What's on your mind? Worries of tomorrow or regrets of yesterday? Many meditation techniques call us to focus our minds in a particular way. In one approach, called Dialectic Behavior Therapy (or DBT), mindfulness refers to an orientation to the present moment and non-judgment of thought. Rooted in Buddhist principles, it is meant to help people connect with themselves and their environment in an intentional way and to steer away from fretting about the future or the past by fully accepting the present moment.
While this specific brand of mindfulness is based on Buddhist ideas, mindfulness itself is a concept richly rooted in our Christian Biblical tradition. Psalm 8:4-6 talks about God being mindful, or sharply aware and considerate of, His people and their needs: "What are human beings that you are mindful of them?…Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor" (NRSV). Time and time again throughout scripture, we are asked to use our minds--our awareness, our focus, our intelligence--in worship of God. We are even called to renew our minds so that we can discern God’s will (Romans 12:2). The biblical question is: how can we focus on realigning our minds with God’s word and will, to attend to more of what he is doing than to what we are fussing about. Christian mindfulness realigns us with God, to His working in the world and in our minds.
As we prepare our hearts and minds once again for Christ’s coming this Advent season, I encourage your family to incorporate a small mindfulness practice into your tradition; make a discipline out of daily reorienting yourself and your family to God’s word and work through focused awareness of His presence.
Try this practice, or create your own:
Gather the family at a time where nobody is going to be rushing to a game or meeting (perhaps at a family meal, or before bed). Pray and ask God to be present with you as you begin this new practice. Talk with your family about mindfulness as turning your awareness to God. Encourage all family members to focus solely on this activity, acknowledging then releasing distracting thoughts as they come. Light a candle. Read Isaiah 9:2: "The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined." Invite your family to look into the flame as it burns, and to notice any new understanding that God brings. After several minutes of quiet (or as long as your family needs), share your observations. Did God bring new awareness of the meaning of his coming? Did you struggle with distraction? Talk about this as a family. End in prayer, and return to the practice again tomorrow.
The practice of mindfulness can look like the exercise above, or it can be as simple as sitting in a quiet place and noticing where God leads your thoughts. Have patience with yourself. It is called practice for a reason! Through habitual practice of the peaceful awareness of mindfulness, you can become better able to dismiss distraction and more aware of God’s work in your heart--moment by moment.