Good Morning.

Back when this blog was “embrace-refrain”, I attempted to embrace getting up earlier than normal for one month.  If I remember correctly, I didn’t do so well.  I had a few victories, but getting up early on a regular basis has always eluded me, unless I HAVE to be up early.  If I have an appointment, a meeting, or I need to be somewhere; getting up is no problem.  But when it is “voluntary”;  to just get up and get a few extra things done or have some peace and quiet before the day starts… well, I haven’t been so successful at that.

But, what the heck… I might as well try again.  As I get older, I see more and more value in getting up early.  That hasn’t made it happen of course, but since I see an increasing value there, I am going to give it another shot.  I simply don’t have the energy anymore to stay up late and be productive.  It’s not so much that my energy has diminished, I just spend more of it during the day, and I am spent by the time 9pm rolls around.   And, with a family of 5 it is harder and harder to find some peace and quiet during the day.  The only consistent time I have for some extra productivity and some time to be still is in the morning.  It hasn’t always been this way, but life changes…

My previous attempts to voluntarily get up earlier than I need to have typically been an all or nothing approach.  I figured that once I got in the habit of getting up early, I would get used to it and after awhile it would become my normal routine.  So when I tried to do this, I would try for 6am EVERY DAY, or something like that.  The problem is, that I still have things in my life that keep me out and up late on certain days.  I have regular events on Monday and Wednesday that keep me out later than on other weekdays.  I rarely get to bed early on those nights.  The weekend is often time to hang out with friends, watch movies… etc, so I don’t typically even try to go to bed early then.  The simple fact is:  staying up late makes it incredibly difficult to get up early!

So… if I am going to have any success getting up earlier than I need to on a regular basis, I am either going to have to change some of my evening routines, or maybe try a less than all-or-nothing approach.  Since I like my evening routines, I am going to shoot for the latter.  Over the next few weeks, I am aiming to get up early 3 days a week.  I am hoping that I can pull this off on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.  I am also going to try to get up a little earlier on Tuesday and Saturday, but not drastically.  Sunday… I’m sleeping in.

The goal for me is simple:  I’d like to create space each week for 5-6 hours of work, and 3-4 times of solitude, reading, and quiet (20-30 minutes).  I started this morning by getting up about 40 minutes earlier than normal.  I didn’t get any work done, but I was able to just take my morning much slower and enjoy my breakfast and coffee before the kids got up.  I don’t know if I’d call that solitude, but it was certainly better than rushing around while trying to help get my kids off to school.

 

Lent

Over the last few weeks I have been thinking about the Lenten season as an opportunity to practice both an embrace and a refrain for 40 days.  However, I was having a bugger of a time figuring out what to do!  Our church is practicing a daily prayer and lectionary reading during Lent.  I was planning on incorporating this into whatever I decided, but I was really struggling with the rest.  Thankfully, Rachel Held Evans wrote a helpful post yesterday:  40 Ideas for Lent.  I took a couple ideas from there and came up with a plan:

  • I joined the Lenten Wilderness Meditation Practice:  Spend 10-20 minutes each day outside in prayer / meditation / just being (rain, snow, or shine).  What a great idea, and it will work perfect to do alongside the daily prayer and lectionary reading. 
  • No Meat:  From RHE: “Traditionally, Christians abstained from eating meat during Lent, so consider joining millions of Christians around the world in this fast. It’s a great way to feel connected to the historical, worldwide church.”  I have been thinking lately that I would like to reduce my consumption of meat anyway, mainly for the health benefits.  This will be a good opportunity to move in that direction as well.

 

Daily Solitude – Review

Focusing on daily solitude for the last month has been fantastic.  I wasn’t perfect at it, as I missed 3 days.  But still, that is 28 days where I took some intentional time in solitude to reflect and be silent and pray.  I have already continued into February and hope to keep this up throughout the year.   Ultimately, I want this to be normal part of my life… a habit.

I fell into a pretty good  rhythm with about 20-25 minutes a day.  I would usually start with just a few moments of silence, sometimes saying a breath prayer for a few minutes to center.  I would journal for a little bit and then spend some time reading scripture.  At the end I would spend some time in silence and / or prayer.  Overall, this was good structure.  At the beginning, I had hoped to see a bit more of a varied structure, but I think having a rhythm was somewhat necessary to develop this as a habit.  I had also hoped to find some extended time in solitude over the month, but that never happened.  As I continue to practice daily solitude, I think I’ll see both of those happen.

This was kind of  a no-brainer place for me to start my year of embrace / refrain.  I have always valued time in solitude and had just gotten away from it the past couple of years.  If you have never developed a consistent habit of solitude, or if like me, you have gotten away from it… I encourage you to take a month and give it a try.

 

Routine

Today I did a little experiment with my daily solitude. I needed to run to the gas station to fill up my manly mini-van.  I journaled for a few minutes, read the next chapter in Mark (I have been reading through the Gospel of Mark lately during my daily solitude), and then took the rest of my daily solitude as I drove to get gas.

Surprisingly to me, this actually worked quite well. The key is, I had to be intentional about it. Under normal circumstances, I would have just listened to the radio. But instead, I turned the radio off and really took the time to reflect, spend some time in prayer, and just enjoy the silence.

Solitude doesn’t always mean you have to get away from everyone and everything. If you are intentional about it, sometimes you can experience solitude right in the midst of your daily routine.

