The Desert

Lately I have been reading the book Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard. I have been deeply impacted by this powerful story. It is an allegory about the Christian life in which a fearful girl named Much Afraid journeys with her Shepherd towards the High Places in search of a new identity and a deeper understanding of His love.

Along the way, the Shepherd leads Much Afraid to the desert. He gently explains the importance of this detour saying:

“All of my servants on the way to the High Places have had to make their detour through the desert…Here they have learned many things which otherwise they would have known nothing about.”

Much Afraid is joined by two friends, Sorrow and Suffering, who surprisingly strengthen her by their presence. As she makes her way through the desert, she finds that the desert is actually full of important gifts and lessons.

This insightful book has gotten me thinking about the way I view “deserts” in my life. In the Christian life, deserts are inevitable— be it a disappointment, the loss of a loved one, struggles with mental health, the death of a dream, a season of loneliness, a delayed hope, or even a season of dryness in one’s faith. I think that our human tendency is to pass through the desert as quickly and painlessly as possible. However, as this book suggests, it takes time to fully accept the gifts of the desert.

As I think back on different “desert seasons” in my life, I can see the gifts that come out of dark times.

Gratitude: In my experience, painful seasons give us a renewed appreciation for all that is. We have eyes to see simple gifts in life—the changing seasons, moments of connection with the people we love, and even our capacity to feel sadness or other emotions.

Intimacy with Lord: My closest times with Jesus seem to always be in the desert. When life is easy and simple, I find myself depending on my own strength and finding satisfaction in trivial things. In painful times, I am especially aware of my need for the Lord and His unconditional love. This is such a gift.

Learning to hear God’s Voice: The desert is a quiet place. And it seems to me that the quiet is the best place to hear God’s voice. In the desert, I am stripped of other voices and distractions and can better hear what God is saying.

Empathy and Compassion: I think that the desert has the potential to enlarge our heart if we’ll let it. It always amazes me how God uses our pain to minister to the pain that others experience. However, in order to minister to someone else’s pain, we must be willing to first walk though it our self.

Surrendering Control: This is the hardest one for me. However, I find that in the desert, God consistently invites me to surrender to His will and His ways. In the desert, I recognize the stubbornness of my heart and my insistence on my own plan for my life. However, God graciously invites me into the mystery of not knowing all of the answers and instead trusting Him.

I recognize that 3 days before Christmas might seem like an odd time to write about the desert. However, I am becoming more and more aware that the Christmas season can be such a mixed experience for people. It can be filled with great joy and happiness for many people, but can also be a time of pain and sadness for others. In a season where everyone is rejoicing, the desert can feel even more pronounced.

However, the gift of Christmas is God’s presence.

The God of the universe came to earth and took on human form.

He is Emmanuel, God with us.

This means that we never walk through the desert alone.

I wanted to close by sharing one of my favorite songs by JJ Heller. I can’t seem to get this song out of my head lately. I love how she suggests that the desert isn’t something to be avoided, but rather God’s gift to us. I hope it encourages you!

God is Still Here, by: JJ Heller

Embracing Limits

“To be made in the image of God means that we’re rife with potential. We have the Divine’s capacity in our DNA… But that’s only half of the story. We’re also made from the dirt, ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust’: we’re the original biodegradable containers. Which means we’re born with limitations. We’re not God. We’re mortal not immortal. Finite, not infinite.”

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, John Mark Comer 

I just love this quote and powerful truth that it portrays. In his book, author and pastor John Mark Comer suggests that our success-oriented culture pushes us to reach our potential at whatever cost. While I believe that it is important to recognize our potential and work to improve ourselves, it’s equally important to accept our limitations.

I know from personal experience that ignoring my limits has detrimental consequences. When I transgress my God-given limits, I become burnt out, stressed, and anxious. In fact I’ve noticed that anxiety is actually a helpful sign that I am living outside of the natural boundaries of how I’m wired.

