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HABITS of a CHILD'S HEARTRaising Your Kids with the Spiritual Disciplines
By Valerie E. Hess Marti Watson Garlett
NAVPRESSCopyright © 2004 Valerie E. Hess and Marti Watson Garlett
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE DISCIPLINE OF MEDITATION
I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. PSALM 119:15-16
Understanding the Discipline
The Discipline of Meditation helps us focus on hearing God's voice. Meditation teaches us to become like tea bags, soaking deeply and quietly in God and his Word so that we can better hear him speak to our hearts and minds. And, as a gentleman named Earl learned, sometimes we stumble upon this knowledge serendipitously.
In California's San Gabriel Mountains, there is a path known to locals as the Garcia Trail. It rises 866 vertical feet per mile above the valley floor and offers stunning views at its summit. When Earl reached his fiftieth birthday, he decided he would hike the Garcia Trail fifty times during the year in an effort to stretch the physical limits of his aging body and regain, at least in part, the stamina of his youth. He reached his goal with an additional serendipity-a quiet, meditative time each week alone with God.
On Saturday at dawn, he left his house while his family still slept, packed a breakfast burrito and a palm-sized Bible, and ascended into the Angeles National Forest. Flat rocks at the crest gave Earl both a bench and a table for eating his simple breakfast and contemplating a small but significant portion of the creation given to him by the Lord of the universe. He also read Scripture and prayed.
The quiet permeating Earl's mountaintop morning brought him closer to God, from the stilling of the beat of his exercised heart to deliberate focus on the taste of each morsel of his breakfast to intentional honoring of each muscle's slow cooldown as amazing organic gifts from his Maker. Earl often wondered at his corporeal body, how it worked and flexed, how the senses God built into it combined to allow him existence as a human being but also enriched his physical life with sensation. In contemplating his own physiology, Earl learned more about the One who had fashioned it, and his own bodily workings struck him with as much awe and majesty as the mountain did.
Most mornings, Earl settled in like this for an hour or more, reluctant to leave what had now become a much-anticipated time alone in God's company. As a result of this time spent in meditation, Earl attained a new and surprising intimacy with his Creator.
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Meditation sends us into our ordinary world with greater perspective and balance. Richard Foster
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Transcending Life Circumstances
Through meditation, we center ourselves on God. This discipline enables us to locate, and more rapidly return to, an internal core within ourselves where we know God will be waiting. As we center our thoughts on God, we allow him to comfort us and invite us to trust him in the dark.
He did this for me (Marti) on a starless night shortly after our then-teenaged son Kyle was diagnosed with the form of lymphatic cancer called Hodgkin's disease. I found myself wandering sleeplessly through our still house, trapped in a wretched state of mind. I had no idea how I could get through this fearsome diagnosis for Kyle and all its horrific implications. The future I was so certain was laid out for my talented son suddenly contained an abyss with an unfathomable and frightening potential ending. No human being could help me or bring me the comfort I craved-not my husband, not my pastor, not my dearest friends. No, my soul had to face its long night of suffering alone-except, of course, for the presence of God.
But as I faced down those cold hours of darkness, tears spilling down my face, no prayers would come-only deep internal groanings. So I did the one thing I knew to do: I picked up my Bible, felt its heft in my hand, took in the reassuring scent of its leather binding, and began reading through Psalms. I found verses penned by similarly tortured hearts, and, in their open acknowledgment of foreboding and despair and their pleas for mercy and victory, an odd sort of comfort seeped into my soul.
As if I had no time to waste, I hurriedly began writing down verses on three-by-five-inch index cards that spoke to, simultaneously, fear of enemies and trust in God. I then went all over the house taping the cards on mirrors, walls, door posts, and even (in the bathroom Kyle used) under the toilet seat lid. As I meditated on those words, God soothed my anxious heart. Finally, I found myself able to crawl back in bed beside my husband and sleep.
