The Art of Lent – Day 32, Thursday

This is what the Lord says – the Lord who made the earth, who formed and established it, whose name is the Lord: Ask me and I will tell you remarkable secrets you do not know about things to come.

Jeremiah 33:2-3 NLT

“Go ahead, ask me.” God repeatedly tells his people to ask, and he will give us incredible things when our hearts are in tune with his: knowledge, wisdom, daily bread, grace, the desires of our hearts… What do you want to ask God? What remarkable things would you like to learn? Write down five “interview” questions you have for God.

The Art of Lent – Day 29, Monday

Accept my prayer as incense offered to you,
and my upraised hands as an evening offering.

Psalm 141:2 NLT

Our prayer is an offering to God. As you pray today, draw an incense censer, and fill it with some key words from your prayers. While you pray over those things, draw the smoke of the incense coming up from each request as a symbol of them rising to God.

The Art of Lent – Day 23, Monday

But despite Jesus’ instructions, the report of his power spread even faster, and vast crowds came to hear him preach and to be healed of their diseases. But Jesus often withdrew to the wilderness for prayer.

Luke 5:15-16 NLT

Jesus knew that no matter how important his ministry of preaching and healing was, spending time alone with God in prayer was even more important. Luke tells us that he often retreated for prayer. Do you have a special place where you can withdraw from your daily work and spend time with God? Go there now and sketch the view while you sit quietly and listen for Jesus to speak to your heart.

The Art of Lent – Day 18, Tuesday

In every place of worship, I want men to pray with holy hands lifted up to God, free from anger and controversy.

1 Timothy 2:8 NLT

Meditate today on what it means to lift up holy hands to God in prayer and praise. If you are uncomfortable doing this in corporate worship, find a song today that expresses a prayer in your heart and sing it with your hands lifted to God. Try writing your own prayer or song and singing or speaking it with your hands raised to him.

The Art of Lent – Day 15, Friday

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s will. And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.

Romans 8:26-28 NLT

I love this promise that the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words when we don’t know what to pray for. Everything about this passage makes my heart sing with indescribable joy! Make up a word to describe some of your indescribable feelings. Write down the word and the definition.

The Art of Lent – Day 13, Wednesday

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people – cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
Luke 18:9-14 NLT

A Tale of Two Prayers: write and draw a comic strip to tell this story.

The Art of Lent – Day 12, Tuesday

Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT

Never stop praying. Take these verses as a challenge, and think of four times during the day that you might pray and four locations where you might pray; then go do it. Use these times and places to thank God and write a poem about his faithfulness to listen to us when we pray.

The Art of Lent – Day 7, Wednesday

When you pray, don’t be like the hypocrites who love to pray publicly on street corners and in the synagogues where everyone can see them. I tell you the truth, that is all the reward they will ever get. But when you pray, go away by yourself, shut the door behind you, and pray to your Father in private. The your Father, who sees everything, will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble on and on as the Gentiles do. They think their prayers are answered merely by repeating their words again and again. Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him!

Matthew 6:5-13 NLT

Meditate on these instructions Jesus gave us about prayer. God honors our humility, honesty, and directness when we pray. Jesus then models that in the next verses (Matthew 6:9-13) that we call the Lord’s Prayer. Rewrite that prayer in your own words to reflect your needs and your relationship right now with God.

Morning Pages and Mental Health Routines

I’ve been out of regular therapy sessions for a while, but only because I’ve been maintaining a pretty disciplined practice of mental health exercises.  (Now if I can just get motivated to get back to physical exercise, I’ll be extremely awesome…)  For the last few weeks, I haven’t been doing my morning routine, and I can feel it in my brain the way I feel it in my body that I haven’t been exercising.  When I work out, I feel stronger and healthier, and the same thing applies to my mental wellbeing.  I try to maintain morning, afternoon, and bedtime rituals to keep me on track.  Don’t get hung up by the word “ritual.”  I am not performing animal sacrifices, I am just trying to perform the same behaviors in the same order every day, with enough frequency that they become habit and with enough thoughtfulness that they retain their meaning… like rituals.

My morning routine consists of three key parts – morning pages, prayer, and planning.  While everything else may slide or be shortened, those three need to be done well for me to feel like my head is on straight the rest of the day.  The other things on my morning list are drink water (at least one full glass before coffee), get inspired (some form of positive thinking exercise, whether it’s a guided meditation from the app I use or it’s a positive statement I can repeat all day), deep work (a timed work session I usually use for writing, but it’s a great tool for any type of work – just set a timer and ignore every other distraction for that block of time), and celebrate (it sounds silly, but I do a little happy dance and give myself a mental high-five when I finish my whole routine).

