Opening the Jesus box

Recently, I’ve been courting God.

Or rather, I’ve been letting Him court me.

This comes out of a few things.

First, an increasing realization that my relationship with God is the most important thing.

Second, the realization that I still need to push into that relationship and need very practical ways to do that.

Third, some ruminations on the more practical side of what a relationship with Jesus looks like, based on reflections on God’s role as good Father, Jesus’ role as husband/head of the church, and the day to day interactions he had with his disciples/those he encountered during his travels.

Fourth, a suggestion from the book ReJesus: A Wild Messiah for a Missional Church to use our imaginations/meditations to remember that God is alive and active and that our relationship with Him is an alive, active, intimate, and real relationship with daily guiding and loving interactions rather than some abstracted ideological experience.

The sum revelation of all these reflections has been this: God loves me and wants to have a relationship with me, but since I can still be a little bit of a scaredy-cat when it comes to letting him fully into my life/deepest places, I need very real and practical ways to open myself up to that relationship/push into it.

Enter: The Jesus box.

The basic premise is this: Given the above truths, there must certainly be at least one thing that God wants communicate to me either about Him, myself, or anything really, every day.

And since it’s precious, it’s a gift.

And if it’s a gift, then using some imagination, it can go in a box. Or bag. Or some kind of other container.

Which means, every single day, there is at least one gift or “Jesus box” that He has for me to open every day. I just need to be quiet, humble, and open enough to receive it.

Here’s how it works.

Once a day, I calm my mind down, listening and imagining for how Jesus might be in the room with me. I try to think of what the present might look like, whether a box or bag or scroll case, envelope, or anything else. Then I think about how he might give it to me and what’s inside. Is it a letter? A gem? Or maybe a stuffed animal, kiss, or piece of jewelry. I think about what that specific item or phrase could be (and what it means), then write it down.

Now, before anyone starts thinking I’m going nuts or weird about this, there are a few parameters I do put around this.

  1. No entitlement. Though I believe God does have something He wants to share with me everyday, I by no means deserve it. In order to receive this rightly, it requires an attitude of humility and gratitude, which in itself usually requires a shift, reset, or re-orientation in my thinking.
  2. Quiet. Because God’s voice is often quiet, I try really hard to put all distractions aside when I do this. As a result, I usually open my box at night, though it doesn’t have to be then.
  3. Not every gift has to feel “good.” God disciplines those He loves. And while all of the gifts have been what we might traditionally call positive so far, I want to make sure that I am open to whatever the gift is. If that means someday I’m going to get a rebuke for my gift and for my good, so be it.
  4. No bias/wish lists. Okay, so this one is basically impossible, but insofar as I can, I do try to follow it. When people give you gifts, it’s up to them to decide what it is. I want to let God do the same and surprise me with what he wants. To the same end, while I do have prayers and prayer requests and He knows what they are, I have tried not to approach this as an ask for something. It’s a chance for Him to reveal Himself (or myself) to me, so if that includes answering a prayer, that’s great, but if it doesn’t, that’s equally as good.
  5. Nothing off limits. To a similar end, I also try not to have any off-limits topics. If he wants to talk to me about himself, me, my family, writing, or anything else, it’s all on the table.
  6. Depth. Because this takes time and focus, it would be really easy for me to go shallow on these, just grabbing some bit of wisdom or truth I know is always true and dashing out the door, but since the point of this is relationship, I try not to do that. That’s not to say that some days what I need or what God most wants to share won’t be simple, but the point is that if that’s what it is, I still need to be equally quiet, humble, and focused to receive it as if I were some complex vision for the rest of my life.
  7. Habit, but not routine. Lastly, but perhaps most importantly, I do want this to be a daily habit. To that end, I’ve actually added it to my daily to do list to make sure that I “check it off.” That being said, because I don’t want my relationship with God to be about a to do list (I only added it to my to do list to make sure I wasn’t chickening out about doing it in the first place), I also want to be careful about making it too much of a routine, taking shortcuts like hiding or running from God, skipping days, assuming I know what the gift is, or skipping time to really sit with Him to appreciate it, accept it, and be grateful.

So, I’m not going to tell you what’s been inside any of my boxes, but I will tell you about a few of the benefits I’ve seen so far.

