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"Wasting Time" with God

Journaling and the art of paying attention

Need a cake baked for the homeless shelter? I'll make two. Want someone to organize a small group Bible study? No problem. Doing things for God comes easy for many of us. But learning how to be quiet, and how to "be" with God rather than "doing" for God, can be a major shift.

Three things helped me learn how to cultivate being with God: walking without being plugged in to a cell phone or iPod, spending time outside in God's creation, and journaling. Keeping a journal is a way to pay attention to your life, and to pay attention to your relationship to God. Most importantly, making time to journal prods us to make time to spend with God.

"Being" with God through journaling isn't about doing things—like writing and sketching—as much as it is about changing the way we live. We are no longer "killing time;" an expression I despise, because every minute we take a breath is precious. Rather, pen in hand, we are waiting. Waiting to hear what God has to say us. Listening. Then thinking through our response. We are paying attention to our souls.

I like what the poet Mary Oliver says: "Instructions for living a life. Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it." The big take-away when you journal—pen in hand—and spend time alone with God, is this eye-opening jolt that life is a miracle! We're astonished at the grandeur of the world, at the fact that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made."

This astonishment leads to gratitude. As we become thankful, we move toward empathy for others. We begin to see them as unique, and loved by God. We want to share God with them. Paying attention changes everything.

The poet Diane Ackerman writes: "So much of our life passes in a comfortable blur …. [M]ost people are lazy about life. Life is something that happens to them while they wait for death." Do we want to let life just happen to us? Or do we want to live fully, paying attention to what God is showing us, living intentionally? We honor God when we pay attention.

Building Margin

Journaling also helps us turn off some of the things that keep us from God. It forces us to slow down and carve out a quiet space in our busy, over-scheduled lives. This quietness, and slowing down, changes us. It helps us build margin; we develop more resiliency.

When my children were teenagers, they were aware of the difference walking and journaling made in the way I interacted with them. I remember my high school age son telling me (after I had been impatient and tense with him), "Mom, have you been for your walk and journaling time today?" When I said, no, he said, "Please go!" He didn't know why it made a difference, but he knew it did! And I went.

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