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A Healthy Church Is a Mindful and Resilient Church

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Photo by Nathan Dumlao (via Unsplash)

Mindfulness practices and Christian faith are complementary, a natural blend for Christians in search of mental wellness, self-awareness and closeness to God. In an age of unprecedented distraction and widespread mental health concerns, mindfulness is a potent antidote to both of these trends—and a powerful tool that sets the stage for deepening Christian spirituality.

Mindfulness is an attitude, the art of accepting all moments in life, pleasant and unpleasant, with acceptance, curiosity, and nonjudgmental openness. It is also a set of specific meditative practices that strengthen our ability to be fully attentive to our present-moment experience. In short, mindfulness is learning to pay attention. For Christian practitioners, this includes learning to pay attention to God.

Practicing mindfulness benefits individual Christians seeking peace, but it has a collective benefit as well. Mindful practices can support the development of churches as safe, caring, supportive spaces for anyone struggling to maintain or achieve mental wellness.

Mindfulness is largely secular as it exists in America today, taught through the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) curriculum that was initially created as an aid in the medical management of chronic pain. But it has been incorporated extensively into many Eastern spiritualities for centuries—and the Christian faith has robust meditative prayer traditions of its own.

The Ignatian tradition, for example, has long encouraged nonjudgmental, curious, open attentiveness to life’s everyday, moment-to-moment experiences as a way of connecting with God, offering various forms of meditative Christian prayer since the 16th century. Centering Prayer is another example of a deeply Christian contemplative practice.

Both meditative prayer and contemporary Christian mindfulness practices allow us to commune with our Creator God by paying attention to the divine creation present in every moment. But mindfulness is also a powerful psychological tool on its own. We can understand mindfulness in the same way we understand other medical and psychological techniques—as useful tools for healing, with or without explicit faith integration.

Research shows that mindfulness practices produce greater self-awareness and improve mental health for many. There are also physical benefits such as successful management of chronic pain or mitigation of stress-related conditions like psoriasis, diabetes and some gastrointestinal disorders.

An even broader benefit of mindfulness practices for Christians today is emotional resilience, defined as the ability to bounce back from hardship or suffering. Resilience allows us to continue to say “yes” to God—and to ourselves—even in the most challenging seasons of grief or pain. It is core to our spiritual health and mental well being.

Faith-based resilience is strengthened through the practice of mindful acceptance, helping us stay present to ourselves and to God through times of suffering. Connecting us with divine love as a buffer from despair, Christian mindfulness grounds us in our deep identity as children of God, no matter the storms of circumstances and emotions.

Mindfulness also cultivates self-knowledge. God made us and delights in us. As such, learning about ourselves is one way of learning about our Creator. While we may be tempted to create distance from our uncomfortable thoughts and feelings, God already knows everything about us and still loves us. With mindfulness, we can more honestly bring all of our present-moment experiences into God’s presence, making space to experience his peace.

Churches benefit from mindfulness practice, too. Mindfulness has the potential to facilitate a broader culture of openness, curiosity and connection that can be of great benefit to faith communities.

When Christians build mindfulness and resilience, the interdependent body of Christ benefits. When each of us practices being present to our full experience, we give others permission to discuss their full experience lovingly, freely, and without fear—mental health included. Church culture, nurtured by the open, curious, and nonjudgmental attitude of mindfulness through a faith-saturated lens, can allow room for God to do his healing work without the resistance of fear, avoidance and judgment.