During the last few years, I’ve spent some time considering my limitations and trying to receive them as a gift from God rather than as a problem that I need to overcome. Some of my limitations include the following:

Living in a human body: For years, I transgressed this limitation. In college I tried to survive on 5 hours of sleep a night and I ate very sporadically. However, as a 3rd grade teacher with a very demanding job, I’ve learned that taking care of my body is vital. This means getting 8 hours of sleep at night, eating a good breakfast every morning, drinking lots of water, and prioritizing exercise. I’ve noticed that each of these habits actually decreases my anxiety and helps me foster a positive mindset.

An introverted personality: I have spent much of my life fighting my introversion. Oh how I’ve wished that I had more capacity for people. But the honest truth is that I quickly reach sensory overload when I’m with large groups of people for long stretches of time. Therefore, I try to schedule alone time before and after big social events. I also intentionally schedule plenty of solitude with Jesus into my week, including a Sabbath on Sundays, quiet time with Jesus each morning, and other small moments of quiet throughout the day. I find that I have so much more to offer the people in my life when my relational batteries are fully charged. 

A limited emotional capacity: I love people and find so much purpose investing in the lives of others. However, I also have a limited emotional capacity. I tend to take on the emotions and feeling of the people around me. And I can get very bogged down by negative emotions. As a result, I’ve learned that while it’s important to have ministry relationships where I’m pouring into others, I also desperately need mutual, life-giving friendships. I need safe places to process my feelings and emotions. I also sometimes need to put boundaries around relationships that are toxic or unhealthy.

A tendency towards melancholy and anxiety: Although God is bringing so much freedom to this area of my life, the truth is that I still have and may always have a predisposition towards anxiety and negative thoughts. As a result, I put a lot of effort into guarding my mind. This means spending time with wise older mentors, seeing a counselor, and asking friends to pray for me when my mind feels out of control.

I used to feel a lot of guilt about my limitations and would try to change these things about myself. However, I’m starting to realize that my limitations are actually a gift. They remind me that I need God and I need others. I can’t manage life on my own. My limitations make me dependent on God and that’s one of the best places to be.

I love Psalm 16:6 which says, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”

This is so true. God has made each of us so uniquely with specific limits and boundaries around our lives.

Rather than fighting my limitations, I want to accept them as a gift from God.

I want to live within His boundary lines for my life.

The Healing Power of Calm

“Do we want to infect people with more anxiety, or heal ourselves and the people around us with calm?”

-Brene’ Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection 

I just love this quote by Brene’ Brown. Her analogy is so true. Anxiety is like an infectious disease that spreads so easily from person to person.

As a third grade teacher, I witness the power of anxiety in my classroom on a daily basis. It’s amazing to me how the anxiety of just one student can affect the whole classroom dynamic. And I’ve noticed that my own anxiety can also negatively affect my students. As humans, we tend to match the emotions of the people around us. Therefore, when I am stressed out and anxious, my students also feel stressed and on edge.

However, the opposite is also true. Although anxiety is a strong force, calm is equally powerful. As someone who wrestles with anxiety, I know from personal experience the healing power of calm.

I love spending time with calm people. There is something so healing about being around people who are at ease with themselves and others, who aren’t trying to prove anything, and who refuse to hurry and rush. These people seem to lower the heart rate of the room just by entering.

As I’ve observed calm people and tried to learn their secrets, I’ve noticed several strategies that I’m trying to practice.

Calm people breathe. This is a simple, but powerful observation. I’ve noticed that when I’m stressed out, I sometimes forget to breathe! Therefore, taking long, deep breaths is so helpful in the midst of anxiety. I do this a lot in my classroom. If something stressful happens, I’ll stop what we’re doing and lead the class in some deep breathing exercises. I’m always amazed at how much this calms my students (and myself!).

Calm people talk slowly. When I’m stressed out, I’ve noticed that I start talking faster and faster. It’s amazing how just slowing down my pace of speech calms down my body. I even find that my heart rate slows down when I slow down my speech.

