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Category: Spiritual formation

In her book Reset Your Child’s Brain, Dr. Victoria Dunckley notes the high number of 11 year olds who feel stress over building a personal brand.

Yes, you read that right—11 year olds are feeling the pressure to brand themselves, to develop an “image” that sets a tone for their lives. Now, Dunckley is writing this from the angle of a psychiatrist concerned about the amount of time kids spend connected online, which isn’t my main focus. We share the concern, though, over the pressure for kids to spend time building an online presence.

People with successful personal brands, the personalities, writers, sports heroes, politicians, consultants who have strong “personal brands” spend an inordinate amount of time carefully curating what they post, responding to comments, using Instagram to drive traffic to their website and their website to drive traffic to their Twitter and their Twitter to drive traffic to their Instagram, all in the name of increasing engagement and thereby somehow “become known.”

And the goal of “becoming known?” Well, at the end of the day, it somehow ties back to money. There’s the hope of becoming known as an expert in the field with the goal of landing a dream job sometime in the future. Or selling advertising on a website or blog. Or developing a writing voice or a platform for future books. For many people, this is just a reality of the world we live in.

For 11 year olds, though, it’s not. When 11 year olds start developing a concern for a personal brand, it’s a strong condemnation of our culture. Developing a personal brand is essentially about being for sale. And while I’d wager that most kids don’t realize that this is what they’re doing, it is. The message has become so ingrained in us that we somehow believe that the only reason to be known is in order to make money.

Of course this isn’t at all the message of Jesus, who might have lived in a time before the struggles of online citizenship but still knew a thing about people vying for social position. His answer, always, was to remind people that the kingdom of God is upside down. Who you know, what you know, what you have—none of these things matter. In fact, they may even work against you—after all, the last will be first and the first will be last.

So what does all of this talk about personal brands and crazy social trends have to do with reclaiming Sabbath?

Our ability to understand our relationship with God is directly related to the time we set apart. We can’t immerse ourselves in a cultural push to always be “on,” and then expect to stay centered in the idea that our “on-ness” isn’t what matters. If we want to teach our children that their worth is grounded in their relationship with God then we have to give them space to experience this relationship. Not lecture them about it, not force them to join in family prayers, not even gently say to them “God loves you just the way you are,” but to experience the freedom that comes from just being them.

I’m afraid that for children these days, there’s very little antidote to the world’s constant push to prove yourself, to do more, to be better. This is a soapbox of mine and I could list examples for days—increased testing, diminished playtime at home and at school, lack of family time, competitive sports starting younger and younger, activities that fill schedules to the point where no one has time to breath, computer games built around addictive reward cycles, stressed out parents who don’t have time to connect…all of these things are teaching our children that they have to compete for status and attention.

I have a very real fear that true spirituality—the ability to listen to God through our internal selves—will disappear for many of our young people.

This is where Sabbath is important for children. Now, I know that the idea of enforced rest isn’t popular for kids. Remember my reaction to the idea of a Sabbath day? But there are plenty of ways to help kids learn a rhythm of rest that can form a basis for their spiritual development. Here are a few ideas:

  1. Build in daily family quiet times

We have so little silence in our lives. And the less we have, the more uncomfortable we become with it. There is actual noise everywhere—the radio in the car, the TV at home, chatter in group settings. Plus, there’s a draw toward mental chatter, the kind that comes from surfing the internet or even reading quietly. We are so afraid to be alone with our thoughts and we’re passing that fear onto our children.  A simple, counter-cultural practice is family quiet time. Set aside five minutes each evening before bed to simply breathe. If five minutes is too much, do three. Or one. You can always build up from there. The trick to making this work is to give kids something to focus on. I love the Calm app, which is just a visual of a circle expanding and deflated in a breathing rhythm. At a conference I attended a couple weeks ago, the presenter recommended giving kids a pinwheel to blow, which focuses breath and is fun.

  1. Play

Play meets many of the criteria of Sabbath. It’s purposeless. It’s countercultural. It deepens our relationship with each other. Build in times for family members to simply be silly together–no competitive games, no individual screens drawing your attention, just time for connection and laughter. Maybe it doesn’t feel “religious,” but as one part of a move toward reclaiming Sabbath time, it’s an important start.