  1. Daily interactions: So, one of the biggest takeaways I’ve gotten from ReJesus so far is the idea that interacting with God requires our imaginations. And that’s not to say that we make things up or He isn’t real, it just means that we need to actively engage our minds, interacting with Him in an active way instead of some abstraction that doesn’t touch our real lives and hearts. It means remembering and thinking about the fact that God is alive and interacting with us and His world, and considering what that looks like and what our responses should be in response. Since starting this practice, it’s forced me to train my mind to think in those ways, even for just a little bit at a time. And, since it’s on my to-do list everyday, it’s been helping me turn this into a daily habit instead of a rare reflection. And since I know God has more than just one thing to say to me everyday, as I get better with this and expand the practice, I expect my relationship with God will only grow and deepen the more I do this.
  2. Reframing my mental image: One of the reasons I chose to approach this this way was because I can fall pretty easily into a picture of God that is angry or disappointed (perfectionism. Boooooo.). I am often afraid of the stern, rebuking Jesus, and it is harder for me to imagine (or rather imagine I deserve) to interact with the kinder, loving Jesus we see elsewhere. But by remembering that His interactions with me are a gift, that He is giving me gifts as a loving husband, Father, or shepherd, it shifts how I receive Him and what He has for me. This is also why it’s been so important for me to do this everyday. Because even though I am unfaithful and fail daily, He is steadfast, and will always have things to say to me (and want to say to me and love in and about me) everyday, no matter how I am feeling or how I feel I’m doing. I hope that as I continue to do this, I’ll be able to grow in accepting those other sides of God, seeing them more and loving him and others more and better as I am loved.
  3. Changing my attitude: Because accepting these gifts requires me to get into a more attentive and grateful head space, it reminds me daily to be more grateful and receptive to and towards God and what He has given me, wants to give me, and is giving me. As with the other benefits, it is my hope that as I continue to do this, those attitudes will be easier and easier to slip into on a regular basis.

Now, I know this post is getting long, but there are a couple other quick things I want to add about this before I close.

First, I think it’s important to note that this is, in many ways, about letting God love me. That sounds selfish to me, but something I’ve been learning is just how true it is that we love because God loved us first (1 John 4:19). I often get frustrated by how bad I am at loving others, but am now realizing that if I’m not spending time letting myself experience love, if I’m not learning from Love Himself, how can I ever learn? In order for me to love others, I must first let God love me, no matter how selfish that sounds.

Second, something that occurred to me the other day is that even though in this season, I believe this is first and foremost about letting God love me, someday I can also return the favor and leave boxes for him. Maybe it’s praise, maybe it’s inviting Him into a hangout with friends, maybe it’s just sharing a quiet cup of tea, but someday, in my own weak limited way, I do hope to pay some of this back. I want to give God Abby boxes, too.

Anyway, sorry again for the long post. I’m still working through how to do this in the best and most right fashion, so any thoughts you have to share are welcome. If this helps you, I hope you give it a try, and if not, may God bless you with your own ways to interact with and get to know and love him more.

Thanks for reading.

So, how about you? Have you ever had any kind of meditative or imaginative tools to help you relate to God? Are there any snares or pitfalls you see? What about benefits or other tools? Let me know in the comments below, and if you want more content about me, my personal journey, or all things nerdy, please feel free to follow me here or on social media at the links below or in the side bar, keeping in mind that I am currently on a social media break.

Saying goodbye to social media

So, I am officially on break from social media.

It’s been a long time coming.

To be honest, I think it’s part of a larger break I’ve been making from technology at large. Because I kept getting distracted, I no longer bring my cell phone to work. Because I want to have more experiential memories, I no longer try to record everything. And now, at least for the next six months, I am off of social media.

There are a few reasons for this, I think. I’ll admit most of these are in regards to Facebook in particular, which is the platform I use most, but in general, they could all still apply no matter where I am.

Also, a couple quick notes up front: This is not a “social media is evil” post. I think it can do a lot of great things and be a great tool when used correctly, and I’ll readily admit that much of my concern and frustration stems largely from me using it in ways ill-suited to how it actually can and should be used. Second, some of the problems I highlight below are complex, with deep running roots. And while I certainly don’t think social media is the main root at the bottom of any of them, I think it can feed into, profit from, or exacerbate them, all of which to say I don’t want to blame social media for them, but do want to be aware of highlight the part it can play in continuing them.

