Sometimes we don’t know how hungry we are for something else until what we consume stops satisfying.

Hi my name is Devi, and I’m addicted to distraction. If you have time to listen, I want to tell you a story about why I started meditating.

I still remember in 2014 spending an hour crying in my car because of something I needed to deal with and when I finished, I picked up my phone and scrolled through Twitter in the Lidl parking lot for another hour. There were parts of my life I could not look at. I didn’t realize this because for years I thought it was my phone habits that were the problem. It is easy to notice the way social media, apps or games keep our attention, but it was more than screen time. Focusing on my tasks during the day was difficult, I often wanted to escape normal down time that I typically enjoyed, I couldn’t sit for long periods of time to work on a task. My mind wandered when I listened to a long sermon or podcast. There was a current of unease that flowed through me on regular weeks, on holiday, and during my time alone. It took several years, but I slowly uncovered why I liked being distracted.

I liked parts of my life unexamined.

The truth is it had been several hard years, and when hard years go on and on, we develop coping mechanisms to get through the days. It’s almost like I broke my leg but kept walking without having it assessed and put in a cast. My distractions were the good-enough limp that kept me from the doctor.

So I paid attention when I saw that Michelle DeRusha had a book coming out called True You: Letting Go of Your False Self to Uncover the Person God Created. What connected with me when I read True You was the idea of Japanese open pruning, a metaphor Michelle works with throughout the book. She writes:

When a Japanese gardener ‘prunes open,’ he or she cuts away not only dead branches and foliage, but also a number of perfectly healthy branches that detract from the beauty inherent in the tree’s essential structure. Pruning open allows the visitor to see up, out and beyond the trees to the sky, creating a sense of spaciousness and letting light into the garden. It also enables an individual tree to flourish by removing complicating elements, simplifying the structure and revealing its essence. The process of pruning open turns the tree inside out, so to speak, revealing the beautiful design inherent within it. Sometimes the process of pruning open requires a major restructuring – cutting back limbs and dramatically altering the form of the tree – while other times, only a gentler, more subtle reshaping is necessary.

Sometimes we don’t know how hungry we are for something else until what we consume stops satisfying. This is what happened when I felt my hunger.

For a good part of 2018, this radical restructuring slowly took place in me. It was fed by time with friends, prayer, Bible verses, music, therapy and medication. There is no one-way through radical restructuring or open pruning. It’s a team effort, it takes time.

And time has a tender way of slowly revealing next steps. 

When I started reading True You a few weeks ago, meditation became the next step. Michelle begins the book by telling us about how she started taking a few minutes every day for self-directed mental rest. She sat on the same park bench daily, in the silence and started paying attention. What followed was a year of deeper processing, of uncovering layers of her own brokenness and a discovery of what God wanted to do in her life to bring healing, renewal and a new sense of purpose. I read this, and thought, I need this. Nineteen days ago I started setting aside 10 minutes a day for, what I’m calling, meditation.

This is what I did. I told my husband I was going for a walk on a Sunday morning, I walked to the end of our street where there is a bench, and I set a timer for 10 minutes. Like Michelle instructs in her book, I tried to quiet my thoughts. I listened to the birds. And I listened to where my worried thought trails took me. I heard rustling leaves, and I heard a list of what I needed to do. It was a start. I felt more relaxed after, at the very least more oxygenated. I went on to have a great day until a few hours later I had one of the melty-downest meltdowns I’ve had in a long time. Just in case you were afraid this post would say “Meditating Changed My Life.”

It hasn’t done that. But it is changing my appetites. It is changing the strength of my mind.

It is easier to switch into work mode and work less distracted. My ability to “just write” has increased.

I move through the day less overwhelmed with all there is to do and am able to do one thing at a time and not move to the next task until I’ve finished the present one.

I can quickly spot my body’s anxiety responses and speak to it with truth.

I feel physically more relaxed.

I have an increased ability to assess situations in my life – what is really happening here? What am I responsible for? Where do I need to change? Where do I need to expect someone else to change?

My Meditation Practice

I try to aim for the same time of day. I set a timer for 10 minutes, and I sit in the silence. First I see what may rise up when I settle into the time – if it is a thought or an image, I fix my mind on it. I keep my mind focused on a particular thought or image, sometimes it is a truth from the Bible, sometimes it is a truth in my day-to-day life. I breathe in for three, hold for three and out for three until I don’t need the breaths to help me focus. I have no idea if this is mindfulness or accurate meditation, but the truth is I do not care.

Ultimately this practice has been for me about establishing a habit and a mental discipline. In the same way that doing bicep curls will strengthen my arms and help me one day do a real pull up, training my brain to think on one thing and eliminate distractions is building a muscle.

My Meditation Rules

I put my phone on flight mode.

I set a timer for 12 minutes, so that I have a few minutes to settle into it. The aim is 10 minutes daily, and I know when to stop when the timer rings.

I never let myself wonder if I am doing this right. This is the one thought that I am not allowed to think, and yes, it comes up every time I meditate. That I’m doing it is more important to me than how I’m doing it.

I don’t have a place for meditation, but this is because of my life. Some days of the week I’m home with the kids, so I have to do it in the bedroom, when I’m alone I have more options of where I can do it. I don’t put pressure on myself to do it in the same place. Again, the point for me is the 10 minutes of self-directed mental rest.

