by Rev. Michaele LaVigne
This is part 1 of a 2-part series. Read part 2 here.
As community development practitioners, we recognize the need for holistic development of people and places. Yet we are often at risk of forgetting that we need to think holistically about ourselves as individuals, as well. Everything that we do flows out of who we are – our soul, mind and body. And we know very well that we humans are not infinite resources. There is a limit to how much our body, mind and soul can give.
Without intentional care to nurture and refill our own limited resources, all our good work can ruin us – or we can ruin our own good work. And when we give time and attention to our own well-being, it is a blessing to our work and those we serve. Our efforts to nurture our well-being are not robbing from our work, they empower and strengthen our work!
But it’s really, really important to recognize that our well-being is not our job alone. We are not our own Good Shepherd, and we cannot restore our own souls. And yet – our Good Shepherd does not force himself upon us! It is our job to get ourselves in a posture where we can submit to and receive the care of our Good Shepherd, so that Jesus can restore our souls.
There are many ways that we can offer ourselves to our shepherd’s care, but I recommend these four essential practices as we embark on this new year:
- Cultivating Joy
- Sacred Walking
- Imaginative Prayer
The rest of this article will offer a guide to practicing silence and cultivating joy, and the next one in the series will give guidance on sacred walking and imaginative prayer.
Practicing silence is not just about the lack of audible sound; it’s about cultivating stillness within ourselves. By learning to sit in silence with ourselves, we are better able to recognize the presence of God our Good Shepherd sitting with us.
Choose the same time each day to practice silence, or choose one day a week to spend up to thirty minutes in silence. Do not listen to, read, or write anything during that time. Use one or more of the following ideas to help you get started:
- Set the timer. Five minutes is a good place to start, but it can be as little as two minutes if needed. As you grow more comfortable, you can add time.
- Take deep breaths, listening to your own inhales and exhales, to help you remember God’s presence. As God breathed into the first humans, so God breathes life into you now.
- You may want to light a candle or choose some other object to focus on.
- When you feel overwhelmed by a noisy mind, imagine yourself handing over each memory, idea, or worry to God for safe-keeping.
After your timer goes off and your silence is completed, journal about your experience. Reflect on what you felt, what thoughts emerged, and if you learned anything about yourself and/ or God in this experience. As you begin this practice, it is helpful to keep a brief record of your daily experience so you can notice the growth and gradual change.
The fruit of this practice comes slowly, so be careful not to judge it as unfruitful too soon. It can feel like you are wasting time, and you may think of a hundred things you “need” to do. Don’t take the bait! There is plenty of time outside of silence to do what needs to be done. Trust that the Spirit is at work, and keep with it.
If you find this brings discomfort, it does not mean you’re doing something wrong. For those of us who spend time outrunning our deepest emotions, memories, or fears – those will most likely be the things that become present to us during silence. Don’t be afraid of this. Instead, take it as an invitation from the Spirit to be present to those parts of yourself, and look for God’s presence there too. These painful places are often the places Jesus wants to begin conversation, in order to bring us healing and wholeness. This may be an invitation to seek therapy or talk with a spiritual director.
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit – but it is a fruit that we can either cultivate or squash. It’s easy to fill our days with problems that need to be fixed, and injustices that need to be put to right. But as Resurrection people, it’s important that we are also paying attention to what is good, right, beautiful and joyful. Joy is not a reward for your work being done, nor is it something that can only be achieved when all is right with the world. God’s joy is present at all times! Cultivating joy is a supremely subversive act, and it provides fuel for our work that resists the principalities and powers.
Make an intentional effort to cultivate joy at least once a week in one of these ways, or choose something that sparks joy for you.
- Do what you love. Whether that’s reading a novel, watching a favorite movie, playing tennis, walking through a nature center, or painting – schedule at least two hours to do it. Put it in your calendar just like any other appointment or weekly task.
- Eat something delicious. God provided taste buds and tasty food so that it could be enjoyed! If you like to cook, take one meal a week to make something new or an old favorite. Or, enjoy a favorite meal at a restaurant with friends or alone.
- Let yourself laugh. Listen to a favorite comedian, play a hilarious game, or watch a truly funny sitcom. Laughter is very good medicine, indeed.
If one of these is already a regular part of your week, think intentionally about receiving the joy of the Lord as you enjoy life.
Soul Care: A Means of Sacred Healing, Wellbeing and Shalom
About Rev. Michaele LaVigne
Rev. Michaele LaVigne is a CCDA church-planter, pastor and spiritual director living in South Bend, Indiana. She is a wife, mother, ordained elder in the Church of the Nazarene, and author of Living the Way of Jesus: Practicing the Christian Calendar One Week at a Time. You can find her on Facebook or Instagram, or email her at [email protected].