In the midst of busy lives, carving out time to pause and reflect can seem counter-intuitive.
Taking time to pause and reflect can be beneficial activities in and of themselves. Therefore we hope that some of the ideas below will be useful to everyone, whether or not you believe in God. However, as Christians we also believe that, for those who want it to, these practices can create space in which we can meet God in a powerful way. Here we can offer everything that is going on in our lives to God, allowing him to help us carry our burdens, and giving him space to speak, comfort and shape us.
The goal here is not to transcend or become detached from reality or everyday life. Instead, prayer and mindfulness are immensely practical, and arguably provide us with the vital re-direction and resources we need to face life successfully.
Learning to Stop
When we first try reflection, prayer or mindfulness, it can be hard! We find our minds racing with thoughts and ideas. We might feel guilty because we're not doing something more 'productive'. We might resent the idea of stopping when we could be getting on with so many other more pressing tasks. Be assured that this is all completely normal! Learning to stop takes time and practice. There is no magic bullet or goal that you're trying to get to, so be easy on yourself.
Remember also that although we may come to prayer with things on our minds that we want to give to God, or seeking guidance, there is also great value in simply 'wasting time' with God. It doesn't matter if we come away feeling like we haven't got the answers we were looking for. Learning to stop creates the space in which God can speak, but can also be about simply enjoying companionable silence. It also makes us more able to hear his voice at other times and places.
- Find a place where you can be comfortable, with a cup of tea if you want, and preferably away from noise and distractions.
- If sitting, be comfortable but try not to slouch. Some people find it helpful to have their palms open and facing upwards on their laps.
- Give yourself a few moments to pause, and allow your breathing and heartbeat to slow down. Allow the quiet to slowly enfold you.
- One of the first things we become aware when we come to silence is just how much noise there is in our heads! If there are thoughts and ideas which keep coming into your head, don't fight them but briefly let them run their course. Then try and set them aside for now. If it's something you're worried about remembering, jot down a short note to remind you later.
- Some people find it helpful to use a short prayer, repeated slowly and allowing every word to sink in. See below for some examples. Others use a practice called Lectio Divina - reading a short passage from Scripture carefully and allowing God to use our imaginations to speak to us. You can do this with any passage of Scripture, but click here to see some examples as starting points, as well as some other helpful pointers.
- As you begin to feel surrounded by a sense of calm, try not to fight it, but go with the moment. You may feel a sense of God's presence, or a feeling of deep peace. However you may feel nothing at all. Even if that is the case, don't give up too quickly but try to remain where you are.
- There may be things on your mind - sources of stress, anxiety, fears, doubts, anger and so on. It is often only when we allow ourselves the time and space to stop that we become aware of these things, or are able to put our finger on them. In the quiet, offer these things to God, asking him to take them from you.
- There may also be things that you want to ask God for. Again, offer these to him. This can be spoken out loud, offered in silent thought, or written down - whichever you feel most comfortable with and allows you to express yourself.
- Finally, it may be that God has things that he wants to say to you. If any phrases, words or ideas come to mind, make a mental or written note of them. They make not make much sense now, but might take on a new meaning at another time.
As mentioned above, it can be helpful to use short words or prayers to help make us aware of the presence of God. Try saying one of the following slowly, repeating it if you want. Try to allow the words to sink into your imagination and heart. What does it mean to say and mean these words?
The Jesus Prayer
'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'
Deep peace of the running wave to you.
Deep peace of the flowing air to you.
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.
Deep peace of the shining stars to you.
Deep peace of the gentle night to you.
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you.
Deep peace of Christ,
of Christ the light of the world to you.
Deep peace of Christ to you.
A Celtic Blessing
God to enfold me,
God to surround me,
God in my speaking,
God in my thinking.
God in my sleeping,
God in my waking,
God in my watching,
God in my hoping.
God in my life,
God in my lips,
God in my soul,
God in my heart.
God in my sufficing,
God in my slumber,
God in mine ever-living soul,
God in mine eternity.
Paying attention to the natural world around us can be a great way of slowing down, gaining some perspective and, if we want to, encounter. Psalm 19 talks about creation 'declaring the glory of God' and revealing him to us.
It's good, therefore, to get outside, again with no particular sense of purpose but simply to enjoy the moment and pay attention to many of the things we rush past on a daily basis.
Listen to the birds, feel the breeze, pay attention to the intricate structures of the plants and leaves, watch the spider making its web, follow the bees as they move from flower to flower. And in doing so allow God to speak to you through them.
It might be helpful to read Jesus' words in Matthew 6:25-34 (see left). Here he points to the natural world as a way of putting our own worries and lives in perspective. Read the words and think about the burdens and worries you are carrying. Are you able to trust God in the midst of these?
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?
“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.