You Can Cultivate Lasting Friendship in a Lonely World

  • There’s Abby, my resource, the friend I call on when I need advice–or a place to vent;
  • There’s Sandi, my ministry colleague and voice of reason; the friend I laugh with and work alongside;
  • There’s Lori who sets the example for me:  hard-working, huge-hearted, and the friend with whom I have grown into mothering.

There are others, older and younger, who have offered life giving friendship to me. In a lonely world where isolation is the norm and competition is the default, the deep connection of friendship is a rare gift.

Author Sally Clarkson has leaned hard into connection–in spite of having moved seventeen times–and her daughters Sarah and Joy have learned well from her example. Girls’ Club: Cultivating Lasting Friendship in a Lonely World is their collaboration in three voices. Part memoir and part road map, it offers “practices of holy rebellion” (22) that have helped the Clarkson women to resist isolation and chronic busy-ness (the enemies of friendship!) and to embrace self-examination, habits of holiness–and large mugs of strong, hot tea around a welcoming table.

While enjoying the pace of the Clarkson women’s stories, readers will be inspired and instructed in the art and science of cultivating deep and lasting friendships. From the harvest of their wisdom, I have winnowed five practices that I need to work on–and maybe you do, too?

1. Call out the strength in each other.

One Girls’ Club adventure happened on Prince Edward Island. The threesome had eaten their fill at a bed and breakfast where they got directions to the location that inspired the White Sands Hotel. Since it was supposedly within walking distance, they proceeded to walk off that big breakfast, but hours and kilometers later, there was still no sign of this Green Gables landmark. Joy was “hangry,” footsore, sunburned, and ready to give up, but her mum called her back to reason with these words:

“I think you have it in you to be brave.”

Adventurous Anne of Green Gables would have done it, so Joy decided she could, too, but the story would likely have ended very differently if Sally had not reached deeply into her daughter and pulled out the determination that was hidden there. Whether on a twelve-kilometer slog through unfamiliar territory, a family health crisis, or a deeply hurtful relationship challenge, women can call out bravery in one another with messages of strength and confidence.

2. Embrace the “Capaciousness of Womanhood”

In 2019, there is room for every kind of woman. When we give one another permission to lean into our callings without judgment, we put on display the beauty of “could.” I knew when my oldest son was born that I “could” have kept on working at a job I loved, but I also knew that I wanted to devote full time to my family.

The blessing of circumstances that worked together so that I “could” do that then have led me now to broaden my imagination for what’s next–and for what God “could” do in our lives when we embrace the wide open spaces created by His love. There is an abundance of work that needs doing in this world, and God has gifted and equipped His women in diverse ways to accomplish His plans.

3. Understand Friendship and Create Space in Your Life for It

If friendship is “something we both create and give,” if it is “a priority we choose amid the demands of life,” (70) it does not make sense for us to sit around and wait for friendship to strike like lightening in our lives. When my kids were all small, and I was housebound and homeschooling, I would lament the long stretches of time without what I would probably have called “meaningful conversation.”

One day it dawned on me that the women God had already placed in my life through play dates and church activities were the gift He was providing for friendship. We leaned into each other with a Bible study and playground appointments to the delight of our children and to the enrichment of all our lives.

“Usually friendship grows over time when planted in the soil of life, grown over seasons, and watered with love so it can flourish in the sunshine of life shared.” (115)

4. Fight for Balance

Boundaries rescue us from emotional depletion and sleep-deprived pity parties, but sometimes we need a little help from our friends in maintaining healthy priorities. Allowing them to speak truth into our lives takes humility, but it is an exercise in self-care that will make us more effective servants of God.

One dear couple expressed their concern–and then loaned us their house on the Atlantic Ocean for a weekend away, because they could see exhaustion from family and ministry was licking at our heels. Uninterrupted sleep and the delicious breakfast casserole they left for us spelled l-o-v-e, and we returned home with new energy and equilibrium.

5. Give and Receive the Gift of Love

When Henri Nouwen said, “The greatest gift we can give each other is the gift of our belovedness,” he was calling believers into an awareness of God’s great love that sings over us and celebrates our uniqueness. When we give and receive friendship, we are changed in ways that expand our capacity to love even more, and we experience the nature of God by opening our own hearts in imitation of His wide, long, deep, and towering love. By faith we learn that the gift of friendship is God’s great love flowing down and turning sideways as it runs its terrain-shaping course through wide-open hearts.

