Hannah Whitall Smith, a Quaker from the mid nineteenth century, once said, “Mind the checks.” I respect this advice deeply, mainly as a result of not minding the checks. I once took a personality test that was supposed to determine who in the Bible my personality was most like. Unlike the phony Facebook tests that determine which Disney princess you should have as your maid of honor, this test based itself on the Meyers Briggs personality test. How exactly its authors determined the results for the men and women in the Bible, I do not know. However, my test resulted in a certain similarity to Joshua, who was brave and somewhat impulsive, traits I possess on occasion. After reading about Joshua’s misadventures, I began to think cultivating mindfulness might be a good idea.
I began to understand Smith’s words when I took some time to consider Hebrew 5:14 which reads, “But solid food is for the mature — for those whose senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.” The word, senses, is the word that interests me here, mainly because within Christianity a tension exists between what our minds tell us and what the Word of God tells us. So much Christian literature dedicates itself to convincing Christians to distrust their emotions, that the purpose and role of sensing and feeling in Christian life is forgotten.
Sometimes we become so detached from ourselves that we lose our ability to discern good from evil. As children we instinctively look to adults to tell us the “right answer”. As adults, we begin to realize that right and wrong answers are complicated, requiring wisdom, maturity, and the solid food of thorough teaching. In the process of practicing discernment, for that is what training means, I learn to listen to my senses, which reside in my body. This is mindfulness. Every emotion we feel is felt in our body. Emotion is a physical sensation. Additionally, I use my eyes and ears to observe, not just my body to feel. Even my sense of smell gets in on the action.
“Taste and see that I am good”, says the Lord, in an invitation to use our senses to navigate both the material and spiritual worlds.
Because this is a topic that is easily made confusing, here are concrete examples of how being mindful of what your body and soul are feeling are necessary components of discerning good and evil:
1: Be in your body. Your body doesn’t lie. If you want chocolate, your body lets you know. It might not be good for you, but your body doesn’t know how to lie. Similarly, when you are in the presence of evil, your body knows it, usually before your mind catches on. Ever feel a sickening nausea in your stomach not related to illness? Some sense evil in their stomachs, some get headaches, and some get goosebumps. We call this instinct, but it is a God given way that we detect the presence of danger. This is one of Smith’s “checks”. If only I had a dollar for every young woman who said to me that such and such a young man made them uncomfortable, but they didn’t want to be unfriendly, only to find themselves stalked or something similar. They didn’t mind the check. If you feel uncomfortable around someone, in a particular place, or about a situation, be mindful of this.
2: Believe what you hear. Learn to listen to what people say about themselves. Some rules of thumb I follow are simple. Accusers are usually guilty of what they accuse others. I cannot begin to relate the number of times I have heard people accuse others of laziness, only to find it was a cover for their own behavior. Gossips don’t discriminate. Friends with a gossip? Don’t be surprised to find you and your confidences are on the public menu at some point. They talk about others? They will gab about you. Lastly, negativity is contagious. Hang around with complainers? If you can keep from complaining while in their company, you are a better person than me. Mindfulness means being aware of others and how they influence you.
3: Peace or the lack of it is a good starting point for discernment. God tells us to “be still and know that He is God”. In stillness, when we are mindful of God and abide in His presence, we find that the presence or absence of peace tells us more that many conversations about a difficult topic or decision. Some mistake mindfulness as only being self-aware. When we are in God’s presence, we know and are known. People experience the still, small voice of the Lord uniquely. Some see words in their mind, some recall scripture, some feel a deep knowing. Still others report a fragrance, but any way you look at it, God’s voice effects our senses. It is in our spirit that we feel God’s presence. But make no mistake, God intends for you to utilize your bodily senses. Peace and joy bring health to our bodies as surely as stress tears them down. If you do not feel peace regarding something, better mind that check. Practicing mindfulness can help you determine your levels of peace.
4: We bear each other’s burdens. Has God called you to intercession? You will know because you feel the nudge of the Holy Spirit regarding an issue or a person. Ever looked at a friend and knew something was wrong, though they denied it? God is enlisting you to engage in the spiritual battle. And just as you feel the burden come, you will feel the time of travail pass. But in order to pick up the gauntlet that God throws down to every believer to pick up the cross and identify with Christ, we must be aware enough in our spirits, minds, and bodies to obey the summons. Mindfulness marks the effects others have on us.
One of my favorite books is The Practice of the Presence of God, by Brother Lawrence. He understands that we must practice being in God’s presence just as we must practice any other skill. I am a much better mother now than when I started. Practice makes all the difference. The same can be said of my skills as a wife, a writer, and a teacher. Practice may not have yet made perfect, but it hones my performance in these categories. Spiritual discernment is the same. Practicing mindfulness, using all of your God given faculties, gives you the ability to perceive what is true and noble versus what is false and debased. Making mistakes is unavoidable, but learning from them is a gift to you and those around you.
For more on mindfulness, go to http://poemachronicles.com/mindfulness-confession/ or http://poemachronicles.com/the-wait-of-glory/.