Calm people speak quietly. This is a powerful strategy with my students. When a student is loud or upset, I try to match their level of agitation with an equal level of calm. It’s amazing how quieting my own voice helps them to stop yelling or shouting out.

Calm people do one thing at a time. There is so much danger in multi-tasking. I’ve read a lot of research that suggests that multi-tasking actually decreases our productivity. But even more importantly, multi-tasking makes it difficult to be fully present in the moment. Therefore, when I’m stressed out or anxious, I try to discipline myself to focus on one task or activity before completing the next.

Calm people stop. This is probably the most important strategy for embracing calm. In a frenetic culture of constant doing, it’s difficult to stop and just be still. However, moments of stillness are actually the birthplace of calm. This might be in the morning when I first get up, in the car on the way to or from work, or even during a couple of minutes on my lunch break. During these times I stop doing and simply sit with Jesus. I recognize His presence and invite His calm into the anxiety or stress of the day.

Calm people embrace imperfection. As a recovering perfectionist this is a challenging one for me. However, I have noticed that I’m so much calmer when I let go of the pressure to do things perfectly. There’s something freeing about occasionally leaving a basket of laundry unfolded or leaving work before every last email is checked. In these moments I let go of my need to control and prove myself as good enough.

I want to close by sharing this sermon by John Mark Comer of Bridgetown Church:

Jesus on Becoming a Non-Anxious Presence 

I hope this sermon speaks to you and encourages you like it did for me. I was deeply impacted by John Mark’s emphasis on becoming a “non-anxious presence”. I love how he points to Jesus as the ultimate example of what a non-anxious presence looks like. Jesus is our perfect model of a life free from anxiety, filled with calm and peace.

And oh how our world needs this! In our frenetic and chaotic society, our world desperately needs people committed to calm, who are learning to be a non-anxious presence.

The truth is that I’m so far from that.

But I now know who I want to be.

Rather than infecting the people around me with anxiety, I want to learn how to bring the healing power of calm.

Silence and Solitude

We come to  a place of freedom. Our failures slowly lose their power over us. As do our successes. We get out from under the tyranny of people’s opinions- their disapproval or approval of us. Free to be us, the mixed bag that we are. Nothing more than children with our Father. Adopted into love… In silence and solitude, our souls finally come home.”

-John Mark Comer, The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry

I just love this quote. In The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry, (highly recommend!) pastor John Mark Comer writes about the danger of hurry. He shares several spiritual disciplines that are an antidote to our culture’s pervasive disease of hurry. The one that stood out to me the most was that of silence and solitude.

I am becoming convinced that silence and solitude is an essential practice for all believers. However, as someone who struggles with anxiety, silence and solitude is absolutely vital for my emotional and spiritual health.

Now the honest truth is that sometimes silence and solitude is just plain hard. I think that people usually picture silence and solitude as peaceful time with Jesus, resting in His presence. While this sometimes is my experience, at times silence and solitude can be downright painful.

When I engage in silence and solitude, I am forced to face what is truly going on inside of me.

And I don’t always like what I find.

I recognize distorted desires that have taken precedence in my life. I realize how much the fear of man has been ruling my decisions. I am forced to sit with disappointments in my life where my plans haven’t worked out. And I face the reality of life as it actually is, a mixed cup of blessing and sorrow.

However, beautiful things start to happen when I sit with these emotions and realizations before God.

I experience deep forgiveness as my sins and unholy desires are laid bare before Him. I focus my heart on the only One who’s approval actually matters. I let go of the need to manipulate and control my life. And fully secure in the love of my Father, I have courage to embrace the full reality of my life.

I’m learning that anxiety is actually a helpful signal that something is off-kilter in my heart.

It is a simple reminder to return to my true home.

And engage with God in the quiet place.

My Shepherd

“The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet waters.”