20190424 Photo ballpen-blank-desk-606541
Photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels

Morning pages is one of the best mental health tools I’ve ever discovered.  The practice comes from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way.  The only rules are that you should write by hand first thing in the morning for three full pages.  There is no wrong way to write your pages.  You can write about anything that pops in your head.  Cameron’s intent with morning pages is that you clear the junk rambling around in your mind, which frees you to think creatively.  Also, it’s pretty impossible to write three pages of complete mess without hitting on something important or a good idea to run with.  My morning pages are generally a brain dump of all the things on my to-do list followed by some actual reflection on my actions and the emotions running under them.

I always see something more clearly for having examined it longhand in my journal.

I usually see something new or from a different perspective.  I have, on occasion, written the lyrics to the “Spongebob Squarepants” theme song before I could make any coherent words come out of my pen.  I’m not a strict rule adherent in my morning pages journal.  I rarely make it to three pages because I have to get the tiny human to school and myself to work, so I just write for a set amount of time instead.  I can’t always write first thing in the morning, so sometimes I write third or tenth thing; sometimes I write evening pages.  I think for my mental health, the important thing is just for me to write and reflect.

When I examine why I am doing what I am doing, I can see the behavioral patterns I need to work on, whether that’s to keep doing something that works or to quit doing something harmful.

Prayer is the next step in my morning routine.  Maybe it should be first as a symbol of its priority, but I’ve learned I pray with much better focus if I do morning pages first.  Once my head is clear, I process everything better, especially scripture that I pray through before I pray for other people.  It may seem silly since I keep a handwritten journal for morning pages, but I actually use an app on my phone for my daily prayer time.  “Prayer Prompter” is a free app that’s very simple, but extremely helpful.  It has two sections: one is “Meditation and Prayer” that includes Bible verses and writings about spiritual discipline to pray through, and the other is “Petition/Intercession” that has some pre-filled prompts for suggestions.  You can add prayer requests in the “Petition/Intercession” section, so whenever I tell someone, “I’m praying for you,” I’m adding it there.  I really love this app and have used it more consistently than any prayer journal I’ve tried to keep.

I’ve tried doing my prayer routine at different times of the day, but I always come back to morning.  It helps me remember to pray throughout the day, and it helps me feel connected in my relationship to Jesus before I get lost in the day’s business.

Planning is the last thing I do before celebrating and getting on with the day.  I shared my planner a few weeks ago, so you can still see that on the blog home page if you’re curious.  I work through the morning mindset questions and prioritize my tasks for the day, and then I write them on the schedule.

I have never, ever had a day go exactly the way I wrote it on the schedule, but the act of putting tasks in a time space forces me to think through how long the task will take and when I will best be able to accomplish it.

I tend to put too many things on my task list and my schedule, so this helps me be a little more realistic.  I keep seeing articles about scientific studies that people who are always running late are really just optimists who think they can do more in an allotted time than they can; that seems to be accurate in my case.  The planner definitely helps narrow my focus for a given day and time span.

It’s crazy that those three things would make such a difference in my stress level and mental health, but they definitely do.  They’re probably the three most important tools in my coping toolbox.  How about you?  What’s the most important thing you do to keep mentally fit?

WIP Wednesday on Friday

Because school started, and I can’t keep my crap together this week…

I am VERY slowly, but surely working my way chapter at a time through the book of Romans in the Bible. With each chapter, I read through, note the verses that stand out to me, and then boil it down to the “bottom line.” I choose the verse that most clearly states the main theme of the chapter and write it down somewhere on my blank page. As I sit with that verse a while, I draw what comes to mind as I meditate, and then I write a poem that reflects that meditation. I also go back to the verses that I marked and write more about them (I use the SOAP method for that, for the very few of you who wondered.) in a journal file on my computer.

It’s an intensive process on a single section of scripture, but I found that I was often reading the Bible every day on autopilot. This process forces me to slow down and digest the words more slowly. Slow is hard for me because I’m not often patient with creative work – once I have an idea, I want it done. I also keep walking away from this work and only coming back to it in spurts because it doesn’t feel as instantly rewarding as a quick sketch or single poem. But God has used this work to show me how to dig deeper into his word and his love, so I’m really silly for putting it off. Turns out I’m a work in progress, too. 🙂

And because the poem is hard to read in the photo, here’s the text:

Oh, how often I’ve failed

Crumbled in the face of temptation

The, oh, how I’ll beg

For mercy

For a fresh start

For life

But I must not believe you

As I try harder, work more, to make you love me

But that isn’t your way

You want truth

You want repentance

You want faith

So watch me open my hands

And let go of my desire to control

To earn your love, to claim myself

So I can believe

So you can make me new

So I can be free