spiritual disciplines

A Prayer: Be the Gardener of My Soul

My eldest daughter's favorite prayer book is Richard Foster's Prayers From the Heart. We have been working the opening prayer into our days lately and thought you might find it helpful.

 

Be The Gardener of My Soul

Spirit of the Living God, be the Gardener of my

soul. For so long I have been waiting, silent and still--

experiencing a winter of the soul. But now, in the strong

name of Jesus Christ, I dare to ask:

Clear away the dead growth of the past,

Break up the hard clods of custom and routine,

Stir in the rich compost of vision and challenge,

Bury deep in my soul the implanted Word,

Cultivate and water and tend my heart,

Until new life buds and opens and flowers.

Amen.

 

Richard Foster, Prayers From the Heart. Harper One:New York 1994. 3.

The Poison in Every Day

© Veronica Foale. Used under Creative Commons License. I've thought a lot about sin and how we define sin these days, especially with kids. I went through many hours of training with the organization Child Evangelism Fellowship, and we memorized a definition, with motions, for sin.

"Sin is anything I think, say, or do that makes God sad or breaks his rules."

In my years of church and Bible club teaching, I've used the definition countless times in explaining and reminding kids as we talk about sin and salvation. But over time I've tweaked the definition to make it one I think will speak to kids even better ... and will travel with them as they grow.

"Sin is anything I think, say, or do that makes God sad because I'm doing it my way instead of God's way."

We live in a Postmodern world where truth is thought to be relative and so right and wrong are simply matters of personal decision. Really, the words right and wrong don't have much of a place in our culture anymore. And while most young children don't have issues with understanding sin and their own wrong-doing, the world they live in will soon test their inborn convictions.

All of these realities came to mind as two of my boys and I read John 7, a passage where Jesus stays away from Judea because the Jews are looking for an opportunity to kill him. "The world ... hates me because I testify against it that its works are evil" (v. 7). As we used our Good Dirt devotional we talked about why people don't like admitting they are wrong. And we talked about the discipline of Confession, telling God the truth about ourselves.

We took some quiet moments to pray silently, each of us, confessing our sin to God and asking for forgiveness. It was good time. Often in the past I have prayed with the boys before bed and asked God to forgive "us" for our sin from the day, knowing that we can only ask forgiveness for our own selves, but hoping my boys will take to this prayer of confession and make it their own. How much better, though, to let the quiet give them a place to do it personally, right here and now.

How often we forget even to acknowledge sin and ask forgiveness. It's so easy, on our own and with kids in prayer, to ask for things and thank God for blessings. We're forgiven once and for all through Jesus' death on the cross. But we still struggle with sin in this life. Paul talks about it often in his letters in the Bible. Without regular confession of sin, and the receiving of God's forgiveness, our hearts can't stay tender and humble, letting God be God.

I recently heard the author of a children's Bible speak on the radio. Sally Lloyd Jones (The Jesus Storybook Bible) talked about how we can explain sin to children.

"It's like running away and hiding and thinking you can be happy without God, but God knows there is no such thing."

"It's a poison that makes your heart sick, so it won't work properly anymore."

When Jesus came to walk the earth and live with people, he was all about the heart. Everything we do and are is an overflow of the heart, Jesus stressed again and again. The heart can't be happy without God. And the heart can't be healthy without God.

May we, and our kids, guard our hearts every day by telling on ourselves. We need the discipline of Confession. It will travel with us as we grow.

Dirty Work and New Growth

sprout Kids never cease to surprise. Over Christmastide, the period of the twelve days of Christmas beginning December 25, our family had a time of sitting together and focusing for more than 30 minutes on both the spiritual parallels for the 12 Days of Christmas song and then on what spiritual disciplines are, why we practice them, and some discussion on a few specific disciplines.

We are using a book titled Good Dirt: A Devotional for the Spiritual Formation of Families by Lacy Finn Borgo and Ben Barczi (which you can download for free to use with your family or purchase in paperback from Amazon, with two  subsequent issues for upcoming parts of the church year available soon). The book has a brief family devotion for every day, centered around the theme of planting and growing--our souls, both kids and adults, are like plants that need good dirt and helpful conditions in order to grow and flourish with God. Each of the few steps in the daily devotion fills a planting metaphor: we till the soil with prayer, we plant the seed of God's Word by reading a noted Scripture passage, we water the soil by acting a story, drawing a picture, or talking about how God's Word applies to our lives, and later on we weed, considering how we applied or failed to apply these themes in our day.

