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Dead or Alive?

Dead or Alive?

Mindlessly, breathlessly, we run from event to event, happening to happening in an existence which is neither dead nor alive.

I was doing dishes and looking out over the backyard. Along the fence at the back of our property we have several plantings of grasses and lilies. The weather has turned colder, and the plantings have gone from green to yellow as they begin to go dormant for the winter. 

Suddenly it occurred to me that they aren’t dead, but they certainly aren’t alive either. There’s no life and vitality in them in comparison to their flowering beauty this past summer. They will return in the Spring, but in the mean time they are somewhere between life and death.

There have been times in my life when I was somewhere in between. I knew I wasn’t yet dead, but there was not much life happening in me either. I didn’t know it at the time, but as I look back I realize that my spirit was dormant. 

In the second part of John 10:10, Jesus said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  We were created to be fully alive, but human nature edges in and we shift to autopilot. Mindlessly, breathlessly, we run from event to event, happening to happening in an existence which is neither dead nor alive. It’s somewhere in between.

It’s time for a wakeup call. It’s time for Spring. It’s time to call forth your spirit from a season of dormancy and move toward life and vibrancy of the soul. 

What can you do differently to move toward life? 

How is God’s voice calling to you to be fully alive to God’s presence in your life?

What changes need to take place?

Let’s set up a Spiritual Direction session to talk about this:

Band-Aid or Balm?

Healing, especially of a spiritual sort, often takes time, presence, awareness, attention, and a balm that prevents further dis-ease in our soul.

When my kids were little we went through a lot of band-aids. We had boxes of them in the cupboard with all sorts of varieties: cartoon characters, super heroes, princesses, cars, unicorns, and more. We had normal brown ones as well, but those never quite did the trick when one of the kids had a boo-boo. 

It always amazed me how quickly a bright and colorful band-aid stopped the tears and took away the pain of a skinned knee or elbow. Out of sight—out of mind. In reality, their cut or scrape was still there. Under the band-aid there was still a hurt that we had simply covered up.

I don’t fault them for feeling better once their mom or I took the time to kiss their boo-boo, put on some ointment, and cover it with a novelty band-aid. The time, care, and attention certainly helped them to feel better. They attributed their miraculous healing to the super hero band-aid, while we knew the injury would take time to heal and required some ointment that would prevent infection and speed the recovery process.

If we’re honest with ourselves, even as adults, we are hoping for a band-aid rather than balm. We prefer something colorful or distracting to make us feel better in the midst of our hurts, cuts, and scars while what we really need is some balm; a source of healing which will truly bring about wellness.

In a chaotic and busy world with drive-thru’s, comforts, and quick fixes, our attention is typically distracted by ways to cover up whatever ails us. Chances are very good that if we stop and think about it a bit that our various coping mechanisms are simply colorful band-aids that have covered our wound but not truly tended to the source of the pain.

Healing, especially of a spiritual sort, often takes time, presence, awareness, attention, and a balm that prevents further dis-ease in our soul. Wounds can be superficial, or quite deep and lasting, and they need to be addressed with a balm rather than simply a band-aid. The trouble is that we often don’t put in the work, and we don’t allow for the space and time necessary for true healing to take place.

Have you been wounded spiritually? Do you have cuts and scrapes in your soul which haven’t been addressed and have led to lingering dis-ease of your spirit?

How are you making space for healing to occur? How are you giving your wounds their proper attention and presence rather than covering it?

Let’s make_space together through Spiritual Direction. Let’s sit together and take the necessary steps toward truly healing the wounds of your spirit. You need balm, not just a band-aid.

Band-Aid or Balm?
“Why?” is the Wrong Question

“Why?” is the Wrong Question

There’s something in human nature that longs for the meaning behind a happening, and we search for the answers to our questions. The problem with that is often there isn’t an answer. At all.

Over the course of the 21 years that I’ve been in ministry, I have walked with a lot of individuals through a time of personal crisis. That might be sickness, death, broken relationship, personal struggle, or some other life event. The thread that often runs through those situations is asking “why?”  

