Mindfulness: A Christian Approach

What is mindfulness? Some say it’s a positive form of meditation — and so I thought it might help me manage stress. But others believe it can negatively impact mental and spiritual health. As a Christian, I want to be sure I don’t go down a wrong path.
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Generally speaking, mindfulness is a technique of deliberately focusing your attention on the present. You don’t let yourself be distracted by other thoughts constantly running through your head; you clear “noise” from your mind.

Mindfulness (some use the word grounding) is characterized by meditation and relaxation techniques. The idea is to become more self-aware. You pay attention to thoughts, feelings, and sensations in that moment — without purposefully deciding whether they’re good or bad, and without becoming overwhelmed or overly reactive. In short, you tune in to what’s real right now.

Like anything, mindfulness can be misused. However, it doesn’t automatically contradict the Christian faith. We just need to make sure we approach it in a wise, biblical way.

History and use of mindfulness

The concept of “mindfulness” is rooted in Zen Buddhist meditation, although it would be a mistake to classify this as a strictly Buddhist discipline. As we’ll talk about shortly, there’s strong support within the Judeo-Christian tradition and the pages of Scripture for the practice of meditation in general. For their part, Buddhists believe that awareness gained through meditation is a “power” that helps them reach nirvana: a state of enlightenment, peace, and happiness.

In recent years, mindfulness has gained traction in the West as a counseling and psychotherapy tool. Jon Kabat-Zinn is considered to be a major influencer in Western adoption of the practice. He created a program called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Similar programs such as Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) treat depression and anxiety, and enhance mental health. Mindfulness is also used by employers and schools to handle stress and spark creativity.

Can Christians safely practice mindfulness?

As you’ve discovered, opinions about mindfulness and its impact vary in the Christian community.

Folks who are skeptical about it often point out its Eastern origins. They might say that mindfulness: 

  • Is based on an unhealthy degree of self-focus.
  • Promotes a one-with-the-cosmos worldview.
  • Supports emptying the mind (which can leave people exposed to demonic influences).
  • Encourages escape from reality.

These concerns are valid. Secular mindfulness is horizontal. In other words, you pay attention only to yourself. However, that approach contradicts Scripture’s teaching to have the mind of Christ and evaluate everything in light of our vertical relationship with God and Jesus.

So, can mindfulness ever be a safe and positive option to manage stress and develop a healthier thought life? Yes!

Christians and many faith-based counselors use mindfulness in a Christ-integrated way as a therapy tool. They believe mindfulness can be compatible with a biblical worldview — as long as it’s rooted in Scripture and focuses on connecting with God.

And thankfully, the Bible has a lot to say about calming our minds and keeping a vertical focus on the One who lovingly created us and knows us intimately. For example:

  • The apostle Paul reminds Christians that they’re called to be mindful and live with an awareness of the present (Philippians 2:1-5).
  • Prayer is one very practical way Christians apply mindfulness to daily life (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
  • Meditation appears in the Bible in the context of spending time studying the Word of God (Psalm 48:9; Psalm 63:6).
  • Christians shouldn’t let themselves to be distracted by worry about the future (Matthew 6:25-34).
  • Paul tells us to “be transformed” by renewing our minds (Romans 12:2) and to practice God-honoring thoughts (Philippians 4:9).

Want to talk more?

In the end, you’ll need to prayerfully decide for yourself whether to engage in mindfulness as a spiritual discipline or incorporate it into a counseling plan. But we know it’s a complex topic. Would you let us come alongside you?

Call us for a free over-the-phone consultation. Our licensed or pastoral counselors will be glad to help in any way they can. They might also be able to suggest referrals to specialized organizations, support groups, and qualified counselors and Christian therapists in your area.

 

Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Sacred Pathways

The Practice of the Presence of God

Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy With God

Experiencing God Day by Day

Why Jesus?

Restoring the Soul

Understanding Spiritual Temperaments in Your Family

Referrals

Christian Research Institute

Articles

Intimacy With God: The Way to True Fulfillment

Should Christians Practice Mindfulness?

Questions and Concerns About Contemplative Prayer

Keller on Quiet Times, Mysticism, and the Priceless Payoff of Prayer

Copyright © 2019, Focus on the Family.

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