I was asked to translate some spiritual practices into non-spiritual language for classroom settings for a seminar at the Nevada Reading Week Conference. Since our beautiful conference got snowed out, I thought it would be fun to share those here, for you or your teacher friends to try!
Mindfulness in the Classroom, by Jacci Turner
The sympathetic nervous system prepares the body for intense physical activity and is often referred to as the “fight-or-flight” response. The parasympathetic nervous system has the opposite effect as it relaxes the body by inhibiting or slowing many high energy functions. Sometimes called the rest and digest system, the parasympathetic system conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract. Techniques which stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system help us feel more calm.
1. Deep breathing: Deep breathing increases the supply of oxygen to your brain and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which promotes a state of calmness.
Ask your students to sit with their feet on the floor and their hands on their desks or in their laps. Have them take several deep breaths, picturing the in-breath as moving all the way down to their toes, and the out-breath as moving all the way to the tops of their heads. This exercise balances and stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system — which will calm your students. You can do this in two minutes!
Additional ideas: You can ask your students to give the in-breath a color, e.g. blue, and another color to the out-breath. This simple mindfulness technique helps us remain present with our bodies in an easy and relaxed way.
Or, you can have your students picture their negative emotions going out of their bodies with the exhale and the positive emotions coming in with the inhale, e.g. “As you breathe in, picture yourself breathing in strength and courage and as you exhale, picture yourself sending all of your insecurities out of your body.”
1. The Examine: Have your students sit comfortably with their eyes closed. Have them think back through their day and search for a time when they felt they were their best selves: the most true and good part of who they are. Maybe they were kind to a friend or a pet or did something their parent asked without arguing. This might take a minute, like searching through a backpack for a pencil; you know it’s there, you just have to find it.
Then, when they have found that memory, have them savor that memory using all five senses: touch, taste, feel, sound, and smell. This will anchor the memory to their long-term memory. It takes about 30 seconds to anchor a memory.
Then repeat the exercise looking for a time during the day when they fell short of their best self. Maybe they were short with someone, or got angry unnecessarily. Let that memory land lightly on their hand, like a butterfly. Say to it, “you are a part of me, and next time, I’ll do better.” Then blow on the butterfly and let it fly away. This is not a time to beat ourselves up and we don’t want these memories to stick in our long-term memories — just acknowledge them and let them go.
2. Welcoming: Have your students sit comfortably and ask them to identify any difficult feelings they might be having, such as anger, sadness, fear, or anxiety. Allow them to let themselves welcome that feeling and really feel it. Where do they feel it in their body? Is it in their stomach? Their brain? Their back? Ask them to tell the feeling “I know you are a part of me and I welcome you.” Then let them just sit with the feeling for a few moments. Then, have them say to the feeling, “Right now, I need to get back to my day, so please take a back seat; you are allowed to be here, but not allowed to drive. It’s okay if you stay with me, but you cannot be in control because I am in control. If it’s important we can talk more later.” Then, take a deep breath and let that feeling go.
3. Walking and breathing: First, have the students practice breathing in slowly through their noses and out slowly through their mouths. Then challenge them to make their exhale one second longer than their inhale. Have them walk and count their steps as they inhale: one, two, three, four. Then have them try to exhale one more step: one, two, three, four, five. However, many inhale steps they can take, they are to try to add one more exhale step. They can do this around the classroom or on the playground, concentrating on their breath. Again, this balances the parasympathetic nervous system.
4. Body Listening: Have the students sit comfortably and close their eyes. Have them take an internal scan of their bodies. If there is a part of their body that draws their attention, have them focus on that part and try to see what is happening. Ask, “What is that part trying to tell you? It might be saying that you’re hungry, or tired, or you need to go to the bathroom or that you’ve injured yourself in some way. It could be saying something metaphysical. Tell your body you are listening and you will take care of its need ASAP.”
