The theme at the Shalom Center this last summer (January to March in the southern hemisphere) was traveling along the Pan American highway that stretches from Canada 30,000 miles south to Argentina with a small gap in Central America. We have been reflecting on the signposts, markers and city names as symbols of the guidance of God in the voyage of our lives. The small group Bible study areas have been names with villages and towns in Chile that are along the highway: Nueva Esperanza (“New Hope”), Tolerancia (“Tolerance”), Peor es nada (“Better Than Nothing”) have become our meeting places. In the middle of the camp season, I had to take a trip along a road feeding into the Pan American highway and I made a wrong turn in the village of La Huerta (“The Orchard”). As soon as I made the turn, I knew I was heading in a direction different from the one I wanted to get back on the Pan American highway, so I began looking for a place to turn around. In the process, I spotted a young man by the side of the road in front of me. He must have been about 13 or 14 years old, sitting all alone in a patch of morning sunlight that made his blue wheelchair glisten. He looked at me intently, with a warning or surprised look on his face, as I drove slowly past and straight into a steep dead end where I could barely turn around. After some maneuvering to avoid the barbed wire, the steep gulley, a light post and someone's carefully tended bed of flowers, I got the car turned around and stopped, facing the young man again. From this new perspective, I could see he was sitting directly under a red "Pare" or stop sign! Since the signpost was facing the dead end, and unseen from the main highway, I had driven right past it. And I stopped. I turned off the car and I looked and listened. All summer we had been talking about watching out for the signs. The young man under the stop sign looked back at me bemused - I am sure I was his morning entertainment! If only I had looked backwards, or at least glanced in my rearview mirror, maybe I would have stopped to heed the young man's warning look. Before turning on the motor again and heading back to the Pan American highway, I remembered the song my four year old nephew, Joel, used to sing to me...
STOP! LOOK! and LISTEN! is the teaching of a popular children's song about crossing the street, but maybe I should adopt it as a theme song for my life. As the craziness of summer camps, retreats and delegations threatens to absorb my energy, I need to stop, look and listen to God's signs along the highway of my life.
Rhett Smith, in the June 2013 edition of Relevant magazine, speaks of the need to develop "mindfulness." This is some of what he says:
So when I talk about being mindful, I’m speaking of that self-awareness that allows someone to truly be present and engaged in the moment. It creates an environment that fosters wisdom and discernment. And ultimately it leads to healthy action, rather than just reacting to something.
So let’s look at some simple practices you can experiment with over the next month:
First, slow down and breathe. It’s interesting to note that the word anxiety has some of its roots in the Latin word angere, which conveys the meaning of “choking off” or “closing/shutting in.” And for the Greeks, the word for mind, phren, relates to the diaphragm, as they saw a connection of the mind and body as it relates to breathing.
So one of the first things that we need to remind ourselves when we are anxious in marriage—which is often—is to simply breathe.
Second, practice being present. You need to make a conscious effort each day to be present in your life and in the lives of others. That can sound very vague and complicated, but it actually just takes effort and practice. So let me start with two simple suggestions:
1. Listen. Anytime someone is speaking, concentrate on just listening, rather than forming what you are going to say next.
2. Be patient. Anxiety often emerges when we aren’t patient and we are trying to live into the future.
Third, practice being curious. This also takes a conscious effort each day. We often assume a lot about what we think our spouse or someone else is saying or thinking. Over time, we lose curiosity for this person who at one time in our lives was a mystery we couldn’t get enough of. And when curiosity leaves our relationships, they often dry up and become stagnant. Here are two suggestions to get the ball rolling:
1. Ask questions of curiosity. Questions like, “Tell me what you experienced this week at work that was life giving?” “Where did you feel most connected to God today? Where did you feel most distant from God today?” “What is something that you have been really passionate about this year, and how can I best support that passion?”
2. Make a rule that when you go on a date with your spouse (or in my case, out with a friend - EH) that you will create space to get to know them—that you will be curious. Often we spend a lot of time gossiping about friends, neighbors, family or talking about work and the business of family life.
I promise that as you begin to practice being more mindful in your life, you will take notice of these things in your own life and marriage. And as you notice these things, you will be compelled to actions that lead to positive changes. So practice these things over the next month and I believe God will lead you ... into a new stage of connection and growth.
Elena Huegel serves with the Pentecostal Church of Chile (IPC). She serves as an environmental and Christian education specialist. Her appointment is made possible by your gifts to Disciples' Mission Fund, Our Churches Wider Mission, and your special gifts.