Our family has taken easily to the Good Dirt format and we've experienced meaningful times of listening to God and each other. That day during Christmastide stands out because we'd had a few days of being in and out of the house, active with extended family and various activities of the Christmas season. We had not spent time in our Good Dirt devotions for three or four days and there was much good material we'd missed. On this day, we started by discovering what none of us had known:

"Some say that the words of the [Twelve Days of Christmas] song were secret code for people to remember their faith during times of persecution." ~ Good Dirt

For example, a partridge in a pear tree is Jesus Christ, two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments, three French hens are the three virtues listed in 1 Corinthians 13: faith, hope, and love, and on it goes. This song with it's Christian faith parallels is a fun way to help kids review important, foundational themes of our faith.

The Christmastide period, being twelve days, also fits ideally for bringing into discussion each of the twelve spiritual disciplines (as identified by Richard Foster in his classic book Celebration of Discipline). These disciplines are grouped by inner, outer, and corporate disciplines and include prayer, meditation, study, fasting, simplicity, solitude, service, submission, confession, worship, guidance, and celebration. They all will be re-visited throughout the coming year in Good Dirt.

I mentioned that kids never cease to surprise, and here is why. On this day during Christmas, we didn't set out to make up all of our lost ground in the devotional. We just started reading together and one thing led to another. Before we'd realized it, we had spent time on the song, talking about spiritual disciplines, and reviewing the first disciplines covered in the days we'd missed. And our boys tracked with us on every bit of it!

Our 8-year-old has been in perpetual motion since he was a toddler. He focuses just fine but cannot stop moving his body. Every Good Dirt session he is rolling on the floor, playing with a ball, walking around, or moving in some other sort of way. He learns and processes by moving;  it's just who he is. Our 14-year-old is a teenager. He's wonderful ... and also a little hormonal at times. Our middle guy at age 11 is on the quieter side. He usually ends up helping to re-direct his brothers.

Three personalities, three stages in childhood. So, the reality of sitting for such a long period together and discussing some pretty involved areas of theology and spiritual training is something I wouldn't have thought possible or advisable for us or anyone. Yet it became a time of fun and absorbing discussion and learning.

I've often thought about how much I have read and learned and experienced in my life with God and his people in the years I've lived, and how I want to share so much of that with my kids. A lot does come up in the living of life, often at the most unexpected moments. Yet, some of what I hope to share with them, like the spiritual disciplines and some of the more complex foundations of our faith, seems to stay on the periphery of our lives together, and though these do come into conversation at times, sometimes they do so without much framework or intentional commitment toward living out and practicing these habits and truths  in ongoing ways.

Good Dirt has begun to change that. I'm learning about my kids in the process. They are deep people. They can discuss and absorb spiritual ideas typically thought to be adult territory without missing a beat. They can venture deeper in their lives with God. We can do it together and learn from one another and God in simultaneous ways.

Getting dirty together has its benefits. Everything may not work, but sometimes the things we never would have tried become the soil for a brand new season of growth.

Have you experienced a similar time of spiritual growth with your children, where a surprising and unexpected route became a catalyst? Would it help your family to try out a resource like Good Dirt?

**You can follow various families blogging on their use of Good Dirt and its themes by subscribing for free here.

Light for the New Year, Light for the Neighborhood

Used under Creative Commons License.
Used under Creative Commons License.

Part of Anne Lamott's story  has stayed with me like a persistent whisper even years after reading her memoir Traveling Mercies. A few families in her childhood opened their lives and gave her a sense of God and his Word and life with him. Her own parents didn't believe, yet in a 1960's San Francisco culture of drugs and alcohol Anne was drawn to God. She experienced life with the believing families of various friends and her own sense of a living, personal God took root.

