God has been talking with me recently about my digestive system. Not a terribly spiritual sounding conversation, right? Try to stay with me anyway.
He wasn’t talking about my physical digestion. He was making a comparison. He pointed out how quickly I move from task to task, conversation to conversation, book to book, quiet time to quiet time, experience to experience . . . without taking time to process. Although I think of myself as contemplative and introspective, there were large parts of my life that were going unexamined. And, as Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
But I protested. That’s not me! After all, I take time for prayer. I occasionally manage to do an examen* before going to bed at night. I have deep conversations with friends about the big stuff of my life. I even take a personal prayer retreat once in a while. Certainly all that counts as reflection, right?
Well, yes. But apparently there’s more.
God challenged me to pay attention to how I go through a typical day. How much space do I leave between activities? How much time do I take to consider what was really said during a conversation? How much do I remember to pray about at the end of the day? Do I stop to think about how an experience or encounter leaves me feeling?
Need I say that I quickly discovered that I digest far less than I’d thought? On a typical day I processed through email after email without stopping. I went from appointment to appointment without thinking. I did task after task with no sense of the bigger picture. I was reading four books concurrently, without assessing their impact. I had conversation after conversation without taking in very deeply what the other person needed, or how their words affected me. I was scarfing down life, swallowing it whole, not really taking time to enjoy it or gain all the nourishment from it that I was supposed to.
Okay, Lord, I get it. I see. I need to chew. Pause between “bites.” Digest. I need to stop inhaling life, eating experiences whole, taking in too much without letting it feed me the way You want it too. I need to slow down. I need to create space.
So I’ve been trying to do that. Like the other day. Someone told me very excitedly about a ministry opportunity her mother is seeing open up before her. I listened and said supportive things, as I normally would. But after she and I parted, I paused. Lord, is there more You want me to see here? And He talked to me about it—that He is moving and guiding and creating something new, and that I should remember to pray about it. He wants me to show my support not only by engaged listening, but also by prayer and follow up.
Or there was the email I received a week ago that put me in a bad mood. I read it quickly, deleted it, and tried to forget it. But it sat like lead in my stomach for a couple of days. After a couple of days of “indigestion,” the Lord reminded me to digest. So I tried. Why did that email affect me like that? I asked Him. And He talked to me about it. He helped me name my feelings and understand what they represented. Then He showed me how to release them and to love the email writer, without requiring her to change, and without requiring me to just stuff my emotions. And what do you know, the “indigestion” was gone.
Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. I don’t ordinarily observe Lent by giving up foods or changing my diet. But this year I will. As a reminder to myself that I need to focus on spiritual digestion, I will also make a few changes to help me focus on physical digestion. The main point is spiritual, but I imagine there will be things to learn and benefit from physically as well.
So, with God’s help, I intend to take the next 40 day slowing down. Paying attention to my chewing. Allowing space between bites—both physically and spiritually. I look forward to taking time to process and digest life. To invite God into every conversation, task, email, and experience, so that I gain the full nourishment of all that He wants me has for me in every part of my day.
To allow me more time to digest, I will be taking a break from posting during Lent. So I wish you a meaningful season of reflection on the life and death of our Savior and His love for us that caused Him to voluntarily give Himself up for unworthy sinners so that we might experience eternal life with Him. Perhaps you’ll also want to use this season to slow down, chew, and digest. If you do, please let me know how it goes.
See you again at the end of March, after Resurrection Sunday!
*To learn more about examen, check out http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-examen