Stop. Breathe. Think. Pray.

By Shannon Youell

My daughter gave me a lovely journal for my last birthday. I have kept journals for years, mostly for thoughts and notes as I read Scripture, am inspired by Scripture,  and am inspired by sermon ideas.

These journals are very messy and I decided I wanted this one to be beautiful, which means I have to take some more thoughtful time while furiously writing my inspirations!

So I started with a sticker:

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just breathe sticker

And then I expanded that thought:

  • Stop
  • Breathe
  • Think
  • Pray

Often, with life so full and busy (who else has come to despise that word–I wonder when humanity made busy such a virtue), I often find that I have done none of those things within the waking hours of my day. Well, of course I have breathed, but not the kind of breath that brings pause.

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Ministry work is daunting at best and often overwhelming when we attempt to use our strength by which to minister. Yet, if we follow the example of our Master, we find Jesus withdrawing to a quiet place, to stop, to breathe, to think, to pray. He comes away knowing He has heard and seen God for the next segment of His journey, of His day, of His hours. Jesus practiced sitting where His soul finds home and so must we. Five or ten minutes a few times throughout the day brings focus and refreshment. It brings clarity and resolve. It invites the Spirit an opportunity to speak and for us to actually hear.

Psalm 1 in my reading this morning speaks of the wisdom of delighting in the law of the Lord and meditating on it. I have always loved this Psalm (well, to be honest, I love most of them!), as it speaks to me of stopping. Of breathing. Of thinking. Of praying. It reminds me that doing this amazing work of God’s Kingdom is not for me to do alone, or you to do alone, but for us to do alongside the God-With-Us who is always present even in the mundane tasks and the daunting to-do lists.

The promise, of course, is that we will be well-watered, refreshed and bear fruit. I am learning (still and again) that when I take these pauses throughout my day, I actually find the work a joy even in the more difficult times, for I am letting my soul find its way home for a “nap.”

Here is how I am practicing this pause in my day’s labour right now:

Stop – Stop means to “arrest” or “suspend.” In the sense of this pause in our day, I would choose “Suspend”—suspend for 10 minutes everything that has been occupying my body, mind and soul. I find notifications distracting, so I switch them off both on my computer and my phone for that time. If you can, leave the environs of what you were doing. Take your work out of your visual field.

Breathe – Deep measured breathing oxygenates the brain, calms the busy-ness, and helps us to refocus. Sue Hunter, our lovely former Alberta Regional Administrator, taught us to breathe in through the nose and count to 4, and then breathe out of the mouth counting to 4. Then to 6 and then 10, until we had a slowed, thoughtful rhythmic breathing. Then replace counting with “speak Lord” as you breathe in and “I’m listening” as you breathe out. Practice this until you sense yourself aware and alert of God’s peace resting on you.

Think – I like shaping this around Philippians 4:8-9: thinking on what is true in my day; what is right in my day right now; what is pure and lovely in the midst of the busyness of the day. Peterson’s Message translation is helpful. “You’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.”

Pray – Philippians continues, “Put into practice what you learned from me, what you heard and saw and realized. Do that, and God, who makes everything work together, will work you into his most excellent harmonies.” As we’ve spent time thinking and listening to the Spirit, pray those things back: gratitude for what has been realized and repentance for the realization our thoughts that day may have been ugly, unkind, disingenuous. Follow with thankfulness that God’s grace is rich and His goodness nurturing. Approach the next portion of your day by “putting into practice” these things and see God at work weaving you into His song.

As we move into our co-labouring of living out the Gospel of the kingdom of God, these pauses are equally as necessary as the tasks before us, the relationships we live in and bring nurture to, and the sharing of God’s Big Story. This is the soul-care of our own persons, which promises to give us resiliency and joy in joining God in His work in our world.

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