This is the ninth in our series of emails called “How I Monk.” In this series we will be highlighting + celebrating members of the Monk Manual community as they’ve meaningfully applied our tools and resources to find peaceful being and purposeful doing in their everyday lives. If you’d like to be featured in a future “How I Monk,” share your information with us here… #HowIMonk
Name: Christopher Brown
Where are you based: Colorado, USA
Tell us a bit about who you are and how you spend your days...
I am a bi-vocational pastor, serving part time at First Presbyterian Church of Berthoud, Colorado, and part time as a coach for other ministry and nonprofit leaders. I’m also married and have two daughters (ages 8 and 10) who keep our family busy with activities ranging from swim practices to Girl Scout meetings to art clubs.
When I’m not working or attending to my family, I have two hobbies which I’m trying to integrate: trail running and writing. I’ve found that being outdoors in the beauty of nature soothes my soul. Trail running has become a contemplative practice for me, and I’m intentionally writing about those experiences to reflect on how it’s shaping my spiritual life. In preparation for a sabbatical I will receive in 2024, I’ve started a Substack to practice writing about the places where prayer, nature, and personal growth intersect: https://stillmountain.substack.com/.
Practical Monk Manual Tip:
At the bottom of the journaling space on the daily pages, I always use one line to track how much time I’ve given to my church work and to my coaching work, respectively. Doing so helps me ensure I’m fulfilling my responsibilities while also not overextending myself. No one else is asking me to keep a time sheet, so I do it for myself.
When you were first getting started, what part of the Monk Manual did you struggle with most?
Gratitude. For the first week, I put the same three things on the “I’m Grateful For” lines every day: my family, coffee, and the sunrise. Then I realized it was designed to help us see three new things for which to be grateful each day. I thought, three new things every day? How am I going to keep doing that? Is there really an infinite supply of things out there for which we can be grateful? My resistance to being grateful made me realize how much I take for granted. Though I had preached to others about the importance of gratitude many times, I wasn’t practicing it myself. Now this little practice of starting each day by naming three things for which I’m thankful is adding up and showing me that life is a lot better than I’m tempted to think.
My resistance to being grateful made me realize how much I take for granted.
Do you have a favorite prompt or section?
The reflection questions at the end of the day are my favorite section. Listing highlights and places where I was at my best has helped me discover more confidence and joy in my life. I also notice that simply putting a moment when I felt unrest on paper helps me step back and look at that moment objectively, without letting the negativity I felt at the time cloud the rest of my day.
What originally drew you to the Monk Manual?
I felt drawn to use the Monk Manual when I started balancing two jobs in January of 2022. To better steward our financial resources, our church’s leaders and I decided to change my position from a full-time position to three-quarter time. Throughout the previous year I had trained to be credentialed by the International Coaching Federation as a coach, and at the start of 2022 I launched my own coaching business to complement my pastoral work: Still Mountain Leadership and Life Coaching. As I entered into this new arrangement of balancing an entrepreneurial adventure with ministry and family responsibilities, I knew I would need to intentionally plan and reflect on my use of time.
Having studied monastic spirituality earlier in my ministry, I was attracted to the ways the Monk Manual integrates monastic insights regarding simplicity, habits, and gratitude. I walked through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises in 2015 with a spiritual director, and I see echoes of the Ignatian Examen in the Monk Manual’s reflection space for the end of each day. I had never enjoyed using paper planners before, but the seamless integration of spirituality into the Monk Manual made this a natural fit for me.
How has your life changed since using the Monk Manual?
The first thing I noticed was that there isn’t an infinite supply of time. Simply changing from using my Google calendar to writing everything out by hand made me realize that time is limited and therefore precious. Rather than letting my calendar be colonized by other people's plans or desires, I had to take control and prioritize how I chose to use my time. That’s made it easier for me to say no and set boundaries, and to make more space for the things that matter to me personally.
What suggestions would you give to new Monk Manual users?
Invest time in the monthly pages. Listing priorities for the month keeps me aware so that things don’t sneak up on me. The monthly check-in has also helped me recognize when I need to make more time for relationships or recreation in my life.
If you’d like to be featured in a future “How I Monk,” share your information with us here.