Let's Build a Wall...Of Self-Care

Today’s post is a guest post from my dear friend Alison. She’s sharing with us some practical tips about how we can practice good self-care.

Although sometimes self-care can be painted as selfish (and, to be honest, I have seen some people use it as an excuse to be), I find that a healthy self-care practice, like the one Alison helps us think about here, is actually an important part of our discipleship. It helps us remember that we are finite, that we need rest, that we need other people. Good self-care can make us more effective as disciples of Jesus, better able to love God and love others. I hope you’re encouraged and challenged by what she has to share.

Alison is a pastor and a poet - and an integral part of my own “wall” of self-care for the gray New England winters. You can find her sermons on her church website and her occasional thoughts on her blog.

Enjoy!


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I don’t know about where you are, but where I am? It’s the most horrible time of the year. It’s overcast, it’s cold, it’s snowy, it’s icy, it’s gross. And gross weather means gross moods, gross feelings about oneself and one’s existence, and even, at times, gross walks with God.

Over the last eight winters living in New England I have learned that in order to protect myself against this madness, I need a good defense system. Like a wall. And not a wall where I block my friends out and don’t let them know what’s going on with me. And not a wall of blankets where I bundle myself in bed for the next two months. But a wall of self care. Like a defense system, built out of regular, healthy actions I take, to take care of myself.

But hang on a second, isn’t self care selfish? Isn’t it un-Christian? Isn’t it…wrong? No, it isn’t. Jesus instructed us to "love others" as we "love ourselves", as though loving ourselves was something he expected us to do naturally. And self care doesn’t mean we ignore everyone else or ignore God - taking care of others, and loving God is also part of a good self care system. Because those things, as well as being rewarding to God and to others, also are wonderfully rewarding to ourselves.

So how do you build a wall of self care? You do need to be intentional about this, and keep track of what you do. The best way I’ve found? With those excellent and ancient tools: the pen and the sheet of paper.

  1. Start out with a piece of graph paper, or even some kind of habit tracker like this one Ashley made as a free printable for her Evermore Paper Co blog.

  2. Make a list down the side of different activities that you can do during the day that help you take care of you. I try to make my list out of a variety of different activities that address the different needs I have: physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and spiritual needs.

  3. Keep track of what activity you do every day. Just before you go to bed, check off what you have done.

  4. The goal is not to do ALL the things every day - rather, to be consistently doing a few of them every day. These little bricks on your self-care chart make up the “wall" that you are building for yourself. A day with a solid group of bricks in it, is another notch in the wall built. A day with no bricks in it is where the defenses come down and some of those gross moods, gross thoughts, gross behaviors can creep in.

If it’s hard for you to think of what might constitute self care activities, I thought I would leave you with some suggestions. Don’t start with all of these on your chart, that would be overwhelming! Maybe two that really speak to you from each group?

Physical: go for a walk, go outside (can sometimes be hard in winter!), exercise for X minutes, dance for X minutes, drink X cups of water, eat some vegetables, eat some fruit, eat three meals, take a shower, brush your teeth, brush your hair, go to bed before Xpm, get 8 hours sleep

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Emotional: take a moment to be aware of what you are feeling, write in your journal, make a list of things that are stressing you out, make a list of things you are thankful for, visit a counselor, give yourself X quiet minutes alone, say no to something, say yes to something, take a thought that you keep having that’s really hurting you and tell it to go away, take something you keep beating yourself up about and forgive yourself

Social: call a friend, see a friend, write a card to a friend, pray for a friend, give a gift to somebody, go on a date, have some intentional play time with your kids

Intellectual: read a book, read the paper, look at some art, listen to music, play some music, watch a movie, do a crossword, work on a project

Spiritual: listen to worship music, memorize a bible verse, read the bible, pray

Of course, what constitutes good self care for you might be completely different to what it means for me. If you have any other suggestions for items other people can put on their Wall of Self Care Chart, leave them in a comment below.

Happy building, all!

Personal Spiritual Growth Inventory

It’s common as we enter a new year to spend time in reflection. We may set goals or resolutions for the year. We may take stock of our work or our finances. We may reflect on the highlights and struggles of the last year or on our hopes and plans for the upcoming one.

As we seek to grow as disciples of Christ, reflection can be an important tool. Structured reflection gives us the space to celebrate how we’ve grown and consider what lies ahead as we continue to grow in Christlikeness.

