One semester in seminary, I had to take a class on the spiritual disciplines. Over the course of the semester, I had to regularly engage in historical and traditional aspects of the Christian faith. There were retreats of silence and contemplation. There were periods of devout study, and it was when I first regularly began to keep the spiritual discipline of Sabbath (a habit and routine that I still keep today). For me, it was a time to discover how regular methods of work and rest, listening in silence, fasting and prayer, and contemplation can add beauty and meaning to all aspects of life.
Most importantly, these exercises broadened my perspective on the totality of “spiritual disciplines.”
The point of any spiritual discipline is not to make us feel better, promote our own religiosity, or keep us busy for busyness’ sake. The point of any spiritual endeavor is to draw us closer to the heart of God.
It was that understanding that drove me to develop a new spiritual discipline in my life: small talk.
I’m an introvert.
I don’t naturally seek out crowds or the spotlight.
I’m not interested chatting about “the weather” or whatever polite social customs are.
Truth be told, I mostly want to be left alone.
Everybody complains how awkward it is to be stuck in a quiet elevator in a group of people that are just standing around in silence.
That’s a little slice of heaven.
But I also realized that it makes me miss something foundational: people are inherently fascinating creatures.
We all have stories.
And every single one of us is created in the image of God.
Understanding Imago Dei
That “made in God’s image” piece is one I honestly missed for a long time. It’s not that I didn’t believe it; it’s that I wasn’t looking for it. Too often I was wrapped up in my own thoughts and I wouldn’t even look for it.
That’s why the spiritual discipline of small talk become so important to me.
I remember the first time I felt compelled to use it.
I was standing in line at the bank, and the bank always seemed to be full of overly chatty people. For a guy who just wanted to swing by, deposit his measly paycheck and hit the road, it seemed like EVERYONE WANTED TO TALK.
The people standing by the ATM.
The security guard by the door.
The people waiting in line.
Everyone was eager to talk.
And I’m ashamed to say that for the better part of a year I missed that.
Instead of seeing opportunity, I saw annoyance and inconvenience.
Much to my detriment, these were people who were slowing my mission down, not enhancing my life with beauty.
I needed to repent.
And start engaging in the discipline of small talk.
At first, it was awkward and painful. I had three ‘go to’ questions, and if those didn’t work out, our conversation would be sunk.
Despite that, I worked hard. I believed passionately that I could connect with people, but more than that by engaging them in conversation I could connect us both to the heart of God.
Understanding spiritual disciplines
I wrote last week about the need for us to hear God’s voice and respond promptly. That’s our test of spiritual health.
Spiritual disciplines, whatever they are for us, are ways to help foster that.
Feeling adrift in life? Ground yourself by regular readings in Scripture, prayer, fellowship and contemplation.
Feeling isolated? Engage others in conversation. Intentionally look for God’s story woven in to every person you meet.
Feeling stuck? Make something. I’m a firm believer that spiritual disciplines will be found in any activity that draws us closer to God. Maybe it’s running and praying for your community. Perhaps it’s refurbishing old furniture as an analogy to the work Christ has done in you. Maybe your spiritual discipline will be found in photography, pottery, ceramics, yoga or travel.
Whatever it is, if it draws out more love for God and others, engage in it intentionally. If it enhances your life and the lives of those around you, embrace it. If it prompts discernment and allows you to hear God and respond in grace more quickly, may you thrive in it as you develop your spiritual health.
Justin Hiebert is a Mennonite Brethren pastor in the Denver metro area. He studied Youth Ministry and Christian Leadership at Tabor College and completed his M.Div. at Fresno Pacific Biblical Seminary. He blogs at empoweringmissional.com, where this post originally appeared.