was no decay and dying of these things I am to leave in the past, then I will not have the rich soil I need to grow come spring. The work now is to dig in the decay to replenish the plot of my soul.

He has a vision for the plot of my soul, of fruit and flower born to brighten and sustain. To create this life in me he is faithfully working in the soil of my life. He is deeply digging into my foundational understandings of who He is and who I am. Some of those ideas need to die and become food for the future.

Take a moment and consider what season you may be in. Maybe you are in full flower and can trace the edge of the shovel in seasons past and now you can say thank you for that. Maybe you feel like a piece of abandoned land with no purpose and you need Him to lay hold of you as His own. Maybe you have just been planted with new seeds of ideas and plans and now you need careful watering. Maybe you, like me, are in a season of preparation, of deep soul work. In every season of your soul, let Him do his work. Tend this life He’s given you with attention and care.

Posted by k2mulder in Spiritual Formation, 2 comments