-Psalm 23: 1 and 2

Recently the Lord asked me to give up my vigilance. I’ve realized that vigilance has been a driving force in my life and a central root of my anxiety.

I am always aware of things that could go wrong. As a result, I tend to operate from a state of constant vigilance, trying to foresee potential problems and then doing whatever I can to avoid them.

I’ve noticed that vigilance affects my relationships. Instead of truly enjoying the moment with people, I often find myself on edge. I over-analyze situations, trying to identify all of the possible outcomes. And I waste so much energy trying to avoid the disapproval of others.

Sadly my vigilance causes me to miss out on joy. When I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop, I miss out on the beauty that is happening right now in the present moment.

I’m learning that God doesn’t call me to live a life of vigilance. I’ve always loved Psalm 23 and the simple but powerful picture of God as my Shepherd.

I am not my shepherd. He is.

What a freeing perspective.

It’s the Shepherd’s job be vigilant and watchful on behalf of the sheep.

As the sheep, I am simply called to rest at peace in my Shepherd’s care.

I will still face problems and challenges. However, I don’t need to fear them.

If I truly trust that my Shepherd is guiding my life and has my best interest in mind, I can release control.

I can let go of my hyper-vigilance and trust that God is vigilant on my behalf.

And I can truly rest.

The Power of Remembrance

“I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all of your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” -Psalm 77:11

One of the greatest themes that I’ve noticed in the Bible is the importance of remembrance. All throughout the Scriptures, God calls His people to remember His goodness.

In the book of Leviticus, God appointed weekly and yearly rhythms of remembrance for the people of Israel. For example, the Sabbath was a weekly rhythm to remember how God rested on the seventh day. The Passover was a yearly rhythm to remember how God delivered the Israelites from Egypt.

Throughout the rest of the Old Testament, the Israelites regularly created altars of remembrance to commemorate God’s miraculous works. For example, in Joshua 4, they stacked 12 stones in remembrance of how God miraculously parted the Jordan river and let them cross on dry land.

All throughout the Psalms, David and other writers meditated on the works and wonders of God. They called the reader to remember God’s past faithfulness and dwell on His goodness.

Most poignantly, at the Last Supper, Jesus invited His followers to take the bread and the cup in remembrance of Him.

It’s clear that God calls His followers to be a people marked by remembrance.

There is so much power in remembering God’s goodness.

And there is so much danger in forgetting.

The Israelites repeatedly forgot the Lord and His goodness to them. They cycled through seasons of faithful remembrance and seasons of forgetfulness. When they forgot God, they became captives to idolatry and oppression.

“They did not keep God’s covenant and refused to live by His law. They forgot what He had done, and the wonders He had shown them. They did not remember His power— the day He redeemed them from the oppressor.”

-Psalm 78: 10, 11, and 42 

Oh, how I see my own heart reflected in the story of Israel. I am so quick to forget all that God has done for me. And forgetting God’s goodness makes me vulnerable to the schemes of the Enemy.

I’ve noticed that I’m most vulnerable to anxiety when I focus my attention on disappointment and pain. When I dwell on all that seems wrong in my life, the Enemy attacks me with doubt, self-pity, and fear.

However, the opposite happens when I dwell on God’s goodness in my life. I notice the ways that He has been guiding and sustaining my life since the day I was born. I remember the difficult seasons He has carried me through and the growth that He done in my heart. I am struck by the deep and meaningful relationships He has provided in different seasons of my life. And most of all, I remember the way He has unconditionally loved me and forgiven my sins.

Now this doesn’t mean that I ignore the pain and disappointments in my life. However, I don’t dwell in them alone. Instead, I invite God’s interpretation of the painful events I experience. I ask Him to show me the ways that He is acting redemptively in my life, bringing good out of what the Enemy intended for evil.

I want to share several practices that help me to dwell on God’s goodness.

