Faith Nurture, Faith Practices
Appreciation Is a Muscle You Can Strengthen | Open to Wonder
July 26, 2022
Updated October 12, 2022
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April Fiet describes herself as a pastor, parent, and recovering perfectionist. She’s also an author, weed-puller, and backyard-chicken-feeder. She shares why watching asparagus grow brings her delight, the “holy rhythms” she weaves into her life, and how learning to embrace “holy interruptions” helps her stay attentive to God at work. Here is a transcript of her episode on Open to Wonder. It has been lightly editing for clarity.
Listen to the episode online or on your favorite podcast app.
Karen: I have read our guest April Fiet’s book, The Sacred Pulse, Holy Rhythms for Overwhelmed Souls, three times. My copy is highlighted, dogeared, and filled with post it notes to myself. And I may have called a few friends up and read passages out loud to them.
April describes herself as a pastor, parent, and recovering perfectionist and says you’re most likely to find her at church, at home with her kids, in the garden pulling weeds, or in the backyard feeding her chickens.
She took a break from all that to wonder with Chris and I about holy interruptions, embracing our belovedness, and what appreciating the little things has to do with the faith practice of celebrating. All that—and why asparagus is a funny vegetable—is coming up next.
Karen: April, the subtitle of your wonderful book, The Sacred Pulse, is “Holy Rhythms for Overwhelmed Souls.” What's a holy rhythm and how does being intentional about developing holy rhythms nurture faith?
April: Holy rhythms are really the recognition that our sacred lives and our secular lives really don't need to be compartmentalized. We can become curiously attuned to the movement of the Spirit as a routine, as a habit in our lives by infusing some simple practices into the things that we're already doing every day, allowing our hearts to be open to the way the Spirit is speaking through those movements.
For example, one of the movements in my book is the movement of gardening. And even if you aren't someone who enjoys gardening, there is a rhythm of the seasons that allows us to see the new growth in the spring, and the flourishing in the summer, and the more barren times of the winter, and allows us to reflect on those seasons in our own lives in a curious way that can help connect us to what God's doing every day.
Chris: When we were reading, one of the places where you're describing those holy rhythms that really caught my attention was this distinction you make between chronos time, which is the way in which we measure our days kind of movement of time and kairos time, which you say recognizes the sacredness of particular moments. I just love that little kind of way you leaned into it. And then you have this little note in there. “Each morning, when the sun rises, we receive a fresh opportunity to listen again for the sacred pulse of time. Yet many of us choose to begin each day with blue light rather than daylight.”
Yes, guilty over here. I get caught in that, but it was also helpful for me to hear you phrase that.
So I'm wondering if you could just unpack a little bit more on this: how does our observance of time impact our relationship with God and others? And what does it mean to listen for the sacred pulse of time?
April: Yeah, that's a fabulous question. When I think about these two ways of looking at time, I think about chronos time as the practical: how do we do life as human beings together, and in our lives? How do we organize our moments? But kairos time invites us to step outside of that, and to remember that God is outside of that human construct of time, that God is working through our moments and also over and around our moments. When Jesus says to the disciples “my time has not yet come,” he's talking about this kairos time, this fullness of time, recognizing that there are times that are appropriate or good or holy for doing certain things and then there are times that maybe are not as well suited.
And to think about our time in that way can be really liberating. I'm one who loves my to-do lists.
I love being organized. And sometimes I can get really caught up in saying “I need to do these things today,” and that's my chronos time speaking. You know, “ I'm given this many hours, and I want to get this much done.” But kairos time might invite me, when someone steps into my office, to put my to-do list to the side and attend to what that person's need is in that moment or to make space. Maybe my kids have had a hard day at school and that needs to take priority over my chronos time, and to listen more to the kairos time, those fullness of time, those moments where everything stops. And we have that holy opportunity to do whatever work it is that God's given to us at that moment.
Chris: As a follow-up to that, there's a phrase that I heard in seminary, and I heard pastors who were mentoring me talk about: that sometimes we fall into the temptation of seeing people as an interruption to our work. Could you respond? I mean as a pastor, as a parent? Could you pick whichever lens you want to work with and respond to that in this context?
April: Sure. I don't remember who it was that said it to me but one time a colleague of mine said something to the effect of “embrace the holy interruptions.” And just by putting that word ‘holy’ in front of it—and recognizing that this is not an impediment to me completing my to-do list, this interruption might be the thing that God is calling me to in this moment, and to just reframe it that way—has really helped me to view people as the people that they are, and not as an obstacle to whatever I'm hoping to get done for that day.
Chris: But that would seem to me to push us towards a posture of attentiveness, like how to be attentive. How do you train yourself to be attentive? In some sense, that's what your whole book is for. But for you personally—where do you find that “okay, I've got to learn to be attentive here?” How does that work out for you?