“Why did this have to happen? 

“Why did this happen now?” 

“Why would God allow such a thing?” 

“Why did this happen to me?”

Why, why why?

Just recently I sat with someone in a Spiritual Direction session, and that person’s ultimate request was to know why a certain thing in their life was still happening. I had to humbly tell them that there was no way to answer their question—at least I couldn’t personally answer it.

I think it’s natural for us to ask “why?” in the midst of the mess of life. There’s something in human nature that longs for the meaning behind a happening, and we search for the answers to our questions. The problem with that is often there isn’t an answer. At all. Nothing to be found, at least not in this lifetime. 

I’ve watched as individuals threw their hands in the air and walked away from God when faced with a lack of answers to their questions of “why?”.

I think that “why?” is the wrong question. It’s the natural question but also the wrong one. What tends to happen, when we think we have discovered the answer to our question, is that we follow up with another “why” question, not too unlike a 2-year-old who has discovered that word for the first time. Ultimately nothing seems to satisfy the question of “why?”.

The right question, rather than “why?” is to ask “what?”  For example, rather than asking God why something is happening in your life, try some of these:

  • “God, what are you saying to me during this event?” 
  • “God, what are you doing in the midst of this mess?” 
  • “God, what blessing might be on the other side of this darkness?” 
  • “God, what is my role to play while You are at work in this situation?”
  • “God, what is the lesson to be learned here?”
  • “God, what is the good that You might desire to come out of this trial?”

Asking “why?” can sometimes put the focus elsewhere outside of ourselves, and again, there may not actually be an answer. Asking “why?” may also focus internally in an unhealthy way that really implies “why me?” as though you ought to be exempt from these sorts of happenings, or that it would be just fine if it was happening to someone else instead. Just think about the implications wrapped into that thought process!

Instead, asking “what?” shifts the focus to what God might be doing in you aside from the circumstances in which you find yourself. Life is going to happen, and typically for no good reason whatsoever. Asking “why?” can lead to madness. 

Asking “what?” brings the focus instead to your relationship and connection with God, and that’s a much healthier place to dwell in the midst of the mess. Give it a try next time you find yourself asking “why?”. Shift to “what?” and see what happens.

If you’d like someone to companion you through a messy life situation, Spiritual Direction might be a good option for you. Let’s book a session and get to work asking good questions about your spiritual journey.

Faith With Doubt

“Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.” ― Paul Tillich, 20th Cent. Theologian

I have a friend who went through a period of pretty significant doubt. Life circumstances, the sickness of a loved one, and other elements of life caused them to doubt their life-long faith. As they took time to share that on social media (with humility and vulnerability I might add) others began to comment back with their disappointment, judgment, and concerns.

“How could you doubt?”

“Why would you doubt?”

“I’m so concerned that you’re backsliding!” <——That one deserves its own blog post!  

Readers responded with judgment and the general idea that doubt is wrong, dangerous, and evidence of a faith that is slipping away. And then I found this quote:

“Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.” ― Paul Tillich, 20th Cent. Theologian

There’s nothing wrong with doubt, in fact, I would argue that doubt is essential to faith. When some people come to faith in Jesus they are fed the lie that faith—true faith that is acceptable in the eyes of others (notice that doesn’t speak for God)—does not doubt. But what’s so bad about doubt? After all, it shows that some thought is being put into the subject of our faith. Blind faith, without thought, seems far more dangerous to me.

What it really comes down to is this: “where are you living, and where are you headed?” There can be problems that arise from blindly taking the answers of others without seeking for yourself, but there’s also a problem with living in constant doubt with no plans to find answers. You’ve probably been around people who ask questions for questions’ sake rather than for finding the answers. That’s living in doubt with no plans to move on. 

At the point that we begin to doubt, what is the response? Is doubt a springboard toward searching for faith? Or is doubt a snare which grabs a hold of you until you settle comfortably into it? 