Daily Gratitude: I know I wrote about this in an earlier post, but it’s worth mentioning again. Gratitude is a powerful weapon against anxiety and self pity. At the close of each day,  I like to take inventory of the day and ask God to reveal His goodness and grace to me. This can include very small moments like the grace to handle a difficult conversation, energy when I felt weak, or the beautiful, misty morning as I drove to work. Looking for God’s fingerprints in the small things enables me to see the larger patterns of His goodness in my life.

Reading old journals: Every year or so, I read back through my journals. Each time I am struck by the ways that God has been so faithful in my life. I remember times when I felt lost and afraid, but God was actually at work in ways that I couldn’t see at the time. I am struck by how God repeatedly used painful situations to draw me into deeper intimacy with Him. Reflecting on old journals gives me fresh perspective on current circumstances and renews my hope for the future.

Writing a psalm: A mentor of mine gave me this idea. She encouraged me to take Psalm 136 and re-write it about my own life, following each example of God’s goodness with the phrase “His love endures forever.” My psalm started as follows:

God knit me together in my mother’s womb.

His love endures forever.

God blessed me with dear parents who love and serve Him.

His love endures forever…

I found that writing out chronological acts of God’s goodness helped me to better see His hand in my life.

Creating my own altar of remembrance: This is another idea from the same mentor. She suggested drawing my own altar of remembrance (like the Israelite people did in Joshua 4). In each stone, I wrote a specific way that God has been faithful in my life. I’ve found this visual to be a powerful reminder of the way God’s faithfulness builds upon itself in my life.

Especially in dark seasons, I notice my human tendency to focus on all that seems wrong in my life. However, I know that I don’t need to stay stuck there.

Even in the most challenging times, God invites me to re-frame my perspective.

He invites me to remember who He is and what He has done.

I don’t want to ever forget.

Breaking Agreements

Recently I listened to a couple of podcasts by John Eldredge and his friend Allen Arnold from the Ransomed Heart ministry. I was so impacted by these ideas and highly recommend the podcast, especially if you are seeking inner healing in your life. You can listen to the two-part episode here:

The Ransomed Heart Podcast: Agreements Part 1

The Ransomed Heart Podcast: Agreements Part 2

In these podcasts, John Eldredge suggests that agreements are essentially the ways that we interpret reality. They are often made in times of pain when we allow the Enemy to speak lies about our circumstances.  These agreements shape the way we view ourselves, our relationships with others, and even our perception of God.

Just a few examples of agreements might be:

I  will never belong.

I am always forgotten. 

I am not enough. 

I always get disappointed.

I must perform perfectly in order to be loved. 

I always get left behind. 

I will never be able to forgive.

God is working good in other people’s lives, but not in my life. 

In this podcast, John Eldredge warns about the power of agreements. He suggests that the more we start to believe agreements, the more they actually shape our reality.

God has really been challenging me to consider the agreements that I have made, specifically in regards to my anxiety. I think that at the root of my social anxiety are agreements about how I relate to others and the way I fit into groups of people.

My biggest takeaway from this podcast was the importance of interpretation. John Eldredge suggests that when we go through painful circumstances it’s important that we don’t passively accept the Enemy’s interpretation of our circumstances. Rather we must ask for God’s interpretation.

For example, when I experience a rejection in my life, be it big or small, I need to refuse the Enemy’s interpretation. He wants to tell me that I always will be rejected because I’m not enough. Instead, I need to ask God for His interpretation. He faithfully reminds me that I am His child and that He will never leave me or forsake me.

Or let’s say that I feel excluded from a group of people. The Enemy wants to interpret that moment with the lie that I will never belong. When I ask for God’s interpretation, He reminds me that I belong to His family and that I have a place with Him and in the Body of Christ.

Agreements can be so powerful and detrimental. But there is also so much power in breaking them!

I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Have you experienced the destructive power of agreements in your life? What tools have helped you break free from lies and embrace the truth?