  1. Designate a certain time each week as family time and stick with that schedule. It will be hard. It will also teach that it’s ok to say no. Tending to our families and our inner lives is every bit as important as attending BBQ’s, sports games, even homework or school events. Again, start small if you have to. Make it an hour on Sunday afternoons or a time when you’re already relatively free. (And if there’s no time when you’re already relatively free, then that’s an excellent reason to create one.)

While these are small steps, they are the beginning to building a culture of rest within your family. I’d love to hear how your family observes times of rest together!

That One Time, When I Was A Mess

That One Time, When I Was A Mess

The fact that I was at a MOPS meeting was a complete surprise to me.  I drove there and signed myself in, of course, but it was so removed from my normal behavior that it felt of an out-of-body experience.  Even now, that memory is tinged with a hazy yellow, like someone has overlaid the “halcyon days” filter. 

I went because my neighbor invited me.  She seemed nice and fairly normal. I was new to the area and desperate for friends.  Peering through my front windows anxiously waiting for a neighbor to emerge so I could “just happen” to wander outside is a slow way to make friends.  Even so, I wasn’t really expecting much.  “I’ll go for a meeting or two,” I told my husband. My experience of people who were in MOPS was that they were out of my league, with their 5 kids and their memorized scriptures and their adorable crafts.  Clearly, it wasn’t a group I’d join, with my progressive Jesus, my 1 kid and my lack of scrapbooking ability. 

This is not the first time that I have done something out of character in the wake of a move.  Moves throw me off balance.  While some people eagerly welcome the chance to delve deep into a new place, I like my home and my identity to stay intact.  Changing places makes me feel like I don’t belong, which causes me to rush for safety like a moth seeking the light of a flame. 

If you’ve avoided MOPS your whole life, let me tell you that a central part of the meeting experience is “joys and challenges.”  This is the time when everyone writes down a joy and a challenge from their week.  The idea filled me with dread.  Share details from my life with 7 strangers?  Nope.  But of course it’s sort of a “thing” and I couldn’t really get out of doing it.    

“I’m happy that my daughter is settling in well at school.  My challenge is that I’m new to the area and still feeling unsettled.” I said cheerily. Everyone smiled and nodded.

I got by with variations of that theme for the next couple weeks until a crisis hit my extended family. That night at our meeting, without even meaning to, I blurted out the entire story.  Then I cried.  Then I left and felt like an idiot.  The old me would never have shared this kind of info with people I was just meeting.  This new me, the one I was becoming in this place, wasn’t someone I wanted to know.  She was out of control, a complete mess and kind of a downer.

It’s taken me nearly two years to write about this experience because I still don’t like the memory. Good heavens, it was bad enough to live through once; I don’t want to have it widely known that I once broke down in public with strangers. 

Fitness instructors are fond of pointing out that your body only changes when you push past your comfortable limits.  You need to shake things up.  Work harder, work faster or try another sport if you’ve plateaued in your pursuit of the perfect weight.  We need to shatter our myths about ourselves in order to become a deeper version of who we already… Click To Tweet

Maybe the same is true for our souls.  We need to experience change—and the real, messy uncertainty that goes along with it—in order to grow.  We need to shatter our myths about ourselves in order to become a deeper version of who we already are.  We need to discover that the world doesn’t fall apart just because we do. 

I received many gifts from that MOPS group. New friends, professional contacts, interesting workshops and two amazing mentor moms. But what I remember most is that time I fell apart, with near- strangers, and was still invited back. Soul-stretched, imperfect and all wrong–but welcomed anyway.

A Deep Desire: When Spiritual Fluff Fails

A Deep Desire: When Spiritual Fluff Fails

“Can I have another piece of candy?”  Of course this is the voice of my daughter, eyeing the loot from Halloween.  We’re blasting through that stuff this year.  Maybe it’s a sign of a strong economy but she came home with a bucket of the good stuff.  Some of these people passed out full size candy bars, as if to emphasize that I’d left a bucket of cheap old Sixlets by my door with a note that said, “Take some.”