When doubt is a starting point to greater exploration, struggle, and desire for faith then I think that’s a very healthy place to be. 

Spiritual Direction is a great setting in which to explore doubts and questions of faith. It creates a space where you can safely grapple with that doubt and yet know that a Spiritual Director as companion won’t allow you to simply settle into that doubt. If this sounds like something you need, let’s set up a session soon! Click below for more information:

Faith With Doubt
Personal Retreat

Personal Retreat

Luke 5:16 (CEV) “But Jesus would often go to some place where he could be alone and pray.”

I remember reading some commentary notes on the Gospel of Luke, and the author mentioned how Luke gives a greater insight into the personal prayer life of Jesus than the other gospel accounts. In numerous places early in Luke (4:42, 6:12, 9:18, 9:28, 11:1), the scriptures point to the practice of Jesus getting away from the crowds, most often in the morning, and taking time to pray. For Jesus that often happened in the context of something important (picking the disciples, the Transfiguration) but not always. Sometimes it appeared to simply be for the purpose of prayer and retreat.

It seems like an obvious thing to us. Of course, Jesus got away from the crowds, demands, busy schedules, speaking, and travel to recharge and connect with God. He was Jesus, the Messiah, Son of God. Why wouldn’t he? 

Perhaps a better question for us is “why wouldn’t we?”

It seems to be a no-brainer that Jesus needed to get away on retreat, and yet we don’t give it the same consideration for our own busy lives. We have relational demands, busy schedules, job/school demands, etc. In spite of all of that, we disregard the need that we have in our own lives for the purpose of prayer and retreat.

Did you just mentally run through the list of commitments on your time and arrive at the conclusion that “personal retreat” just isn’t realistic right now? Do you find yourself saying over and over, “This is just a season. If I can just get past this ______ I’ll be able to rest soon.”  

If you’ve been telling yourself that for a while now, what are the chances that anything is going to be different without you intentionally making a change?

Just as our physical bodies get tired, so do our spirits. Spiritual exhaustion is unhealthy, and so is spiritual starvation. The pace that we often keep in life doesn’t allow for much downtime, and our spirits are calling out to us to stop and take a break. If Jesus needed retreat, how much more do we need that same retreat to remain connected with God?! We know this, but we often don’t give ourselves permission.

How can you give yourself permission for personal retreat and prayer? How will you plan to make that happen sometime in the next 30 days? Even if it’s simply an afternoon “just for you” and no one else, how can you make that happen? Can you get away for 24 hours of retreat?

Take the next 15 minutes to make a plan.

Would Spiritual Direction be helpful to you in this process? Let’s book a session together to work through some of your spiritual needs as a way of making rest, retreat, and time with God a greater priority in your life.


Soul Maintenance Required

Paying attention to the current spots in our spirit that are thinning, dulling, and starting to chip away, and then taking the steps to maintain and care for that in a timely fashion, will ensure that massive repair and coverup will not have to happen later. 

The parking lot at our church is a bit of a headache. Over the last several years we have worked with an asphalt repair company to tackle the numerous places where there are potholes, thin spots, and what they call “alligator” pavement—that apparently means disintegration that looks like alligator skin. All that to say that our pavement isn’t good.

We recently had several spots repaired, and as I sit here we are waiting on the company to reseal the pavement and paint new parking lines. The sealing process will cover the scars and blacken the surfaces, and the new lines will draw the eye to the makeover. The problem is that it simply covers the rest of the conditions. There are spots in the parking lot where there’s just not much left because it wasn’t properly maintained years ago. Right now we are trying to salvage what we have, limp along, and get a few more years out of the asphalt. The reality is that eventually we are going to have to break down and have the whole thing milled off, redone from scratch, and that will cost an exorbitant amount of money.

Many times we try to get away with the bare minimum. When life gets busy, schedules grow hectic, and everything seems unmanageable, there are certain parts of our life that get edged out. At the church, the financial needs elsewhere edged out the investment that should have been made to maintain the parking lot before it was too late. We are now paying (literally and figuratively) for the neglect that seemed necessary at the time. 