The Power of Truth

“Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.” -John 8:32

I am convinced that at the root of every anxiety is a lie. Lies are so powerful because they keep me in bondage. They tempt me to doubt who God is and what He says about me.

I find that especially when I’m tired or physically weak, the lies of the Enemy have more power in my life. During these times I need to be especially alert and aware of potentially dangerous thoughts that so easily creep into my mind.

I fear that God isn’t trustworthy.

I’m temped to believe that life is a series of disappointments and losses.

I question if this world is all there is.

I feel a need to manipulate and control situations in order to be safe.

I fear that I’m not enough.

I am convinced that I need to do more to earn the love of God.

I feel pressure to perform perfectly in order to be accepted.

It’s so easy to accept these lies from the enemy and allow them to take residence in my mind.

However, I also know from personal experience that the truth conquers every lie. The truth sets me free and brings light to every dark corner of my mind.

God brings the truth into my life in so many different ways— through His Word, a friend or mentor’s encouragement, an uplifting sermon or book, words prayed over me, or simply through time in the quiet listening to His voice. In these times I remember who God is and what He says about me.

I remember that God is trustworthy even when situations seem hopeless.

I am convinced that God is using every disappointment and loss to draw me closer to His heart.

I remember that the life I prize is coming. One day all things will be restored.

I know that I am safe simply resting in my Father’s love.

I am confident that I am more than enough.

I realize that there is nothing I could ever do to make God love me any more or any less.

I recognize that the opinion of man is insignificant compared to how God sees me.

Recently I started keeping a journal of the words and promises God has spoken to me. This includes Bible passages that have ministered to me, words and prayers that people have spoken over me, ideas from sermons and books that have resonated with my heart, and words that God has spoken to me during times of solitude. I try to read this list each morning when I wake up and each night before I go to bed. I can’t tell you how powerful this practice has been in reshaping my thought life.

Little by little, these truths are starting to seep into the deepest parts of my heart.

And the lies that have become ingrained in my mind have no choice but to flee.

Made New

“At the renewal of all things, our hearts are going to be free from grief. The joy of this will far surpass our physical relief. Think of it— if God would offer today to remove from you just one of your greatest sources of internal pain, what would you ask him to remove? And if all your brokenness were finally and completely healed, and your sin removed from you as far as the east is from the west— what will you no longer face? What will you finally be?”

-John Eldredge, All Things New

I just love this quote. In his book All Things New (highly recommend!), author John Eldredge writes about the hope we have that one day all things will be made new. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. More specifically, though, he writes about how humanity will one day be restored and no longer affected by sin.

This thought has profoundly impacted me. Especially when I get caught up in the day to day struggles of my life, I need to remember the future hope that I have in Jesus. I’m not destined to forever struggle with social anxiety. In fact, social anxiety and all of its many causes won’t even exist in the new heaven and new earth.

It is so encouraging to think about the people that we will one day be. 

We will no longer have broken relationships. All of our relationships will be fully restored and healed.

We will no longer experience rejection. We will finally feel deeply accepted by God and by others.

We will no longer feel a need to prove ourselves as good enough. Instead, we will be fully secure in the love of God and one another.

And we will no longer experience fear and doubt. We will live with a deep sense of peace and certainty that no one can take away from us.

Our hearts crave hope like nothing else. Especially in seasons of anxiety, I need to remember the hope that I already have and that will one day be fully realized.

God is making all things new.

He is making me new.

This promise starts now and will last forever.

The Present Moment

“We need to be fully aware and awake in the moment. Too much time in the past leads to depression: regrets, bad memories, shame, guilt, bitterness, old wounds— all that lies in the past. Too much time in the future leads to anxiety: what if that happens? What if this falls through? Fear. Worry. Concern. It’s all in the future.”

-John Mark Comer, My Name Is Hope 

This book has been so central in my healing journey. In My Name is Hope (highly recommend!), author and pastor John Mark Comer writes about anxiety and depression. One of my biggest takeaways was the importance of living in the present moment.