Much to my daughter’s dismay, I answered her question the responsible way.  “I know you think you want candy but you’re actually hungry for real food.  Have a carrot while I make dinner.”

A Deep Desire

Oh, this is so much easier said than done.  I recognized her frustration, the urge to kick and scream and maybe sneak into the candy while I wasn’t looking.  I’d been eating Tootsie Rolls and calling them lunch for days.  They were delicious but they weren’t really what I needed.  It was like when you have an itch on your back that you can almost reach.  You sort of just scratch all around the area and hope that the nerves will be fooled.  The candy-eating took on a frenetic edge.  They filled me up but left me unsatisfied.  So, naturally, I did the human thing and ate more of them.  I did this even though I knew that I was actually hungry for real food.  My heart was saying, “grab a carrot,” but my hands were plowing their way through a field of candy.

Why do we do this? 

Those who are good at quoting scripture would point to the passage from Matthew, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.”  Which doesn’t answer the question of “why” but it certainly lets us know we’re not alone.  It’s in the Bible, after all.  Thousands of years of human history witnessing to the fact that we are not good at doing what’s good for us.

Last week over at SheLoves, Kathy Escobar explored the analogy between the way we treat food and the way we treat our spiritual life.  “When you are spiritually hungry, what do you do to get relief?”  She asked.  Then she went on to make a list of exactly all the things I do before breaking down and actually reaching for the spiritual carrot.

How many times do we encounter a restlessness in our hearts and try to beat it by flipping on the TV?  Gossiping?  Reading?

Never?  Well, maybe you can teach me because I do it all the time.  All.  The. Time.  Sometimes it’s not even as obvious as TV.  Sometimes it’s something masquerading as something good.  “I’ll make time for quiet as soon as I get the dishes done…read this chapter…finish this lesson plan…”

I’m so good at avoiding spiritual hunger that I trick myself into thinking I’m being disciplined.

Why do we not listen to our deepest desires, the voice that is calling out for something more than busyness or distraction?

Why do we struggle to make time for the things that will make us truly content rather than the things that will dull the ache?

Honestly, I think its ego.  I think that somehow we still think that our minds know better than our hearts.  We still think that we can spend time doing what we want rather than what we need.  We still think we know better what will make us content and whole.  We still think that we know better than a whole host of humans who have gone before us, waving their arms, writing on stones, leaving messages in poetry and scripture saying, “make time to stop!”

We are like frail flowers eagerly leaping toward the sun without first digging deep into the rich soil below.  We want so badly to focus on the visible aspects of life rather than the unseen, but more sustaining, inner life.

Frail flowers quote

St. Augustine, who struggled so well with this, once prayed, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”  This is a truth so simple and so profound that will hear it and hear it again without letting it seep into our souls.

We will be exhausted and unsatisfied until we learn to listen to that still, small voice vying for our attention.

Now, I like systems, plans and resolutions.  My urge to make a pledge right here and now to engage in 20 minutes of silent prayer each and every day for the rest of the year.  That’s only 50 days, which I just looked up and then found so shocking that I recounted for myself.  But as much as I love Big Ideas and Grand Plans, I also love the wisdom of doing what you can, when you can, and trusting that God will meet you where you’re at.

Instead of a pledge, here’s an invitation.  For today and today only, take 5 minutes to just be quiet with God.  Do whatever you want with it.  Sit quietly. Ponder a Bible passage.  Light a candle, journal or just breathe.  Do whatever nourishes your deepest desire for connection with God.  Then do it again tomorrow.  It’s as simple and profound as that.

The hunger is there for a reason; we might as well might time to feed it.


I’m linking up with #wholemama for the word “Desire.”  Follow me over to read more.


3 Things Your Garbage Teaches You About Regret

3 Things Your Garbage Teaches You About Regret

What Garbage Teaches About Regret

“You can make dirt!?”

This question came from my daughter’s friend, one of those moments when you realize that children are excited by the most mundane things. I was explaining why we put food scraps into the funny looking barrel…you would have thought I was explaining how I’d used my magic wand.

