Saturday, November 2, 2013

An apologetic for a Christian practice of mindfulness

In April of 2013 the psychology department of Trinity Christian College hosted it's annual conference. The conference, entitled Psychology Renewed, focused on the concept of mindfulness. The following post reflects one of the presentations at the conference. 


If I told Christian people that I was writing a blog on mindfulness I can imagine the looks I would get. Some would be purely quizzical – others, queasy. Mindfulness sounds too “out there”, too wishy-washy, too new-age, too Buddhist. However, if you look at how mindfulness is defined and discussed in many psychological circles it is possible to see mindfulness as a practice of certain orthodox Christian attitudes.

First, mindfulness involves holding a non-judgmental attitude toward one’s thoughts and experience (Carmody, 2009).

A Christian practicing this aspect of mindfulness is accepting the forgiveness of their thoughts. Many scripture passages speak of God knowing the hearts of men. Psalm 139:1-4 says that God knows our actions when we sleep, when we sit, and when we go out, but he also knows our thoughts and knows the words on our mouths before we say them. Not only does God know our interior life but he knows that we can sin in our interior life as Matthew 5:28 explains about committing adultery in the heart.

It is important to remember that Christ died for all our sins, those of the heart and mind as well as those of behavior. Many Christians get caught up in works-righteousness, trying to be perfect before God to the point of trying to perfect their own thought-life. Guilt is then suffered over bad thoughts and pride is committed over good thoughts. A Christian practicing mindfulness can recognize that some thoughts are just thoughts and those thoughts that are sinful are nailed to the cross at Calvary and hold dominion no more. Christ forgives us and forgives our thought life. An acceptance of this fact looks a lot like mindful non-judgment.

Second, mindfulness involves being in the present moment (Carmody, 2009).

A Christian practicing this aspect of mindfulness realizes that God created us so to live one moment of our lives at a time. Christians who dwell on the past find it difficult to mature and grow and work toward the kingdom of God. Christians who focus on the future may forget to acknowledge who holds the future. God gives us one moment at a time and if we constantly think about our lists, our schedules, and all the things we have to do we run the risk of not fully honoring and respecting God, his creatures, or his creation. For example, when talking with a friend we honor that person as a creature of God by listening attentively, asking questions, and showing we care rather than thinking of the errands we need to run that day. When sitting at a child’s soccer game and the sun shines brilliantly in the sky and the birds are calling to each other in the trees we honor God’s creation by sitting still and enjoying it rather than immediately responding to emails on our smart phones. By living in the present moment we honor God, who, existing outside of time, also lives in an eternal present. This too is a practice of mindfulness.

Last, mindfulness involves giving up control (Mace, 2008).

A Christian practicing this aspect of mindfulness recognizes that we are not in control but God is. Many Christians feel burdened by responsibilities; they feel responsible to bring others to Christ, to raise a family with Christian principles, to be good examples at their workplaces, and to be engaged in their communities. It is important to recognize that the outcomes of these activities do not depend on us. We are not ultimately in control. God is not our co-pilot; he is our pilot. We must always hand over the reins, submit ourselves to God, recognize that it is Christ who lives and works through us, act as servants of God, and repeat the words of Jesus: “not as I will, but as you will.” Acknowledging God’s sovereignty can be a form of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is essentially a practice. For Christians who want a discipline for practicing these spiritual truths they should not be deterred by the wishy-washy sounding name and Buddhist associations of mindfulness. In fact, I think we could all do with a little more Christian mindfulness.

References

Carmody, J. (2009). Evolving conceptions of mindfulness in clinical settings.

Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 23(3), 270-280. Doi:10.1891/0889-3891.23.3.270

Mace, C. (2008). Mindfulness and mental health: Therapy, theory and science. New York, NY:Routledge/Taylor& Francis Group. 

Jessica Clevering, PhD Assistant Professor of Psychology, Trinity Christian College

1 comment:

  1. Just found this article from 3 years ago! Do you know of anyone in the academic world that has written on Christian Mindfulness? Also, do you have thoughts on Dr. Ellen Langer's work?

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