I often find myself attracted to things like meditation practices. It is attractive because, to me, it seems to be a way to de-clutter one’s mind, and I hate clutter.
There has been a hesitancy among Christians when it comes to this, and rightfully so, I think. We cannot just let something through the gates of our mind without thinking. In my reading on meditation, I came across an interesting concept called “mindfulness.”
Essentially, mindfulness is being fully in the present moment, completely passive and at rest. There is no thinking, no assertion of any kind, just passive acceptance of the present. It is a very inward-focused practice meant to help you relax and rest from the clutter that can bog down your mind and cause stress or anxiety. The practice is closely associated with Eastern religion and philosophy, and whether or not Christians should feel free to meditate in this way is a discussion for another day.
What struck me about this kind of “mindfulness” was the focus on the present. In meditation, you are mindful of your breathing, the sounds around you, the various areas of your body, and even your wandering thoughts. And while I would say that it is important to, now and then, make sure you are not being distracted from the importance of now, a Christian is not supposed to seek preoccupation of the present.
To be “mindful” of something is to have your mind full of that thing. So what should a Christian have his or her mind full of? What is “mindfulness” for the Christian?
Feeling the tension
Humans are “amphibious.” We are equally spiritual and physical. While one part is not more important than the other, because of sin they are often at odds.
Paul stated this tension perfectly in Romans 7:21-24, “I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”
Christians are creatures of disharmony – living souls in a body of death. But it is not just Christians. This tension is felt throughout all the cosmos. “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now” (Romans 8:19-22).
For the Christian, this is where mindfulness begins. This is the reason why filling the mind with the present is not the goal, but the starting line. Feeling the tension between the soul’s desires and the body’s insufficiency and being mindful of the same tension in the world around you will provide motivation and direction for your mindfulness.
Quieting the mind and soul
Now aware of the tension that defines life in a fallen world, you will need to quiet your mind and soul. This is a process of surrendering and letting go. This is not ignoring or denying the tension caused by sin, but understanding that you do not have the solution in yourself. This resting and quieting is reflected many times in the Psalms.
“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
And in His word I do hope.
My soul waits for the Lord
More than those who watch for the morning—
Yes, more than those who watch for the morning” (Psalm 130:5-6).
“Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!” (Psalm 27:14).
“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!” (Psalm 46:10).
You cannot resolve the tension. You do not have the answer to the disharmony of your soul and body. You can do nothing but be still, wait, and be open to the One who is able to bring harmony to the disharmony.
Focusing on the eternal and objective
Here is the essential difference between Eastern meditation and Christian meditation: The first is mindful of the temporary and subjective. The second is mindful of the eternal and objective.
Christians live on what lies beyond the experience of the present. In the present, you can feel as though God does not love you, or is not interested in you at all. Or on the other hand, you can feel as if you have no need of God, and that you are fine on your own. This can vary from day to day in our experience of the present. There is nothing of substance in our subjective experience, and it is not something we need to fill our minds with.
Instead, turn your mind to things that are true in spite of how you feel. You may feel beyond redemption, but God tells you otherwise (Jude 1:24). You may feel as if you have no one who can understand your struggles, but Jesus Christ does (Hebrews 4:15). You may feel as though your failures and sins are too many and too vile to be forgiven, but the Scriptures speak of sins not only forgiven but also forgotten (Micah 7:19).
What is eternal and objective? Christ died and was raised again. He stands continuously before God representing you. When God looks at you, He sees the righteousness of His Son instead of your sin. You are destined to live in eternity, eternally communing with God with no sin between you and ultimate joy.
Fill your mind with these things, and like Paul, you will find it hard to compare your present circumstances to the glory that waits for you in the presence of God forever (Romans 8:18).