Distractions

I am almost done with my first month of embracing daily solitude and am beginning to look forward to next month.  Ultimately, this year long project is about developing habits.  On the embrace side, I really want to focus on habits that I think will be beneficial.  Focusing on something for a solid month is really a good start on developing a good habit.   This last month, I have been re-developing an old habit.  It has been so good to revisit solitude.  I fully plan on keeping this month’s practice going forward.  The temptation will be to take a little breather, but I really want this to be a habit… not just something I try for a month.  So I am going to keep up with daily solitude.  More on that when I post the month review.

As I move on to my first month of refrain… this is going to be about limiting distractions so I can focus on more positive things.  Lately I have been working at learning some new skills.  I have started learning HTML, CSS, and a little JavaScript.  I am in the beginning stages, but so far I am really enjoying what I am learning.  However, I’ve noticed that my progress has stalled over the last few weeks.  I get to the end of the day, the kids go to sleep, and I just don’t feel like learning something or being productive.  So I play a game, or two, or three… instead of diving into learning.  I mostly play Settlers of Catan online, or Ticket to Ride on my iPad.  And just like that, I can waste a whole evening.  This month:  none of that.  I am going to refrain from “wasting” time online.

Wasting time online is a pretty broad category, but for me it really boils down to a few things.  I really don’t spend a lot of time on Facebook, as I mostly use it to communicate.  So for me, Facebook will be fair game.  It  will mostly be refraining from playing games and mindless web surfing.   I can quickly spend 45 minutes just browsing through ESPN.  Oh.. that story on Peyton Manning looks interesting.  Really, did I need to read that and 5 other articles about teams I don’t even root for?

There will probably be some grey areas that I will need to work through on the fly.  I spend a decent amount of time reading blogs, but most of that I really see as beneficial and connected to things I am trying to learn more about.  I don’t see most of that as wasting time, but it can get that way, so I’ll just have to try to stay on top of it.  Another grey area is Twitter, where I mostly use it to follow organizations and keep up with friends… but from time to time I can spend more time there than is useful.

Just like this month, I’ll post over the month and record my progress as I refrain from “wasting time online”.  I hope to be posting about some of the positive things I am using my time doing when I would normally be escaping into the land of games and mindless web browsing.   It will be interesting to see if I just find other ways to waste time that are not “online”.

Just curious… if you were to spend a month refraining from wasting time online, what would be the main things you stay away from?

“What’s next”

You might think this is about next month, but it’s not!  It’s actually about right now, which is ironical concerning the topic of this post.

I tend to be a “what’s next” type of person.  I am often thinking about what might be just around the corner.  I do this in big life decisions, but I also tend to do it with small things.  Being a “what’s next” person can be good in some ways.  I anticipate well.  I can adjust quickly when things happen spontaneously.  I am usually well prepared for things I know are coming up.  Being a “what’s next” person can also be a bad thing.  It means that at times, it is hard for me to just live in the present and enjoy the moment I am in.

I’ve noticed over the last week or so, that I am having an easier time just being present in the current moment.  I wonder if that has at least something to do with practicing daily solitude.

When my family has an open weekend (one without a lot of stuff going on), I tend to get really antsy, not really knowing what to do.  If I don’t have a project I am working on, or something coming up… I actually get pretty anxious.  Last weekend was pretty open.  I didn’t notice it at the time, but when I was journaling Sunday evening, it suddenly occurred to me… that despite having a weekend with not much going on, I didn’t get antsy and anxious like I normally do.  Instead, I really just enjoyed the moment, the weekend.  This is a great thing.

Ultimately, I want to be the type of person that can both be prepared and excited for what’s next (both big and small)… but also live fully in the present moment with the people I am so blessed to be around.  What about you:  are you a “what’s next” type of person?  How can you live more fully in the present moment?

 

 

Why I Need Daily Solitude

Practicing solitude has been a part of my life since I was probably 11 or 12.  In Jr. High and High School, it was mostly in the form of a daily devotion (about once or twice a week).  I was encouraged to do this  by my church and youth group.  That was good, but in college a mentor of mine helped me see that solitude was much more.  He helped me experience solitude beyond just a time to read something encouraging or challenging for the day.  Solitude became an opportunity to get away from the pace of life… to reflect on what is really going on in my life…   to be still and quiet for longer periods of time than I was accustomed to.  I’ve learned over time that solitude means asking myself tough questions and looking closely at who I am becoming.  It means seriously trying to listen for the voice of God in the midst of this crazy world we live in.

Solitude became a big part of my life and it has been ever since.  But… it was never a daily thing.  It never really needed to be.  For most of my days since college, I would practice solitude here and there for longer periods of time. I might take a quiet walk for 2 hours one week.  The next I might get away at a camp or church to find 2-3 hours of solitude.  Sometimes I would go to a cabin for an overnight stay in solitude.  Finding random opportunities for solitude worked pretty well for me as a single young-adult and even into my early 30’s.

Sometime over the past 3-5 years, all of that changed.  I now have 3 kids, and before I quit my job, my professional life was also much busier.  Even now as a stay at home Dad (maybe even more so), I just don’t have random blocks of 2-3 hours to get away all that often.  This was probably all a gradual change, so I didn’t really notice it.  But after a while, I realized that solitude was no longer a regular part of my life.  And that needed to change.  That is why I am in need of daily solitude at this point in my life.

The past few weeks have been like visiting with an old friend.  Spending time away from the normal pace of life, away from distractions, is just simply life giving.  It is awesome.  It really doesn’t matter whether it is 20 minutes a day, or 2 hours a week.  Challenge yourself this week to find a way to spend some time in solitude.