Nika and the 7SP

“I just don't have the time to do this,” she remarked as she handed me the journal. “The goatskin is cool and I love the social justice behind this idea, but I’m exhausted and fighting for balance as it is. I can’t add another thing.”

“No problem, of course! But those are the very reasons why I mentioned the seven sacred pauses to you. The 7SP have helped me get that ever-elusive balance I have wanted. Actually, I don’t even use that concept any more: balance, for me, was unattainable. But focusing and refocusing on God, now that I can do.”

“Maybe that’s my problem. I’m chasing after the unreachable. But … I don’t know. Gotta go, love you.”

The younger woman put her Frye bag over her shoulder, gave me a kiss on the cheek, and bee-lined for her car. “Father, You know her schedule and her heart. Please work in her till coffee next week. Thank You her,” I whispered. “Love You. And help me love her.”

One week later I sat at the coffee shop, glancing over my shoulder to see when she came through the door. Twelve minutes later Nika blustered her way in, down coat slung sloppily over one shoulder and her eyes red. As she unwound her scarf and put her bag on the floor, she just looked at me and softly said, “I’m sorry.” Her tears began to fall.

“Nika. Take a minute. I’ll get the coffee and something to nibble. Am I right? You don’t look like you’ve eaten well, or even slept well lately.” She nodded. 

Steaming latté in hand, I sat and looked directly into her weary face. “Now, my friend, talk to me.”

Nika spilled out her story: a fight with a roommate, avoiding a certain young man, watching the street lights dance on her ceiling much of the night, under-exercising and over-eating, cramming for a deadline at work, and feeling the disappointment of God throughout everything. “I feel so far from Him. How could He love me right now? I’m really struggling spiritually. It’s been a while since I read my Bible, but honestly, I don’t know what to read anyway. I’m floundering… a total failure. I fall asleep if I pray because I’m so tired. I just want to sleep on Sundays because it’s my only real day off. What is wrong with me? I’m not who I want to be but seem unable to make any real change in my life.”

“Nika, my friend, thanks for that honest run-down of what’s happening in your life. I have a challenge for you. Grab your phone.” She wrestled through her purse and found it. “Go to clock. Add an alarm at 10:30AM … and 1:30PM … and 5:05PM. You get off work at 5:00, right?” “Yes, thank goodness, every day,” she said with a hint of sarcasm. “Okay, add another at 8:30PM. And what time do you usually get up?” “I try to get up around 6:15, but usually it’s 6:45. Which, by the way, means I don’t have enough time to read my Bible. But I do have time to do my hair and makeup.” She rolled her eyes.

“Okay, Here’s the story of the 7SP - the pauses I told you about, remember? When I wake up, that’s pause number 1. Don’t even feel pressure to get out of bed, just turn your mind immediately toward God and remind yourself of the truth: that He is your good Father, and that you want to live for Him today.” 

“Okay, I’ll label my 6:15 alarm with ‘Live for You today.’ How’s that?”

“A great start. Now at 10:30AM you’re at work Monday through Friday and doing ‘apartment and life maintenance’ on Saturday, correct?” “Absolutely. My dream Saturday is to be at the Farmer’s Market at 10:30 once the weather warms up. But that also means I need to plan meals and work on my budget, which instantly overwhelms me again!” 

I smiled. “One thing at a time. Let’s work on this rhythm for your days first, then we can add those things. For your 10:30 alarm, you are usually working, so label that alarm with ‘In Christ my work is sacred.’ Got it? Next alarm: 1:30PM. All of us can use some refreshment around that time of the day, so make ‘refreshment’ your label.” 

“What do you mean when you say ‘refreshment’? At lunch I get some time to eat, but I often work through my lunch hour just to keep up. So I don’t have time to go get a soda … what am I missing?” 

