By Irene Kraegel, PsyD
Mindfulness & Christians
When I first started teaching mindfulness to students on the campus of a Christian university in 2013, I approached the topic with some trepidation. Would the community reject mindfulness as incongruent with Christian faith? Would I receive a deluge of emails from angry parents and freaked out students? Would there be suspicions and questions popping up at every turn in my conversations with faculty and staff about mindfulness meditation?
I am happy to report that none of this was the case. Christian believers in my circles of faith – both at work and at church – have responded with enthusiastic welcome to the integration of mindfulness into these Christian institutions. (As two of my church friends said about mindfulness just this week, “I need this.”)
This is a relief, because my own response to Christian mindfulness has been one of enthusiastic welcome. As a Christian believer, I am desperate for mindfulness, and I see it as completely congruent with my faith.
Christian discipleship, mindfully
Allow me to share a few of the ways that mindfulness has enriched my spiritual journey.
- Mindfulness slows me down so that I am less distracted from the things that really matter. Maybe you’re familiar with the story of Mary and Martha hosting Jesus in their home (Luke 10:38-42) – Martha was “worried and distracted by many things.” While these were good things, she was missing “the better part” – sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening. I don’t want to miss the better part of life with God because I’m too distracted by my fleeting worries.
- Mindfulness opens my eyes to the tiny-yet-enormous Kingdom of God. Scripture describes this kingdom with metaphors like a mustard seed, yeast, and buried treasure. We don’t notice these things unless we’re really paying attention. Life is hard and messy, and I’m a lot happier and more content when I notice God’s beautiful kingdom sprouting up here in the midst of the mess.
- Mindfulness gets me in touch with reality, including my own moment-to-moment experiences, and this allows me to get in touch with what God is doing there. If I’m going to experience spiritual healing and renewal, I need to be connecting with the reality of the present moment – the only place to meet God.
- Mindfulness strips me of my illusions of control. It lets me be a beginner, reminding me that I am not God. It brings me back to a place of delightful dependence on my Maker, allowing me to rest in divine care rather than pushing, pulling, and jerking on life with ineffective striving. It helps me to “receive the kingdom of God as a little child” (Mark 10:15), stepping out of my overthinking grownup tendencies, just as Jesus asks.
Unlocking God’s gifts
Mindfulness practice opens me up to the present moment with openness, nonjudgment, acceptance, and curiosity – I bring this attitude to observation of God’s creation (my breath and body, sounds, sights, feelings, the thinking mind,…), and I also bring this observation to the presence of God himself, right here in the moment with me. In this way, mindfulness is a powerful spiritual discipline, a practice that helps me to stay with God in the moment. Before learning mindfulness, my faith was mostly cognitive and often cold. Since learning mindfulness, there is a warm space opened up in my heart where God and I can connect whenever I pause to pay attention.
God has given me many gifts in my life, even amidst the challenges and losses of human existence. I’ve always known this cognitively, but I like to say that mindfulness is the divine gift that has helped me to unlock all the others. Practicing mindfulness within the context of my Christian faith has brought me healing, wholeness, and happiness. I am grateful.
Irene Kraegel is the author of The Mindful Christian: Cultivating a Life of Intentionality, Openness, and Faith (Fortress Press, 2020). She writes and blogs at www.TheMindfulChristian.com, and can be followed on Instagram and Facebook @mindfulxian. Irene has a doctorate in clinical psychology and serves as the director of the Center for Counseling and Wellness at Calvin University. She lives in Grand Rapids, MI, with her husband and son.