April: I really think it's a muscle that we train, and the more that we do it, the more instinctive it becomes. I find that one of the best ways to learn to be attentive in our lives is to begin to ask questions—simple questions—as though we were becoming children again. You know, Jesus says, “unless we become like children…” And I think this is one way that we do that. When you're outside, ask yourself, “why is the sunset more beautiful today than sometimes? Why does this particular bird make that sound? Why did that person choose to come to me when they could have come anywhere else?” and to really lean into that “Why? I think the more we ask it, the more instinctive that it becomes. It becomes almost a habit. And really that's the hope of my book: that these things will become habitual or routine in some way, so that they aren't as much effort. It's just the posture of our lives.
Karen: April, you mentioned—just building on what Chris said about attentiveness, because you provided such a beautiful example of that—you mentioned gardening, earlier. And you tell this story about growing asparagus in the book, and I loved it.
I'm not a gardener. I have flowers. But after reading your book, I realized my gardening flowers involved getting my butt over to the flower store, and getting those flowers and planting them and getting it all done in a weekend. And it has never occurred to me to pay attention to the growth of said flowers, to enjoy the act of watering the flowers. And there's a lot of people talking about “be more present. Be attentive.” But in your book—can you just talk about your asparagus growing experience? Because I think it was just such a wonderful example of a way to do this, that's just not abstract. Yeah, can you just talk about growing asparagus and what you saw; that was so beautiful.
April: Oh, thank you. Asparagus is a funny vegetable. It just is funny to watch pretty much in all stages of growth, the way that it looks like little fingers pushing their way up through the ground. But I began that whole experiment without any attentiveness or curiosity.
I didn't realize that asparagus grew wild in the ditch in rural Iowa, and that you can just drive a couple miles here and turn at the stop sign and find as much as you like out in the ditch. When I purchased asparagus, the only thing in my mind was that I like asparagus, and it's expensive at the store. So I thought, “Well, this is gonna be a money saver.”
Well, I had no idea it was gonna be three or four years before I could even harvest a handful of spears, let alone have a regular amount of asparagus on the dinner table!
And so it was amazing to me to learn and to watch, and to observe and to find enjoyment in the whole life cycle of the plant, even before I could eat any of it. Because quite often—I love how Wendell Berry talks a lot about our relationship to food—when we become consumers, we view food as something we consume, and not something that we participate in.
And I have found that just that act of growing asparagus and watching the way it forms these fronds, these ferny fronds, and they grow, and they eventually flop over and provide habitat for the birds and the rabbits hide underneath it. And then they produce berries that are not edible, but they're beautiful. And just allowing myself to be inquisitive to that, curious to that, to wonder “why does it grow that way? And how can I participate in that when it grows those big, leafy stocks? Do I cut those down? Do I let them dry up? Do I just sit back and watch?” And I just find that gardening is a wonderful opportunity for that.
And even if you aren't a gardener, you can begin to ask questions about your neighbor's yard. It’d actually be a really great way to make a friend: is to comment to your neighbor about your beautiful flowers, and “what kind are those? And why did you choose those?” Quite often there's a story. You know, “my grandma used to grow those” or “they were my favorites growing up, and I just had to have them in my own home.” We get to know each other as well.
Karen: That's so great. And I mean what I loved about that growing story is it has made me think about how I might be attentive in so many other areas, too. So yeah, I found that super helpful. I also found—the chapter that I have highlighted and underlined and folded over in my copy of your book is on repetition of rest. I felt like you have been in my pocket for my whole life. There's a section, a beautiful section where you talk about the challenge you faced in sitting down. How you would sit down to rest and then your eyes were drawn to dirty dishes, so you would start doing dishes, and then you would think, “oh, I should have a snack” and you'd go for the snack, and the fridge was dirty. And it reminds me of that wonderful children's picture book—if you give a mouse a cookie he’s gonna ask for milk.
But then you said—and when I read this to my husband I burst into tears—you said, “none of these tasks are bad. The inclination to complete them isn't bad, either. The trouble, at least for me, is that, even when my body is still, my mind races with everything I need to get done.
I used to think this was because I was a go-getter. But I've come to realize my inability to rest hinges on a quiet whisper that tells me I am not enough.”
You go on to talk about how “When we rest, we accept the most beautiful gift of all: the truth of our belovedness.” That rocked my world. April, can you say more about that?
April: Sure I'd be happy to.This is a lifelong struggle for me, and I imagine it will remain so, for probably until the end of my days. But you know when you get a job they tell you to make yourself “irreplaceable.” You know, “get yourself into the system and make it so they can't function without you.” And I think that there's something within some of us—maybe all of us at some level—where we feel if we produce enough, or if we accomplish enough that someone, ultimately God, will see us and say, “Okay, it's all right if she takes up that space.”
