A few weeks ago, I was praying with someone, and I had what I believe was a prophetic word from God for them. While it was for them personally, it came back to me this morning as a much wider word for our times.
The essence was about seeking God in the “micro” choices. In the right now. Don’t worry about what’s going to happen in 3 months, 6 months, 5 years, or even next week. Just here. And now. What is God saying to you about the next 5 minutes, 30 minutes? How are you going to be aware of Him, and be full of Him right now? What choice are you going to make about what you are going to do right now.
I think this is a key question for our time, even before Covid-19, but especially since. It seems so much of our “go to” is a device – at least it is for me and my household. Switching on the TV, flicking through BBC News app, checking e-mail, Twitter, Instagram, … How easy to grab for the phone, or laptop, or remote when we have 5 minutes ‘spare’, and are not sure what to do. It’s easy to live live at a hundred miles an hour, and to try and cram as much as possible into every second.
“Devices” aren’t inherently bad – in fact they have been almost literally a lifeline for some people, and hugely important for society. It is astonishing to me that my working and church life has become virtual/online almost overnight. Never-the-less part of my Lent this year was giving up video games (Candy Crush, or Mario Karts, or whatever) – in part because I recognise that it easily becomes something I reach for when I’m bored, or tired, or feeling insecure, or anxious, or trying to put something off, or avoiding something, or there’s a “y” in the day, or it’s after 9am, or … The thing I really noticed was how much extra time and head space this freed up, even though I thought it was only 5 minutes here and there.
The truth is we are constantly faced with choices about how we use our time. Every minute, every second, every breath is a gift from God. Every day we have choice moments – “what am I going to do next?”. Perhaps it’s living with an extremely energetic 9 year old, but I get “What can I do now?” several times a day! Each of these moments, these cusps, are a chance to try and hear the Spirit’s whisper in our ears. “Do nothing for a bit”. “Why not go outside” (if you can). “Do the crossword”. “What about that TV programme you wanted to watch?”. “Pray for you family”. “Make a menu and shopping list for next week”. “Play a game of cards”. “Make that phone call you’ve been putting off”.
I’m not suggesting a super-spirituality – just a kind of walking with God throughout the day. The truth is that I know full well when I am doing something I shouldn’t, or wasting time, or neglecting my responsibilities. But I also have days when I am much more aware and present. Where I’m not reacting to the day’s events, or how I’m feeling, but making intentional choices – pausing at each moment, before each activity, and asking the question “is this what God wants me to do right now?”
The backdrop of this all is of course anxiety – even before Covid-19. Worry about the future. Constant activity. Jesus response to this is “Do not worry”. God’s gift to us is peace.
Some practical pointers, then, from my own experience:
Firstly – slow down! Rushing from one activity to another is a sure fire way to increase stress and anxiety. Just pause between one thing and the next. If you do have a fixed time for something – like a live stream, or a meeting – don’t try and cram in lots of extra stuff before it. Instead be ready for it a few minutes early, and be still. Even something as simple as boiling the kettle or going to the loo can be a pause point – resist the temptation to pick up your device!!
Secondly, make a list of everything you want to do, or need to remember. I am a huge fan of lists, and trying to remember everything in your head is another source of anxiety and stress. It also helps with living in the now. I’ve finished my crossword – look at list – ah yes I need to put the slow cooker on for supper this evening.
Finally when things start to feel overwhelming, when your chest tightens, and tears threaten, you could try something like the “Apple” technique from AnxietyUK (and posted on BBC News). This seems to me to very close to prayer – or at least could very naturally lead into prayer.
Try practising the APPLE technique which encourages you to Acknowledge, Pause, Pull back, Let go and Explore..
Acknowledge – Notice and acknowledge the uncertainty as it comes to mind.
Pause – Don’t react as you normally do. Don’t react at all. Just pause and breath.
Pull back – Tell yourself this is just the worry talking, and this apparent need for certainty is not helpful and not necessary. It is only a thought or feeling. Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are not statements or facts.
Let go – Let go of the thought or feeling. It will pass. You don’t have to respond to them. You might imagine them floating away in a bubble or cloud.
Explore – Explore the present moment, because right now, in this moment, all is well. Notice your breathing and the sensations of your breathing. Notice the ground beneath you. Look around and notice what you see, what you hear, what you can touch, what you can smell. Right now. Then shift your focus of attention to something else – on what you need to do, on what you were doing before you noticed the worry, or do something else – mindfully with your full attention.
May you walk this day alongside the 3 mile-an-hour God, who Himself walked on earth.
May you do no more and no less than He is calling you this day, here and now.
May you hear the Spirit’s soft whisper, saying “this is the path – walk in it”.