Last year I read a book called Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School by John Medina. One of the twelve rules and twelve chapters in the book is about Sleep. People have all manner of valid and varied sleep patterns. Some are early risers; some are late risers; some are in-between risers. The amount of sleep people need is still not certain. But one thing most scientists agree on is that the “biological drive for an afternoon nap is universal.” (p. 168) Mid-afternoon drowsiness is not just the result of an overload of carbs at lunchtime; it’s a basic human need.
Most of the adults I know don’t have the opportunity for a nap. I have a pseudo-heroic, stoic attitude of plowing through the afternoon drowsiness without benefit of sleep or rest. I’ve only taken about six naps in my entire adulthood. My husband, however, is a master at the twelve-to-twenty-minute nap. He can take one sitting up or lying down. I’ve teased him over the years about his infantile need for a nap; but I have to confess his late afternoon and early evening mood and productivity are way better than mine.
So one of the things I decided to do for Lent was to take a daily nap. Maybe naps would make me a kinder and gentler human being. I’ve been 85% unsuccessful. I have managed only three naps in the first twenty days. But those three naps made a positive difference in both my attitude and my energy. Besides feeling kinder and gentler, I woke up praying. The same thing happens to me most mornings. So if a nap can restore my stamina and serenity plus give me an extra prayer time in the day, maybe I should try it more often. It’s 3:22 PM and I think I’ll try again right now.
Lent seems to be the time when I try to cram in a year’s worth of Bible study or prayer into 40 days. This year I decided to make my spiritual discipline small enough so I can “savor rather than stuff” as I described in my March 4th post. On Ash Wednesday I sat in church and listened to an exquisite musical version of Psalm 51 called Miserere Mei by Gregorio Allegri. Although it was sung in Latin, I followed along in English. For me, the words of Psalm 51 are some of the most beautiful and rich in the Bible. So Psalm 51 will be my Scripture focus for Lent this year.
Each day I choose a word from the Psalm and reflect on it in two ways. First I write the word on a piece of paper and start brainstorming. Everything that comes to my mind about the word ends up on the paper–whether it’s spiritual or silly. This stream-of-consciousness writing helps to clear my mind of everything I already know or perceive about the word. It makes room for my mind to receive something new about the word.
Then I write the word on my calendar and start to draw. This time I don’t consciously think about the word. I ask God to tell me what I need to hear. I listen to the word as it tells me new things about itself and I listen to God through the word. If I hear something new I write it down. This is a way of initiating a conversation with God using a single word from Scripture.
Below is the first week of my calendar and an example of what I did with one of the words: abundant. It has been a whole week and I’ve just started on verse 2 of the Psalm.
1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. (Psalm 51, NRSV)
“Do not withhold your mercy from [them], O LORD; may your love and your truth always protect [them].” Psalm 40:11
If you are looking for a Lenten discipline, consider using a daily calendar template for the forty days. It’s a simple, not very time-consuming discipline. Here are some ideas for ways to use the calendar:
• Pray for a person each day.
• Pray or meditate on a word of Scripture or a spiritual/religious word: peace, salvation, joy, Jesus, redeem, love….
• Pray a short phrase of Scripture: “My cup runneth over,” “Surely, it is God who saves me,”…..
• Meditate on “things done and things left undone.”—a confessional calendar
• Make a gratitude calendar.
I like to print the template and blow it up to fit a piece of 11×17 card stock–129% works well. Click for an 8 1/2 x 11 calendar template to download. The calendar has 46 days on it. (Sundays do not officially count as days of Lent or fasting but as days of celebration. For me it’s easier just to stay with the program of whatever discipline I choose for the whole 46 days.)
Here is a sample of a calendar I made in 2009. (First published on Purpose Driven connection April 14, 2009)
A friend from another city is visiting us this weekend. One of his favorite culinary activities is to sample the shawarma (tender marinated lambs pieces) from restaurants all across the world. Before his arrival earlier this week, I decided to test the shawarma from a restaurant where I’d never eaten. I arrived for a late lunch around 2PM and placed a 1/2 order.
First a side salad and a basket of pita bread arrived. Then came a dinner-sized plate with the shawarma served on a bed of lettuce, topped with tahini (sesame yogurt) sauce. Next to the lamb was a large pile of fluffy white rice with noodles interspersed. The quantity of food was overwhelming–and this was a half-order!
I started to eat. After a minute I realized I was picking up speed. Food was entering my mouth almost faster than I could chew it. This was not the first time I had made the speed-eating observation. When my plate is too full, I eat faster–as if there is a time frame or obligation for a clean plate. The speed does not allow the question: “Have I had enough?” This is not healthy eating or good stewardship of the food. I feel stuffed but unsatisfied.
I sometimes apply the same unhealthy technique of eating to reading Scripture. I’ll decide I want to read the whole book of Acts by the end of the week. I’ll force feed myself with chapter after chapter in a short amount of time. My mind is overfull and my memory of the reading is nil.
With both food and Scripture, a good strategy might be to eat or read only a portion of what I planned. With food, I can decide to eat only half of what is served. With Scripture, a chapter, sometimes just a sentence will be enough. The point of eating and digesting both food and Scripture is nourishment and enjoyment–savoring, not stuffing.