Many thanks to Tyndale for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Your friend,

michele signature[1]

Sally Clarkson has written extensively about home and family, and The Lifegiving Table: Nurturing Faith through Feasting, One Meal at a Time is a resource I return to for inspiration. For more Clarkson wisdom, you can read my review here.


I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Girls’ Club: Cultivating Lasting Friendship in a Lonely World or The Lifegiving Table: Nurturing Faith through Feasting, One Meal at a Time, simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Photo by Francesco Gallarotti on Unsplash

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The Hard Work of Hanging On and the Brave Work of Letting Go

Twenty years ago, my husband and I made one of the most difficult decisions of our married life:  we decided to leave a church and to worship elsewhere. Leaving behind dear people we loved (and likely offending more than one person in the process), we left that fellowship convinced that God was telling us it was time to let go. Soon, our roots were planted deeply in the good soil of another church family. They welcomed us with warmth and enthusiasm and the years have flown. The church with the white steeple and the red doors is home to us and to our sons, but, quite honestly, there have been seasons when it was not a joy to be there–hard seasons of pastoral searches, dry spells when nothing seemed to click, frustrating years when I would scan the horizon for a sign–sky writing, a whisper from the Word, ANYTHING that would release us and give us a green light to let go. I was tired of holding on, but the clear assignment from God was to do that very thing, and I’m thankful now that we did.

In It’s All Under Control: A Journey of Letting Go, Hanging On, and Finding a Peace You Almost Forgot Was Possible, Jennifer Dukes Lee devotes two full chapters and a lot of wisdom to the tightrope walk of hanging on and letting go. It turns out that “Let Go and Let God” may not be the best advice all the time, but there are also times when letting go is a true mark of bravery. It was good news to hear that “gospel living is not an either/or question. It’s both/and. It’s coming back to that fork in the road every day–with every decision, every obligation, and every relationship–and asking God to help you choose.”  (77) This is a recipe for living surrendered, and it comes back to persevering through the hard work, believing through the messy middle, and practicing the spiritual discipline of active trust.

Persevere through the Hard Work

“Just because something is hard work, doesn’t mean it’s wrong or should be abandoned.” (85) God may call you to write a book, start a new career, or to persevere through a hard season with a needy friend. It is also likely that at some point you will be called into the hard work of letting go, of opening your hands to release grown children, to relinquish a project that has gone off the rails or a task that is not yours to do.  The privilege and the challenge of this following life is living close to Truth so when God’s voice comes, our ears are accustomed to its pitch and timbre, and our hearts are in good shape for the hard work of obedience.

Believe in the Messy Middle

Living on the horns of a dilemma is just as uncomfortable as the metaphor sounds. We reach a point where we want ANY decision that will take the place of indecision, and yet holding on in the midst of the unknown is a powerful affirmation that we are not in control of the situation and are yielding to the One who is.  When guidance comes, if God calls you to hang on, He has the end of the rope alongside you. However, if you are called to release instead and to move on in faith, Jennifer reminds readers that “for everything you’ve ever let go, Jesus is still hanging on.” (107)

Practice the Discipline of Active Trust

Does it help your heart to know that God knows the end result of your holding on/letting go dilemma?  It is entirely true that we may “have to wait until heaven to know he was trustworthy in all that is yet to unfold in our lives. But until then, we have a choice. We can trust him with all that we are because we believe he is all he says he is. He hasn’t done all that we wanted, but he has done all that is right.” (108)

Releasing our white-knuckle control over every aspect of our lives (and those we love) is fueled by that relationship of trust. The prophet Isaiah painted a picture of the point of release around seven hundred years before the birth of Christ. He did not know your situation, whether you are struggling to let go or straining to hold on, but his words come as fresh reassurance today:

“Your teacher will be right there, local and on the job, urging you on whenever you wander left or right: ‘This is the right road. Walk down this road.'”  (Isaiah 30:21, MSG)

 May we find grace to wait, to listen, and then to follow,

Michele Morin

Many thanks to Tyndale House Publishers for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

Back in 2016, Jennifer Dukes Lee released The Happiness Dare in which sheThe Happiness Dare lays down the challenge to overcome obstacles to happiness with truth that jumps into our hole of unhappiness and builds a ladder toward the light.  To the defeatist notion that “This is just the way I am,” she offers the happiness booster that “little by little, I can become happier by changing the way I think.” The truth of Romans 12:2 is nowhere more practical than in the “renewal” that takes place when the believer alters her thoughts toward happiness. I invite you to check out my review of The Happiness Dare here.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase It’s All Under Control: A Journey of Letting Go, Hanging On, and Finding a Peace You Almost Forgot Was Possible, simply click on the title here or within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