5. Breath Affirmation: Chose a name for yourself that is positive and that you would like to be called. Maybe it’s a name someone you love calls you like, “sweetheart” or “honey,” or a nickname you like. Then think of something you need when you are anxious. A word like “breathe,” or “calm,” or “relax.” Then, put the two together and think the first one on the inhale: “Sweetheart,” and the second one on the exhale: “Breathe” Use this reminder silently during stressful situations: “Sweetheart (inhale) Breathe (exhale) Sweetheart (inhale) Breathe (exhale)…”
6. Reading: Reading to a child is one of the simplest ways to calm them and help them stay present.
Jacci Turner is an Amazon bestselling author of Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction. Her MG book, Bending Willow represented Nevada at the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. That book is the first book in, The Finding Home Series, and Jacci recently released the fifth book in the series, Willow’s Roundup. The series will soon be coming out in hardback for Libraries and Schools. You can find it and all of Jacci’s books on Amazon and other online outlets. Jacci is on most social media outlets or you can find her on her website at Jacciturner.com and her blog on Spiritual Practices at https://jacciturner.wordpress.com. She enjoys speaking in schools. As a former school counselor, she loves children very much.
These photos link to some great websites for mindfulness in the classroom.
My friend Catherine Gregg says the goal of our spiritual growth is “Oneness with God.” I’d add, “Oneness with God and each other,” but I don’t think you can separate the two; they are dependent on each other.
But what is oneness? Is it a pie-in-the-sky ideal, or is it something we can experience here on earth? I’d like to suggest it is what we are working toward every day, and we will occasionally get to experience it. Perhaps we will experience it more and more over time. It takes time because we have to get past a huge roadblock — the space between us. Any space that keeps us apart, the color of our skin, our social economic status, our voting record, our religious or sexual preferences, all of these things keep us separated into us-and-them categories. But, sometimes we can see beyond that into oneness.
Here’s a story to illustrate:
I don’t go around hugging strangers. I’m warm and affectionate to my family and close friends, but the church I’m currently visiting has a greeting time where everyone hugs each other. It feels very uncomfortable to me, though I’m trying to get past the awkwardness of strangers invading my bubble.
But, recently I went to visit a new hospice patient in her home. I was met by her daughter, who is about sixty years old, and who is also her mother’s caregiver. When she invited me in, she stopped and pointed to a dog bed on the floor with a blanket draped over it. She looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “My dog just died.” Before I could even consider what I was doing, I had her in my arms and held her while she cried. In that moment, we were one. We were not strangers meeting for the first time, we were humans, together in an experience of deep loss that we could both relate to. Even though we had just met, the otherness of her was swept aside by our common pain and shared experience. That is what I mean by oneness, or unity; it is a goal for the human race to be that with each other and with God. It is developing the ability to see beyond our differences to our shared human experience.
But most often we are dualistic, like the way I feel at the church I’m visiting. I am me, and you are you, and why are you getting into my space? This is also true of much of our thinking, it is either/or, black/white, us/them, in/out. I’m not saying it’s always bad to be separate and have boundaries, I’m just saying our long term spiritual goal moves us away from the things that separate us toward a unity of being, with each other and with God. In the words of the Quakers, we “look for that of God in each other.”
A prayer that I often pray before my day begins is, “God, give me your eyes today. Help me see people the way you do.” I challenge you to try this and see if it makes a difference. Let me know what you find out.
I can hear what you’re thinking right now, “Now THERE’S a spiritual practice I can get into!”
The first time I went in for a massage I was surprised to find myself crying. But, the massage therapist was not surprised. She said it happens a lot because massage releases stress, tension and trauma from within the body.
I’d heard about body memory during my training as a Marriage and Family Therapist, but I wasn’t sure that I believed it. How could our very cells hold a memory? Then one day I was sitting in my private counseling practice, across from a woman who was describing a difficult memory that she had never told anyone. She recounted how, years before, an abuser had grabbed her arm and as she spoke to me four finger sized bruises appeared on her arm. Did you catch that? Four bruises in the shape of the abuser’s fingers appeared on her arm before my eyes!
The cells of her body had held that memory all those years.
This is why I’m including massage in a blog on spiritual practices. We are whole people. You’ve heard me say before that the ancient eastern understanding of the soul is body, mind and spirit – all three. But, when it comes to trauma, most of us look for healing for our spirit and our mind, but forget to include our bodies.