Spending Satisfied Time Alone with God
Meditation insists on taking focused time-lots of it-to listen to what God has to say to us personally. There is no express-lane version of this discipline, no microwave edition of finding and spending quiet time with him. Instead, meditation slow-cooks like a Crock-Pot, requiring deep reflection on a biblical word, phrase, or concept.
Several years ago I spent three months in Korea, teaching English to college-aged young women and Korean military officers. God was my only companion on this trip, and I spent countless hours with him. I spoke aloud to him in my apartment and intensely felt his ever-present nearness. He was my guard against loneliness, which at every turn threatened to overpower me. Those were, without a doubt, some of the most satisfying months I ever spent with my Creator. Upon my return to American life, I realized how easy it is for me to let Western clamor invade my 24/7 cherished relationship with God. I have had to work fiercely to guard against the seduction of stateside culture and protect my hard-won intimacy with God.
In the Discipline of Meditation, we slow down and focus on God-and we gain increasing ability to hear God's holy voice through his manifold methods of communication.
God Speaks in Various Ways
Meditation requires us to remain creatively open to how God may speak to us. True learning requires uninhibited awe and wonder, much like that of a child. Each of us is ever a small child as we continually, throughout all the days of our lives, attempt to learn more and more about God.
Among the communication tools in God's hamper are nature, art, music, books, and even, on occasion, current events. When we intentionally and deliberately learn from these things, God can use them to speak to us personally. Often this leads toward self-selected fields of formal study, which we will cover in more detail in chapter 4, "The Discipline of Study."
Valerie lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains above Boulder, Colorado, and has daily opportunities for nature walks that help her turn her focus away from busyness, toward God and God alone. During her walks, she asks God to speak to her through the created splendor of her surroundings. One time in particular stands out in her mind.
After a slight from a friend, Valerie paid no attention to her environs, walking wearily with her head down. Unheralded, she walked into a field of wildflowers that had not been blooming the last time she had taken this particular trail. Now they were a stunningly gorgeous bouquet practically placed in her lap, flowers that would hardly be seen by human eyes in this remote area, flowers that were doing what they were created to do-radiantly blossom for the glory of God and no one else. She realized that was the message God intended for her to receive-that like those flowers, she was created to do and be wholly herself, no matter whether others noticed or nodded approvingly.
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Unless we change our direction, we are likely to end up where we are headed. Chinese Proverb
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Growth of a Peaceful Center
When we hear God speaking to us, we are better able to discern his will, which helps us become less frantic and more likely to access the solid, calm center that Jesus manifested. In the Discipline of Meditation, we seek to hear God's voice directly. If all we ever do is listen to someone else interpret God's Word for us-and there certainly are many times when that is appropriate-then we will never encounter the living God ourselves.
Nothing in our lives will keep us healthier than learning how to develop and hold on to a peaceful center. If we can do this-and we can-we are no longer helpless victims to life's ups and downs. To be sure, some things we don't want to happen will, and some things we wish would happen won't. But the calm center provided through meditation instills in us an ability to respond appropriately to whatever comes our way and greet it with God's eyes and perspective.
If you long to have a deeper relationship with God, then find a quiet spot and a small portion of Scripture and spend time with those words every day for several days. Have a cup of tea to help you remember to steep in this deliberately carved-out, contemplative moment.
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Where there is peace and meditation, there is neither anxiety nor doubt. St. Francis of Assisi
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Practicing the Discipline
When we quiet our hearts and slow down to meditate, we are more apt to hear God's voice. God can work on, with, and for you during any of the activities that follow. Before you bring your children into the mix, we strongly urge you to strengthen your own inward ability to meditate.
