During this past year, I have had recurring dreams where I am moving around in public mask-less. In my dreams, I’m walking through a crowd or going grocery shopping, and then I suddenly remember, “Oh! I forgot my mask!” This dream-based realization wakes me up from my stupor while managing to increase my stress levels.
That increase in stress levels has been a pervasive experience for most of this past pandemic year. Being mask-less has become a symbol of both our vulnerability and protection as mortal humans, as well as a symbol of the politics of fear and its connection with faith through a year of upheaval. Quite often our behaviors about mask-wearing has been associated with a particular viewpoint about politics and faith, with misinformation sowing confusion and distress. We are not immune to the cumulative impacts of stress.
In addition, many of us have experienced grief and loss since the beginning of the pandemic. The season of pandemic has also been met with calls for justice. Within the church at large, we have been rallied by protests against racial injustice or denouncements over social science theories. Not many of us can deny the impact of these events in our lives. We collectively are impacted by vitriolic politics, financial stressors, and isolation. We collectively bear witness to the loss of lives to COVID-19 and the cumulative stress of keeping ourselves healthy. The truth is, we are living in a time of storm and stress.
Many in our society may look at this time of storm and stress the way Pilate did when he met Jesus, asking “What is truth?” (John 18:38). It is in the darkness of multiple increasing stressors that many have lost hope in the truth, or worse, have linked arms with cynicism, much like Pilate. Blind to the life-giving resurrection truth that will arise even from the ashes of this present age’s multiple challenges of the pandemic, racial injustice and inequality, they cynically reject the truth of peace. Subsequently, they reject where peace resides, which is a heavenly place where all tribes of all languages will worship God and all tears are wiped away (Revelations 7:9; 21:4).
Peace is our steady-state, emotional home, and ultimate truth (Revelation 21). As Christ-followers, the truth is that we can surely find resilience in our faith in Christ that transcends the confusion, fear, and distress of our current age. Peace is the fruit of our faith (Galatians 5:22-23). When peace feels unattainable and you feel immune to the calm it provides, may I invite you into a Christian mindfulness practice that has personally helped me embrace the truth of Christ’s peace amidst confusion and distress?
Christian mindfulness has been a focus of my research for the past six years, and its practices will be in a book I have written with Zondervan Publishers, launching in September 2021. In this upcoming book, I define Christian mindfulness as “making time to turn our whole attention to God so we can hear and abide by His voice above the chatter and stress of our lives”. There has been much chatter and stress during this past pandemic year. Tuning out fear has been difficult, and that fear has driven a lot of what we see in the reactions of our politicians, social media communities, and factions within our institutions.
When your own thoughts betray peace, when your bodies go into overdrive from the stress, lean into the presence of the Prince of Peace wherever you are in the present moment. Here is a Christian mindfulness practice you can use during those times:
First, start by sitting comfortably in a chair with eyes closed while breathing in and out. Breathe in slowly to a count of four, then hold your breath for four counts, and then exhale four counts. Breathe like this at least three more times.
This simple act of slowing down your breath signals to your body and mind the message of peace. When our bodies respond, our minds can too. As you enter this bodily state of calm via your breath, then begin to turn your thoughts to Christ.
Perhaps you simply breathe in a prayer, saying something like, “Lord, I would like to enter your peace.” You can then exhale and thank God by saying, “Lord, thank you for your peace.” This practice of breathing in and out along with these prayers is a simple acknowledgement of the truth. As you attune your body to these prayers with your breath, your mind can be more focused on the words and desires within. Note any emotions related to these prayers. Embrace the words, the emotions, and any impact of your thoughts. The practice of the peace of God is itself a type of soul-work that will not go void.
Begin to close out this time by allowing your thoughts to focus on whatever words of your prayer resonate the most, or whatever you experience in your body, thoughts, or emotions, as you sit quietly breathing. Close out this time with a few more slow breaths in and out. Relish the breath and quiet as a soothing balm to whatever ails you in this present moment. Slowly open your eyes.
The balm of Christ’s peace soothes our weary souls, our anxious minds, and opens our internal voices to God’s truth. We must not become immune to the hope we find in God’s presence. It is in the presence of the Prince of Peace we find the truth of our faith—the recurring vision of His goodness becoming more and more awake in our lives.