🌿Restoration of the heart🌿

In the United States, Valentine’s Day is followed by a one week break from school in celebration of President’s Day (third Monday of February). This year, the break comes earlier, overlapping with Valentine’s Day, and it would have been extra special.

However due to the stay-at-home order, gatherings at schools and churches have not been permitted since last March. Currently the area of activity is limited to 150 mile radius, and if we were to travel further out, we need to self-quarantine for 10 days. So we spent our winter breaks and holidays at home without going out or a break from the daily monotony. With my heart being left somewhat restless, I watched seasonal merchandises in stores come and go, and was surprised by the passage of time that brought the seasons to a full circle once again.
Yet in this “remote life”, I am now able to participate in seminars in Japan over ZOOM, hop on a virtual bicycle to visit a town I’ve never been to before, and chat with people from all over the world at the Clubhouse. The world and my weight have drastically changed since Amazon and Door Dash have enabled us to live in convenience.
We get used to the status quo, even gaining some free time, and our life’s routine is protected, though it was initially disconcerting. Still, we find that our hearts are slow to recover and stress remains. How are we to restore our relationship with God, our family, and people we haven’t been able to see?
Now, this has become the task on hand, as we look towards the restart of the world.
To restore is to repair or to recover. As you know, it also means to return something to its rightful owner, or to replace it to its place of origin.
The other day, I found a Valentine’s Day’s special sale, and got my husband a mug cup with the word “RESTORE” written in the bottom for his birthday.

This is a word my husband picked for this year’s theme, but since it was the Valentine’s Day’s special sale, the person who receive this order might have wondered if it’s alluding to a restoration of marriage? or maybe it’s a mug cup of remorse??
What I hoped to remind him by placing this word at the bottom of the cup were:
  • To always cherish the time with God, and return to the bosom of God.
  • To pray together for the restoration of this world and our hearts.
  • To return this cup to the kitchen when he is done drinking.
In this pandemic, as the values held by the Church and the World are rapidly changing, our hearts are tossed around and shaken by things unseen. It is easy to forget the importance of reconfirming our identities in order for our hearts to be restored.
As if I’m acquainted well enough with God’s love for me, that I should now move on to gaining the Bible and other book knowledge, praying, receiving blessings through participating various conferences, and getting involved with the work, which would win the approval of others. And to think these, would be far more important and meaningful than to receive that “I am loved”.
Not knowing where to take my invisible anxiety and loneliness, I have tried self-restoration and aimless attempts at stress release.
In the past, after an incident, I started experiencing extreme nervousness and anxiety for public speaking, going out alone, and getting on an airplane. The trigger was “What if”.
I became anxious with imagined situations that haven’t happened, and feelings invoked by words people haven’t uttered. One moment I beat myself up, and the next jump to a possible solution to resolve the issue. My mind raced to figure out how to achieve my own ideals and others’ expectations, and urged me on to actions by something other than overflowing joy or gratitude. I became hypersensitive to words and actions of people around me, and as my heart reacted acutely to them, it soon affected me physically.
Even in the midst of all these, God was ever near to watch over me:
“Wont you rest with me?”
“You are my beloved child. In you I am delighted.”
“Now, shall we go together?”
“You are alright. I am with you.”
In the stillness, God has given me timely words.
It might be difficult to restore the tired and wounded heart, just by going somewhere away from our daily lives to forget our troubles and empty our minds. But how important it is to return to God, who created my heart and body, to rest in his hands, to listen to his voice, and to have Him be the core of my heart.
We are not as strong as we or other people think we are, so the experience of our past failures and hurts, no matter how old, can at any moment threaten to become a trigger to swap our identities. Yet it is the privilege of the saved to be able to realize the presence of Christ, who is with us, every single time. So in such a moment, I try to look through this list, like a child who is trying not to forget anything while packing.

Who are we really List

  1. I am a child of God. (John 1:12)
  2. I am a new creation. ( 2 Corinthians 5:17)
  3. I am a friend of Jesus. (John 15:15)
  4. I am created by God to do good. (Ephesians 2:10)
  5. I am free in Christ. ( Galatians 5: 1)
  6. I am chosen and loved. ( 1 Thessalonians 1:4)
  7. I am the light of the world. ( Matthew 5:14)
  8. I am not ruled by fear. (2 Timothy 1:7)
  9. I am forgiven. ( Colossians 2:13)
  10. I am God’s possession. (Titus 2:14)
  11. I am free from the desires of the flesh. (Galatians5:24)
  12. I am a light in the world. ( Matthew5:14-15)
  13. I am secure in him. (1 Peter 1:3-5)
  14. I am loved by God. (1 John 4: 10)

Even when our hearts are shaken by “what ifs”, and our traumas and the anxieties of unknown future try to overpower us, let us remember our identities and have our hearts restored, sine it is so clearly written in the Bible.