If I’m alone with the kids at home, they watch something while I’m meditating because this is the only way I can guarantee 10 minutes without interruption. Of the 19 days I’ve done it so far, only one session got interrupted by a kid who needed a box of tissues. Hashtag real life.

In conclusion, friends, I am grateful for the slow ways our lives can change. I’m grateful for the resources God puts in our paths. I’m grateful for the way Truth is embedded into various corners of our cosmos, grateful that we don’t need to fear. And I am grateful for the way God made our brains, infinitely malleable, changeable, redeemable.

Now it’s your turn: What do you think about meditation? Have you tried it? What do you do to keep your mind focused and attentive? 

A few resources if you are interested in knowing more about meditation:

Has Mindfulness Supplanted Thoughtfulness? by Amy Julia Becker for Christianity Today

Feeling stressed and unproductive? Here’s how to stop being busy and be mindful instead by Gillian Coutts for Smart Company

20 Scientific Reasons to Start Meditating Today by Emma M. Seppala for Psychology Today

How I stopped fighting anxiety by Andrea Debbink for The Art of Simple

Read. Pray. Stretch. Breathe. Cook. by Andrea Lucado

jesus2

Sweden is one of the most secular countries in the world, and I’m a person of faith who is happy to talk about what my faith means. This usually leads to some form of the question, So, you’re religious? My default answer is something along the lines of, Well, I don’t really believe in religion, but I believe in relationship, so what’s most important to me is my relationship with Jesus, which I imagine sounds a bit like, I have this friend.. I have this boyfriend.. It sounds false, unclear and very 21st Century postmodern-like of me.

What I’m trying to say is that life with Jesus is a new way of seeing.

I see my condition, broken, lost, a mess, but I also feel in me the weight of something else, beauty, glory, redemption. But there is absolutely no way I am able to bridge the gap between the two without soul-killing striving and trying and pushing and pulling. 

I see who God is: love, love, love, love. Love that pours out power, love that pours out grace, love that is able to do all things, love that knows all things, love that is full of goodness, love that is truth and so many other things, but at the centre of who he is, it’s a beating heart of love. 

When I talk about a relationship with God, it’s the recognition of these two parts, Jesus holding my hand and taking me from one to the other.

Jesus who sees my brokenness and says I am a healer, do you want to be well? 

Jesus who sees me lost and says, I am the way, do you believe that I am who I say I am, I set before you life and death, will you choose life that you may live and walk in my path? 

Jesus who sees my messes and says, I have power of sin, will you confess your mistakes to me, let me take it all away and fill you so that you can have power to change? 

jesus

My growing up years were full of the mechanisms of faith, and I was surrounded by faith-filled people. We attended church every Sunday (and often more), almost all of my education from primary school to university was in faith-based institutions, I read the Bible, prayed everyday, I did everything you were supposed to do, and yet.

And yet.

God was still far away. God was still the one holding a checklist, and my life, my behavior, me – who I was – somehow didn’t check the boxes. God was the one with displeasure on his face when he looked at me, and I was the one running, hiding, disappearing every chance I got.

I didn’t know then that what I battled against was only religious structures in my mind because this is what religion must do to keep people inside of it. Religion only survives where there are no real answers in a place where there is no real freedom. Religion only works if you take out Jesus as a mediator, and replace him with someone or something else.

You can only be in the presence of God in this building. 

You can only talk to God if you first talk to this person. 

You can only know God if you first give this amount of money. 

You are only part of God’s family if you first join this church. 

No.  No. No.

This is why God put on human clothes, came down to us, gave up himself into the body of a young woman in a way we can’t comprehend, coming down to us when we couldn’t reach up to him. He reached down to us, to me, he became like us, like me, like you, lived like us and died for us, and came back to life.

So that we would not have to try anymore. So that all we would have to do is reach out our hand to the hand he offers, to say, Yes, to his invitation of new life, to turn our back on the systems that promised security but gave slavery.

No one imposed religion on me – I willingly submitted myself to it because it gave me something to do, it gave me a sense of power and control. I could command my own destiny. I could reach God, it was so simple, if I could only do this and this and this and be a bit more that way and this way, then, then it could be final. Then I would be there. Known. Loved. Safe. Secure.

Except there was no intimacy, love, safety or security in religious ways, only fear, insecurity, and an unending exhaustion. Even after the years when I found freedom, times of the year like Advent or Lent still filled me with old feelings, What more could I be doing? I’m not where I want to be. 

This is one of the many ways in which Lent this year led me away from introspection and instead toward a radical posture of receiving from God and then pouring out what I receive.

Jesus gave me everything I could ever want or need when he gave me his life. Lent is for giving.

Jesus took everything wrong and bad and sinful away from my life, so I could walk forward into new life with him whole and free. Lent is forgiving.

When you think about God are the words fear, insecurity and exhaustion part of your thoughts and feelings? Friend, could it be that you’re talking about a religion, a system that keeps channeling you toward what more you could be doing and who else you could be pleasing?

Jesus offers something different. He offers himself, his hand, to take you and walk with you to a new place. He’s there the whole way, never leaving, never forsaking, always faithful. He came to meet you where you are and he will take you where you need to go. 

lent 2014