Thirty some years and countless earth-care talks into life, I’m pretty familiar with the ways we can Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. I grew up on a small ranch. Our food scraps fed chickens (and sometimes dogs) and I was intimately familiar with the circle of life: scraps feed chickens, chickens make eggs, eggs make food scraps… This was all such a fact of life that I used to regard my grandma’s garbage disposal as though it was magic. “You can put garbage in the sink!?”

Compost Tumbler

After living with a garbage disposal of my own for 15 or so years, I couldn’t take it anymore. All those scraps, literally down the drain. So I bought a compost tumbler, which is almost mandatory in my part of the environmentally conscious world, and we’ve been diligently plugging away, saving everything from coffee grounds to uneaten brussel sprouts. This spring I pulled out my first few shovel-fulls of dirt and spread it onto my newest garden plot. It was sort of amazing, this stuff that smelled like earth and looked like chocolate cake crumbles. Only the occasional egg shell bit reminded me that it had once been slimy grossness eagerly cleared off the table.

Oh, how quick we are to clear off the garbage of our lives. I don’t mean our cute little imperfections–the way we laugh at our poor cooking or slow driving. I mean our real garbage. That thing we did that no one knows about. The hideous thoughts we have and the places where we are dark and unlovable. The truly gross and slimy.

Gross, right?  Even in black and white, the sliminess comes through.
Gross, right? Even in black and white, the sliminess comes through.

I think our urge to clear those things out of view isn’t all bad. We rush to discard all this garbage because we recognize that it is not of God. In our desire to be our better selves, we long to get rid of it. Trash this, throw out that…we sort through our thoughts, experiences and regrets.

But compost and garbage are too different things. Garbage goes away to some landfill where we never see it again. It festers there until someone plows over it and turns it into a park. This is neat but people are always a little bit suspicious about playing on it. It looks all pretty but never seems quite stable. On the other hand, compost gets worked. Not daily–no one wants to pull that stuff out every 24 hours and mull it over. But now and again, we toss it around, let some light in and see how things are developing.

The problem with treating all the bad bits in us like garbage, instead of compost, is that when we shove things somewhere deep and bury more stuff over it, we don’t allow any room for growth. And often as not, these things fester into stinky piles of disgust, a self-loathing that makes us cringe in pain. When we’re in pain we hurt others–which of course starts a vicious cycle. Feel bad, hurt others, feel bad, repeat.

There is only one way out of this cycle. Instead of letting our inner pain and regret fester, we have to figure out how to transform it. Which is where composting comes in. We have to believe in the miracle of dirt. Our ugly, slimy, poisonous life scraps can be transformed into life-giving soil. Not just any soil but the very best soil.


With emotional composting, there are a few things to remember:

1. Time: This won’t happen overnight. We need time and space. Sometimes, things even get more painful before they get better. You know how leftover lettuce gets wilty, then slimy, then really, really, gross before it begins to break down? Our regrets and wounds can be like that. There’s no way around it; we have to give things time to break down. The trick is not to injure ourselves or others when we’re wading through our emotional junk.

If you’re dealing with regret, guilt or shame, you need to be extra careful not to inflict others with it. Which is easy to do, because everything feels really bad and our pain tricks us into thinking we’d feel better if others joined us. Instead, gracefully and gently do what it takes to give yourself some space. Lovingly tell people you need some time alone. Practice a few cheerful ways to exclude yourself from a setting or conversation in the event meanness sets in. Or be honest and just say, “I’m in such a funk right now. I’m seriously grumpy and might be a lunatic. So I’m going to skip that gathering and take a hot bath.” And, of course, exercise. Talk to someone. Go to bed early because you probably aren’t sleeping well. Give yourself some love.

2. Light: Compost has to be turned and tumbled around. Sure, it’ll eventually decompose in a closed container but it’ll take a lot longer. With the scraps of our lives, we need to occasionally revisit them. Once your emotions are a little less raw, it’s time to invite some light into the situation. Pull your regrets out and ask some questions: how did this happen? What am I learning from this? This is a much better question than “What did I learn from this?” because that question implies that the learning was instantaneous and a one time experience. It’s not. Learning is ongoing. What you learn the day after an event might be different than what you learn a year after, or five years after, or on your deathbed. The goal isn’t to beat yourself up more, it’s to learn a little about who you are, what makes you tick and how you might put a truly icky situation to work for good in the future.