A friend of mine who runs spiritual practice retreats in Fresno California, suggested CranioSacral therapy is another body practice that can be helpful in releasing deep trauma and tension through a light touch to pressure points in your head. He actually has a CranioSacral therapist come to his retreats and offer 15-minute sessions, saying that it goes hand in hand with other spiritual practices to bring health and healing to the whole soul.
So, here’s some homework you have always wished someone would give you: Go get a massage!! Or try CranioSacral therapy. Don’t have much money? Most cities have schools where students will give you a one-hour massage at a greatly reduced rate. Enjoy!
Now for some shameless self-promotion: We’ve just finished creating new covers for my Finding Home Series and I think they look amazing. Plus, book five is almost out! So, if you have, or know of a child age eight and up, please share this series. It is very popular with the kiddos. Here is a text I received two days ago from a friend regarding the first book, Bending Willow:
“So, my “little brother” (through big Brothers big sisters) was describing to me a book today. He begins with, “I really don’t usually read books about girls lives, but this one was recommended to me by my teacher, and they went to burning man… it was soooo good.” He described the scene and then I asked him if the book was by chance called Bending Willow. He said yes, and I told him my friend actually wrote that book. He said he loves it, and he wants me to get his copies autographed 😀
Thanks for reading and I would love to hear if any of you have tried CranioSacral therapy and how it was for you. Also, how massage has helped your soul!
I don’t know where you are in relation to Scripture, you might see it as your rule for living, you might see it as a book of wisdom, you might see it as your final authority, you might see it as an oppressively abused and abusing book.
But, a recent seminar* reminded me that The Psalms give us words for our experience. The Psalms help us know how to talk to God. The Psalms were written as songs to be read or chanted corporately, and that is still a powerful way to enjoy them. But, they can also be an incredible source of strength and comfort for us individually.
Did you know that of the one hundred and fifty psalms, they can be broken down into three helpful categories?
About 72 psalms are Psalms of Orientation – These talk about the way life is supposed to be: God is good, and if you follow God, your life will be good. These Psalms keep you oriented in a positive direction. If you were sailing in a boat, these psalms would be the smooth sailing water, or if there were waves, you would still know God is with you and you could see the shore from your boat. Psalm One is a perfect example of a psalm of orientation; here are vs 1-3.
“Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
3 He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
About 62 psalms are Psalms of Disorientation — That is ALMOST half of all the psalms in the Bible! These are psalms for when life and our experience of God leaves us disappointed, dis-eased, disillusioned. When our faith is hanging by a thread we pray these psalms. If you were in boat, it would be capsized and you would be drowning. These include the Psalms of lament, which can give us words to talk to God when we are in distress. At our present time in history when things seem to be going so wrong in our world, these psalms can give us a kind of template for our lament. Some of these psalms end in hope, but not all. Consider these lines from Psalm 142:4
In the path where I walk
they have hidden a trap for me.
Look to the right and see:
there is none who takes notice of me;
no refuge remains to me;
no one cares for my soul.
Unfortunately, in many parts of our current Christian culture, we have forgotten how to lament. This is especially true for white Christians; many non-white cultures still feature traditions of lament. In fact, the book of Lamentations and the Psalms of Lament have been removed from many modern prayer books. What we are left with is a Happy-Clappy Christianity, which can do us a great disservice when we deny our suffering an leave lament out of our prayers. After all, the Old Testament writers felt that almost half of our life will be about suffering and we need some words to navigate that!
The Jews still understand this. During each Sabbath service they pray a Psalm of Lament for all those who are hurting. This “kaddish” is sung in a minor key. How beautiful is that? Words for our pain, prayed corporately, are healing.
About 13 of the psalms are Psalms of Reorientation – Nope, our boat did not get righted so we can go our merry way. Instead we were picked up by the coast guard and placed on a completely new shore. We learn a new language after our grief has left us different than we were before. Why are there so few of these psalms? There are two thoughts on this:
1) Sadly, when the psalms were written,most people did not live to see the answer to their pain. Sometimes we die in our disorientation, but that doesn’t mean it is not a holy place.