So then, on to the reasons.

First of all, it was too distracting. Something I’ve come to realize about myself is that when it comes to things like social media or phone games, I have a really addictive personality. And when I do a lot of work that requires deep focus, well, having my attention broken every five minutes to check social media, my email, or a mindless game just doesn’t work.

Secondly, I wasn’t getting anything out of it. Now, I love me a good meme, and I have some friends (one in particular) who post great ones on the regular, but when I took a step back, were they really adding anything to my life? Was I gaining anything by endless scrolling and cute videos over and above the other things I could (and should) be doing?

Honestly, no. And of course one could argue that social media is the easiest way to keep in touch with loved ones, and you could make a case for that, especially for those who are far away, but the problem was, by and large other than major life events, I wasn’t seeing any of that. Memes? Yes. Divisive posts that only made me angry or sad without fostering any real discussion or change? Yes. Ads, many of which were equally irritating, insidious, or unnecessary? Yes.

Obviously unhelpful.

And while I do worry about missing event invitations to a certain degree, I also think (besides the fact I still have messenger, which I actually do use on a regular, productive, and healthy basis), social media isn’t the only way to contact me, and if someone really wants me to come, they’ll find a way.

But while major factors, none of those are the real reason I’m taking a break.

The real reason, or at least the most important one, is because I’m tired of listening to the lie that says I have to be there.

This is something I’ve had in mind to do on and off for months, but when it came to actually pulling the trigger, it was so hard. Even just writing this post about leaving is hard. That bothers me.

And there are a lot of other lies that tell me I made the wrong choice. For example, that I won’t stay connected to family or friends, that I’ll miss out on important events or invitations, and perhaps most relevant to my future plans, that I’ll never be able to sell any books (authors, whether or indie or traditionally published are told they need to have “platforms” to succeed).

That’s a lot of advice stacking up in social media’s favor.

But I have to admit, I question it.

I’ve been off for a little over a week, and so far I haven’t felt like I’ve missed out on almost anything (and in fact had a cousin reach out via messenger to make sure I had the info I needed not to miss something). I don’t miss the doom’s day clamor of injustice and needs (all of which need immediate attention), I don’t miss the frantic bombardment of events I shouldn’t miss, heck, I don’t even miss the memes. I can already tell my focus is better and my emotions and memory too.

And when it comes to selling books, well, I don’t even have any ready to publish, so what’s the point of fighting for followers now (to say nothing of my general distaste for the word followers)? And, if God can defeat an army with 300 men, whose to say He can’t bless my work if I don’t have a million followers (more on that in another post)?

When I think about middle-class American society today, I think of a society that thrills on the here and now, one that can’t seem to sit still long enough to do anything about its problems other than scream about them before moving on.

But when I step outside of the hustle and bustle of constant opinion shouting matches, outside of 24 hour accessibility and the sturm and drang of the screaming void, I have to question that idea. Is that really who we are? Is it who we have to be? I think, if we slow down long enough to think for a second, it’s not, or at least, it doesn’t have to be.

Social media has had an insidious grip on my life. It’s sold me a lot of stories, many of which I have been and am, frankly, opposed to, whether culturally, morally, philosophically or otherwise. I don’t want to live a life enslaved to my phone, one where I feel I can’t say no to having apps, or can’t focus long enough to do my life’s work. I’m tired of having my relationships damaged by ham-handed posts without discussion, of having voices in my head I can’t control and physical responses that I don’t like or want. I’m tired of listening to the lies.

So, for now, I’m taking a break.

In the meantime, I’ll still be on here and Goodreads (which while sort of a social media platform, I really don’t consider the same thing), and come the new year, once I’ve had enough time away to actually examine the effects on my life, I’ll take another look.

Thanks for reading.

So, how about you? Do you find social media adds or detracts from your life? In what ways? Have you found strategies to help mitigate negative side effects or to curb that strange addiction? What were they and did they help? Let me know in the comments below and feel free to follow me here or (ironically) on social media (in case I go back) using the links in the sidebar or below.