Why not take time to reflect on your spiritual life as you enter the new year?

A spiritual growth inventory is a great way to set aside time to reflect. This can be done on your own, with a  mentor or pastor, or in a small group setting. You can also ask a trusted friend or spouse for their input on areas in which you most need to grow. 

Remember that as with any exercise like this, the point is not to earn our way into God’s favor or work our way into holiness. It also isn’t about heaping guilt on ourselves for all the ways we fall short of some spiritual ideal.

We are completely dependent on grace and the inner working of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives and hearts, and this transformation is a lifelong journey. This reality doesn’t mean we are passive with no part to play in our spiritual growth.

We should be striving to pay attention to the ways sin still holds strong in our lives and seeking ways to put it to death. We should be seeking to develop the habits of godliness and Christ-likeness, nurturing a character that is pleasing to him. A spiritual inventory can help us discern what areas of our life need the most attention. 

The questions that follow are by no means exhaustive. You can work through all of them, or select only a few to consider. Feel free to adapt or add to them in any way that best suits your circumstances. 

Spiritual Inventory Questions

  • How would you describe your walk with God over the last year?

  • How have you grown since first coming to faith? How do you feel you would most like and most need to grow?

  • What is one joy and one struggle in your life and ministry right now?

  • How has your church and faith community helped in your spiritual development? How is it helping you presently?

  • Which fruits of the Spirit are most evident in your day-to-day life (see Gal. 5:22)? Which fruits are least evident in your day-to-day life? Is there something hindering these fruits?

  • What trials have been present in your life over the last year? How did you respond to them? Did they bring you closer to the Lord or further away from him? Do/did you respond with trust or bitterness? What did these trials bring to the fore in your heart? What does this show you about your relationship with the Lord? What does this show you about any idols that may be present in your heart?

  • What are the besetting sins in your life that you are aware of? How are you trying to overcome them? Are you making excuses for any sin in your life? What would it look like for you to take its reality seriously?

  • What role do spiritual disciplines (Bible study, prayer, and others) play in your life? How have they aided your growth in spiritual maturity? What is something you’ve discovered recently in your devotional life? Are there any spiritual disciplines you would like to incorporate? Why?

  • What role does the Bible play in your life? Does it influence your decision making, your priorities, the way you see the world, etc? How has the Lord been speaking to you through His Word?

  • What is your prayer life like?

  • What does the way your spend your time reveal about your priorities? Are there things you spend too much or too little time doing? What adjustments do you need to make?

  • What opportunities do you have to engage in God’s work in the world? Are there opportunities in your life for ministry and service? Consider opportunities in your family life, workplace, neighborhood, community, etc. Are there opportunities to help those in need or to share your faith? Are there opportunities to build relationships with non-Christians or to encourage the faith journey of those who do know the Lord? How are you living into these opportunities?

Next Steps

As this inventory brings sin to light and shows areas in which you can grow, prayerfully turn these things over to the Lord. Repent of the ways you are missing the mark. Ask for His strength and wisdom as you seek to become more like Him. Then prayerfully consider action steps you can take to practically cut out the sin pattern(s) and foster a godly pattern of behavior. Seek out someone you trust who could be an accountability partner with you in this journey.


How to Lead an Inductive Bible Study

I remember sitting at the large folding tables covered with papers and writing implements. It was hot, I'm sure, though I don't remember it. I was in the midst of training for my first summer as a camp counselor, not yet fully aware of the joy, exhaustion, and hilarity I had signed myself up for. We were preparing for the Bible studies we would lead with several weeks worth of campers. We did these OIAs (observation-interpretation-application) for hours, punctuated by breaks and meals and team building exercises - and, eventually, sleep. We were learning to mine the depths of Scripture. And I was learning to do inductive Bible study.

What is an Inductive Bible Study?

Inductive Bible Study is a Bible study tool that uses three steps, Observation, Interpretation, and Application, to study a Scripture passage. Special attention is paid to observing the basic facts of the passage, noting and exploring questions you might have, and paying careful attention to what the passage teaches in context. These observation and interpretation points bring you to an application that springs from the passage.

This process can be used for personal Bible study or as a method for small group Bible study. It can also be used, as we did at camp, as the method of background research to construct a more traditional Bible study or Bible lesson.

Why is it helpful?

The inductive Bible study format guards against several potential Bible study ills.

