New Year’s is the time when we set goals for a new life, a new “me,” new habits, new this and new that. We can even plan ways to grow spiritually and improve in our walk with God.
But setting goals–and keeping them–can be really hard with a chronic illness, especially when it comes to spiritual disciplines that require energy, focus, and time that sometimes (or a lot of times) we just don’t have.
So we asked The Valley’s founders and two of our mature Women in the Valley interviewees for spiritual practices they’ve found both doable and encouraging in their years of chronic illness. From their responses, here are 18 practical tips to help you in your spiritual growth this year:
Thoughts From Janeen
Tim Keller says in his book, Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering: “There will certainly be progress . . . But in general it will be slow and steady progress that comes only if you stick to the regular, daily activities of the walking itself.” “When you put one foot in front of the other and begin walking, you will always go somewhere.”
So what might those regular activities (disciplines) of the “walking itself” look like? I will only suggest a few recent ones that have helped me in the “walking,” although there are more that others will share here.
1. Prayer Targets
Prayer is a broad category, but here is one idea, what I call prayer targets. This is the practice of turning the daily reminders of your suffering or difficulties into opportunities to immediately pray for someone you know whose struggle is similar. For example, if I’m currently experiencing anxiety, I have trained myself to immediately bring to mind a friend who experiences anxious thoughts and to pray specifically and with understanding for them by name. This not only helps me in my struggle but them also. This is bearing one another’s burden, and it works beautifully here.
2. Keeping to a Schedule
There are many good ways of doing this and January will be full of those helpful ideas. Are you a written, check-the- boxes type of person who seldom gets to the items at the bottom of the list? Try this: do a lesser-loved-but-necessary task for only 10 minutes. Most people can commit to doing that. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself more inclined to continue at it for longer or just move on to the next item on the list. This keeps you walking one foot in front of the other.
3. Cold Air Break
If you get bored or bogged down, especially in winter months, try taking a fresh, cold-air break. Immediately just go outside the door and stand there or walk out to the mailbox or if you must, take a brisk walk. I read this week that the cold can actually jolt your mind and it resets it, if you will, so that you can be refreshed to continue. This is not in place of regular exercise, but a practice that will bring clarity and refreshment to your thoughts.
Thoughts From Emily
4. Praying Scripture
This is especially helpful when you don’t even know how to pray. Just open up the Word of God and start praying Bible verses over yourself. It’s amazing how comforting it can be.
5. Christian community
Try to find support in a Christian community or at least a godly, Christian woman who you can call or reach out to for prayer.
6. Bible Reading App
Do a Bible reading app if you’re feeling stuck. One of my favorites is First5.
7. Encouraging Playlist
Put together a playlist of Christian songs that encourage and speak to you. Call it your “encouraging playlist.” When you’re having a rough day, you can turn it on.
8. Being in Nature
This isn’t necessarily a spiritual one, but get out in nature, whether that’s taking a short walk or just sitting outside, breathing in fresh air and taking in God’s amazing creation.
Thoughts From Melissa
9. A Psalm a Night
Along with my morning devotions, I read a Psalm each night before I go to bed. I’ve done this for over ten years now and it has become one of my favorite spiritual practices. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten to the end of my day in need of specific encouragement, and when I open my Bible to my bookmark in Psalms, there’s the exact encouragement I need.
10. Regular Scripture Memory
In 2013, Emily and I participated in an online Scripture memory challenge together in which we memorized two verses a month (one for the 1st, the other for the 15th of each month) and posted or shared our verses with each other. We no longer participate in the online challenge, but I’ve continued the practice. Two verses a month is, to me, the perfect amount to keep me regularly memorizing verses or passages with regular deadlines but without stress.
11. Attributes of God Notebook
Several years ago our ladies’ Bible study went through Mardi Collier’s book What Do I Know About My God? We decorated our own three-ring binders, filled them with paper, and filled the papers with categorized verses about God. I spent the next few years collecting hundreds of verses that tell me who God is (strong, all-knowing, good, anchor, etc.). For a while I used this notebook to begin my prayer time with praise, and I continue to come back to it when I need reminders or encouragement.
12. Timed Prayer Time
When I found myself fighting to stay on course during my morning prayer time, I decided to set myself a timer and focus on praying until the timer went off. (If I wanted to keep praying, fine, but at least I would reach my daily time.) Once I stayed focused for the allotted time for a week or so, I’d add a few minutes and gradually work my way up to longer prayer times.
13. Writing Out Prayers
I think watching War Room for the first time inspired this practice. I dug out a blank notebook and began writing out prayer requests: for my book, for my health, for my college friends and professors, anybody or anything I wanted to remember. I continue to write out prayers (and prayers from Scripture) both to structure my prayer time in the brain-dead days and so I don’t forget what I need to pray for.
Thoughts From Oksana
14. Avoiding or Removing Unhelpful Influences
When I looked at other people, I was very tempted to get envious and also when I would watch movies. Everyone else seemed to have perfect health and perfect lives. In movies it’s all ideal: unreal people, unreal situations, they have no problems or suddenly all the problems turn into happiness. And it made me feel much worse. At some point I decided I’m not going to watch them anymore, they make me unhappy, I don’t need to make myself believe in all that, so I just stopped watching that and it helped me significantly.
15. Bible Study (with Prayer and Songs)
I always found it super helpful to study the Bible together, preferably with people who have similar problems. Of course it’s better to do it in person, but if there’s no choice, now especially, we can do that online. That would be really helpful for me, and praying for each other. That always unites us more. And I think it was always something really special when we sing together. If there’s any opportunity to sing together, that’s wonderful too.
16. Visiting Sick, Shut-in, or Needy Friends
When you feel like you’re struggling, your life is not going the way you want, you have chronic disease, you’re single, you’re struggling with this and that, your home situation is not the greatest, your life looks really bad–go visit someone, maybe a person who’s shut in or someone who’s in the hospital in bad condition. When you go visit a person like that, then you put things in better perspective because you see someone who is in a much worse situation and who would gladly trade places with you. Then you realize, oh my life is not that bad, I can be thankful for what I have because it could have been much worse.
17. Reading Missionary Biographies
I’ve done it some, but not a lot, and I heard that other people do it on a regular basis and enjoy reading testimonies or biographies of missionaries. It’s very helpful to read those because usually their life is hard they have lots of difficulties, and their testimonies are great about trusting God and how God provided for them and so on. It shifts your thinking from yourself and your problems to other people who also struggled, who found joy and comfort in trusting God and God truly provided for them.
18. New Morning Mercies
I recommend a devotional book I’m reading now, I have it in both Russian and English: New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp. It speaks to my heart, speaks about struggles I have without pink glasses, just reality as it is. It’s great for encouragement or for everyday reading. Sometimes I feel like I have to rush to do work right away or my kids need me, and it’s so hard for me to focus on that peaceful time. This devotional helped me quickly focus my thinking, and he suggests some things that I can think about and pray about. I find it really good.
Do you already do any of these practices? Are there any you might like to try for this year? What goals do you have for 2022? Let us know in the comments, we’d love to hear!