Four Ways to Live out Discipleship in Everyday Life
By Jennifer Goto
I recently returned from a two-day silent retreat. I had wondered whether I would love it or hate it. Would forty-eight hours without talking and the obligations of daily life free me to be in constant prayer? Or would I be pulling my hair out looking for stimulation? I loved it. And then I went home.
While a retreat can be a beautiful time to reset our spiritual practices and give us space to hear the word of God with clarity, the rhythms of daily life are where we are called to live as disciples. It is with the return home that I recommit to living and loving in a way that reflects my own love of Jesus. While we often think of discipleship as outward activity, we also need practices that ground that activity in the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. Here are four small ways that I use to notice God’s presence as I go about daily life as a disciple in my work and with kids, neighbors, and friends.
1. Pull your shoulders back.
Can you feel it? Your chest opened up. Your breath can be deeper. The muscles in your neck and jaw can unclench. My body doesn’t stay this way, so I have to deliberately take this action to change my posture. I think of it as making room for God. “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord!” the psalmist proclaims (Psalm 150:6). With a physical posture of openness, I’m ready to relate my breath to the breath of the Spirit. I remember that I am called to be open to the presence of God around me. I also remember that I’m not supposed to hold up the world through my own effort. Bonus: I look more available for the next invitation to action that God brings my way, whether through a stranger or one of my children.
2. Take a photo.
I typically use my phone camera because it is close by. The moments of beauty that are part of everyday life can go unnoticed. Small gifts from God sprinkled throughout the day are left unwrapped. Taking the photo reminds us to stop and notice and give thanks. As I scrape my windshield in the morning, I might notice the particular way the ice has frozen to create a design. Or I look up to the sky and remember I am part of God’s larger story of creation. Or I notice the hand of a loved one with its wrinkles and spots that won’t be here on earth to hold forever. Taking the photo serves the purpose of slowing me down to notice and give thanks. It also allows me to have a record of all of the ways I have caught a sense of the presence of God, so when I’m feeling lost, I can look back and remember clearly that God has been with me. We learn in Colossians 1:16 that “in him all things in heaven and in earth were created,” and taking a photo helps us remember that.
3. Stop and listen.
As a spiritual director, I have the incredible privilege of sitting with people and listening for God’s presence in their lives. This happens during set-aside appointments when we both show up with the intention of listening for God together. But I have also noticed that the more I practice this holy listening, a short conversation in the grocery store checkout line or a line waiting for the train can also be a time when God is speaking to us.
It is the “stop” part of this advice that is difficult. It means stop looking at my phone. Stop hurrying from one place to the next to get all the tasks done. Stop judging people, thinking they have nothing important to say. When I find it difficult to stop, I remember the pace that Jesus took, often stopping when others were caught up in urgency. Luke’s Gospel shares the story of the healed woman who touched Jesus in a crowd when he was on his way to heal another. His compassion to stop and find her inspires me to stop as well (Luke 8: 40-56).
4. Memorize a prayer.
I learned about the benefit of memorizing prayer at the Academy for Spiritual Formation. As we gathered for daily prayer, the liturgies became meaningful to me. When I returned home from the Academy retreat weeks, my young children would greet me, and I knew that scheduled times of prayer with an open prayer book were not a daily possibility. So, instead, I memorized the opening prayer of the morning liturgy, the Jesus Prayer of the Eastern Orthodox tradition, and the benediction of the evening liturgy. Throughout the day, I call upon God with words that I can be fairly sure another disciple somewhere in the world is also praying. Along with the Lord’s Prayer as taught by Jesus in Matthew 6:9-13, these words have been written on my heart. In the midst of the school pick-up zone, my car becomes a place of prayer, as my mouth forms the words, “Strong is the love embracing us, and faithful our God, from morning to night.”
These are the kinds of practices that God uses to shape our hearts into holy vessels of love. Over time, the fruits of the Spirit become more apparent, and our discipleship is shown in outward acts of solidarity and kindness. I have found myself more generous with my time and energy so I can respond more fully to the invitations of care that God places before me each day. They are there, as long as we are open to noticing.
Rev. Jennifer Goto (she/her) is a United Methodist elder serving as the Spiritual and Executive Director of the Bread of Life Center in Sacramento, California. She works with others to offer community and practices that support the intentional spiritual journey toward the fullness of life and the courageous offering of gifts to the world. She also will be serving as the retreat leader for the first in-person/online hybrid offering of The Upper Room’s Academy for Spiritual Formation beginning in 2024.
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