🌿 Who is the true me?

🌿 Who is with me here, right now? 

🌿 Who will process what I’m going through alongside me?

I was able to gain unspeakable peace in my heart by knowing these.

Valentine’s Day is not just a day to communicate our feelings to the loved ones. I believe it is also a day to commemorate the significant people who have poured love into us, and the love of many people. As we look back on our identities of God’s beloved, I hope our wounded hearts recover, get filled with love, and then be restored to freely share with people around us from the overflow of that love.
In the coming month, may we truly enjoy the journey, in which God walks with us. 🌿

 

Makiko Nakao
Wife of Santa Clara Valley Japanese Christian Church’s pastor
Mother of three daughters who were born in 🇯🇵🇨🇦🇺🇸
Hobby: Observations of her husband, aimless change over of her home decor.
Stay-at-home-mom blogger https://violetteivory.wordpress.com/ (Japanese Only)
Preparing for a silent retreat cafe, as she operates an imaginary cafe.

Make space for God to work in your heart

Hello. My name is Makiko Nakao. I live in northern California. In Santa Clara county (population of 1.9 million) where I live, we’ve had 75,297 Covid-19 confirmed cases so far and 1,000 new confirmed cases each day. It has been 10 months since we have been unable to meet at the church for worship. Although the new year has begun, we are still under the stay-at-home order, have to wait in long lines for groceries, and are unable to dine outside at cafes and restaurants. 

Despite these ongoing challenges, I would like to share a little bit about the blessings I have experienced during this time of mostly staying at home, how I have been spending my time, and how I am enjoying this journey with God each day. 

One of the books I picked up before the pandemic mentioned these four rhythms of dealing with stress and fear.

– 🌿REST: Retreating from the various things that surround us.

– 🌿RESTORE: Exercising our mind and body.

– 🌿CONNECT: Sharing laughter.

– 🌿CREATE: Reviving our old talents.

Incorporating these four rhythms in my life has made me want to create more space in my heart where God, and not myself, can work to free me from negative thoughts, false self-perceptions, and comparisons with others.

REST and RESTORE are rhythms that allow us to input the peace that Jesus fills into our inner being. CONNECT and CREATE are rhythms that allow us to output and let go of our false values and assumptions. 

 

Through them, we find new joy in our relationships with those around us. I believe that practicing these rhythms can help us in overcoming the stress and anxiety from whatever “season of life” that we find ourselves in.

 

Seven and a half years ago, our family moved to a new city due to an unexpected job change. A year later, after finally feeling settled in, all of a sudden, I experienced burnout. It forced me to examine myself to understand how and why this happened to me. 

 

Through this struggle, I discovered about the “rhythm of grace” where Jesus rests with me and walks with me. Moreover, I learned that I had been given a “yoke of joy” that was made especially for me. Although my daily life has since been greatly affected by Covid-19, I would like to share about my “daily life” under the Corona pandemic.

 

In the rhythm of REST, the important first step is to “take inventory.” When I say inventory, I’m not talking about cleaning or tidying. The first thing to do is to look back at your past steps, face them carefully with the awareness of God and His perspectives on them.

 

1) When did I feel alive and well?

2) When did I feel tired?

3) What gifts has God given me?

4) How is he involved in my life currently?

 

As I took inventory of my heart, I began to feel that I sincerely wanted to know more about God’s thoughts on those matters, not just out of a sense of obligation or responsibility.

 

Life has not been normal since the start of the pandemic in March. I found myself spending more time at home and having more free time. But in reality, the change and anxiety led me to keep myself busy to the extent that I could not be aware of God’s perspective and His voice in my life.

 

At that time, I came across these words.

 

I’m tired of helping others enjoy God. I just want to enjoy God for myself.

I felt as if they were my own words from my heart. I realized that in order to respond to God’s dynamic calling for my life, I needed to first and foremost be aware of the cries of my own soul and take better care of it. Caring for my soul so that it can rest, relax, and enjoy the Lord is more important than any responsibility or service that I have been given, and it is something that only I can do.

You may be feeling the need to “download” and process your feelings and thoughts, but your mind is saying that there is “not enough free space.” So you are left to let everything pile up. Eventually, you reach a point where you cannot tell what is important or what you need to throw away. Your mind’s capacity has filled up and has frozen. When this happens, as much as you dread it and hate doing it, you have to push the “force quit” button.  Otherwise, even the important things that are going well will end up disappearing from your life in a flash. 

 

Is this what God really wants for us?

There was a time when various ministries, both within and outside of our church seemed to be going well. As many new needs were arising for the church, someone wisely said to me,  “Before we start something new, it might be good to review what we have done before, and to consider if there is anything that we need to stop doing in order to start the new thing.”

