Last night I received the following email from PD reader Angie in Missouri and wanted to share my reply with all my readers because she has a great question.
Yay – Lent starts tomorrow!
I am full of anticipation for Lent! It is an incredible feeling. :) There’s this guy I know who’s been talking it up for practically all of 2010! It’s got me all excited. :)
Anyway, I need a little help with what I want to do for Lent. I want to do something along the lines of your 40 days of 40 bags of clutter. I want to spend 40 days working on getting the basement organized. That space just upsets me b/c it is so chaotic and things are in boxes and just no organization what-so-ever. I can’t seem to find the motivation to work on it b/c it seems so daunting. We’ve just left this space – it’s like we had no energy for it once we got settled into the house. So I decided this might be the opportunity I’m looking for. I was thinking about spending 15 minutes each day working on the organization/decluttering of the basement.
My question to you is how do I make sure I keep the focus of Christ in this daily endeavor? I don’t want to approach this like a New Year’s Resolution but something with more focus and purpose spiritually. I know it will be bring me peace to have this space less chaotic. I was thinking about starting each time of cleaning with prayer? I don’t know. I feel a little stuck in figuring out how to really make this a spiritual practice without piling a ton of “work” on my plate. I don’t want to dread this but approach each day with anticipation for it – even if it is challenging. I’m not trying to make it into something “easy” necessarily but something doable.
Does any of this make sense?
Your question, “How do I make sure I keep the focus of Christ in this daily endeavor?”, is really a question of, ”How do I take take something mundane and make it holy?” When I say holy, I literally mean “holy.” The words in the Old and New Testament that we translate as “holy” both mean “set apart” or “separated from”. So when you read about God’s holy mountain or God’s’ holy people you are reading about a mountain and a people set apart for God’s purposes. They are set apart from all that is around them and they are set apart with a specific godly purpose. So if you want to make the mundane in your life holy set it apart from other activity for a holy purpose and here is how you do that.
MAKE IT HOLY–SET IT APART
Trust your instinct to start with a prayer. That is probably a God nudge. I would also recommend closing with a prayer. Those prayers will be a boundary marker that says, “Hey, this time is for you God?” It will trigger your mind out of other distractions and flag your attention to be refocused on Christ. You may even want to start with the exact same words each time you start and close. For example begin with, “God I give this time of tending to the things you have put in my care as an offering of thanks for the many blessings in my life.” and then close with something like, “God thank you for providing for me beyond my needs. I pray that I honor you by being a joyful steward.”
REWIRE YOUR BRAIN FOR GOD
Praying the same words is valuable when starting. After a week or so, shift the words, but maintain the same intentions. Here is why. You are actually renewing your mind for God by doing so. There is fascinating research emergingon how our brains work called neuroplasticity, that Allyson Lewis, author of The Seven Minute Difference, shared with me during my recent interview with her. What scientist are discovering is that we actually generate new neurons and neural paths when we practice focused repeated attention. We literally renew our minds when we choose to think the same thought repeatedly. As those new neurons and neural paths get laid it becomes easier and easier for us to move into the same thought process.
So, I would recommend that for the first several days you pray the same words as you enter into and out of your time. Then begin to vary the words but keep the intention identical. It’s a bit like you are whacking a path through a bunch of weeds in your head. The same words are an intense effort to just get an open trail where one hasn’t existed before. The shifting of words broadens the path and makes it progressively easier to move down. In the case of the opening prayer I suggested, you are conditioning your mind to recognize several truths:
- All that you have is from God.
- You have a responsibility to care for it.
- Your actions can be an offering of gratitude.
- You are richly blessed.
These are great mindsets to sustain as you address mundane tasks. When I think about neuroplasticity I think of Paul’s instruction to the Phillippians,
“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” (Phillippians 4:8 NASB)
The word translated as “dwell” actually means to ruminate, like a cow chewing its cud over and over again. Dwell upon means to repeatedly focus upon. Dwell upon means take advantage of the God-given neuroplasticity of your brain.