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Practical Help for Journaling as a Spiritual Discipline

Among the assorted ranks of those who practice journaling, you can record me in the column labeled “intimidated.” Observation, application, and interpretation of my reading primes the pump, but never are my entries particularly stirring or insightful. My pages are scattered with partial outlines, first and second drafts of biblically-inspired poetry, and lists of questions alongside scribbled notes from podcasts and commentaries. Add to these the assortment of written prayers and rants (what Madeleine L’Engle would have called “tirages”), and it’s clear that my journals are not a great example of why anyone should start journaling as a spiritual discipline.

Or maybe they are?

Author Deborah Haddix decided a long time ago that “formulating thoughts, getting them into words, and putting pen to paper simply required more energy than [she] wanted to expend,” and so journaling was just not for her. However, when friends began to share their experiences of deep spiritual growth and communication with God through the discipline of journal keeping, she began to listen and decided to give it a try.

She learned that journaling is not nearly as narrow as she had thought. Rather than staring at a blank page, she found freedom to use drawing, paper crafting, photography, and even decorative lettering as an expression of her heart to a God who is NOT in the business of putting His children in ill-fitting boxes. The result of her discovery and the fruit of her learning process is Journaling for the Soul (Nourish the Soul), a handbook of journaling methods that goes beyond pen and paper and invites readers to span the spectrum of spiritual disciplines in their walk with God.

Soul care is a crucial (and over looked) element of self care, and it takes time and a level of commitment to focus on engaging with God in relationship. Investing the time to cultivate that interaction is an invitation to slow down, to replenish, and to exhale.

Slow Down

“Slow me down, Lord,” is the prayer I bring to the table almost every day when I open the sacred pages and begin to seek the “wonderful things” promised there.  For a successful and satisfying experience with a spiritual journal, Haddix recommends baby steps in the beginning. Give yourself permission to try new methods and also freedom to discard any that do not help. For example, since crafting is something I do with my grandson these days, it would get in my way during my quiet time. I’m not likely to try vision boards or mapping, because for me, the words themselves are what speak to my heart. For me, dealing in images feels like work, but I have creative friends who thrive in that medium. With that in mind, there is freedom to work within our God-designed personalities and preferences.

Replenish

The last thing we need when we come before the Lord is a sense of panic that we’re already behind or that we have failed. Keeping a journal is terrific for accountability, but even this can get in the way of meeting with God. Deborah’s advice is to move forward without giving up or being weighed down with the idea of catching up. While consistency is always the goal, failure should not be allowed to cast a shadow on the new day and the new mercies God is offering.

When you open your journal, send the art critic and the editor out of the room! Perfectionism will trip you up every time, no matter what method of expression you’re using. God will not deduct points from your journal-score for each coffee stain or misplaced scribble.

Exhale

One of my favorite parts of journaling is looking back at the lessons and insights from the past, and Deborah has made the excellent suggestion that, going forward, I should leave space on each page for writing an “insight line” when I return to an entry, an opportunity to record fresh thoughts on the same topic, new lessons, or ways that old reflection is still working its way out in my following life.

While I have tended to connect journaling with the discipline of Scripture reading, it is also a tremendous help in the disciplines of prayer, Bible memorization, and meditation. Several pages of fun lettering and decorating ideas prime the idea pump while lists of questions get the ball rolling for self-reflection.

A journal is a tool and maintaining it is a means to an end:  deeper communion with God. It should not become the main thing, but rather a means for documenting the main thing, which, of course, is a living and active relationship with God. When I read The Journals of Jim Elliot, I was amazed at how much mundane (and even sort of bombastic) wool-gathering there was in its pages. “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose” is Jim’s brilliant statement of a spiritual principle, but, rest assured, he did not spout such riches on every page — and neither will we. Our journals are home base to the space we create to be with God, and we will be wise to take lots of grace in our stumbling steps toward intimacy with Him.

When God meets us over True Words and makes good on His promise to reveal “wonderful things” to us when we open our eyes, a spiritual journal is a record of that miracle.