2) If they did make it to the new shore, they were too busy re-orienting themselves to the new country to write about it. Think about how often you make it through a rough patch and forget to go back and thank God for it. This is not a guilt trip, but just an acknowledgement that finding yourself in a new country can be overwhelming and it may take awhile to unpack the experience.
Some people consider Psalm 23 a psalm of re-orientation because the writer is able to say:
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil;
For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
Our ultimate hope is to survive our disorientation and to come out on the other side with some hope and faith, but the other side it will look different; we cannot un-see what we have seen in our times of disorientation.
Have you found the Psalms helpful in talking to God? I’d love to hear how you have used them. Here is a site where you can use a template to write your own Psalm of Lament.
*Most of these ideas were presented at a spiritual direction training by the Rev. Dr. Catherine Gregg and are used here with her permission.
We’ve all had relationships that changed from healing and helpful to damaging and unhelpful. Many of us have had these kinds of relationships within our own families. Some of us have worked at jobs that, because of toxic cultures, were sucking the life from our souls. Some of us have attended churches that became so controlling we were dying on the vine.
How do you extricate yourself from this kind of damaging relationship, job or church? There are good ways and bad ways to make the exit.
You try and you try, but when you really need to leave, when that is what is best for your soul, it’s important to leave with as much peace as you can. I love the wisdom that says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)
And that is where Blessing and Releasing come in. Is there a way you can draw a firm and healthy boundary to separate yourself from a toxic person or environment and yet live in peace?
May you have the courage to listen to the voice of desire
That disturbs you when you have settled for something safe.
Here’s how to know if it’s time to Bless and Release:
- Take a piece of paper and draw a line vertically down the middle of the page. Label one side “Pros” and one side “Cons.” Then write honestly about the thing or person you are considering leaving. If the Con side is heavily weighted, it might be time to bless and release.
- Go to a mentor or spiritual adviser, someone who knows you well and yet can be objective. Ask for their honest opinion about leaving. If you have two or three folks who can help you with that kind of wisdom, get more than one opinion. This will help you know if it is time to bless and release.
- Pay attention to your body, mind and spirit. When this person calls, do you cringe? When it’s time for work, do you get a heavy feeling of dread in the pit of your stomach? Is your inner voice screaming at you to “get out?” Our body wisdom is important to listen to when deciding to bless and release.
- Sit comfortably in a chair. Let yourself believe that you have already made the decision to leave. Feel it in your body as if it has happened. How does it feel? Do the same exercise as if you have decided to stay. Compare and contrast. This is a good way to get in touch with your true feelings to know if it is time to bless and release.
Then, if it is time, picture the person, job or church cupped in your hands. Slowly open your hands and offer them to God. Pray a blessing over them and let them go. Follow through with whatever it takes to make this happen in your life: a change in relationship, quitting a job, leaving a church…
You might need to hold this person or place before God and let it go more than once! It is so important to bless and release, rather than break off and curse. If we break off relationships and curse those left behind, we become bitter and angry. It hurts only ourselves and leaves a trail of brokenness behind us. To bless and release will put you in a much healthier place as you move on to what is next. And what is next is sure to be a softer, wider and more spacious resting place for your soul.
Have you tried blessing and releasing? I’d love to hear how it went for you.
I’m taking a moment from my blog for some shameless self promotion!
January 2nd marks a big day for me. The Paperback publication of The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening is finally available! Woot!
I’m very excited to hold this book in my hand.
About the Book
A week at a retreat becomes a transformational journey of faith renewal for a young Christian suffering a crisis of the soul in this poignant, illuminating, and spiritually wise teaching novel for fans of Jen Hatmaker, Shauna Niequist, and Brene Brown.
For her entire life, Amy considered her evangelical Christian upbringing the foundation of her life and beliefs. But when she stands up for her gay best friend, Amy is ostracized and banished from the church she loves—resulting in a crisis of the spirit that causes her to doubt her conservative upbringing as she enters her thirties. Seeing Amy’s pain, a caring friend raises the money to send her on a week-long retreat for contemplative activism, hoping that a few days of quiet reflection will help her rekindle her faith.