“Ha, yes, this isn’t about soft drinks; this about soul-level refreshment. This is about you connecting with Jesus and getting some real sustenance that will carry you through the rest of your day. That’s actually the point of all these pauses: to connect with Jesus, to re-focus your mind on God, to remember the Holy Spirit who lives within you. When you re-engage with God, He refreshes and strengthens you, tells you the truth, inspires you, instructs you, and guides you.”

“I definitely need some of that,” Nika admitted. “What should I label the 5:05 alarm?”

“After work, you transition from the task orientation of your day to a more reflective mindset. You offer the work of your hands and mind to God, then turn toward evening, friendship, food, home, and your own soul.”

“I think I’ll label this one ‘transition.’ But I want to work on it some more.” 

“Okay, pause number five is a bit different. It’s the Examen, Latin for “examine.” It actually requires more than a pause; it’s deep and beautiful. It’s a simple sequence: first, write out what you’ve done today. Don’t belabor it; a sketch or bullet points will do. Then ask the Holy Spirit to help you have His insight into your day.”

“Wait, how do I hear the Holy Spirit? Right now I hear myself, mostly. And doubt, and fear, and anxiety. And stress is really loud! And relational conflict, oh my gosh.” She looked bereft. “How do I know what is God’s voice?”

“God’s voice is full of hope and possibility, is loving and strong, and instructive. When He convicts you of something you’ve done wrong, He doesn’t rip you to shreds or use guilt or call you names. That’s not Him. He is clear and direct, serious about sin, patient and calm. He doesn’t scream and shout and pout and rant. So if any of that starts, shut it off. But think of God like a surgeon: if He sees sin or harm in your life, He wants to get it out. His scalpel is the scripture. He wants you to cooperate with Him; He is patient; and He will call you to be sorry for your sin.”

“Okay, Mrs. Suz. That helps. I think I’ve been listening to the wrong voices lately. So I’ve sketched my day, I’ve prayed, and now I’m listening to the Holy Spirit.”

“Exactly. I’ve found that it’s easier for me to hear Him if I apply a deep question during this listening time. One of my favorites is, ‘When did I stay close to You today, and when did I miss You?’ So I use that question, go through my day with the help of the Holy Spirit, and listen for what He says to me.”

“I like that. Can you give me a few more questions?”

“Try this one: ‘Was anyone or anything too important to me today?’ That one gets me every time. If I’ve been anxious, lost my temper or perspective, the answer is yes.”

“Dang, Mrs. Suz, then I don’t have a chance. I’m going to flunk this Examen.”

“Nika, of course you will. We all do. But the point isn’t performance: the point is intimacy with Jesus. Every night I’m telling Jesus that  I’m sorry for something. But that’s good! That’s healthy. I’m growing in Him because He is changing me. Every time I’m doing the Examen, I’m inviting Jesus into my life. ‘Come in, Lord. Walk around.’ He helps me see things I missed, strengthens me for the next day’s situations, and convicts me of sin. I fail and fracture every day.”

“So what do you do?”

“Well, the Examen is actually a really positive experience. Look for what you are thankful for. I actually write a little “TY” beside the parts of my day where I saw God do something beautiful, felt His favor or joy, had a good meeting, that kind of thing.”

“But what do you do with your sin? What do you do with your guilt and shame?” Mika asked earnestly. 

“I identify it, first, with the help of the Holy Spirit. Then I confess it. I actually go through this sequence of scripture: ‘Forgive my iniquity, Lord, for it is great.’ Psalm 25. So I acknowledge my failure. I hate to fail God, so sometimes I feel like Peter when he was sinking into the water after walking toward Jesus: ‘Lord, save me!’ The Bible continues, ‘Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and saved him.’ I love that - I need that. And then I remind myself of the truth: ‘If I confess my sin, He is faithful and just and will forgive my sin and cleanse me from all unrighteousness.’ That’s from 1 John 1:9. ‘The blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin.’ We are ‘brought near by the blood of Christ.’ His work on the cross makes it possible for me to be forgiven and draw near to God. That good news makes me celebrate - He calls me beautiful and fair and invites me to be with Him. That’s a wonder!  So I get happy, and delight in Him, and then I tend to get calm and thankful. Peaceful. I think the Biblical word for it is blessed.”