Many thanks to the author for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you,

Michele Morin

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Journaling for the Soul (Nourish the Soul) simply click on the title within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

More on Spiritual Disciplines

If this post has piqued your curiosity about the journaling life and ways to deepen your walk with God, be sure to check out these related posts:

David Mathis refers to the spiritual disciplines as “Habits of Grace,” and that is the title of his book which organizes habits of grace according to three broad principles by which one may walk in the path of God’s grace:

  1.  Hearing God’s Voice;
  2. Having His Ear;
  3. Belonging to His Body.

Then, Enjoying the Truth by Keith Ferrin offers tips for becoming a more consistent and effective student of the Word.

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Your New Life Beyond the To-Do List

As one who lives by a list, I have come to appreciate the satisfaction of a neat column of check marks at the end of a day, the faithful reminder to pray or to do or to go, and the convenience of a resource close at hand:
“Didn’t we buy slippers for her last Christmas?”
“Yes, I think so, but let me check the list . . . “

List making is a utilitarian practice that keeps me (mostly) on the rails. However, in Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts, Marilyn McEntyre has elevated list writing to a creative endeavor, a writing exercise that is partly spiritual formation, partly imaginative play, and partly a recording of the music of one’s own soul. Putting the pen to paper or the fingers to the keyboard, the list maker asks questions, poses possibilities, and frames her desires.

In Word by Word, McEntyre chose fifteen words and challenged readers to discover them anew as “little fountains of grace.” In Make a List, she argues for the life-changing benefits of gathering our words into lists that inspire and challenge.

A List Is a Beginning

When McEntyre began making a list entitled “What Love Looks Like,” she found that the practice opened  her understanding of the monumental definition of love found in I Corinthians 13:

“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”

She remembered her grandfather reading to her and her husband brewing coffee.
She pictured a volunteer chopping carrots in a soup kitchen.
Making a list is the beginning of a wider understanding of an idea that may have become tired or hackneyed, so obvious that you have stopped “seeing” it.

A Mental Exercise Turned Outward

Throughout the book, there are “Lists to Try,” a concept I appreciate, for perhaps every list would not be meaningful to every list maker, but it’s okay to try–in the same way we might try the New York Times crossword puzzle or try juggling three tennis balls in the living room.

A list can solidify a nagging sense of unrest into a concrete “diagnosis.”

  • What are my concerns in this season?
  • What can I let go of?
  • What am I afraid of?

A list of possibilities is the first step toward meaningful change.

Disturbing the Smooth Surface of the Obvious

For six years I have been maintaining a gratitude list, pondering and then scribbling three gifts each day into a small journal. I’m pleased to note that the practice has changed the way I look at the world, but later this year, after I have recorded my 7,000th gift, I want to let that practice rest for a time so I can “try” some new lists. Maybe I will argue with myself in list form or begin compiling a collection of reasons why my faith matters to me. It may be that I will make a case for continuing some of the things I am already doing while at the same time listing some things I want to try.

When a do-list becomes a collection of intentions and hopes, the world becomes larger and the heart opens wider. In a busy life in which action so often precedes thought, the practice of making a list rearranges what we think we know and invites us into a life beyond the obvious. 

Many thanks to William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Make a List: How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts or Word by Word: A Daily Spiritual Practice, simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Trusting for Grace to Live Beyond the To-Do List,

michele signature rose[1]

If you enjoy reading Living Our Days, subscribe to get regular content delivered to your inbox. Just enter your e-mail address in the field at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

4 Ways to Boost Your Self-Care Quotient

“What would you like to do?” he asked.
My good and faithful husband had hired a babysitter for our four sons (Combat pay!), and we were driving away from the house, the cavernous mini-van feeling empty and oddly quiet.

“Good question,” I thought, “What would I like to do?” As a homeschooling mum, church woman, maker of beds and of sandwiches, I had just about lost touch with what grown ups do when they are assigned the task of having fun or the responsibility of relaxing.

In Four Gifts: Seeking Self-care for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength, April Yamasaki opens her own life to self-care scrutiny and examines Scripture’s claims about the abundant life alongside biblical promises of God’s care for those who believingly follow Him.  To my great relief, Yamasaki frames self-care with a bigger vision than manicures and a daily green smoothie, as she encourages readers to receive the gifts that flow from the first great commandment:

“And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”  (Mark 12:30)

Caring for You. Caring for Others.

The busy-ness of life in all its demanding seasons can lead to habits that could best be described as self-neglect. Conversely, culture screams messages that make a virtue of self-indulgence:  “I deserve this.” I have had a tendency to read messages about self-care as burdensome checklists, one more item on an already too-full list of things to do.

