Mountain Meditation: Don’t Worry; Be Mindful

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Matthew 6:24-34.

If there were a prize for worrying…I would be worried that I would not receive the prize.

Can you relate?

In the right doses worrying can help us. Worrying can alert  us to dangers. Worrying may contribute to (prod…instigate…motivate) our decision making practices. Worrying can move us from inactivity to activity.

On the other hand, worrying can become obsessive and incapacitating. Worrying can crescendo the feeling of being overwhelmed to the feeling of being completely paralyzed.

In his book What is the Opposite of Worry Dr. Lawrence J. Cohen names three powerful antidotes to worry:

  1. Being held in loving arms,
  2. Cultivating a soothing inner voice, and
  3. Befriending all of your emotions.

When I was in high school I spent many Sundays serving in the church nursery with many of First Lakeland’s youngest worshippers. One boy I remember in particular, his name is Zachary, would cry unconsolably when his mother brought him to the nursery – new place, new people, no Mama. We would try every trick in the book to engage (distract) Zachary with a toy, stuffed animal, or book. Not interested. And so the caregivers would take turns holding him close to our chests. With time his accelerated heart beat would slow as he listened to and felt the caregiver’s heartbeat. He would cry into the crook of the caregiver’s neck until he felt safe enough to peek out into the room. And then we would watch his progression from peeking out his gaze, to lifting his head, to wanting to be turned around to face the room, to leaving the caregiver’s lap to play on the floor. Zachary had every right to worry, but his time spent in loving arms assured him that Mama would be back soon, that he was safe, and that it was, in fact, okay for him to have a little fun without her.

From being held in loving arms and hearing soothing voices I believe we develop soothing inner voices. We learn how to self-comfort. We learn how to have a moment of being out of control and then safely coming back into control. But to find and raise up our personal voices, it is vital that we hear soothing voices. That we hear we are beloved. That we hear we are cherished. That we hear we are made in the image of God and that makes us worthy and special. That we hear that nothing can take away God’s love from us. I believe one of the best pieces of advice given to John Wesley was this, “Preach faith until you have it, and because you have it, preach faith.” The same principal applies here, “Say the words of a soothing inner voice – for yourself and others – until you have it, and because you have it, say these words.”

Having a soothing and rational inner voice (I know – I know…it may take a while to hear the rational side, but it is important, too) creates a platform for us to draw near to all of our emotions. We are complex beings. We feel and experience along a huge spectrum! I do not think it is helpful to call some feelings and emotions good and others bad because all of them sum up who we are. Rather, if we are able to connect with each of our feelings – to understand them as well as our responses and reactions to them – we learn endurance. We gain perspective. We learn from the past moments as we look forward to the future.

These combined antidotes – being held in loving arms, cultivating a soothing inner voice, and befriending all your emotions – leads to what Cohen calls practicing mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness, argues Cohen, is the opposite of worry. Sort of like Tai Chi where the flow of energy is received and immediately redirected somewhere else rather than internalized, so we should approach worry: recognize the circumstance, feel what is felt, name it, respond to it, if appropriate, and then let it go so you are prepared for what may be coming next.

I believe Cohen rightly calls mindfulness a practice. It takes time to develop. It takes intentional behavior and commitment. And I believe it yields great peace – the kind of peace that passes all understanding.

Join us this Sunday as Samantha Aupperlee shares a message with us on this Scripture passage and topic! Thank you, Samantha, for sharing your leadership in worship!

Prayer: “O come and sing this song with gladness as your hearts are filled with joy. Lift your hands in sweet surrender to his name. O give him all your tears and sadness; give him all your years of pain, and you’ll enter into life in Jesus’ name. Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs. Jesus, O Jesus, come and fill your lambs.”* Amen.

*”Spirit Song ,” The United Methodist Hymnal 347.

Rock of Ages: Water from the Rock

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Exodus 17:1-7

Our Scripture text this week speaks to a very raw and vulnerable portion of my life – worry. The text does not use the word worry, but it is worry defined. The Hebrews are in a unfamiliar place – reunited with the God who seems unfamiliar as they believed God had forgotten them in their suffering in Egypt – and led by a somewhat suspicious guy because he was once Team Pharaoh and is now Team Elohim. Their identity – all they have ever known of themselves, day to day living, and expectations in life – has shifted. No longer slave but free. No longer many gods but one God. No longer in Egypt but in the wilderness.

Egypt was not a cakewalk – not even a bread walk some days – but there were absolutes in Egypt. The Hebrews knew as long as they met their production quota they would eat, drink, and survive with minimal harm. Leaving Egypt and enjoying the fruits of freedom also meant that the wells in Egypt – wells that came at such high costs but were wells none the less – dried up. In the wilderness with Moses and God the Hebrews were removed from those absolutes. In their worry-ness and weariness the Hebrews doubted that the God who through Moses delivered them through the water might bring water to quench their thirst. They were so downcast they thought about returning to just survive in Egypt when God wanted them – and wants for us – to thrive.