3. Grace: There is some miracle about composting I don’t really understand. I know, a biologist could break it all down and I could have more metaphors to work with–maybe we could talk about worms and how they help, or water or whatever. But I sort of like the mystery because it has its own truth. There is an element of grace in all this work. And that’s good enough for me. So don’t forget to make time for all that. Set aside some prayer time. Meditate. Ask a friend to pray for you. Work toward trusting that even if you messed up in some big or small way, God can work with whatever scraps you throw God’s direction. You can go into this slimy and gross and still come out renewed, rich and ready to bring new life to all that you do.


Tenebrae: A Service of Shadows

Tenebrae: A Service of Shadows

It is finished

I was done blogging for the week.  Then my schedule worked out in such a way that I wasn’t able to attend any services on either Maundy Thursday or Good Friday.  Being me, I decided to just put one together for myself and my daughter.  (Totally normal behavior, right?  Let’s tag it “prayer project” and pretend I planned it that way.)  Here are the readings I’m using: Tenebrae Home Service Mark.

Since our church building will be open from now until Easter Sunday I’m going to take my daughter there for a short time of prayer and to walk ourselves through this mini-service of shadows.  However, there’s no reason it can’t be done at home.  I’m just craving the silent emptiness of the sanctuary.

If you’re not familiar with the Tenebrae service, the idea is simple.  There’s a prayer and reading, followed by the extinguishing of a candle.  The readings can vary a bit but they trace the last day of Jesus, from the Last Supper to the crucifixion.  Normally readings are drawn from all four gospels but our congregation has been reading from Mark this Lenten season so I pulled all my readings from there for continuity.  A standard outline and explanation can be found on Ken Collins site.

As for the number of readings, that can vary.  I have seven which is actually is a mystical kind of number but in all honesty, it’s just because I have seven candles.  Many services have 8 or more readings.  So if you’re home with more or less candles, do whatcha gotta do.

I hope this reaches you if you’re in need of centering, prayer and reading today.  No matter how you’ve observed the week, remember: Easter is coming!



Picture reflection

Picture reflection

Pictures are a great way to invite people to think about something “big.” For this simple, simple discussion primer, grab a few pictures. I had about 50, but only because I’d been using them for a retreat. For a family, 10 or 15 will do the trick. Even 5, if it’s just you and a child or two. Do your best to get a variety of types of pictures–nature, abstract art prints, paintings, etc.

Maybe something like this bird:

Or perhaps this heart shaped tomato piece that my daughter found:

Works of art, postcards, greeting card fronts all work great for this and you can mix and match. However, I’d suggest avoiding anything that has familiar people in it. You’ll get deeper conversation when kids have to think about it a little bit. So here’s the set up:

Take your pictures and lay them out on a table. Ask kids to pick one that reminds them of love. My daughter chose a butterfly.butterfly-rhododendron_65514_100x75

The next question is both the easiest and hardest: “Why?” For younger kids, you’ll need something like, “What makes you think of love in that picture?” For older kids, “Why are you drawn to that picture?” Use language your kiddos understand.

My little one answered, “I don’t know. I just think butterflies are like love.” I left it there because I know her and I know that after some time, this idea will resurface. If not, I’ll help it resurface by bringing the picture out again. That’s also a perfectly reasonable answer for a 6 year old, even if that’s as far as it goes. If the timing is right, though, you can question a little more. Important! Affirm their answer first, before asking more questions! “That’s a really interesting observation, how are butterflies like love?” “Oh, butterflies remind me of love too (if they do), why do you think they remind us of love?

For older kids, you can connect this to God’s love. “How is God’s love like a butterfly?” For younger kids, keep it simple and trust that you’ve planted seeds that will grow in their heads and hearts and lead to many more discussions in the future.