The abundant life involves caring for your own needs, caring for others, and surrendering to the call of God. There is freedom to be found in the “healthy tension” (188) between loving ourselves well and also being fully available to our neighbor. In Four Gifts, April invites readers into a purposeful pursuit of healthy living according to God’s design in ways that are both challenging and realistic:

1. Self-Care Leaves Space to Honor Your Core Commitments

Just as the heart “represents the center of our physical, mental, and spiritual being,” (221) each of us has “core commitments” that direct our daily actions. Mine are shaped around marriage, mothering and grandmothering, homeschooling, writing, and church ministries. Because your commitments are different from mine, the parameters of  our self-care regimens will look very different.

“Self-care that honors core commitments might be delayed or postponed or after the fact, but it’s still self-care even if it sometimes seems to come in second.” (234)

2.  Self-Care Begins with Learning How to Stop

For me, self-care is mostly about knowing when to stop, and this came into sharp focus as I was reminded of New Testament directives to the early church that clearly distinguish “between being weighed down and being focused on following Jesus.” The Hebrews 12 “weight” that interferes with the believer’s race can often be the tasks we take on that are not really ours to do.

3.  Self-Care Leaves Room for a Listening Life

In the rush of life, I often catch myself half-listening to people, tuning out details to conserve mental energy, or failing to set aside the task at hand in order to meet the eyes of my dearest people while they speak. When Jesus was being quizzed by the religious elite, pressed into choosing the most important commandment of all, His answer began with the word Listen!

“The most important commandment is this: ‘Listen, O Israel! The Lord our God is the one and only Lord. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’No other commandment is greater than these.”  (Mark 12:28-31)

Taking time to listen to God, to hear the words of Scripture from a thoughtful stance, to listen to my own aging body in its need for rest, and to slow down and hear the messages coming through the words of the people I love are all forms of self-care that minister to the whole person and also spread ripples of health into a family or a community.

4.  Self-Care Frees the Soul for Sabbath Rest

April Yamasaki is a ministry professional, and she manages a website called When You Work for the Church. Her perspective on Sabbath rest includes first-hand knowledge that Sunday is often the busiest and most stressful day of the week. It turns out that most of us have a much too narrow definition of Sabbath-keeping. The rest and rejuvenation that come with it are “sometimes a by-product but not the primary purpose. The primary biblical purpose . . . is to put away the idol of control and power.” (766) If I can address this issue at its core, suddenly other pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Turning off my phone or taking a nap or postponing an errand to another day can become an offering in which I kick myself out of the center of the universe, a fruit of self-discipline in which I say no to the habit of accomplishment and yes to the habit of quiet or rest.

At its core, then, self-care may be uncomfortable. It may push me to honor limits I’ve become accustomed to pushing through, to utter a few well-placed “nos” that feel as if I’m squandering opportunities, to admit that I need help rather than forging ahead on my own. God’s four gifts of heart, soul, mind, and strength come with the expectation of a graceful stewarding of those gifts, a responsibility that takes practice–and a privilege that comes with the following life as we lean on Jesus for each step in the right direction.

Many thanks to Herald Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Four Gifts: Seeking Self-care for Heart, Soul, Mind, and Strength simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Leaning on Jesus,

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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

The Importance of Becoming Curious at Mid-life and Beyond

Part of the delight of spending time with my tiny grandson is that he takes nothing for granted.
Nothing.
“Bam, why bubble pop?”
“Because you stood on it.”
“Why?”
Well, good question.  Why, indeed, but our conversations routinely run on in this vein of relentless curiosity.  They move forward not because “Bam” comes up with anything like satisfactory answers, but because the pre-schooler’s mind has jumped the rails to a new topic.

Historically, the church has an uneasy relationship with curiosity, beginning with the Son of God Himself receiving flack throughout His earthly ministry from the anti-questioning party in power at that time.  Casey Tygrett invites Jesus’s present-day followers back into the habit of Becoming Curious: A Spiritual Practice of Asking Questions, beckoning readers into the tension that holds opposing concepts in a space that waits for answers from all the multitude of possibilities.

The middle years and beyond provide a multitude of opportunities for curiosity and questioning, but it’s easy to miss the moment. Set in our ways, we get grumpy about the unknown and set our feet in cement when we should be “setting our faces like flint” in the direction of spiritual practices that heighten our curiosity and our wisdom.

