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Daily Inspiration: Meet Irene Kraegel

Today we’d like to introduce you to Irene Kraegel.  

Hi Irene, so excited to have you on the platform. So, before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today.
I am a clinical psychologist by training, and I became interested in mindfulness about ten years ago as a tool to help therapy clients struggling with depression and anxiety. I was also interested in the topic for myself, searching for a pathway to deeper personal healing and transformation than what I had found up to that point in the field of psychology. But I wasn’t sure if mindfulness practice could fit with my Christian faith (if at all), and at the time, there was a lot of fear in the Christian community about mindfulness meditation because of its frequent association with Buddhism. 

Driven by both professional and personal interests, I took a class in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) through the Grand Rapids Center for Mindfulness. It was transformational. I found new ways of living and thinking that had an immediate impact on my ability to manage my own difficult emotions, and at the same time, I found the practice very consistent with my Christian faith. This experience awoke a passion in me to be a “translator” for other Christians who might benefit from mindfulness meditation practices but feel unsure about whether it was compatible with their religious beliefs. 

This “translation” work began with a group class for students at Calvin University who were interested in strengthening their mental health through a Christian framework. It expanded into a website offering an integrated view of Christian mindfulness (www.TheMindfulChristian.com) and then into online courses, speaking engagements, and a live workshop series (now available in-person or virtually for small groups, churches, and organizations). Most recently, I have been invited to write two books on the topic – one for adults called The Mindful Christian: Cultivating a Life of Intentionality, Openness, and Faith (Fortress Press, 2020) and the other for teens called A Mindful Moment: Five-Minute Meditations and Devotions (Zondervan, 2022). 

While I am not perfect in my own disciplined practice of mindfulness, I continue to find it to be an incredibly helpful tool for me personally and I love the ways that it increases my comfort with myself, others, and God. I also love sharing an integrated approach with others who are looking for ways to strengthen their mental health while also pursuing a deeper faith journey! 

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
It’s been an unexpected road – I didn’t set out to start a consulting business related to Christian mindfulness, so it’s been a pleasant surprise to have it work out this way! I’ve learned in the process that keeping focused on what I love to do ends up creating opportunities if I stick with it. I don’t need to be someone I’m not; I just need to keep doing the things that come most naturally for me and be willing to work hard when opportunities present themselves. 

The biggest struggles have been balancing my consulting work with the other responsibilities in my life (including being a mother and working full-time in a counseling center) and also just the vulnerability of putting my thoughts and feelings out into the world in writing. I also find it very vulnerable to be in a helping profession – because each person’s healing journey looks a bit different, it can take some time to help people through the jungle of their own pain, and that can be hard when people are looking for quick fixes. But it’s also, of course, incredibly rewarding to partner with people in their healing journeys, and it’s always an honor to be in that role. I’ve certainly benefited from the openness and vulnerability of other helping professionals over the years, and I’m always hoping to give back in whatever way I can. 

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I offer group workshops, speaking engagements, organizational training, online coursework, and personalized coaching as related to the fields of mental health and mindfulness. My specialty is the integration of mindfulness and Christian faith, recognizing that it’s not always easy to spot the difference between theology and culture. This confusion can get in the way of understanding a practice like mindfulness that has been around for centuries. So, pursuing those “aha” moments of clarity brings me joy, helping others notice when their faith-based fear of mindfulness meditation is actually due to a cultural difference or lack of familiarity rather than an actual danger to their relationship with God. 

So maybe we end up discussing what matters most to you and why.
There is nothing that matters to me more than knowing God, and I believe that cultivating emotional well-being is one of the ways that we make ourselves fully available for that divine relationship. Jesus shared a story that we call The Parable of the Sower, in which he highlighted how just like a seed needs healthy soil, so too God’s word needs healthy hearts – we need to have open ears to hear God’s messages if we want to receive. I see mindfulness meditation as one of the tools God has given us to cultivate healthy hearts and open ears. When we learn to focus our attention in nonjudgmental ways on the present moment through mindfulness meditation, we become less distracted by our own mental rumination and misery, and we have the opportunity then to be more attentive to the good gifts that God has to give in each moment. 

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