- May 27, 2018
- Ivan Moore
There’s something cathartic, dare I say, even spiritually stimulating, about spring cleaning. Sure we engage in some cleaning throughout the year, but spring cleaning gives us an excuse to go a little deeper. This is the time when we’ll finally shred those papers crowding your desk that you kept fearing their loss might lead to an IRS audit. This is the time when we’ll bravely move furniture to find what the vacuum has been missing all these months. Now’s the time to get that step stool out and clear those cobwebs we walked by day after day on our way to work. What is more beautiful, more Biblical, than the renewal and restoration a deep cleaning can provide? Unfortunately, there might be a dark corner, a neglected space, that our spring cleaning might miss if we’re not careful, that space between our ears.
There might not be a more cluttered space than my mind. My headspace is historically the perfect party pad for all my hopes, dreams, worries, anxieties, guilt, and distractions. In typical party guest fashion, these attendees rarely ever stick behind to clean up the jumbled mess they leave behind. Certain seasons of life have opened the door for more wild ragers than others, but in general, my mind pretty regularly needs a spray or two of Lysol. Paul speaks of this practice when he challenges the Romans, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” We’ve got to bring renewal to our minds and clearing the cobwebs from my cerebral attic continues to bring me back to meditation and prayer.
The precedent for this was established throughout the great story of scripture as God’s greatest mediators, prophets, and kings turned their minds to the Father of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The practice of prayer and meditation was also modeled by Jesus. In the aftermath of some extensive early miracle work in the first chapter of Mark, Jesus takes some time to give his headspace to the Father. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” Jesus isn’t just avoiding awkward breakfast conversation with the disciples, he’s offering us a picture of creating rhythms of renewal in our lives.
Jesus knew that our minds and hearts can get cluttered faster than the junk drawer in my mom’s kitchen. The mental clutter definitely affects my prayer life. When I do make time to pray, what starts as an earnest appeal to God usually turns into a mangled mess of mental dirty laundry from the day. The problem is, though, if we don’t ever hit pause on our lives it’ll be easy to overlook the cost of living in a fallen world until we’re already in debt. Sometimes single traumatic events quickly cause mental burnouts and breaks, but these are also the products of the buildup of mental clutter. While it’s nearly impossible to avoid the former, discipline and practice can help clean up the latter. For this, I turned to some experts.
Have you tried the Headspace app? It’s funny how something that the Bible institutes and Jesus modeled for our benefit can become cool and trendy. That’s exactly what has happened to meditation. One author and TED Talk-er interviewed 140 people that are top in their field and found that 90% of them engaged in some kind of morning mindfulness training. The meditation trend has produced a wave of online meditation tools and resources, but maybe none more popular than Headspace. I gave it a try, and I’ll tell you I think it has enhanced my prayer life.
Many of the exercises aim to help you direct your focus better and properly handle and store everything else. Moving through the 10 trial sessions that come with the app was like going into my messiest closet doing some serious purging, dusting, and organizing. I’ve even found ways to make some of the techniques more spiritual. For instance, throughout the daily meditations the instructor helps you focus in your breathing, which sometimes requires simple counting to stay focused. He invites you to do 1-2 counts on the inhale and exhale. Well instead of arbitrary counting, I’ve found it helpful to recite the syllables of YAH-WEH. Sometimes when praying and meditating it helps for me to focus on one thing. If I’m praying for a person, instead of trying to think of everything they need, I just recite their name to God over and over. It’s an act of offering that person into the arms of the Lord. Likewise, when I’m inviting God into my own messy mind closet, it’s often helpful to recite one of His names like Yahweh.
Another battle that is waged with my cluttered mind is the struggle to compose coherent prayers. At the end of a long day, it’s not uncommon for there to be a lot left unprocessed from the day. Paul does say in Romans 8:26, “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” So even my most jumbled, incoherent groans make sense to the Lord, but sometimes I need help even entering into a space of prayer. A common sentiment I have when it comes time to pray is, “Where do I even start?” Thankfully, I married a woman who is an Anglican at heart.
Do you know who your true friends are? They’re the ones who will help you move. This special sect of friends will enter your most disorganized spaces to help bring order. They’re not afraid of your mess and are happy to lend a guiding hand through the, often daunting, process. Sometimes, if they’re gifted in organization, they can even give you pointers on where to begin! For years my wife has had an intimate relationship with the Book of Common Prayer, and I, like many of us, have been hesitant to dabble with scripted prayers. I saw it as a barrier between my true feelings and the Lord. However, the BCP was written to help people worship not hinder them, to make the Lord more accessible not less. If I can invite a friend to help me organize my things, why can’t I invite one to help organize my thoughts? Where I originally thought scripted prayers would be constricting, I know find them freeing. No longer am I asking where to begin. With the BCP, it’s like I have a friend to help me get started.
If I’m being honest, what I’ve shared so far are some tools that have helped me be disciplined when I’m being intentional about setting aside time to pray. Other times, though, I just plain forget to even set aside the time. How many of you are fans of post-it notes? What about to-do lists? Throughout the busyness of life, it can be so helpful to have a little pink square of paper to remind you to “Get milk” or “Tonight is trash night.” I also need these little reminders sometimes in my prayer life. Not long ago I realized while I was caring for my city and lamenting its hardships, I was not carving out time to pray for it. So I gave myself a mental post-it note. Our area code in Memphis is 901, so I decided that if I ever look at my clock and its 9:01 am or pm, I’ll stop everything and pray for my city.
As I move through my every day, the world demands pieces of my mind, it occupies the spaces in my head. Being disciplined about prayer is an act of reopening those spaces for the Lord to reclaim them and to dwell there. The Lord is a God of great restoration and renewal. After all, sin had left a crimson stain, but Jesus washed it white as snow. That wasn’t accomplished with a tide-to-go stick, or by unleashing the power of oxygen with Oxi-Clean, but with a redeeming love only God could offer. God made us to be restorers too, but that begins with renewing our minds.