1. Take a verse of Scripture or even just a phrase from a verse. When you read the verse, do so with intentionality and deliberateness. Don't rush. Reflect on the verse a while. Ask yourself questions such as: How does this verse read when I insert my own name into it as if God were speaking directly to me and no one else? What is the context for this verse? How does it fit with those that surround it? Write the verse on index cards and tape them in your kitchen, car, and office. Spend a week listening for what God may be saying through those words about him, you, or your life circumstances. Replace this concentrated meditation the next week by selecting a different verse.
2. Meditate on the local and international events of our world and listen to what God may be saying in and through them. Is the media representing a biblical viewpoint? Is American culture synonymous with God's preferred lifestyle? Why are there so many different cultures represented on earth throughout the millennia since God's creation? What does that say about God's love of diversity? Are American interests abroad synchronized with God's leading? Ask the Holy Spirit to give you God's heart and perspective on local, national, and global issues. Think about what you would do in a certain situation if you were in charge.
3. Practice the ancient Israelite art of lectio divina. In lectio divina we listen for the still, small voice of God, that "gentle whisper" (1 Kings 19:12) that is God's Word for us, God's voice touching our hearts. This tender listening is an atunement to the presence of God in Scripture. We try to imitate the prophet Elijah, knowing that we must "hear" the voice of God, which often speaks very softly. In order to hear someone speaking softly, we must learn to love silence. If we are constantly speaking or if we are surrounded with noise, we cannot hear gentle sounds. The practice of lectio divina, therefore, requires that we first quiet down in order to hear God's Word to us. This is the first step of lectio divina, appropriately called lectio, or "reading."
In lectio we read slowly and attentively, gently listening to hear a word or phrase that is God's Word for us this day. Once we have found a word or passage in the Scriptures that speaks to us in a personal way, we must take it in and ruminate on it. The image of an animal quietly chewing its cud was used in antiquity as a symbol of the believer pondering the Word of God.
4. Carve out quiet time for yourself every single day, even if it is only ten minutes. Sit somewhere apart from others that can become, for those ten minutes, your space. Deliberately and intentionally work to still the beating of your heart, the rapid thoughts and to-do lists running through your mind. If possible, plug in a small environmental fountain nearby and allow your ears to cease listening to external noise. Breathe deeply; close your eyes; will your body to relax. Then put into your mind a mental image of Christ soothing your brow, of his strong carpenter hands kneading the back of your neck and the tops of your shoulders. Over one or two weeks' time, notice how much you look forward to these few minutes of respite from a wearying day and how refreshed you feel afterward. Know that God has been with you.
Teaching the Discipline
Once you are comfortable with your own meditative abilities, begin teaching the Discipline of Meditation to your children. What follow are several ideas, a menu of choices that are developmentally organized according to children's ages and maturity levels.
Early Childhood (ages 4-7):
1. Take a nature walk with your children. Go to a nearby park and study the plants and flowers. See how many small creatures you can find. Keep a numerical tally. Ask your children to proceed on this walk very quietly, with their ears and eyes open but not their mouths. Then go to a bench or picnic table-or a cloth on the ground-and talk about what you've seen, including that God is the Creator of it all. Ask your kids to thank God for his creation by writing him a thank-you letter. Write down your children's words exactly as they say them to you. This will help them not only own the experience but also enrich their reading vocabulary. Save this thank-you card in a special place, such as a bookshelf, so that you and your children can reread it on occasion.
2. Buy some bubble bath, tape a picture of Jesus and a phrase like "Jesus loves you" on the wall above the tub, and have your child soak in both. Help your child imagine he or she is soaking in God.
3. Play music your children know and love, but this time, instead of singing with the music, ask them to stay perfectly still and listen to the words. Ask them not to move or talk but to just listen quietly. Follow up by asking them to describe what they were thinking about while the music played.
4. Seat your kids in a safe place, such as a high stool away from the stovetop, and let them watch you cook pasta.
Excerpted from HABITS of a CHILD'S HEART by Valerie E. Hess Marti Watson Garlett Copyright © 2004 by Valerie E. Hess and Marti Watson Garlett. Excerpted by permission.
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