I was angry and wounded by something someone said to me, yet I was trying to push this person’s words away, shoving the emotion into under-the-bed containers where the lid didn’t quite fit.
Thankfully, I was also reading Irene Kraegel’s book The Mindful Christian. When I came across these words, I was able to pause: “Sometimes we have an emotion that is ‘bad,’ like anger, so we try to get away from that emotion and hide from it. While we are hiding, that emotion is just wandering around and not going away, and we’re feeling scared of it. When we decide to come out of hiding and walk along together with that emotion, we find that it is not so ‘bad’ or ‘scary’ and we start to feel better.”
All at once, I realized I was expending loads of energy trying to wrestle down my anger like an alligator, trying to make it behave. Lifelong patterns yelled at me to “just let it go,” but I was starting to understand that “letting it go” was working around the problem, not through it.
Kraegel shows readers like me how to work through difficult and uncomfortable emotions. “Part of mindfulness practice is a particular attitude toward present moment experience,” she writes. “Cultivating an attitude of playfulness and gentleness, the practitioner observes the moment without judgment.”
What a world of difference it made for me to take a step back, disentangle myself from the negative, shameful loop of thoughts, and regard my anger—or even “the anger” to achieve more emotional distance—with gentleness and even playfulness. I was learning to be mindful, and it was changing me. God was changing me.
This Spirit-filled book goes way beyond mere secular mindfulness. At every turn, Kraegel directs the reader to the practice of Christian mindfulness, with Christ at the center. “Observe your thoughts with light, curious, gentle attention, no matter what you are feeling, and notice you are sitting in God’s presence as you do this. This is Christian mindfulness—creating just enough observational distance to become aware of your experience in the present moment with kind awareness, recognizing that God is with you in that moment as part of your present-moment experience.”
So often our thoughts race around like lab rats in a maze, confused, zipping backward and forward, “stuck in unhelpful, critical loops that are outside our awareness.” Christian mindfulness helps us bring ourselves back to the here and now, where God is. And when we experience God’s presence, we find healing, wisdom, and peace for the moment and moving forward.
Anyone who worries that mindfulness is some kind of stealthy Buddhist practice (Kraegel herself was once skeptical) need not fret. This book has rock-solid Christian underpinnings and is filled with scriptural support. “I have come to recognize the practice of present moment awareness as deeply embedded in Scripture and in the Christian tradition,” Kraegel writes.
Living in a broken world, where Satan seeks to agitate and exploit our thoughts, Christian mindfulness helps us be “transformed by the renewing of our minds.” The practice can, as it did with Kraegel, help us overcome depression and work through painful loss. It can be a conduit of healing, resilience, and joy.
In the words of Christina Edmondson, the Dean of Intercultural Student Development at Calvin and the co-host of the Truth's Table podcast, "The Mindful Christian highlights the crucial role self-compassion and gratitude play in strengthening the follower of Christ, who is called to be a witness to Christ's peace." (Fortress Press)