At the retreat, Amy meets two women her age-teachers who introduce her to new types of prayer—as well as Celeste, a seasoned church mentor who takes Amy under her wing and gently shows her new ways to practice her religious beliefs. In the course of just a few days, Amy finds an inspiring and more meaningful view of God.
How can you help?
1.You can post a link to the book on your social media. goo.gl/EpYxjD
2. You can buy the book: for yourself, for a friend, or to send to a jail (hey, inmates need to read. If you do this you must have it sent directly to the jail’s address, they won’t take anything that’s been opened).
3. Then, when you read it, you can write a review for me. Reviews, unfortunately, are the way books sell these days. Don’t you look at reviews now when you buy something online? I do, so a review would be SUPER appreciated!!
In other writing related news:
I’m getting all new covers for the Finding Home Series – and – the books will also be coming out in hardback! Librarians and Teachers tell me that paperbacks don’t last in schools so I’m hoping hardbacks will get that series into the hands of schools. It continues to be a popular series.
I had to change the covers because the little girls on the covers only had so many pictures I could buy. Also, I made the rookie mistake of using a title for the fourth book in the series that was inconsistent with the first three books. I used the name “Riley” instead of “Willow.” So the fourth book has been renamed Willow’s Ride, with a matching cover to tie it back in. And…the fifth book, Willow’s Roundup will be out soon! Whew!
In the meantime: I’ve got two fiction and one non-fiction books I’m shopping to publishers, so I’ll tell you more about those later.
Thank you for caring about my writing and helping me get the word out about my books. It means a great deal. I hope 2018 is a wonderful year for you and yours. If you’d like to be added to my quarterly book news list, email me at jacci at renoshalom dot com.
I’m in a car, heading to the retreat center with two friends, and our conversation topics include Dolly Parton, letting go of baggage, and having your breasts cut off. What on earth were we talking about? The dreams we had the night before. It was interesting to me that the day after I’d decided to write about the importance of dreams, we all had spiritually significant dreams to talk about! Especially my Dolly Parton dreaming friend, who never remembers her dreams.
Dream interpretation has gotten a bad rap over the years because it’s often been done poorly. But, done well, it can become a very beneficial spiritual practice. I tried it about seven years ago when someone mentioned it could be helpful. I found a book called, The Chocolate Covered Umbrella, a short book that looked at dreams from a Jungian perspective.
The book encourages you to get a notebook and start writing down your dreams, even fragments of dreams, as soon as you can in the morning. In fact, savoring them before you even get out of bed will help you remember them. Writing down these scraps of dreams will “prime the pump,” and you’ll begin to remember more and more of your dreams.
You don’t have to focus on the images, e.g. A snake= sex or flying=freedom, in fact, I would caution against that. But, after you right down the dream, you can ask yourself these questions.
- How did the dream make me feel? Different parts may have raised different feelings.
- Take each character in the dream and ask: if that character (person, dog, etc.) is a part of me, what is that part of me saying, wanting, needing?
- Is there an overall theme to the dream? This can be interesting over time if you begin to see the same theme emerging from several dreams; it may be important to listen to.
- Is there something the dream is leading me to do? Change? Release? Heal?
A word about nightmares. Nightmares are just as important as dreams, maybe even more so. If you have a nightmare, try this (when you are awake and safe). Picture the monster or scary part of the nightmare and have a conversation with it. Ask, “What are you trying to tell me?” “What do you need?”
I did this dream journaling for a solid year and it was really helpful. I believe there is great Biblical evidence that God speaks to people through dreams. But, there are also pastrami dreams that you get from eating weird food, and there are also stress dreams. Stress dreams are the most common types of dreams and help you sort out your day-to-day life, the things on your mind when you go to bed. All types of dreams can be a fountain of wisdom and information from your unconscious, to help you learn and grow during your waking hours.