“So you believe He loves you, even with all of your failure?” 

“I do. And I’m finding as I do the Examen that I’m finding fault lines in my character and habits and attitudes. When an earthquake comes along those fault lines, I confess my failures and faults and fractures, and He gives me some strong instruction. He can seem stern at times, but I’ve learned it’s out of a deep love for me.” 

“Can you give me an example, Mrs. Suz?”

“I don’t always do conflict well. It’s a fault line in my character. I’ve had to do a lot of work and study to get where I am today, and I still have so much to learn. When that fault line gets tested within, what’s really in me gets shaken up and shows. It’s not always a pretty sight. That led to one of my questions for this year: What is God shaking up or settling down in me today?”

“I like that one! I feel shaken … and stirred … mostly by my circumstances. My life feels chaotic right now.”

“Then ask God about that as you do the Examen and practice the pauses. Nika, He loves His girls. He has much to say to us. But we must create space to listen. He longs for us to be close to Him. He is where we find our security, strength, joy, and peace. If you aren’t creating space for Him, I’m not surprised you feel chaotic. But the last part of the Examen may help. Ask yourself what you are looking forward to, what resolutions you would like to make, what lessons you’ve learned that day. Write them down, and be at peace.”

“Okay, Mrs. Suz, we’ve done five pauses. What are the other two about?”

“My last pause is before bed, and it’s for prayer, so create your alarm at the appropriate time for you. I’m sure I go to bed a lot earlier than you do.” We smiled at each other, and I noticed it was so good to see Nika smile again. “The final pause is in the night.”

“Oh, Mrs. Suz, I have to wake up in the middle of the night? I’m having a hard time sleeping as it is!”

“I don’t actually set an alarm. I just do this pause if and when I wake up in the night. The focus is on intercession, using the dark of night as a metaphor. I ask God to bring His light to others around the world, in my own family … for Him to make Himself known (and famous!) in the world.”

“Isn’t that a bit depressing?”

“Not if I remember who He is: our good Father, King of kings and Lord of lords, the Good Shepherd, our wonderful Counselor, our Everlasting Father, our Prince of Peace. I picture nations … people … maps … faces … situations, and ask Him to bring His light into their dark places. It’s actually amazing.”

“Okay, I’m in. I’ll try starting tonight.” 

“If you need to start with a few pauses rather than all seven, you can. Then add as you go. I think you’ll find that you just want more and more of Him as you continue. But always start with the dawn pause, and keep the fifth one, the Examen. That’s where you’ll experience the transformation you’re longing for.”

“Okay, Mrs. Suz, I’ll call you if I need help. And is all this written down on a website or somewhere? Is there a book to help me? Oh wait, forget that, I don’t have time for a book.”

“Try theexameneffort.com for details, pictures, and the social justice side of the journals. And I did bring the goatskin journal back today. I thought you might need it.”

“Thank you! I’ll look into it. I know you said there's a connection with Haiti and a dump called Jubilee. What an ironic name!”

“I know. But God has given Benson the bookbinder a great vision: that someday he would be able to employ all of Jubilee, and that the name would someday be a truth, not a farce, to describe their community.”

“Cool. Love you. Gotta go.”

I watched her leave and prayed for her as she gathered her things and left the coffee shop. I prayed God would give her clarity as they (she and the Holy Spirit) went through her days; that her patterns would be evident, and that she would be brave enough to make the changes God would whisper to her; that she would see the value of an examined life; that she would not let her failures stop her from doing the Examen; that she would grow in grace and truth, and be filled with the joy of the Lord’s intimacy.

And I pray that for you, too.
With much love, 
Mrs. Suz