I recently wrote a piece for In All Things called “The Enough Resume,” and I have realized that's kind of what I have done sometimes in my life; I try to make a list of qualifications all the reasons that I am enough in this world, and that people might appreciate me, or or allow me to have the space that I have.
But God says, “Wipe that resume clean. Your number one qualification is that I created you in my image and I love you. You don't have to earn that. That's something that I have chosen to give you.”
And when we can receive that, then the things that we do in our life are not to validate our position or to “excuse me, I'm here doing something. Is that okay with you?” You know we don't have to come at life like that.
But it then becomes an overflow of our gratitude to the God who said, “I want you here.
I've given you a purpose.” And that can help quiet that voice that says, “hey, I don't know if you're enough for this.” That imposter syndrome voice that challenges what you're doing and says “have you earned the right to be here?”
Karen: It seems kind of ironic. It feels like as church people, we have a hard time with that. Like it feels like that should be so easy for us? And yet there's this—I don't know if we put it on ourselves, or it’s this work ethic kind of woven into Christianity, or certainly for Reformed Christians. I don't know. Do you know?
April: I'm not sure exactly what's behind it. I know some of it may be our theology, because we do, in Reformed circles, lean on our sinfulness, maybe sometimes too much, to the point where we forget that God first made us good before we fell and sin entered the world.
I think that might be some of it. I also think that we see the disciples fumbling. We see all the people around Jesus faltering, Paul saying “I do the things I don't want to do. And the things I don't want to do, that's what I find myself doing.” And we think “here 2000 years
later we should be doing better with that than they were back then. We've learned from their mistake.” And then we realize we haven't. And it can be very humbling to realize that we are so terribly imperfect.
But I think that when we embrace that belovedness of God, we aren't saying, “I'm not sinful.”
We're not saying “I don't need god's grace.” We're saying “by the grace of God, here I am.” That's what leads me forward. And I think if we lean on that too, we are better positioned to reach out and embrace a hurting world that also feels like they are not enough, deep down inside that there's something lacking, something's not right. If we can embrace that in ourselves, embrace that belovedness—it's like putting on your own mask before you put on someone else's mask—we need to receive that for ourselves.
Karen: That's beautiful.
Chris: I think that maybe one of the more challenging pieces of our Christian faith in this day and age is that sense of “how do we rest in our belovedness, of being loved not because of what we've done?” And certainly in North American culture that tends to be one of the bigger challenges.
I think one of the other challenges we have is “how do we celebrate?” In the Reformed tradition that we've been a part of, we often have this sense of the high compliment is “not bad.”
Chris: Because we don't want to risk people feeling proud. And this sense of celebration gets tied to a particularly standout moment or milestone, so it's got to be something big and significant. But the way you talk about celebration seems to go the other direction. Instead of the big, monumental, you framed it differently, much more in the daily rhythm of small appreciation. Could you kind of just unpack that? Lean into that a little bit more.
April: Sure, yeah I think you're right. We tend to celebrate those big milestones: a high school graduation, or when you get your first job, or you graduate from college, or whatever, having a baby or getting married. We tend to celebrate those life milestones. But I wonder how our lives might be different if we learned to celebrate the little things?
I have a group of friends and we're all three ministers, and if there's ever something that happens—you know, you have to have a hard conversation, or there's some sermon that you're struggling with, and you just can't get through it, or anything like that—we will celebrate with each other and say “You did the thing. You did that.” And you can step back and say, “I did do that. Thank you, God, for helping me do that.”
Those little things, those little goals—it doesn't have to be a huge thing. And just like I was talking before about the muscle of inquisitiveness and wonder, and those kinds of things, I think appreciation is also a muscle that we can strengthen. And it's not “look at me. I did all that.” It's a moment to give thanks to God for the strength and the energy or the insight or wisdom, whatever you need to do something. “Thank you. God, for helping me do that.” And celebrating those little things. And I get my idea on that from the story of creation. Every day of creation, God steps back and says “It was good. The separation of the day and the night. It was good.” And then, ultimately, when human beings were made, it was not only good, the creation was very good. That rhythm of daily celebration of what has been done, I think, is really meaningful.
I love the prayer of examen, to look back on your day, to walk through all of it, and find moments to pause and be grateful. And I find when I end my day that way, that I more look forward to the next day. You don't dread Monday coming. It's more “What gifts will Monday have for me?”
Chris: It's interesting you frame it that way. I was meeting with a group of seminary students just this morning. And the question in front of us—I meet with them weekly, and this week's question was on gratitude. As we were talking about it, we said it is so hard just to say something we're thankful for without putting in the caveat of what still needs work.