We Quinns live in a busy suburb here in Colorado, surrounded by houses next door, behind, and across the street. Mormons live behind us, several Hindu families from India are down the street, and a mix of other Christian and unbelieving households live all around. Our culture doesn't mirror Lamott's of the '60s, but we have our own demons to be sure. We've walked with neighbors through deaths on each side of our home, one a suicide and one a father with Cystic Fibrosis. We feel the weight of materialism, strained marriages, self- and entertainment-focused living, career pressures.  Our street has seen a baby born to an unwed 19-year-old, teenagers crawling out of upstairs windows at night, a marriage happen between singles who shared a back fence, divorce, and lots of pet-sitting, lawn-mowing, house-siting, even a dog swap!

We love the people who share this little piece of Colorado with us. We've gotten to know many of them and we spend considerable time with some. I pray for neighbors almost daily as I walk for exercise, we pray for them at family meal times, and we try to follow the Spirit's moving to share the with-God life as we try and live it. We Quinns are so flawed ... we fumble all the time in loving each other and others ... we're so much on the journey ourselves. But somehow--I think it's like the mustard seed that Jesus' preached--God's presence takes hold and He enters lives.

New Year's Eve each year we get together with the family across the street. Fondue, games, and ringing in the New Year has become a tradition all the kids relish, and this year we added some Good Dirt! Our neighbor kids didn't understand about "family devotion time" so we talked about it when they came early before dinner. After the long meal around pots and platters of food, we read about Service and talked about what a spiritual discipline is. Our 8-year-old has trouble transferring that word discipline into the "good" category, so we all went round some more together on the concept, and then our teenager read about Jesus, the Light of the world. Our neighbor parents jumped in with ideas on when we might need Jesus' light in our lives. All the kids agreed that when they're afraid of monsters, Jesus' light is a good thing, and sometimes when they're at school they really need the light of Christ for help.

Those minutes of sitting together focused on Jesus were a bright spot New Year's Eve; Jesus' light indeed filled our time together. I hope these kinds of moments continue to fill our year. I want to thank Lacy and Ben for writing Good Dirt, for putting together this blogging community, and for overseeing the process as we all journey together. Jesus' light is reaching our family in warm, daily ways. And it's reaching our neighborhood family, too. We'll never be anyone's salvation. But Jesus the Savior might be. Yes, come Lord Jesus.

"Whoever follows me ... will have the light of life." John 7:12

Do As You Can…Not as You Can’t*

Sitting at dinner one night, my family was unusually quiet and no one would make eye contact with me.  They don’t call me 007 for nothing so I picked up on this right away.“Ok, what’s going on?” I demanded.  A barrage of “You tell her,”  “No, you tell her,” and “I’m not telling her,” filled the room. Finally a confession was made. “I said we’d make cookies for the orchestra concert.”And a second confession, “We’re in charge of the department Christmas party this year.”  I don’t do well when I’m over-scheduled and everyone at the table knew it.  My mostly sane mother persona takes the last train to Clarksville. My family was afraid the train whistle was coming.

There is a danger in busyness and especially busyness in “spiritual activities.” There is a danger in Good Dirt.  In Good Dirt there are lots of activities that we, list makers will want to check off in order to feel good about ourselves. That is a serious danger. Checking things off in Good Dirt will not make you holy. God will not love you or your children more. (As if he could love you more than he already does…seriously.) Turning Good Dirt into a legalistic checklist of behaviors and activities to manipulate your family or God will make you crazy… or your family crazy and then you will start looking like Chevy Chase in National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation with eleven thousand twinkly lights, cutting off the newel post, and burning down your Christmas tree. (OK. Maybe not all that.)

Actually it’s more serious than that. Making a “to do” list out of a spiritual tools can lead two ways.

  1. Failure, we don’t measure up and then we think God doesn't approve of us. His love or approval doesn't hinge on what you’re doing.
  2. Success, you get all the things on the “to do” list checked off. Now, you are really hard to live with. Pride. You and yours are so holy because you have done x,y, and z. God is interested in who you are becoming, not how many religious practices you accomplish.

Ben and I have this really wonderful friend named Jan Johnson*. She has been telling us the same thing for years now,

“Do as you can, not as you can’t.”  

When you take a look at Good Dirt and you see a list of things to do, do them if you can. Do them if you think they will draw you and your people closer to Jesus. Choose a few, (few as in one or two) do those… linger over them, spend time talking to one another, open up the space for God to move.

The point is not a holy list of “have-tos.”

The point is to become more fully the person God has created us to be and that happens when we have the open space to really connect with the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and our family.