Graced Fruitfulness

With the end of summer comes the return of schedules, weekly commitments, and down-right busyness. In all these things lies the temptation for hurry as we flit from activity to activity. Sure, we lament the hurry, we bemoan how crushed we feel under its weight. Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, we often choose hurry more than hurry chooses us. We wrap ourselves in it like a protective cloak, hoping to shield ourselves from something unfamiliar that God might be requiring of us or from times of stillness, solitude, and prayer that might force us to reckon with a sense of nagging discomfort within. It doesn’t take long to realize that we would feel naked without the familiar cloak of hurry.

Busyness, even busyness in the church, can act just like a drug, numbing our senses to the emptiness inside or distracting us from the pain that has taken root in the deep, far reaches of our hearts. Indeed, busyness may make us feel good and valuable, but it is just as unsatisfying and hollow as a chemical substance used for the same purposes. We weren’t made for busyness.

Busyness, even busyness in the church, can act just like a drug, numbing our senses to the emptiness inside or distracting us from the pain that has taken root in the deep, far reaches of our hearts.”

So what’s the alternative?

Alan Fadling introduces the concept of “graced fruitfulness” in his book An Unhurried Life. He explains that genuine productivity does not involve getting as much done as possible, but “doing the good work God actually has for us in a given day” (Fadling, 2013, p. 54). He illustrates this point with a parable of two servants in the household of a king. One servant rose early before dawn and worked tirelessly to accomplish all the tasks he imagined the king would want done that day. The other servant rose early as well, but began his day by visiting the king and asking what work he desired to be completed. The busy servant may have been more productive, but the inquisitive servant was more fruitful, for it was the inquisitive servant who was actually doing the will of his master. In God’s eyes, it is only this inquisitive type of productivity that can be called fruitfulness because it is born out of an active abiding in Christ.

In God’s Kingdom, we are more than servants or even inquisitive servants. In fact, we are sons and daughters, made not only for service, but for fellowship. So as you feel the temptation to hurry this fall, stop to ponder who gave you the to-do list you are clutching to your chest as you load the kids in the car for the fifth time today. Was it you? Your family? The social expectations of those who might be watching? Or was it our King who has explained that his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30)?

I pray that this fall would be different- not just for you, but for me as well. This go-round, let our productivity be bathed in abiding fellowship with our Lord and thus transformed into graced fruitfulness for the Kingdom.

Deep Breathing: Pearl of Wisdom or Old Wives Tale?

You’ve heard it a hundred times: “calm down, take a deep breath” as well-meaning advice on how to handle stress. But does it actually work? And if so, how?

Nervous System GraphicIt’s all a part of the miraculous design of the human body. Our autonomic nervous system consists of two parts: the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. The sympathetic nervous system orchestrates all of our fight or flight reflexes. Think rapid breathing and the adrenaline you associate with stress. Conversely, the parasympathetic nervous system is initiated by slow, deep- again I say- slow breathing. This calms us down.

Essentially, you can think of the sympathetic nervous system as the gas, the parasympathetic nervous system as the brake. Just like when driving a car, you can’t pump the gas and brake simultaneously, so guiding yourself to take intentional, deep breaths forces your body to slow down and therefore, calm down. While this is happening, your sense of stress and anxiety is automatically suppressed.

In addition to the immediate benefits of decreasing stress and mitigating anxiety, deep breathing is also associated with more far-reaching health benefits. Some research suggests it can offer positive effects on everything from asthma to blood pressure, the immune system to digestion, with some data even implicating an impact on the expression of individual genes.

There’s nothing fancy to it. Breathe in through your nose. Make the breath in last a second longer than you think it should. Pause here as if you are arriving at the initial crest of a rollercoaster. Then, breathe out through your mouth. If you have the benefit of some solitude, let yourself verbally exhale along the way, making a swooshing sound. Allow your shoulders and fists to follow the lead of your breath, tensing as you breathe in and relaxing as you breathe out. You can even make the experience meditative by repeating a phrase from Scripture or ancient liturgy. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.  I am the vine, you are the branches. The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love. Change emphases where appropriate to help you reflect on truth and soak it in. You could even try incorporating your body into this exercise in other ways. In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster describes a technique he calls “palms up, palms down.” While sitting, breathe in with your palms down as you consider an attribute of God’s character and grace. Then move your hands so that your palms are facing up as you slowly breathe out. As you do, make a conscious effort to release specific worries, fears, and sins to the lordship of Christ.

Though deep breathing as a solution to stress and anxiety may sound trite, theological anthropology supports its basic suppositions and science proves its efficacy. Though distinct from one another, our bodies and souls are valued aspects of our personhood and intricately connected to one another. My hunch is that if you give this practice a shot, your experience will add another level of validation. Don’t knock it till you try it!