Understanding Christian Mindfulness by Michelle Essary
I am delighted to once again have a guest post from my wise counselor daughter, Michelle. I think you will find her insights helpful and practical.
What does mindfulness look like for a Christian?
The alarm is going off, you twinge with frustration at the familiar irritating sound, and your mind and body begin to wake up for the day. Then you hear the dog crying to go out, you feel another twinge of frustration, but you get up to open the door.On the way to the door for the dog a child whines for you, “I need you!! I didn’t make it to the bathroom." You sigh, and think, “I guess no time for prayer this morning.” As you are cleaning up child and carpet, the dog cries again and you remember you never opened the door. You make it to the dog, with a hungry child in tow, manage to feed them both and head to grab coffee, only to realize you forgot to make it the night before….
Okay, maybe your story isn’t just like mine. Maybe you wake up thinking about work, or that first email of the day gets your stomach in knots before you’re even out of bed. Maybe you didn’t sleep well because of sickness, or a family member needed you, or a new baby, or stresses from other things in life were impossible to turn off.
Maybe you’re reminded when you wake up of the ache of someone not present with you. Or, perhaps you start thinking about what needs to happen in a day and begin to feel overwhelmed before it begins…
or in the middle of the day…
or at dinner time…
you get the picture.
The reality is, we all have many small triggers and stresses throughout every day, and sometimes without even seeing it coming we begin to feel exhausted, frustrated, anxious or angry and need to take a minute and check in with what’s really going on. This, in essence, is where mindfulness fits.
Mindfulness has been a topic of conversation in Christian circles for years, often surrounded by questions about its origins, spiritual safety and usefulness. I am a Christian, a counselor and I believe there is a place for some of these practices in the life of a Christian that fit with God’s design for us as healthy whole humans.
I’m not going to address all of the questions people have, since others have done this well over the years. Feel free to read more here or here, or a search a variety of other credible sources and research on mindfulness.
I’m writing this, not as a defense of practice, but as a practical guide for what it can look like in your daily life. Practically speaking, mindfulness includes various practices that aid in awareness of what is really happening with you, turning that information into the opportunity for change, and for Christians an opportunity to interact with God.
One of my favorite mindfulness practices is loosely adapted from Dan Seigle’s wheel of awareness (which he did not create from a Christian perspective). For this exercise, find a place you can be still, quiet and think for a few minutes, either early in the day or when you feel like you need to get grounded at any point in the day. Taking a walk might be one of the best approaches.
Take a breath, ask God for clarity and direction, then consider the following questions:
What is happening around me? What can I hear, see, smell and feel with my senses right now?
What is going on with my body? (ex. Is my stomach upset? Do I have tense muscles? Headache? High heart rate? Fatigued? Wired? Do I feel energized? Relaxed?)
What am I feeling right now emotionally?
What is going through my mind? What am I thinking about? How am I thinking about it?
How connected do I feel to others?
How connected do I feel with God?
What do I believe is God’s perspective and desire are for my day and each of these topics?
After answering these questions, take a few minutes to pray through what you discovered. Seek to give to God the things that you cannot or need not hold onto. Ask God for wisdom about what action you can take toward changing the things that you can change.
It can be a challenge in the midst of the chaos, busy lives, opportunity for noise and distraction to take minutes away to pause and be still. I hope this small exercise, or another, can help you take that time and experience how God meets us in the still.
Michelle Essary is a Licensed Professional Counselor working as a director at Southwest Counseling Associates in Littleton, Colorado. Michelle leads Missionary Care Services, a branch of Southwest Counseling that focuses on and specializes in care for international ministers at all stages of their ministry.
She has 11 years experience in Christian ministry and grew up in a missionary family. She served overseas, in high school, college and leadership ministry. Michelle has training in individual, marital and premarital and relationship issues, family and group therapy. She specializes in missionary and TCK care, depression, anxiety, women’s issues, stress management, and identity issuesShe and husband Brad live in Colorado with their two boys and hounddog Calvin. You can follow her on Twitter @essaryme. And she’s my daughter!