But, God dreams are the most significant! They might bring significant healing or give you wisdom about a difficult decision. Don’t worry about discerning the different kinds of dreams, just enjoy getting to know your unconscious self through your dreams. Pondering God dreams led me to write my first book series, The Birthright Series, in which I used dreams to lead a group of teens to help people in trouble.
Hold on to your dream journal though. I took mine to a conference and left it in the night stand at the hotel. When I called the Hotel to ask, they could not find it. That means somewhere out there someone is reading a journal thinking, “Wow, this person must have been on drugs!”
Give dream journaling a try and let me know what you discover. Have you tried it before? I’d love to know how it went for you.
*Don’t forget, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening is coming out in paperback. Get your copy now. It’s full of fun spiritual practices for you to try and has a great story line too!
I’m writing over at Me-At-Last today about Soul Care. This applies to all ages. Start here then head over!
What comes to mind when you think about caring for your soul? In ancient wisdom, the soul is made up of three distinct parts:
- The Body,
- The Mind, and
- The Spirit.
Therefore, caring for the soul must also honor all three parts of who we are.
Wisdom of the Body
The body: We sometimes forget that our body is full of wisdom if we just take the time to listen. Try this: While sitting or lying quietly, let your mind scan your body. If there is any part that draws your attention, really focus on it. Then ask, “What do you need from me?” You’ll be surprised to hear that your body will be quick to tell you. It might just point out the obvious: “I need food, exercise or sex.” But, you might hear something more nuanced, “I need you to step out and take a risk,” “I need you to go see that dermatologist,” “I need more time to play.”
If you’re enjoying these blogs, you might also enjoy my new book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening.
When I hear the word “rule” the rebel in me instantly reacts. Most of us can’t keep a New Year’s Resolution, let alone a list of rules to live by. But a Rule of Life is not about making a list of rules, it’s more about discovering what is important to you and building a trellis upon which those values might grow.
The Rule of Life came out of the desert mothers and fathers from the 3rd and 4th centuries. Interestingly, I recently did a Vision Board with some friends and found the process of working through the Rule of Life very similar. I once hired a business coach, (she’s amazing; here’s her link) and she also took me through a very similar process to find my goals for my business as an author. So, as with many spiritual practices, this wisdom from so long ago, has entered many different areas of our world today.
An important caution about creating a Rule of Life is the need to take your time. What you’re looking at are the different areas of your life: Your spirituality, your family, your work, your health, your friendships and how you give back to the world. When you find your core values in each area you can see everything else more clearly. It’s a clarification exercise. When you find out what is most important, you can make better decisions about what you want to keep and what you want to let go. Your Rule of Life can help you get back on track when you find yourself lost on a rabbit trail.
Here are two different ways to start.
- Brainstorm a list of fifty values that are important to you. Then narrow the list to only ten. Try living with that list for a week or two, looking at it daily. You may have to drop or add values to your list until you come to your top ten most important priorities.
- Another way to begin includes a vision exercise. Sit comfortably in your chair and breathe. Picture yourself on a bench somewhere safe and comfortable. Have Jesus or a spiritual leader you respect sit next to you. Tell that other person what you value most and how you want to live faithfully in the world. When you are finished listen to what they might say about what is important. (This idea comes from www.SSJE.org)
Once you have clarified your top values for each area of your life take your own pulse in each area. Are you doing what you really value with your time, energy, resources? Be gentle and loving with yourself here. This is not a “beat yourself up” moment, rather it’s a time to free yourself from unhelpful things and help you focus on the gold.
Recently I was walking under a big tree that was dropping its leaves for fall. The leaves were stunning, red, yellow, orange…and I thought, “What a beautiful waste. Why does something so lovely have to be discarded?” I knew the answer of course; the tree had to make way for new growth in the spring. Often, we have to give up good things to make room for better things. That’s what a Rule of Life can help you do.
Once you have refined your list of important values you can make a set of statements or goals to keep and place it somewhere visible. That list, is your Rule of Life. Of course, it can be revised over time as priorities change, but it’s essence will probably not change much.
Have you ever done a Rule of Life? I’d love to hear how it has helped you.