The same can hold true in our spiritual lives. We run from one activity, meeting, or job to the next just trying to hold it all together. We go through the drive thru, self-medicate with another extra-shot-coffee-drink, and tell ourselves that there will be more time later—this is only a season of life after all. When we do that, though, we are usually “kicking the can down the road” and the bill will still come due. We will eventually have to pay for the neglect that we thought was necessary. Our church is paying to repair our asphalt because it wasn’t properly maintained and cared for along the way. 

We aren’t physical beings with a spirit, instead we are spiritual beings with a body. Our spirits are what make us who we are, and when we don’t attend to the spirit regularly we will end up paying for it later. Proper attention to our soul maintenance, on a regular basis, is what will ensure our health in a holistic sense. Paying attention to the current spots in our spirit that are thinning, dulling, and starting to chip away, and then taking the steps to maintain and care for that in a timely fashion, will ensure that massive repair and coverup will not have to happen later. 

We almost lost our pavement, but that’s not as serious as losing your spirit.

Pay attention, perform the proper maintenance, stay on top of the whispers (or cries) of your soul, and attend to those needs now.

Spiritual Direction is a great way to sit with someone and do some inspection and introspection. Don’t put it off. Let’s do some soul maintenance together through Spiritual Direction sessions. Click below for more information and a booking link.

Soul Maintenance Required
Affirmations of Self

Affirmations of Self

If you tell yourself something long enough you are destined to believe it. It doesn’t matter whether that particular thing is true or false, the repetition will ultimately worm its way into your identity and it will become your belief.

I sat in a log cabin on a lake in a gathering of about 20 people. We had just spent time talking about our brains and our identity as followers of Jesus. Seems like an odd combination doesn’t it? Usually we talk about our spirits and identity when it comes to faith, not brains. The discussion circled around the brain’s job being to keep us from changing. The subconscious mind is geared toward maintaining the status quo, and therefore, we are literally wired to stay the same.

We talked about our language, the way that we talk to ourselves, and the perspectives that we allow to become a part of our identity. Negative self-image. Body shaming. Poor self-esteem. Pessimism. All of that can add up to a pretty unflattering belief system about who we are as people.

And then we looked at scripture. 

We looked at verse after verse about our true identity as followers of Jesus and the way that God sees us: chosen, dearly loved, adopted by God, saints, overcomers, and on and on the list went. Name after name, and characteristic after characteristic, scrolled before my eyes letting me know that what was rooted in my brain’s wiring wasn’t true. What I had grown to believe about myself was contrary to the truths found in scripture.

If you tell yourself something long enough you are destined to believe it. It doesn’t matter whether that particular thing is true or false, the repetition will ultimately worm its way into your identity and it will become your belief.

Far too often we tell ourselves that we are no good. Not enough. Defective in some way.

God tells us we are chosen by God. Holy. Dearly loved.

The disconnect is hard to overcome. A negative self-image is difficult to rewire. And so we talked about affirmation statements. Repetitive statements that aim at rewiring the brain and self-concept to create a new repetition that we might come to believe. I’ve done this off and on in the last 20 years or so; new statements aimed at helping me believe what God says about me rather than the false statements I tell myself.

If you tell yourself something long enough you are destined to believe it.

What sort of affirmations might you need to work on to rewire your thoughts? What statements have you used in the past that seemed to help? Leave a comment.

If you’re interested in this practice, check out my Affirmation Cards in the Resource store on my website. The pack includes 40 Affirmations for 40 days so that you might develop a new way of wiring the message of who you truly are. Message me to pick one up in person, or I can ship anywhere in the U.S.


The Wall

There is a process by which passing through the wall requires an emptying of the baggage that you have tried to bring along on the journey but which God desires to peel away.