I’m thrilled to be writing about this over at The Perennial Gen, a thriving online community for men and women in the second half of life.  Join me there?

The spiritual practice of becoming curious is God’s gift to His people, and He has equipped our souls to take the shape of an explorer into the deep things that will change our way of seeing the world.

Are we curious enough to follow Him there?

Many thanks to Intervarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Becoming Curious: A Spiritual Practice of Asking Questions simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

By grace, becoming more curious,

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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

 

The Ancient Way of Praying Made New

Last summer, sitting on a rocky beach with family all around, I noticed a small white shell among the scramble of stones and shards of driftwood. Soon I had collected a handful, all pure white and perfectly whorled, the former dwelling place for some diminutive, absentee mollusk. For a few days, I carried them around in my pocket, reaching in to finger their smooth contours, already wondering what practical use I could devise for them, and their story would have ended in a dark kitchen cupboard if Paraclete Press had not sent me a copy of Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New.

I am Protestant to the bone, and it would never have occurred to me that ten small white shells in my hand could represent ten members of my family and serve as a tactile reminder to pray for each, one by one. Author and jewelry designer Suzanne Henley reminds readers that ancient practices of prayer were very tactile. Bead by bead, fingers remembered what the heart cherished, and words would spring to mind.

As a glass artist, Henley has the unique privilege of crafting customized prayer beads, and her creative view of the world lends a gritty practicality to the business of prayer that so many of us talk about — but so few of us practice in the way we want to.

“Praying is not just an arcane, dusty practice that a group of humorless, self-righteous old men sat down and made up a long time ago. It is not just words in a prayer book. It’s not a milquetoast, rehearsed exhortation delivered in a faux-devout voice to begin a citywide prayer breakfast with cold scrambled eggs. We carry this need for connection in our guts . . .”  (xi)

The History of Prayer Beads

So, as Suzanne scoops handfuls of Mongolian sand beads from the Gobi Desert and beads crafted from ancient Roman glass fragments, she invites us to look with new eyes at a tradition that, by the time of the Reformation, had deteriorated into an empty piling of slippery words upon which the praying saint hoped to ascend to heaven. Fast forward to 1987, however, and to the statisticians’s great surprise, as church affiliation begins a decline, the use of Protestant prayer beads is in an upswing.

Madeleine L’Engle described prayer beads as a tool to “enflesh the words, make thought tangible.” Maybe our distracted, squirrel-chasing, social-media-saturated brains are seeking an analog anchor. Apparently, the earliest known example of tactile prayer reminders were used by the Desert Fathers who committed to praying the 150 Psalms twice a day. In order to keep track of the number, they carried 300 pebbles in their cloaks, tossing one out after each prayer. Because I am unfamiliar with the historic prayers associated with the rosary, I appreciated a charming child-drawn diagram, as well as the road map for Protestant prayer beads which proscribes no set words or prayers.

Prayer and Work

Suzanne and I are kindred spirits in our numbering of the tedious steps of grocery shopping:  “Into the basket, out of the basket onto the checkout stand, into the bags, into the car, into the house, and into the fridge and cabinets . . .” (43) However, instead of an occasion for grumpiness, Suzanne sees grocery shopping as a “weekly prayer-bead adventure” in which she meditates on the fruit of the Spirit in the produce section, wordlessly blesses fellow shoppers, and quiets her heart while pushing her cart.

Cracking 360 eggs to make breakfast for a gathering of homeless people, Suzanne also practices a ministry of prayer with each thwack against the rim of the bowl, reminding me of prayers I lifted while pinning small socks to a clothesline (Thank you for the gift of this small life . . .), or, more recently, over sports uniforms and tattered work pants (Bless this boy with safety and success . . . ).

Whether we use beads or seashells, the events of our life, or the fingers of both hands to mark the practice of our prayers, the prayers are offered, word-by-word, thought-by-thought. This is also the nature of a life poured out, not in a great gush, once and for all, but drop-by-drop as we pay attention to the voice of the Spirit and open our hands as well as our hearts in gratitude, thanksgiving, and love.


Many thanks to Paraclete Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.

I  am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you should decide to purchase Bead by Bead: The Ancient Way of Praying Made New simply click on the title (or the image) within the text, and you’ll be taken directly to Amazon. If you decide to buy, I’ll make a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Joining you in thanksgiving for a God who hears and answers prayer,

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