Try more spiritual practices here: The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening
Words are powerful. We see it every day when someone uses the wrong word on social media and a career is over, or a relationship, or… The wrong words can inflame a nation to war, but the right words can move a people to peace.
Recently I ran into a familiar face during my yoga class. Afterwards I said, “You are so familiar, how I know you?”
She said that we had worked together in the school district over fifteen years ago. She remembered me because she had just moved to town from a different state and knew no one. Another woman and I hosted a party for her and made her feel very welcome.
The thing is, I remember none of that; I’m absolutely blank about the whole story. But kindness stays with us, and she remembered. Then she added, “You look fantastic! You look younger now than you did back then.” Well, that made my month! Every time after that, when I thought of her words, a smile lit up my face.
Bad words stay with us too. In fact they are stickier than the good ones. I can probably remember every mean thing ever said to me. Thankfully there weren’t too many, but you can see why bullied kids sometimes take their lives.
Last week I was in a medical office and the office staff greeted me with, “Unfortunately our computers are down so please be patient with us.” I took my clipboard to sit down with the rest of those waiting patiently when a man came in. He got visibly upset when he heard the computers were down. Somehow, it was as if the office workers had done it personally to him. He threw a fit and stomped out shouting that he “didn’t have time for this sort of bulls**t.” It was very disturbing.
I went on to my appointment and on my way out heard the office workers still discussing his behavior. I imagine that it set the tone for their whole day and they would probably be retelling the story for a while. That man needed a good dose of the book of Proverbs, which has a lot of say about our words including: “A gentle answer turns anger away. But mean words stir up anger.” Proverbs 15:1
Unfortunately, we live in a time when it is easy to say bad things about others. People from both sides of the political spectrum seem eager to hurl insults online that they would never say face-to-face. I have found myself in this mindset too and I am trying to replace this behavior with either silence or kindness.
I’ve noticed that when I get attacked online, if I either don’t engage or continue over and over to respond with kindness, it takes the fight out of people. I’m trying to live from what the New Testament book of James has to say about our words, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19b
So, how do we push against our baser instincts and bless others? Here are some ideas:
First, the best way to bless is not by speaking, but by listening. If a person feels listened to they will feel loved. If they are sharing something you don’t agree with, you might say, “wow,” or “hmm,” but you don’t need to volunteer your opinion unless asked. This builds trust and relationship for a more open conversation later on. Who doesn’t like to be listened to? And here’s a bonus: the elderly and the otherwise marginalized are RARELY listened to – what a gift you can give.
Second, sometimes we toss the word “blessing” around, as in “God bless you,” when someone sneezes, or “Blessings,” at the end of a letter. But, what does giving a blessing really mean? Well, if you’ve ever received one from someone you respect, you won’t soon forget it. Have you ever had one of your parents look you in the eye and say, “I’m proud of you,”? Or a mentor that touched your shoulder and said, “Good work,”? Or had someone pray a blessing over you that sent waves of peace and love flowing through you, suddenly you’re crying and you don’t know why? These are real blessings that come from the heart. It’s as if the person giving them is giving you a part of themselves. Even if we haven’t experienced receiving these kinds of blessings, we can still give them to others.
Third, another huge way to bless is to ask for and offer forgiveness. Recently, when my boss and I had a big disagreement, it took a few days to work it through as I strongly disagreed with a decision he made. But still, he is my boss and I trust him, so at the end of the conflict, when I had calmed down, I went up and offered him a hug, saying, “I understand why you did what you did and I’m not mad at you.” He was very grateful for those words of forgiveness. And, just so you don’t freak out, I work in a hospice – we hug.
So, here is our challenge. Let’s spend November sharing blessings. It is the month of gratefulness anyway and we can give others something to be grateful for. Listening, blessing and forgiving will help bring light and love into a desperately hurting world.
How have you received blessings? How have you given them? I’d love to hear your stories.
For more on spiritual practices check out my new book, The Retreat: A Tale of Spiritual Awakening which is out in eBook and releasing in print January 2nd. Pre-order now!