One of the most impactful books I have read in my 21 years of ministry is The Critical Journey by Hagberg & Guelich (You can find more about Janet Hagberg here). In their book they discuss the varying stages of the journey of faith. They point to 6 possible stages of faith that people go through. I say “possible” because the authors make it clear that not everyone makes it to stage 6. Here’s a brief synopsis, and then I’ll get to the point:

  • Stage 1 – Recognition of God, where people come to faith and begin the journey
  • Stage 2 – Life of Discipleship, a time of learning and growing as beliefs are established
  • Stage 3 – Productive Life, the “doing” phase of working for God (also combining stage 2 and 3 leads to a zealous faith)
  • Stage 4 – Journey Inward, a personal stage where crisis of faith can lead to questions and searching
  • W  A  L  L
  • Stage 5 – Journey Outward, a sense of fulfillment in looking beyond self, allowing God to direct the journey
  • Stage 6 – Life of Love, we reflect and represent God to the world while losing ourselves for others

I’m aware that I have just majorly oversimplified the book, and I’ve likely not done justice to their incredible work, but I wanted to cut to the chase. There is a Wall that separates Stage 4 from the final two stages. This is a time for exploration, grappling, and some letting go. There is a lot of question-asking and struggle. It can feel like a dark place, and yet in the darkness there is some glimmer of hope that indeed there is more than previously experienced. 

I compare the Wall to going through airport security. TSA tells you to empty your pockets and walk through the X-ray machine, but you forgot to take off your belt. So you pass back through, but you had change jingling in your pocket. There is a process by which passing through the wall requires an emptying of the baggage that you have tried to bring along on the journey but which God desires to peel away. Where surety had been the companion in the first 3 stages, this passing through the wall requires humility and openness and a process of leaving things behind. 

Think back to your time in Stage 1 when everything was new and exciting, Stage 2 when you were absorbing all of the “necessary” information like a sponge, and Stage 3 when you served, witnessed, and talked nonstop about God. Those were the good old days when you “knew what you knew” and that’s all that mattered—until life happened. 

Crisis. Hardship. Struggle. Doubt.

Maybe faith wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, and maybe this wasn’t all you thought it was cracked up to be. And so your reaction was one of three things. 1) Push forward through the Wall, 2) go back to what you knew before b/c that’s all there must be, or 3) check out completely and find another path in life. Maybe you’ve seen all of those reactions—heck maybe you’ve HAD all of those reactions! The repetition of Stage 1-2-3-1-2-3 can be maddening as you seek to know more and do more to find that fulfillment. 

“Maybe I haven’t found that sense of peace b/c I haven’t learned enough or done enough.”  Or, maybe, it’s time to put down your briefcase of knowledge, and shed your attitude of “right-ness” and take a long hard look at the Wall.

The fulfillment in faith that we all seek is beyond the Wall in Stage 5 and 6, yet few ever successfully take on, and move through, the Wall. The Wall can’t be scaled in a group, with all sorts of people cheering you on, because honestly most people don’t know what’s beyond the Wall. So instead they infer that your questions and seeking are a sign that you’re backsliding. They try to tell you there isn’t anything more than the cycle of “learning and doing.” They heckle or deter or question you. And the Wall looms before you.

There IS more beyond that Wall. There is a deeper faith journey to be found. Stage 4 and the Wall is actually where the real work begins, with a companion who has traveled that path before, and with the Spirit of God as your guide. 

Spiritual Direction is a tremendous opportunity to walk with a companion as you seek to move through the Wall. It isn’t easy, or quick, like so many curriculum or workshops claim. It’s hard, but so very worth it. 

There is more beyond the Wall—you just have to decide to keep going.  Let’s set up a Spiritual Direction session and begin grappling with the Wall together.


The Wall
Wedges

Wedges

Spiritual growth can’t happen when wedges are a part of the picture.