 

What should I be doing at such a time as this? This advice helped me to discern what I ought to pursue in my life. Those words really stuck with me, and I am still reminded of them often. Whenever I was not sure if I should do something, I asked myself, “is it really necessary for me to do this?” or, “what is driving me to do this?” in my prayers.  

 

There were times when I had to let go of something in order to take up a new challenge. But the result was always a feeling of having a burden lifted up. I felt at peace to let things go, knowing that as long as I am “joyfully yoked” with God, He may allow me to take it up again in His time. 

 

Perhaps we all need to take inventory of our minds and make sure to leave some free space so that we don’t reach the point where we need to “force quit.”

 

I think it’s easy to confuse “what I want to do,” “what people expect of me,” and “what God wants me to do,” from each other when we are too busy each day.  I understand how hard it is to discern what is truly best for us.

 

I have heard that people who are born and raised as slaves do not know how to rest. That is why God has ordained the Sabbath for us, so that those of us who are “slaves” will learn that we need to consciously strive to rest.

 

My tendency to try to be productive can quickly turn me into a “slave.” Therefore, I need to intentionally work on restoring my identity as God’s beloved “child (daughter/son).” 

 

As the Corona pandemic has drastically altered our sense of normalcy, God spoke to me through a sermon recently. The message challenged me to view the current “moment of pause as a time of blessing.”

 

We are quick to turn to things and places other than God to make us feel at home and find our value. However, what our souls truly need is a safe place for rest, enough space in our hearts, and comfort.

 

I am cherishing my time with God where I can slow down and eagerly listen to Him speak about His wonderful plans to me. 

 

Therefore, it is my New Year’s resolution to enjoy resting in the Lord by stepping back from my immediate responsibilities for a little while on a regular basis.

 

I know that it sounds like a tedious task, but I need to start the New Year by taking inventory! I must do this in order to create enough space in my heart where the Holy Spirit can work freely.

 

Breath Prayer

Dr. Sachi Nakamura(JCFN Board Member, Christian Book Translator, Spiritual Director)

This month, I would like to introduce a spiritual discipline called “Breath Prayer.”

Breath prayers are simple and short prayers that are repeatedly recited in your heart as you breathe in and out. It is a simple yet powerful prayer that can be prayed anytime and from anywhere. Breath prayers help us to turn our thoughts and focus back to God and restore our souls when we are feeling confused, anxious, and weary. It can be done anywhere, such as during our commute, while doing household chores, or in our walks. Practicing breath prayer can remind us that the Lord is with us throughout our day. Paul may have had this kind of prayer in mind when he said, “pray without ceasing.”

 

The history of breath prayer is said to go back to the fifth or sixth century.  At that time, there were people known as the “desert  fathers” and “desert mothers,” who lived secluded lives in the Egyptian desert. The prayers that those desert fathers used to pray were passed on to the Eastern church, and became known as the “Jesus  Prayer”. Jesus Prayer is a short prayer consisting of saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,  a sinner.” It is said that they used to pray this as they breathed for tens and hundreds of times each day.  

 

Breath prayer consists of two phrases. As you breathe in, you pray the first phrase. Then, as you breathe out, you pray the second phrase. Since it is hard to do this prayer out loud, we pray in our hearts. For example, if we are using the Jesus Prayer, it will look like this: (while breathing in) Lord Jesus, (while breathing out) have mercy….”

 

When you are actually praying, you do not pray out loud. In Greek, the word for “breath” is pneuma. Pneuma can also mean “spirit.” The Holy Spirit is also called Pneuma. As we slowly breath( pneuma) and prayer, we can become aware of the Pneuma, who lives within us. We are reminded of the presence of the Holy Spirit that lives within us to comfort, encourage, empower and instruct us.   

 

There are no rules for what kind of phrases can be used in breath prayer. 

 

Let’s look back to Jesus’ interaction with the blind Bartimaeus in Jericho. Bartimaeus shouted to Jesus, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”  Then Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

Imagine Jesus gently asking you, “What do you want me to do for you?” What will you ask Jesus for?

“Lord, have mercy on me.”  

“Lord, help me.”

“Lord, be with me.”

 

Another good way is to choose a short Bible passage and use it for meditation in your prayer.  

 

For example, you can pray and meditate on the phrase “The Lord is my Shepherd,” as you breathe. 

Take a big breath as you say in your heart, “The Lord is…” Then, slowly breath out saying, “my Shepherd.” 

 

Or, you may also pray the name of the Lord, Yahweh as you breathe. “Yah,”  “weh.” Again, “Yah,” “weh”.

 

As you breathe out, try to let out the worries, fears, or frustrations in you, or anything that may be pulling you away from God.  As you breathe in, try to take in God’s love, grace, mercy, and the life of God that sustains you as much as you can.   

 

I really hope that you will try this breath prayer for yourself.  

 

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