  • Keeps the conversation first on Scripture, not just on “what it means to me”

  • Prevents peripheral and derailing topics or applications and keeps the application grounded in the passage itself

  • Guards against leader-driven small group Bible studies, in which only one person teaches and answers questions

  • Invites the group to dive deep into Scripture rather than remain at a cursory level

  • Allows the entire group to participate, regardless of knowledge or experience

  • Invites questions of things individuals might not understand

  • Provides a context to learn from each other and hear unique insights and perspectives

  • It uses a Scripture study model that can be used for group and personal Bible study.

How do I do it?

Inductive Bible studies are run through a series of questions. If you’re leading one with a small group, you can choose questions—or add your own—based on what seems relevant to the passage. 

Resist the urge to only use leading questions to drive people to what your point from the study is. If possible, use questions that could have multiple answers or that will invite the other participants to go back to the passage. Open-ended questions become even more important during the Interpretation and Application stages.

Before you lead a group through an inductive Bible study, I recommend going through the process on your own. If there are any more challenging questions that arise that require more research, seek out possible answers to have on hand if that same question comes up in the group.

Observation - What does it say?

Read the passage out loud at least once. Don't get ahead of yourself (or let the group get ahead). Stick with these very basic observation questions. It's really easy to slip into interpretation. Resist this urge.

  • What are your initial observations? What stands out at you from a first read through?

  • What questions are you left with?

Then move to questions such as…

  • What is the situation and atmosphere?

  • Who is here? What happened? When? Where?

  • What are the relationships between characters?

  • What literary form is used? (Narrative, Poetry, Prophecy, etc.)

  • Who is the author? Where is he? Who is he writing to?

  • What are key words or repeated words and phrases?

  • What symbols, comparisons, and imagery is used?

Interpretation - What does it mean?

Read the passage again out loud. Then answer the questions that arose from your Observation time. As much as possible, have the group answer their own questions through looking at the text and comparing to other parts of Scripture. A Bible dictionary could be handy. Only as a last resort, offer your thoughts on more challenging questions you unearthed during your preparations.

Then move to questions such as…

  • How does this passage fit in with what came before and what comes after (in the chapter, the book, the entire Bible)?

  • What other Scriptures relate?

  • What is the main purpose of this passage?

  • What central truth is this passage teaching?

  • What would the original hearers have understood? What is he saying to them?

Application - How does it apply?

Stay focused on application points that actually arise from your passage. It's always tempting to jump directly to application, but you must first make sure you've completed the Observation and Interpretation steps thoroughly. Your answers and discussion from them should guide the answers to your application questions.

  • What is one way this passage applies to my life?

  • What will I do differently because of what I’ve learned?


Have you ever used the inductive Bible study method? What was your experience like?


Arma Christi: Using Art to Meditate on the Suffering of Christ

Yesterday, I talked about the importance of remembering the sufferings of Christ. Today, I’d like to offer a tool to do this. 

During the Middle Ages, there was a specific genre of religious art called “arma christi.” These paintings focus specifically on the sufferings Christ endured in his Passion—the betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial. They were used as a tool for spiritual meditation, allowing the viewer to remember each part of the pain and humiliation Christ endured on our behalf. 

I was first exposed to the arma christi during a class on Medieval spirituality. By the end of our time with the painting, a sacred silence reigned over our lecture hall of seminarians, and all we could do was offer up prayers of humble thanksgiving at the love poured out on us. I have used it since then with small groups. Each time, it’s been remarkable to see the impact this exercise has on each of the participants—and on me. 

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The Words Test: Do They Bring Life or Death?

Have you ever been around someone with poisonous speech? You know, the ones who always have something critical to say or someone to make a snide remark about? I leave them and have to shake off the bitterness and anger.

Have you ever been around someone with life-giving speech? Their words speak life and peace. They find ways to encourage and comfort or to spread laughter and joy. I leave them with my heart buoyed up and my spirit refreshed. I smile when I remember their company. 

We all know the power of words. It’s not something I need to convince you of.

I am always struck by the high standard the Bible holds us to with our words. Perhaps being a “words person” makes me more attuned to these statements. I think so often of the power of words—both the kind that reverberate from my vocal chords to someone else’s ear drum and the kind that are put in the black and white permanence of a book (or in this case computer screen). So often, though perhaps not often enough, I reevaluate and reflect on what sort of spirit my words embody, what sort of fruit they bear. 

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