I’m not terribly outdoorsy. When we moved to our current house, my father-in-law had to show me how to split firewood for our fireplace. We got a splitting maul, an axe, and a series of wedges, and he showed me how and when to use them in their various applications. I was impressed with how effective a small, steel wedge was in splitting even the thickest of logs. I recall stopping between swings with the sledge side of my maul and just listening to the sound of the wedge working as it popped, cracked, and separated the wood even without the added pressure of another swing.

Wedges were effective in splitting logs that the maul couldn’t handle. Wedges, in a spiritual and metaphorical sense, can be tools of harm rather than good. 

A couple years ago I had a conversation with someone who described their feeling of disconnection from God. They asked questions as to what they could do to reconnect and feel that sense of intimacy with God once more. As we talked, and peeled back some layers, it became clear that there were a series of wedges in this person’s life that had dramatically contributed to their situation and the sense of disconnection. 

The question is sometimes asked, “why does God feels so distant?” God’s tendency is to move toward people, not away, so it is far more likely that our own wedges have created distance and separation. A moment of quiet and honest examination would likely reveal the continual splitting sound as those wedges of separation grow wider. 

The wedges aren’t anything that God has done. Wedges are all about what we have allowed into our life which create separation between us and God. Identifying those wedges, and removing them, is necessary in order to move forward spiritually. 

Spiritual growth can’t happen when wedges are a part of the picture.

When it comes down to it, we can desire spiritual growth and connection with God, but, unless we are willing to first take care of the wedges in our life, that disconnection is fully our doing. God is willing to assist in the process of reconnection, of course, but God is first waiting for us to initiate the work of removing the wedges that we have put there.

What sort of wedges typically find their way into your spiritual life? 

What sort of work do you need to do to eliminate wedges in your life?

Let’s set up a time to talk about this in a Spiritual Direction session.


Gauging the Tank

There is a need for a similar monitoring process to gauge our spiritual tanks. It’s not enough to coast along in life and suddenly realize that our spirits are on empty.

With three (soon to be four) drivers in our family, we have multiple cars. I’ve noticed something very different between two of them. Our Subaru, which has a smaller tank, is able to go further on that tank than our Jeep. The strangest thing about the Jeep is the gas gauge, or I should say the warning light of the gauge. Most cars have a warning light that lights up and lets you know when the tank is low. Typically when that light comes on I check the digital readout that tells me the DTE: distance to empty. I don’t pay much attention to that until the warning light comes on. The problem with that approach while driving the Jeep is that the warning light doesn’t come on until the DTE: 10 miles.

How is that helpful? How is it helpful to let me know that I have 10 miles to go until my car will just stop running? The Subaru lets me know when I have about 60 miles to go.

“Thank you kind sir, I will plan accordingly to get to a gas station soon.”  But with the Jeep, everything has now changed and I have to get to a gas station right away. Not helpful if I’m on the highway, and it’s even worse if I’m in the middle of nowhere. The gauge is supposed to be helpful.

Since this realization, when the needle in the Jeep drops to a quarter tank, I now push the buttons on the console to find out my DTE so I’m not surprised. I have to keep watch on that readout so that I can plan accordingly and not be caught off guard.

There is a need for a similar monitoring process to gauge our spiritual tanks. (Obviously keeping the tank full is the best approach, but life happens and we can forget to “fill up.”) It’s not enough to coast along in life and suddenly realize that our spirits are on empty. That’s dangerous in a car and dangerous to our spirits. I’ve tried to operate on empty and it simply doesn’t go well. We need to gauge the tank routinely, and preventatively, so that we aren’t caught off guard and running on fumes. 

That gauging system is different for everyone. For me it requires the accountability of relationships and my Spiritual Director. It’s often not until I am faced with talking about my spiritual life that I sometimes realize the gauge level. When I am faced with getting in touch with my spirit I sometimes discover that the gauge is quite low and I have no idea how it happened. On occasion I have been confronted by others, people whose opinion I value, who have spoken into my life to point out the warning signs. These are helpful gauges for me.

What is your process for gauging the tank of your spirit?

Let’s book a session to talk and gauge your tank.


Gauging the Tank