Worrying gets in the way of thriving. Worrying thwarts thriving from the start. I worry because I like to be in control. I am most comfortable when I know what will happen, how I will feel while it is happening, and what the consequences will be after it happens. I do not like the feeling of my stomach in my throat or my stomach diving down towards my knees.

When walking through the wildernesses of my life I have to remember that I am not a trailblazer and I am not a lone ranger. I am not wholly and solely responsible for my path and how I will be sustained along that path. I am following after God – God blazes the trail. And I am travelling with company – much like our ancestors in the Sinai region. We are all making our way together.

The wilderness is a place full of potential. You have left what was and anticipate what will be. To simply be in that space is powerful. It is a struggle to be, but that is when I need to remember that I am not God. I am not blazing the trail. I am a creation. I am a beloved child of God. And in my creation God made a commitment to provide for me through God’s creation, through utilizing my God-given gifts and graces, and through my relationships with others. When I worry I feel that I create negativity in my life or that I am bracing myself for a negative impact that may never come. When I focus on the potential of the wilderness, the space that God is bringing me through, yes there are points of shadow and I might trip on a branch, but light is also breaking through the branches, I can hear a river running by, I can see an environment teeming with life, and I can notice that the trees are becoming less dense.

The Exodus did not end when God’s people crossed the Egypt Region Line. Our Exodus is a continuing saga; it continues every time God brings us through whatever it is we are facing. We do not need to worry. Sarah – I do not need to worry. God will provide. God does provide.

Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to distinguish the one from the other. Amen.”*

*”The Serenity Prayer,” The United Methodist Hymnal 459.

Be Still: Be Still and Know

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 46

I am a worrier.  I worry about everything.

Worrying stems from a sense of inadequacy – a place of not being enough.  I have always felt that there is more that I could be doing no matter what I am doing – whether I am working or cleaning or resting or even having fun.  Occasionally Andrew and I have the opportunity to visit one of the local amusement parks in our area and – yes – I admit – that I will think to myself as we are strolling through Adventureland that I could be strolling more productively, or if we had made this turn or that turn we would have missed this whole hoard of folks that have now beat us in line for DoleWhip.

And if you haven’t ever had DoleWhip – you need to get on that.

I think because I am a worrier I always feel that I need to be doing something.  Andrew tells me all the time when we are home, “Sarah – sit down and relax” while I continue to flit around the house doing whatever it is that I am doing.

Why do I do all these things?  Because the opposite of doing these things is stillness.  And why do I not like stillness?

Honestly?  Because I like to be in control.

Today’s confessions – I am a worrier.  I always feel that I need to be doing something.  I like to be in control and I understand stillness as a relinquishing of control.

For some reason I do not take the same posture of finding the more efficient or productive way to be still that I employ in other areas of my life.  Stillness is not about me and what I am doing.  Stillness is a space to sit, hear, and be with what God is doing.

And that is uncomfortable…because if God is in control…then I.am.not.

Why is that so uncomfortable?  Well I am a creature of habit.  I like things the way I like them.  For example, I do not know why I take the time to browse menus at restaurants because I order the same meal without fail according to what that restaurant offers.  As a creature of habit, I have creature comforts.  I have comfort zones.  And what if being still and sitting with, hearing, and being with what God is doing invites me out of my comfort zone?  What if the revelation in the stillness takes me somewhere new?  What if the revelation in the stillness tells me to stop something I love and to start something that before I would not touch with a 27 and 3/8s foot pole??

What if…

But I guess I will not know if I do not become still.

My head knows that God does not want me to worry or find my worth in the tasks I accomplish (or put myself down for the tasks I leave undone) or be controlling.  My head knows.  Sometimes the pathway from my head knowing something and my heart incarnating that knowledge in my life is very fluid…and then other times…not so much.  What will help with that fluidity?  What will reinforce God’s truth in my life?

Stillness.

God you have a funny way of working sometimes…

Psalm 46:10 says, “Be still, and know that I am God!  I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.”

God is exalted by all people all across the earth.  In the stillness I am invited to join their praise.  If I neglect the stillness, God will still be praised, but my voice will not be counted among them.  That hurts me…and I believe that hurts God, too.

I am going to find some time to be still today.  To sit.  To listen.  To be.  To praise.

Will you join me?

Prayer: “Eternal God, the refuge and help of all your children, we praise you for all you have given us, for all you have done for us, for all that you are to us.  In our weakness, you are strength, in our darkness, you are light, in our sorrow, you are comfort and peace.  We cannot number your blessings, we cannot declare your love: For all your blessings we bless you.  May we live as in your presence, and love the things that you love, and serve you in our daily lives; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”* Amen.

*Prayer of Saint Boniface, http://re-worship.blogspot.ca/2014/06/prayer-of-saint-boniface.html.