The snow started early in Michigan this year, sprinkling our conversations with constant commentary (i.e. grumbling) about the weather. Amidst the grumbling, there is one frequent comment that goes something like this: "I love the snow for the first couple of snowfalls each year--it's so beautiful. But by the time February rolls around, I'll be thinking about moving to Florida." This gets me thinking. What changes between November and February that causes us to no longer see the beauty of snow? The snow itself doesn't change. A snowflake is just as stunning whenever it falls, each miraculously shaped in its own unique way (how is that possible??!). If I take one photo of freshly fallen snow in November and another in February, there will be little difference between the two.
These types of experiences allow us the rare opportunity of seeing our experience through fresh eyes, of noticing old things (snow, hot showers, warm beds, walking...) as if they are new. Which, in fact, they are--no one moment exactly the same as another. (Need I point out the metaphor of the snowflake here?) To see these moment-to-moment, God-saturated, one-of-a-kind experiences for what they are. Miracles. Gifts. Life.
"Behold, I am making all things new" says God in Revelation 21:5. My pastor assures us that this new-making is not just something we are waiting around for until we get to heaven--it's already happening. In the here and now, God is making all things new. When I see life with active wonder...when I enter each experience as if for the very first time...I find that all things are indeed being made new. This snow flake, brand new--I've never seen this design before! This warm shower, brand new--I've never felt this one before! This step, brand new--what a miracle that my body is supported on my foot in this way, in this moment! This breath, brand new--what a gift, my body breathing itself without any conscious direction from me! This glass of cold water, brand new--how will this particular water catch the light or feel on my throat? All things, made new, moment to moment.
So I am practicing using fresh eyes, coming to each moment as if it is the first time I have experienced it...because it is. Surely this is part of what it means to enter the kingdom like little children (Matthew 18:3)--to be full of wonder and amazement as the world is rolled out before me, moment to moment. To walk the journey of life in the same way that a two year old walks down a sidewalk, stopping to notice and examine and experience each thing -- a stick! a leaf! a stone! a flag! To recognize that in each moment, I am experiencing something new that I have never before experienced--bringing freshness and openness to the experience in a way that allows me to live each moment of life as it actually is rather than being blinded by how I assume it to be.
"Behold, I am making all things new."
I am learning something new: I have everything I need.
I've always known this conceptually. I grew up reciting the Twenty-third Psalm, beginning with these words: The Lord is my Shepherd--I have everything I need. I knew that I could theoretically be content in every circumstance (Phil. 4:12), and at Jesus' encouragement I had considered the lilies of the field (Matthew 6:28). I understood what grace meant--that God loves me unconditionally, and that I do not need to change anything to be accepted.
But... My wardrobe was not trendy enough. My mood was not happy enough. My stomach was not flat enough. My city was not gritty enough. My personality was not warm enough. My people were not kind enough. My God was not helpful enough.
This was a miserable way to live.
God began to slowly break down these ideas of "not enough" fifteen years ago, when I married a wise and gracious man who has shaken up my thinking in all kinds of areas. But He stepped up the pace six years ago when we moved into a new house that needed LOTS of work. We were paralyzed by the enormity of the Pandora's Box of projects, and the work was not going quickly enough. For a few weeks, our kitchen was gutted and a temporary kitchen set up in the dining room. There was ugly carpet everywhere. Our furnace blasted so loudly that we could barely carry on a conversation, and our bathroom was a horrendous assortment of oddly placed amenities. During a season when we desperately needed new friends, there was no way we were having people over to our house, and it was clear that life was not the way it was supposed to be. I was not happy.
In the midst of my despair over this situation and others, God spoke to me. You have everything you need. It is enough. With great reluctance, I was forced to acknowledge that if I couldn't practice contentment when my kitchen was disassembled, I would not be content when my kitchen was assembled. As impossible as it seemed, I was going to have to practice contentment with my house exactly as it was--unfinished and messy. I couldn't continue to postpone contentment until my life was deserving of it. To be happy, I was going to have to be content with my life as it had been given, not only as I thought it was supposed to be. I was going to have to practice living my life as if it was exactly what I had chosen.
Practice has been the key word. Contentment is a discipline that is practiced in the mind and the heart, over and over and over. And mindfulness has provided me with the tool I've needed for this practice.
First of all, mindfulness allows me to notice all of those discontented thoughts floating in my mind (of which I was largely unaware in the past). Secondly, mindfulness trains me in accepting each moment exactly as it is, focusing in on the calm core beneath the tattered fringes. Thirdly, mindfulness helps me notice and experience what is good in each situation (and there is always something, no matter how dire the circumstance). Fourthly, mindfulness opens my heart so that I can detect God's presence, who whispers to me every time that I am enough, exactly as I am, fully covered by His grace, lovingly enveloped in His provision.
All of this is right there in the Twenty-third Psalm that I recited as a kid: I have everything I need. In this moment, in this life, exactly as it is. My cup runs over.
I am Irene Kraegel. I work as a clinical psychologist and teach mindfulness on a faith-based college campus. I practice mindfulness because it opens me up to God (a.k.a. brings joy). I am writing here in hopes of sharing some of my experiences and thoughts related to the practice of mindfulness in the life of a Christian. Thanks for reading!
© Irene Kraegel 2014-2019
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