A Life-Giving Meeting

Give yourself permission for play and delight


A few weeks ago, I was meeting a colleague in our community for coffee. It’s an intentional time for one hour each month that we check-in with each other. During the conversation, I found myself asking him, “What’s keeping you grounded in God’s presence?” His reply caught me off guard. It shouldn’t have surprised me. Most people, myself included sometimes, just say anything to avoid answering that question. Instead he was honest with himself and named it out loud. He replied, “Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” 

In today’s fast paced world, the answer to “How are you?” is too often: Busy. Tired. Exhausted. Those words have become a sign of honor, a badge of courage. Sometimes, often, maybe even always, it seems like we can’t produce enough and our to-do lists get longer and longer. Just putting our feet up, closing our eyes, and taking a few deep breaths for a minute or two feels unproductive and, well, lazy.

What causes us to feel this way? How do we even begin to name these feelings? Brené Brown in her book, Atlas of the Heart, defines shame as “the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of love, belonging, and connection.” WOW!  I have to keep rereading and saying aloud this definition of shame. It’s difficult to get my mind wrapped around it. My faith has taught me that I am, that we all are beloved children of God. We are worthy of love, belonging and connection. Shame hinders us from naming and claiming that truth. 

So I got reflective. I wonder what is underneath these feelings of being unworthy of love, belonging and connection. I am curious. When we want to so badly connect with God, grounding ourselves in God’s presence, how is it that we disconnect from the very God we are trying to connect with? Digging deeper into Atlas of the Heart, there is this very RED page that grabs my attention. It has white and black lettering. It reads, “It  may seem counterintuitive, but one of the biggest barriers to working toward mastery is perfectionism. In our leadership research, we’ve learned that achieving mastering requires curiosity and viewing mistakes and failures as opportunities for learning. Perfectionism kills curiosity by telling us that we have to know everything or we risk looking ‘less than.’ Perfectionism tells us that our mistakes and failures are personal defects, so we either avoid trying new things or we barely recover every time we inevitably fall short.”

Perfectionism. Failure. Feeling “less than.” I wonder if those are the feelings behind our struggle in answering the question, “What’s keeping you grounded in God’s presence?” I am curious if those feelings keep us feeling distant, distracted, withdrawn, and possibly numb to God’s presence in our lives. Maybe it’s easier to feel distant or distracted than to feel unworthy and “less than.”

So going back to the conversation I had with a colleague in my community. I’m grateful for his answer. He named aloud what some of us feel when it comes to our connection to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. It was honest and heart-felt. It was from this place that both of us could move forward with hope, with joy, and with belonging. It was from this place that we can start to connect and reconnect with God and each other.

How do we reconnect with God when our calendar is overbooked already?

As a wife, mother, pastor, coach and community volunteer, my schedule is full. At least that is what I have always told myself. Where is there time in my day to connect with God too? Where can I find the time to actively participate in spiritual practices? Does studying and preparing for a sermon and Bible study count? What about spending time with the confirmation students playing “Bible Trivia” or eating pizza? What about reading a Bible story to the preschoolers or making a craft? What about sharing a cup of coffee with a colleague or a homebound member? What about taking a walk or turning off my phone for an hour? What about just breathing?

I used to think that connecting with God was about spending intentional time reading a devotional book or email first thing in the morning along with a chapter of scripture before heading out the door to drop the kids off at school and then going to the church office or a meeting. But with three kids, mornings were busy and chaotic, on the best of days. And so those feelings of shame and perfectionism creeped in. 

Over the years, I have learned that connecting with the Triune God, or what some call “spiritual practices,” takes many different forms. It’s expansive and not limited to only reading scripture or a devotional in the morning. It’s about naming and noticing God’s presence in ourselves, in other people, in our community, and in creation. I have also realized that each day my connection with God is different. There are days I connect to God through journal writing or making prayer beads. Other times it is just stepping out of my office (even in the brutally cold temperatures) to breathe or to move my body for two or, better yet, five minutes. I also intentionally remind myself that playing with my dog, hiking in the woods with my husband, or listening to jazz or rap music with my teenage son are ways to connect with God too. In addition, splashing in rain puddles or making snow angels are ways that I can connect to God because in those moments, I am thankful for what God has created. I feel and see God when I am coaching clergy and congregational leaders as together we explore God’s presence through sacred listening.

Giving ourselves permission

Over the years, I have learned to give myself permission that play, creativity, imagination, rest are all spiritual practices. I have also learned that I can schedule an appointment with myself and with God on my calendar, even for 5, 10, or 20 minutes during the work day. What that looks like is up to me. It’s a meeting. A productive meeting. A life-giving meeting. The reconnection to God, the space to breathe, play, and create actually helps me to be a better wife, mom, pastor, and community leader. It helps me to be who God created me to be. 

Giving myself permission to be curious, to try new things, to experiment has provided me with the freedom I needed from those feelings of shame and perfectionism. It’s also helped me to be a role model for clergy, colleagues, congregations, and community members. I’m curious. What would happen if we gave ourselves, our colleagues, our congregations, and our families permission to be curious, to be creative, to play, and to just rest and breathe? Would there be any risk, failure or shame in that?

Your turn: Exploring spiritual practices

  • Did you know that Faith+Lead has coaches that are available for you to meet with on a monthly basis to help you explore a variety of ways for you to connect with God? Find more information on coaching.
  • During the season of Lent, instead of giving something up, what if we gave ourselves permission to create, to imagine, and to play? How often do you reconnect with God through dance, painting, knitting, making prayer beads, woodworking? How often lately have you connected with others through play or service? 
  • What if we gave our time to God with silence or intentionally participating more in worship or other spiritual practices such as Centering Prayer, Daily Examen, Dwelling in the Word or Meditation? How often do you connect with yourself and God by taking a few minutes a day to intentionally focus on your breathing?
  • What if you gave yourself permission to name and notice God’s presence?

Further Reading Suggestions:

  • Wayne Muller, Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives (Bantam, 1999)
  • Saundra Dalton-Smith, MD, Sacred Rest: Recover Your Life, Renew Your Energy, Restore Your Sanity (FaithWords, 2017)
  • Courtney Ellis, Happy Now: Let Playfulness Lift Your Load and Renew Your Spirit (Rose Publishing, 2021)
  • Ruth Haley Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry (IVP Books, 2018)
  • Jane E. Vennard, Fully Awake and Truly Alive: Spiritual Practices To Nurture Your Soul (SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2013)
  • Sybil MacBeth, Praying in Color: Drawing a New Path to God (Paraclete Press, 2013)
  • Rachel G. Hackenberg, Writing to God: 40 Days of Praying with My Pen (Paraclete Press, 2011)
  • Heidi Haverkamp, Holy Solitude: Lenten Reflections with Saints, Hermits, Prophets and Rebels (WJK Press, 2017)

  • Andrea Fluegel

    Andrea Fluegel is a Certified Clergy and Congregational Coach (ICF Certified, Level 1/Level 2 Discipleship), Team Coach and Facilitator, a Transition Facilitator, and an ELCA pastor. She partners with clergy, Councils, ministry teams and individuals to be curious and faithful about the movement of the Holy Spirit in their lives, work and ministry, especially during times of transition, uncertainty and reimagining. She is the founder and owner of Northwoods Church Consulting, LLC and Peeling Birch Coaching. Andrea is a Certified Nutrition Coach (Precision Nutrition certified) and a spiritual director/companion and a member of Spiritual Directors International. Andrea is a wife, mother of three young adults, and is the forever home of a rescue dog and lives in Eagle River, Wisconsin.

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