When you think about spiritual disciplines and practices, what comes to mind? Do you picture unbroken hours spent deep in Bible study? Or perhaps concentrated daily quiet time to be alone with God?
Spiritual practices like those above are a wonderful way to deepen and connect with our faith. However, when we enter seasons of busy-ness and find our schedules overfull, it can be a challenge to find or make the time to engage with them in the way we want. We might feel overwhelmed to the point of giving up before we start, guilty in “failing” to engage with these practices, or doing them perfunctorily to “check them off” our long to-do lists.
The good news is that God will meet us right where we are in our lives. Making peace with the chaos of our daily life provides us with the opportunity to open our hearts in different ways to God and see within each moment the seeds of spiritual encounter.
In this article, we’ll introduce some ways to reframe your thinking about spiritual disciplines and some quick practices you can begin to incorporate into your life right now.
1. Prayer as Spiritual Breathing
When we think of prayer, many of us think of it as an action, rather than as a reflection of our Christian identity: our relationship with God. God initiated this relationship and longs to commune with us. When we consider prayer as our identity, it is no longer an action as much as it is who we are in the world, as God’s beloved children. In prayer, we open ourselves to receiving this great gift of relationship and grace, especially needed when we are in our most difficult moments.
Many of the saints described prayer as “the breath of the soul,” including St Jane de Chantal, who defined prayer as “a wordless breathing of love in the immediate presence of God.” When we think of it this way, it is possible to envision a different practice of prayer: one that brings us mindfully to our breath and our life. St Francis of Assisi and St Francis Xavier both practiced breath prayer, which were very short prayers tied to the breath (St Francis of Assisi prayed “My God and My All,” and St Francis Xavier prayed “O beata Trinitas”). This approach to prayer is one that can help us connect with God amidst our busy lives.
It can be as simple as:
- Taking a moment to breathe and acknowledge God’s presence with you.
- Inhaling and picturing God filling you with love, mercy, goodness, or another attribute.
- Exhaling slowly, releasing tension or other feelings that may be hindering you.
- Repeating three or four times.
- You can also develop a short prayer, similar to those above, focusing on a simple phrase or word, such as “Mercy,” “Grace,” or “Love.”
2. Recognizing God’s Presence In our Lives
As John 14: 16-17 reminds us, God is with us and dwells within us at all times. Continuing to John 14: 23, we are invited to come and make our home within God. Pausing to reflect on this reciprocal dwelling encourages us to visualize our home within God as God makes a home within us. Coming home reminds us to rest, to lay down our burdens, and to take comfort, which is what Jesus is calling us to do. When we see that God is all around us and within us, we can rest in knowing that we are surrounded by God’s presence and invited to come home to God on a regular basis.
This invitation inspires and encourages us as we continue to develop spiritual practices for the lives we have. It suggests the following:
- Spending a few minutes envisioning what your spiritual home looks like and what it means to have the Holy Spirit dwell within your heart and setting an intention to come home to this place, especially in moments of stress, tension, excitement, or joy—whenever coming home might be useful. Take a moment, or more, as needed, to come home and remember that God is always with you.
- Practicing the prayer of examen at the end of the day, asking God the following questions:
○ God, when did I come home to you through the chaos today? Give thanks for those times when you felt God’s presence.
○ God, when were you calling me to come home and I missed it? Take some time to reflect on this with God and ask for grace to come home more often the next day.
3. Seeing God’s Presence in the People
Knowing that we carry the Spirit with us wherever we go means that we also carry the presence of Jesus into all of our interactions, spaces, and relationships. This is true of all the people we meet, as they are all created by God. As we learn to listen to the Spirit better, we also learn to listen to God’s people. They offer us opportunities to gain the wisdom, guidance, or encouragement the Spirit wishes to impart upon us, as long as we are open to listen. As we carry the presence of Jesus wherever we go, we can also practice his gentle attentiveness and listening, which opens our eyes to God’s most valued treasure: humanity. In being present with people, we honor God and experience joyful grace.
There are several ways we can work toward practicing presence when we are with others. As you move through the chaos of daily life, you can develop better attentiveness towards others through some simple practices. However, just because they are simple, they may not be easy! We recommend trying one at a time and reflecting on the process at the end of a week or two.
A few things we can do to help us practice presence include:
- Developing a daily habit of remembering you carry Jesus with you into every situation
- Remind yourself that the person in front of you bears the image of, and is precious to, God.
- Set an intention to be present with the person you are with. This may include:
■ Putting your phone away while together
■ Asking questions to clarify or extend what the person has shared
■ Listening carefully
- Keep your eyes and ears open for the whispers of God in the various situations you find yourself in. What is God saying or doing? How can you discern God’s heart in the situation?
This article was based on Tricia Rhodes’ "Spiritual Health Amidst Chaos" course, available on FULLER Formation. FULLER Formation offers a wide range of courses, developed by Fuller experts, to guide Christians in deepening their faith, making faith-based decisions, and bringing their faith into the world. Go to Fuller.edu/Formation to learn more.