And so maybe your comments from earlier about belovedness and “we are enough” really go hand in hand with this daily practice of appreciation, of gratitude—that they are somehow woven together. That we experience our belovedness as we're grateful. And as we're grateful, maybe it becomes a little more believable that we're beloved.
April: Yes, absolutely. I think it can be helpful to think about it this way; I was once reminded that the word ‘gratitude’ and the word ‘grace’ are linked etymologically—that ‘gratis,’ that free gift. And so when I'm grateful, I'm not bragging. I'm not boasting. I am thankful for the grace of God that made something possible. And that may sit a little bit better in some of our Reformed minds. We don't think we're bragging on ourselves as much.
Chris: Oh, thank you, that's helpful.
Karen: You've just given us some really practical ideas, April, for weaving daily rhythms into our life. Holy rhythms. You mentioned the daily examen. I’m wondering if, for people who are listening, there's one small step or idea that you could share, one way to begin developing holy rhythms in their own life, what would it be? What's one idea or suggestion you would give them?
April: One thing that I would really recommend to people is just setting a small goal every day for wonder and curiosity. You can pick whatever time of day your mind is more inclined towards those things. For me, that's first thing in the morning. For my husband, that's later at night. He's more of a night owl. But for myself I find my inspiration quite often outside, you know, outside my front door. And so I try to make a point to spend at least five minutes outside, asking God, “What would you like me to see today?” Or listening, you know, engaging your senses, especially. “What animal is making that noise? What are my eyes seeing that is different from what I saw yesterday?” And beginning to ask that question and leave some space.
And you can really tailor it to yourself. I'm one who really enjoys that silent contemplation.
Other people—maybe you take a walk with a friend, and you can do that together. Maybe you can invite each other to share what you see that's inspiring? And how might God be giving these things to us as gifts? And by making that space for wonder, curiosity, I think that opens a whole new realm that will transfer into any other area of our lives. We might become curious about flavors in the kitchen or about the different ways we can rest. And it will begin to permeate, like river tributaries, into all aspects of our lives.
Karen: I love that. It occurs to me that so much of this stuff that we're talking about comes natural to four-year-olds. You know, spend time with a four-year-old: they're wondering all the time. They're grateful. They live in appreciation like “I learned to ride a bike today,” or “I lost my tooth,” or you know they master a task and they lean into that. I love that example of building curiosity and wonder into your day. Because, you know, if I ride the subway to work, I can think sitting on the subway with that openness or going to the grocery store, or doing all the things one does. That's really practical.
April: Here's just a little example of that. I was driving somewhere with my daughter the other day. And I don't know why—normally I take the same route every day—but for whatever reason I decided to take a side street. And we made it a couple blocks, and I realized there was a mural on the wall of this business, and so we pulled over. And it was a mural. It was wings and dragonflies and lily pads, and we had a little impromptu five minute photo shoot in front of this mural just on a side street. And I think that when we allow ourselves, just a little extra time to get to the place where we're going—I mean you've got a schedule, you've got to keep it most of the time. But sometimes you have a minute. You can pull over and do those things.
Or yesterday, we observed Mr. Rogers Day at our church. It was his birthday yesterday. And as I was getting ready to leave my house, I was feeling extra anxious because I had more things to prepare than normal. And you know, you feel unprepared, no matter how prepared you are. And I pulled around the corner, and the train track crossing bars came down, and I thought, “Oh, I'm gonna be here for an extra 10 or 15 minutes.” And I started to stress. And then I don't know why, but I just started to laugh and I started to think about Mr. Rogers’ trolley that always would lead people into the land of make-believe. And before I knew it, those arms were coming back up. There really hadn't been a train. It had been some kind of a glitch in the system. But it was just so delightful to be able to say “God, it doesn't have to be my schedule. It can be yours.” And find that little bit of humor and grace, and even an appreciation for the interruption. It set the tone for my whole Sunday, and I was so thankful.
But that frustration was my first inclination, as I think it would be most people's. But we can train ourselves to move past that, and to see the gifts that there are.
Karen: I love both those examples because they weave everything that you talk about—they weave kairos time, and they weave rest and restoration and celebration—all within a practical little thing: being aware and taking a moment.
So thank you. And we didn't even get into snow days as holy interruptions.
Chris: or chickens.
Karen: Or chickens! Two other highlights in this book. There's so much to talk about. It is so rich. I recommend it to anyone. Thank you so much for spending this time with us, teaching us. Chris, and I and our team have been doing a lot of work in faith practices. And I think that this just lays us such a beautiful foundation in a way of encouraging people as they think about what might it look like to begin to be more intentional about weaving faith practices into their lives. So April, thank you so much for taking this time to let us pick your brain and learn from you today. We appreciate it.
April: Thank you for inviting me. This has been wonderful.
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