Once you have entered your time of cleaning ruminate on these things:
“Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17)
One time I was bemoaning mowing my lawn on an extremely hot Arkansas Summer day. I was wretchedly hot and exercising a mindset that was very biblical, “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, when I realized how absurd it was for me to complain. I suddenly thought, “How can I complain about mowing my lawn? Mowing my lawn means I own a lawn. I have a home. I am blessed beyond my needs and have far more than other people even dream of having.” It changed my heart and mind around what I was doing and the chore then became a prayer of gratitude. I shifted to a different biblical attitude, an attitude of gratitude. Mowing became an opportunity to be thankful for all that God gave me. This experience often comes to mind for me as I do my chore cards. More frequently now I am finding that those mundane tasks are becoming times of thanks and praise. At times these are almost sacramental moments. You may think I am nuts, but recently as I dusted our china cabinet I found myself singing a simple improvised refrain, “I am blessed for I am dusting.”
DO IT AS IF YOU ARE SERVING CHRIST (because you are)
“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve.” Colossians 3:23-24.
The spirit in which you work is a testimony to people around you and it is a statement to God. Do what you do heartily and for the Lord. One way to trigger this mindset is to imagine as you organize that you are in Jesus’ house. That these are his things and that he has asked you to organize it. If that were the case, how would your attitude shift? Adopt that attitude.
One thing that will happen is that the mindsets you are developing will naturally seep out of the confines of your fifteen minutes. I suspect you that by the end of Lent you will reflexively begin bringing gratitude to tasks like doing laundry, loading the dishwasher or cooking a meal.
SOME PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS
First, don’t work ahead.
I would highly recommend setting a timer for 15 minutes and stop when it goes off no matter what you are doing. At first, this will be very difficult. You will think, “Oh, I’ll just finish this area over here.” or “I’ll just do one more box.” DON’T DO IT. What almost inevitably happens is you get sucked into more and before you know it you have grossly cut into time you need for something else. You will almost surely sow resentment and set yourself up to start skipping later because you did so much on an earlier day. DON’T DO IT.
I have found that whether it is Bible reading or bagging, there is a tendency for some people to jump on board enthusiastically at the front end and rapidly burn out. This happens almost 100% of the time to those who work ahead. So, DON’T DO IT. I am not sure exactly why, but it is an extremely reliable phenomenon. As I mentioned above, I think when people work ahead they begin to give themselves permission to skip on other days. Once they start skipping the discipline unravels. Sometimes people also skip and then get in a mindset of “I’ll catch up later.” Catching up becomes hard and soon impossible. So, people quit. So, if you are thinking about working ahead, DON’T DO IT. If you haven’t caught on I can’t over emphasize this enough. Well, may be I can. Four bold print all caps repetitions is a bit extreme, but I can’t tell you how many people I have shared this with who have ignored it and then failed.
The other commitment that you want to be inflexible on is-Never Make an Exception. Do your fifteen minutes no matter what it takes? If it’s 3 in the morning and you have to be up at 6, so what, do your fifteen minutes. It won’t kill you, but not doing it will kill your discipline.
WHAT IF YOU IGNORE ALL THIS GREAT ADVICE AND BLOW IT?
Don’t play catch up. This is another death blow to your discipline. Just pick-up where you left off and keep moving forward. Once again, this is true for any discipline whether it be for Bible reading or bagging.
To Angie: I hope this is helpful to you and my other readers. To everyone else: If you are not adopting a discipline like Angie’s for Lent, I would encourage you to adopt the mindsets above for the mundane tasks in your life. I would also encourage you to apply the principles of “Don’t work ahead” and “Never make an exception” to whatever discipline you are practicing.
Blessings to you all during Lent. I love questions like Angie’s. Anyone, please feel free to email me questions or post them in a comment.