Friday, May 9, 2008

Morning practices, pt. II

image Allow me to return to the subject of my quest for good morning practices.  By these, I mean morning practices which foster spiritual formation, faithfulness, and peace; in other words, a way to start my day holy, healthy, and happy (so far as it depends on me).

When last I wrote on this subject, I was in the midst of a transition in morning practices, having come through a period of heavy stress combined with a major shift in the habits of our very young children.  This, in the midst of more than a week away in California, forced a big transition in my morning habits.  To reiterate, here were my hopes and dreams for a particular morning:

  • Breakfast
  • Coffee
  • Prayer
  • Engagement with the Scriptures
  • A GTD daily review
  • Exercise
  • Writing

Not all of these are created equal:  Breakfast and coffee are not disciplines at all--I simply don't miss them, ever.  It's easy to make and eat breakfast (cereal) and coffee is almost as quick.  On a rushed morning, the whole process takes less than 15 minutes, less if I'm grabbing coffee on my way somewhere.  I include them here more for the sake of completeness. 

The practice of prayer and engagement with the Scriptures are disciplines for me.  How I feel on a particular morning influences how difficult it is to actually begin these processes.  It is a rare morning when I forget, but often I remember and avoid.  Excuses make themselves available and I find myself sidestepping these practices, promising myself I'll get to them "after I'm done with such-and-such."  Rarely happens.  That's why they call these disciplines; when I am tired, drained, stressed out, locked in struggle with sin (or struggling to ignore sin), or exerting myself emotionally in any other way, spiritual practices become difficult.  The discipline part of these spiritual practices take over in a trusted rhythm, leading me to begin these practices in spite of stiff resistance.  Even better, these rhythms also carry me through the practice, very often leaving me refreshed, restored, and filled in the process.  In fact, I cannot remember an occasion when I have defied the forces which push against these spiritual practices and then felt worse after going through with them.  What else should I expect from an encounter with the Author of Life?  But I always seem to forget that part at the beginning of the struggle.

The GTD daily review goes in a slightly different category than the spiritual practices.  Doing a daily review is not emotionally draining for me; in fact, once I begin the process, it threatens to run away with me.  The daily review sparks something that inspires me to gain perspective on my day, resulting in a sense of purpose and action which, properly harnessed, catapults me into my work day.  This has a lot to do with the fact that I love my "job", and as long as I don't feel too overwhelmed, I can't wait to get started on the tasks for the day.  My problem with the GTD daily review is to keep it sharply honed so it doesn't eat my morning, bleeding seamlessly into a task-attack, email-fest, or blog-reading sinkhole.  There is also a danger in the review becoming a source of idolatry, granting me a false sense of control or self-importance about my place in the world that day.

And lastly, exercise and writing fall into a fourth separate category, since they require a much larger time investment and are therefore more difficult for me to cram into a particular morning.  My goal is a 15-20 minute period of exercise and 1000-1500 words per writing period.  Less than these amounts for either goal bring about little in terms of results for which the goals are intended, so they stand as bare minimums.  You might be forgiven for wondering what exercise and writing have to do with spiritual formation, faithfulness, and peace.  Exercise properly undertaken invigorates the body in the short term.  Over longer periods, exercise increases energy overall levels and adds to emotional health.  In short, it allows me to undertake those things to which I am called with vigor and energy.  As far as writing goes, it is something which I deeply enjoy.  I find restoration and a renewal of my creative spirit in such an activity.  It is also something which I consider a gift from God, and in that gift, I find a calling.  Living into my calling enlivens my passion, fulfills part of the purpose for which I was made, and brings me joy in the act of co-creation with God for the benefit of others.

These are the elements that I hope to use to begin my day in spiritual formation, faithfulness, and peace.  (I'll write soon on the specific forms each of these will take, and then exactly how it's going...)

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