The other day my family sat down to practice a simple 3-step exercise. Well, let me clarify; we thought this exercise would be simple! What would have normally taken less than 10 minutes turned into a 60-minute ordeal for our family. There were several shared “looks” between Chris and me as the exercise dragged on!
Here is the exercise:
- First, express 2-3 things, people or moments you appreciate.
- Next, ask Immanuel what is on His mind as He looks at, sits with and listens to us.
- Finally, share what you enjoyed from interacting with each other and with Jesus.
We first ran into difficulty when one of our sons slipped out of relational mode. On the first step, he could not remember anything he appreciated. He was angry, defensive and sulking. Chris and I ended up spending some time validating his big feelings, sitting with him in his upset, and quieting.
Once his relational feet were under him, I helped him find something that made him laugh while his brother suggested some ideas he might appreciate, from his Christmas gifts to some of our recent snowball fights. In a short time, my son’s icy demeanor began to melt as he returned to relational mode. We could now resume the exercise and shift to Step 2, where notice Immanuel’s thoughts, focus on what He wants us to know, and pay attention to thoughts, feelings and images that come to mind.
Just as we leaned into this step, we were again derailed as the boys began sharing silly things. They also talked about unrelated topics and some twisty tangents. I checked the time and noticed our crew was now 40 minutes into what should have been a short exercise. We were barely at the half-way mark!
I felt my body tense up and noticed my peace quickly fading. Both Chris and I were feeling our relational circuits flicker. As soon as we observed this shift, we paused to think about something good that makes us smile, then we asked Jesus what He wanted us to know. We quieted our bodies and noticed our thoughts. Much to our surprise, Chris and I both had something unexpected come to mind.
I sensed Jesus smiling as He looked at our motley crew. I responded in my head, “Jesus, this exercise feels like we are herding cats! I am feeling frustrated. Why can’t we get through these steps without going down so many rabbit trails?” The image that came to mind next was Jesus holding hands with my two sons as they skipped down the rabbit trail together. This surprised me. I sensed Jesus showing me that He enjoys the journey with us, even when we take many “detours” along the way. I felt like He was telling me that He is less concerned about getting to a destination and more focused on being in relationship with us, enjoying us along the way. In this case, Jesus was delighted to walk down what turned into a return to joy path with my son and all of us. (1) Our little adventure was not in vain, nor was it a waste of time.
I shared these thoughts with my family. The picture resonated for Chris as well, who then shared his thoughts. He sensed Jesus is much more patient than we are, and Immanuel loves us in our weaknesses. Immanuel encountered weakness throughout His ministry and does not shy away from it. Rather, Immanuel comforts us in our limitations and vulnerabilities.
We all then finished the final step of the exercise and were able to feel some joy from our time together—detours and all.
As adults who have responsibilities and long To-Do lists, it is easy to focus on outcomes and results. We can easily get stuck trying to accomplish our tasks. For me, it is hard to slow down and enjoy the journey, especially when it feels like diversions and detours. Are you able to enjoy Immanuel in the journey, or does it feel like He is waiting at the destination, impatient for you to join Him at the finish line? This may be a meaningful conversation for you and Immanuel, and I pray you enjoy God’s peaceful presence in this new year! Learn more about this practice with the work for Dr Jim Wilder (2), Dr Karl Lehman (3) and John and Sungshim Loppnow (4).
- Return to joy one of the 19 relational skills where we feel, share then quiet an emotion. Over time our brain builds a pathway back to joy from negative emotions.