It’s easy to mistakenly think that My Life is over here (on the left side of the page) – made up of all those little dots – and God is somewhere “out there.” When I do that, my center is constantly shifting as the little dots vie for attention and urgency. In that state of mind, I see God’s invitation to abide as an instruction to take a break from the little dots; leave them to the side and come visit with God for a bit.
But that doesn’t work. If we think of Jesus’s “vine and branches” description of abiding we quickly realize that branches don’t go wandering off to do their fruit making and then come back to check in with the vine every once in a while. It’s being on the vine that gives life to the branch.
So, instead of taking a break from our “real life” to be with God, we instead need to see God as “The Framework” which sustains and gives meaning and context to our lives.
“…whoever says, “I abide in him,” ought to walk just as he walked.”1 John 2:6
The idea of following God as a “way” or a path is one of the most ubiquitous images in the Bible. Following God’s commands is less about a set of rules than a way of being. God requires nothing less than the “right ordering” of our hearts. We are walking in “the way” when our hearts reflect God desires.
Walking in the way requires something akin to working out. We have to train our minds, bodies and emotions to work in a particular way all the time – even when we aren’t “at the gym.” It can’t be done without practice. You don’t do pull- ups for the sake of doing pull-ups. You do the pull-ups so you’re arms will be strong whenever you need upper body strength. In the same way, you don’t pray for the sake of praying. In fact, many times in the moment it can feel hard, uncomfortable, and even unsatisfying (just like pull-ups). But, you are training your mind, body and emotions to work in a certain way all the time. Prayer trains our internal operating system to snap back to a way of being that reflects forgiveness, righteousness, God’s faithfulness, love – instead of anxiety and fear.
That takes training! And frameworks like relationships, environments and actions/routines can help.
One of the most stressful aspects of living in the contemporary world is the amount of choices we make. From what coffee to drink to what to believe on the news; each day we face endless decisions leaving us exhausted and even depressed. Plus, many times we’re not even sure we’ve made the right choice. It never ends! Habits, rituals and frameworks allow us to be relaxed and free us from constant decision making.
How? Think of it as curating relationships, environments and actions (or routines) to help guide you towards your ultimate goal. In spiritual parlance the place we start is called “spiritual disciplines” or practices. But, the framework that shapes us is much larger than that.
We all create frameworks just to make life work and we use them to help us achieve goals and to become who we want to be. Anything that is built into your life; that you don’t have to think about is part of your framework. Some frameworks we choose to avoid behaviors and ways of thinking that don’t help us achieve our goals.
For instance, I have an evil relationship with Ritz Crackers. Eating just one casts a spell on me and I can’t stop eating until the entire sleeve of crackers is gone. I don’t know what it is. Every time I tell myself “just one.” Or, “just three?” Then, the buttery taste takes over. Then the crunch gets ahold of me and I just can’t get my fill. It’s just not a fight I’m up to – ever! I will never win against Ritz in the moment. So, I have to create frameworks to help me so I don’t get into that situation. I have to create a framework where Ritz Crackers are not present. Either I don’t have them in the house or I’m just not allowed to open a sleeve. I also have to have snacks available that are equally satisfying but won’t send me down the feeding frenzy trail. I create a framework that keeps me away from addictive behavior and guided into healthy behavior instead.
On a macro-level we can choose frameworks that guide and shape us into being who God created us to be. When we consciously select them, they can do a lot of the work for us. Like gym buddies that are waiting for you at the gym; they can subconsciously encourage and shape us to become who we are meant to be. God gives us relationships, environments and actions to live in as frameworks so that we didn’t have to go it alone. We abide with God in every moment by shaping our frameworks to support our desired goal of desiring God’s will in our lives and the world.
For instance, I have friends with whom I text regularly. These texts throughout the week are where we share daily -in the moment- struggles and decisions. They are quick cries for help re-centering. And our responses to each other are always some form of encouragement and a reminder of what we already know to be true (but forget when life gets tough): God is present, we are called and we are loved. These texts are no brainer ways I remember what’s important and they very often get me through the week.
On the other hand, I have friends with whom it is much easier to go down the rabbit hole of doom and gloom, worry or just plain bitching. I internalize a different picture of the world, myself and other people when I spend too much time in that place and I participate in shaping them in these negative habits as well.
The stories we tell are the stories we live. So, I have to choose my frameworks intentionally.
Take a moment to think about relationships, environments and actions (or routines/habits) in your life. I bet you already have quite a bit of your framework in place. But, maybe there are some areas where that framework could use a little curating. Your family, friends, school environments, workplace, church culture, what you watch on TV, inescapable commercials and advertisements, your home, your recreation activities; all of these shape and create context for who you are and how you see the world.
Here are some ideas for pieces that might be a part of your spiritual framework: Church family, Prayer at meals, singing Taize or hymns in the car, devotional reading, reading biographies of the saints, Bible verse or quotes, prayer apps, our Spiritual Collectives, Sunday night Creative Prayer, fasting, Lectio Divina on Thursdays, Centering Prayer, walks, journals, morning pages, observing the Sabbath, friends who share my values, Christian therapist, spiritual director, sabbaticals, vacations, sitting quietly outdoors, time to express gratitude, images on your computer or the walls of your house, the environment of your home, office or car, what you listen to or watch, etc.
It’s a mistake to expect to find growth, peace and a sense of abiding on a daily basis without a framework. Without committing to a way. It’s like never exercising and expecting to lift a huge box when you need to -your back goes out. If you want to be strong you have to build those muscles. You have to train. If you want the freedom and peace of abiding you have to train your focus to center on “The One” – The Way instead of anxiety or escape. So, I guess the first task is to decide; what you do really want?
CREATIVE EXERCISE: Take a moment to imagine (or draw) what a framework for your life would feel like that was both strong enough to hold you (all of you) and comforting. What would it feel like to have a framework that brought real peace? What would it look like? What shape would it be? What colors? Would it be soft or hard?
Lisa Smith, Pastor/Artistic Director, Convergence
This blog post is taken from curriculum being written for soul|makers and was made possible by a Pastoral Study Grant on Artists as Culture Makers from the Louisville Institute and the Lilly Endowment. 2021