Now I do believe that it’s sometimes helpful to reflect on the past in order to learn, grow, and even heal from painful experiences.

However, I know from personal experience, that dwelling too deeply on the past can lead to persistent sadness and regret. I can waste precious time rehashing painful memories, analyzing past conversations with people, and regretting wasted moments and opportunities. The truth is that there’s nothing I can do to change the past. It has already happened. Therefore, all I can do is invite God into the pain of my past and choose not to let it define me.

The same thing is true about the future. On the one hand, it is important to consider the future and set goals and plans.

However, I know from personal experience that it’s easy to spend way too much time lost in future possibilities. I can always find something to worry about. And the truth is that most of the things that I worry about never even materialize. Even more importantly, I miss the beauty of the present moment because my mind is caught up in future moments.

Recently I’ve discovered several strategies for being fully present in the moment. The following are some ideas that are helpful to me:

5, 4, 3, 2, 1 mindfulness: This is a fun exercise for getting into the present moment. I discovered it by reading many online articles about fighting anxiety. Basically, I go through each of my 5 senses and notice what my body is experiencing. I call it “5, 4, 3, 2, 1 mindfulness” because I notice 5 things I see, 4 things I feel, 3 things I hear, 2 things I smell, and 1 thing I taste.

For example, right now I am sitting in my bedroom.

I see tiny rays of light coming through the partially closed window blinds, the soft glow of lamplight, my blue beta fish swimming in its tank, my waterfall photograph on the wall, and my tall, white bookshelf full of my favorite books.

feel the soft pillow behind my head, the cool comforter that I’m sitting on, the scratchy carpet beneath my feet, and the smooth keys on my laptop keyboard.

I hear the soft buzz of my box fan, the tumble of the clothes dryer, and the clicking of my laptop keyboard.

I smell the calming scent of lavender room spray and the subtle odor of sunscreen that I wore earlier today.

I taste cool, refreshing raspberry sorbet that I am eating as I write this blog post.

I love this exercise because it helps me to notice all of the things that are happening right around me and to thank God for them.

Exercise: Exercise always helps me get into the present moment. Although I’m not the most athletic person, I love running. When I run, I find myself focusing on my breathing and my running pace. This helps me to stay focused on the moment. I also am a major hiker. I love getting out in nature and experiencing the beauty of God’s creation. I find that I most readily embrace the present moment when I’m out exploring all of the sights and sounds of a new hiking trail.

Worship: I love listening to worship music. Especially when I’m feeling anxious and afraid, music always brings me into the present moment. Especially when I’m driving, I like to sing along to worship songs and really focus on what the words are saying. These are such peaceful times with the Lord, spending time in His presence.

Written or verbal prayer: As someone who struggles with anxiety, I find that my mind often wanders when I try to pray. Therefore writing prayers to God in my journal helps me to stay focused on my conversation with Him. Sometimes I find it even more helpful to actually speak my prayers out loud to God. When I’m driving in the car, sometimes I’ll simply talk to God out loud and process life with Him. It’s amazing how this helps me to stay focused and present with the Lord.

Silence and solitude: I’ve mentioned this before, but silence and solitude are such important practices in my life. In many ways, silence and solitude discipline my mind to stay present. When I remove all of the distraction and noise, I’m left with just myself and God. It’s then that I can most clearly hear His voice and experience His presence.

Intentional time with others: Although I’m an introvert, I love spending time with people, especially in one-on-one settings. I find that I most readily embrace the present moment when I’m face-to-face and communicating with someone I care about. Something I try to practice is intentional listening— seeking to hear what the other person is truly saying and feeling without just waiting to jump in with my own thoughts. It’s amazing how fully present I feel when I get outside of my own mental orbit and seek to truly understand what’s going on inside another person.

I’d love to hear from you! What are some strategies that you utilize to more fully engage in the present moment and experience God there?