“Be still, and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:1a, ESV)
Winnie has loved and served God faithfully for many years. Life has been very tough but she takes it all in her stride. Married with grown up children and a spouse who has been working overseas for many years, she has somehow managed. Then one of her children had an emotional crisis just before graduation, a straw that nearly broke the camel’s back. How does one be still and know that God is God in such a traumatic life situation? What does it feel and look like to be still in the midst of trouble? What do we need to know in order to know that God is God?
In this journey of being still, she learnt to breathe. She learnt to take time out for herself to be with God. She learnt that self-care is the best gift she can give to herself and to others. She experimented with the spiritual disciplines of silence and solitude, and God-centred prayer. In one of her time out alone with God, she discovered God in her breathing. She experienced that God is her refuge and strength, a present help in trouble.
Breathe. Rest. Breathe. Relax. Breathe. Slow. Breathe. Lean In. Breathe. Lean On. Breathe. Be Still. Breathe. Behold. Breathe. Give Thanks. Breathe. Trust. Breathe. Hope. B.R.E.A.T.H.E.
Just when she regained her emotional strength and life resumed some form of normalcy, another wave hit her life. Her husband initiated a divorce. She could barely breathe. She was just so tired. Be Still. How does one be still in the midst of trouble that does not seem to end? She had discovered God to be her refuge and strength in the previous episode. She naturally inclined towards God in the spiritual disciplines of spiritual direction and Scripture meditation. In the midst of her concerns for her children as they took in the news of the divorce, and heavy work responsibilities at a new job, she was reminded of Psalm 23 that she is just a sheep and she has a Shepherd. In the sacred space with the spiritual director, she saw herself slumped piggy-back on Jesus, tired… so tired. She was able to simply rest in Christ in that moment. She would have turned her back against God had she not experienced God’s present help in trouble in the earlier episode. Integrating spiritual disciplines for her emotional self-care has helped her weather yet another storm.
Our life situations might not be so extreme. However, many of us struggle in our own stressful situations, with anger, sadness, anxiety and other emotional experiences in our day-to-day living. We might find it difficult to hold our bundle of emotions (thoughts, feelings, visceral experiences and urges) and not simply react to life’s chaotic and stressful situations mindlessly, but respond in a way that reflect that we have a God who is our strength and refuge. There is hope. We learnt from neuroscience that it is possible to regulate our emotions through new experiences. In her journey towards emotional self-care, Winnie learnt to tap on Christian spiritual disciplines to create new emotional experiences that make space for God in her life. In this space she has opened herself to be more aware of God’s presence in those moments when she is overwhelmed with situations that are beyond her control. She found rest in Jesus in the midst of the storm even as she weathered through the storm not alone but with Christ. Psalm 46:1 was not merely head knowledge but lived experience for her; she experienced Jesus as her refuge and strength, a present help in time of trouble in real life situations.
Do we need trouble in life in order to create new emotional experiences that make space for God in life? Paul was pleasantly surprised to discover that we can always enter into this sacred space of being aware of God’s presence on a normal hectic working day. He was scurrying between meetings when the coordinators met with me to discuss about creating space for God in an upcoming event. As our discussion came to a close, we all entered into a sacred moment where we experienced God’s presence with us at the outdoor café. It was God’s gift of grace to us — to “lengthen time” and create space to enjoy an intentional moment with Jesus in the midst of daily living.
In this space we also learn to be aware and hold our constant flow of thoughts and emotions with more openness, so that we can step outside ourselves to notice what story we are saying about who we are and who God is for us.
Be Still. In the stillness, what is the story that I am telling about myself?
Lucia intentionally set aside a morning monthly for a timeout with God retreat. A young Christian from Latvia living in Singapore with her husband and young children for several years now, she has encountered many miraculous moments with Jesus. However, her sense of self-worth is always being undermined by the unconscious story she tells herself. In one retreat, the heart-warming children’s tale “You are Special” by Max Lucado was being read. The author tells of how Eli the woodcarver helps Punchinello understand how special he is – no matter what other Wemmicks may think. In the stillness as the story was being read out aloud, she was incredulous that God sees her special just as she is even with her past sinful life, and regardless of how the world evaluates her. In that sacred space, she experienced deep within her that her true story was that God created her unique and she was special to him. This was a new emotional experience for Lucia through the spiritual discipline of silence and solitude. She was so inspired by God’s love for her that she shared the story and her reflection with her cousin in Latvia. Her cousin was finishing her 365 days devotion book intended for her Latvian Christian community. This story touched her so deeply that she wrote it as the last message for 2018.
CS105 Spiritual Disciplines for Emotional Self-Care is experiential; it is for anyone who desires to experiment with embracing the Christian spiritual disciplines in their ordinary living towards greater emotional well-being. It might be stress, anger or anxiety issues that we struggle with that we wish to discover handles that might work for us. The spiritual disciplines include silence and solitude, God-centred prayer, Scripture meditation and journaling. We tap on these disciplines of the Holy Spirit to help us become more aware of our thoughts, emotions and the story we tell about ourselves moment to moment. In the sacred space we learn to be more attuned to our negative emotions, and to hold our thoughts and self-stories with more openness so that they do not control our actions. Instead we have the space to intentionally allow God to renew our minds and enable us to respond to life situations with committed actions that reflect the Christian virtues we value. May we receive and experience God’s grace in our emotional self-care through spiritual disciplines.
Ms Seah Chiew Kwan is a graduate from BGST (Grad Dip CS, MCS) and TCA College (MA Counselling). Currently, she is an adjunct lecturer with BGST and Tung Ling Bible School. Since 2010 Chiew Kwan has been facilitating silence & solitude retreats and workshops for church and small groups. She offers professional counselling to individuals as a private practitioner as well as spiritual mentoring for Christian individuals. Her interest is integrating psychotherapy and Christian spirituality in her work and ministry. She was a lecturer with Singapore Polytechnic for 20 years. She is married with two adult children. She is also a cancer survivor.
Ms Seah Chiew Kwan will be teaching Spiritual Disciplines for Emotional Self-Care (CS105) with BGST this July and August.