This week I’m answering something of a practical nature: “What are your best daily practices?”
I’m not sure if this question refers to spiritual disciplines, but I’m going to take it broadly.
Here are 7 things I’ve picked up over the years. I find them almost universally in people I admire, Christian and non:
1. Prayer. Prayer is foundational to Christian formation. It is both the beginning and exercise of humility, the fruit of which is true, Christian joy. This is because prayer practices two concrete expressions of a humble heart: submission and gratitude. The first - submission - is necessary in trial, as prayer practically assures us of God’s love and power. The second - gratitude - is necessary in pleasure, as prayer multiplies our pleasures through egoless thanksgiving. Prayer is the practical deference to God’s love and wisdom through trial, as well as to His credit in life’s pleasures. Together, these practices compose Christian humility, and are the makeup of a joyful life.
2. Reading. Reading scripture is of primary importance. It is the anchor of all truth, without which we are hapless boats in the vast sea of knowledge. It also draws us into the larger story which is meant to frame our lives: the creation, fall, redemption and consummation of the world. But other reading is important as well. Almost all successful men and women spend liberal - what even appears irresponsible - quantities of hours in books. Both fiction and non-fiction books are of great value, the one broadening our experience of life, the other broadening our interpretation of it.
3. Gratitude. Although gratitude is a vital component of prayer, I separate it as a habit because of its standalone value. The practice of gratitude is a well-researched antidote to depression and anxiety. Gratitude is also foundational in moral transformation. Romans 1 seems to view ingratitude as the fount for human vice. Paul so much as calls it the very secret of life (Phil 4:11-13). James views ingratitude as the seed of moral decay (James 1:14-15) I have often thought the 10 commandments could be read as a pericope, with the first summarizing the first half (“You shall have no other god before me”), and the last summarizing the last half (“do not covet”). True or no, gratitude is foundational to both interpersonal health and public justice.
4. Friendship. C.S. Lewis once wrote of friendship: "It has no survival value; rather, it is one of those things which give value to survival.” Long term studies of life satisfaction point clearly toward the vitality of abiding relationships. I am first to admit I am a poor friend. Nevertheless, I am grateful for others who have buttressed me by their friendship through the years. As the grueling work of full-time graduate school and work draw to a close, this is the daily project I’ve most set my eyes on: pursuing friendship, each day.
5. Health. Another consistent predictor of happiness and productivity is physical health. This is as much a part of our spiritual well-being as anything. The mind-body connection is well-established. At times, a struggle with anger is a struggle with blood sugar. It needs a run on the treadmill as much as a resolve toward prayer. Bodily work was a part of God’s Edenic plan for humanity, so the modern reality of work - slouching in an office chair - requires a supplement. Historically, Christianity’s care for others' bodies (hospitals, charities, etc.) has been a distinguishing mark of our faith. We should be no less a witness in the care of our own.
6. Generosity. I grew up blessed by a family with a quirkishly generous impulse. I still remember my cousins offering their favorite toys to me at the mere mention of my wish to have something like it. I’ve tried to carry that impulse into my own life, and have found Jesus’ words as true as any: it is more blessed to give than to receive. You may not be financially well-resourced, but that does not diminish your giving in God’s eyes. Rather, its sacrificial nature elevates it. You also have other resources: your time, your talents. Give these away liberally, especially to those without natural access to them.
7. Focus. I have broadly called this final practice “focus”, which encompasses any number of things. I have no Christian issue with meditation, which is a simple clearing of the mind for the purpose of eliminating distraction. But focus requires more than a clearing of mind. It also requires naming, dating, and visualizing your goals, then prioritizing your day. Finally, it requires careful attention to your intuition (or your conscience), constantly gauging and reassessing the next best thing.
I’ve tried to whittle this list down to practices both universal and daily. But I’d be interested in others’ best practices. What are yours?
For Further Learning:
Do More Better, Tim Challies
The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor
The Miracle Morning, Hal Elrod
The Happy Christian, Dr. David Murray
The Power of Full Engagement, Tony Schwartz