10 Mar 2022

Lenten Devotional, Day 8, “Normal” (episode 68)

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This morning, I noticed a few subtle differences in my backyard. Normally, the birds chatter more. I also almost always spot a few birds milling about in my neighbor’s shrubs, and I’ve heard red-bellied wouldpeckers off to the north pretty much every single day. None of that was happening this morning. This seemed particularly strange given it was also nice day.

I said “normally”, but what isn’t normal is that I came out at a later time than usually. More often than not, I am in my patio chair around 8:30 or 9 a.m., but today I didn’t get out there until 10:30 a.m. I was reminded that natures normal changes depending on the time of day, the season, and the weather. The afternoon norm isn’t the same as the morning norm, no more than a summer day is the same as a spring day.

In nature observation, the norm for any given season and time of day, if referred to as a baseline. You don’t really know the baseline of a place unless you get to know one place really well. Preferably, you get to know one place really well at a particular time of day also, so that you have a reference point for everything else. Once you internalize the baseline, it is so much easier to spot an event like an alarm call or a new predator in the area. You see the disruption because you know what typically is happening.

As I was thinking about this today, I was recalling a time when my norm subtly changed so gradually that I failed to recognize the shift until I had drifted into a significantly new norm. The change was my heart and it wasn’t good.

A few years ago, I developed A-fib, a heart condition where the heart beat is erratic. As a result, my heart pumped shallowly. This  reduced my circulation and oxygen levels. I gradually had less and less energy. I couldn’t keep in hot yoga, which was my exercise of choice. And, I was starting to get out of breath even if all I was doing was casually walking.

I knew I didn’t feel well, but I had no idea how actually sick I was until they corrected the condition. My heart was running at about half the level of a healthy heart. When they shocked my heart and got it back into rhythm I remember thinking, “Oh my goodness, I forgot this is how good you should feel.”

I was like the proverbial frog who was thrown into a pot and never climbed out in time to keep from being boiled alive because the temperature was brought up slowly. Fortunately, I caught on before any serious and lasting damage was done.

Why am I telling you this? I want to encourage you to put a quiet time into your life if you don’t already have one, so you can develop deep awareness of what your spiritual baseline should be. If every day, preferably around the same time of day, you get still and quiet with God, and spend a few minutes in self examination, you will develop a reference point for the health of your soul. I’m talking essentially about you having a sit spot for your soul.

If you will practice a time of stillness and self-examination, daily, you are far more likely to catch unhealthy changes in your life. You’ll recognize changes like stress getting out of hand, a resentment festering, or self-destructive patterns emerging. You may not catch everything, but you start thinking things like,
“Normally I’m not this anxious.” or “Normally, I can focus so much better.”  That last one isn’t hypothetical. It hit me today. I was struggling hard with getting through my time of thanks. My mind was all over the map. I paused and consider why. As a result, I recognized I was feeling burned out. So, I made a few adjustments today that have allowed me to decompress. I’m already feeling better. This is so much better than me snapping at someone, or spiraling into self-sabotaging behavior.

Again, if you don’t have a daily time to connect with God and examine yourself, I can’t encourage you enough to start one.

Questions: What is one unhealthy way you feel you have drifted recently? What are life-giving activities you have enjoyed in the past, but aren’t doing now and why? When would be a good time for you in the day to have a devotional time?

A Collect for Self-awareness: Holy God, who knows us more intimately than we know ourselves, reveal to us ways that we have drifted into unhealthy patterns, so that we can repent and correct our course before too much damage is done, in Jesus name. Amen.

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