Just One Thing: Some Thoughts on Spiritual Practices

Just a few days ago, I discovered a book called Just One Thing by Rick Hanson, and I thought, “Rats! I wish I’d found this before Lent!” I hadn’t really found anything to do for my Lenten practice this year, but now I am overwhelmed with wonderful possibilities.

The book contains 52 practices – actually themes for practices, such as “Be grateful” or “Put out fires” – that offer routine activities people can apply in their daily lives. It breaks down spiritual practice into small and manageable components in a way that I find very helpful. For example, for those who say the prayer, “God grant me patience, and I need it right now” (not that I would know anything about that), Hanson offers this in his reflection on being patient:

Rather than feeling that you are “wasting” time, find things that are rewarding in situations that try your patience; for example, look around and find something beautiful. Pay attention to your breath while relaxing your body, and wish others well. Similarly, rather than viewing yourself as “waiting in” situations, explore the sense of “being in” them. Enjoy the time being.

In that paragraph, I see a number of spiritual practices I can try: looking for something beautiful when I find myself getting cranky or anxious about “wasting” time, breathing and giving thanks for each breath, praying for the people around me in line or in traffic rather than checking my phone. And this last practice is what I will be doing for the rest of this season of Lent.

One of the elements of CnC for Adults is that we invite participants to select a practice, and then reflect at the next session on how that practice went. Often I have found it is difficult to come up with a practice that does not set myself up for self-judgment and failure. “I will pray every day” is a wonderful practice, but it’s so broad in scope, it may not be all that useful. What would it be like if I kept my spiritual practices very small and focused, such as “I will pray for the people around me when I am standing in line”? Just that and no more.

Perhaps this is something we can use as we invite people to a holy Lent or to any time of discipline or special devotion: start with an area we’d like to work on (such as patience); think about the times in which we have trouble with that area (such as standing in line); find one small thing to do to reframe that experience (such as pray for the people around me); and create a small offering to God in that very moment.

I’ve always believed that God receives with joy every act of devotion. But I’ve also tended to believe that my devotions needed to be grand and heroic, probably because I didn’t have time for those little (i.e. unimportant) things. Too impatient. But right now I’m willing to give the small stuff a try. In the spirit of CnC, I’ll report back in with you about how it goes. 

Update: Putting away my phone and simply noticing and praying for the people around me in line turned out to be a wonderful spiritual practice for me. Not only was I less fidgety while I waited, I found myself very grateful for an opportunity to connect with the people around me -- whether or not they knew it. This simple practice was a terrific way for me to open my eyes and to care for my neighbors. It's one I plan to continue to do.