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The Wall

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.


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.


Wedges
Gauging the Tank

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.


ForgivenNess

In the numerous conversations that I’ve had with people who struggle with this topic, it often comes down to a difficulty in forgiving someone else or forgiving themselves. One or the other, it seems like clearing one of those hurdles is the barrier between them and moving on toward freedom. 

Countless pages have been written on this topic (including this eBook by me), and I would guess that countless more will be written in the future. None of those pages has changed the fact that forgiveness is an issue that everyone struggles to give and/or receive. This is one of those topics that can be turned over and over, analyzed from all sides, questioned, and still not get to the root of it all. 

*Spoiler Alert* This is merely a blog post so you probably won’t find the root of it all here either. Maybe we’ll get lucky, though, and find some helpful perspective.

In the numerous conversations that I’ve had with people who struggle with this topic, it often comes down to a difficulty in forgiving someone else or forgiving themselves. One or the other, it seems like clearing one of those hurdles is the barrier between them and moving on toward freedom. 

Freedom from guilt. Freedom from shame. Freedom from beating one’s self up daily. Freedom from the haunt of something in the past. 

Freedom to move forward. Freedom to breathe more easily. Freedom to reconnect with God. Freedom to reconnect with others.

People who know me will tell you that I love me some Henri Nouwen. His writing has greatly influenced my faith journey. Not long ago I came across this thought that he shared in his book, “With Open Hands,”  

“Maybe someone will say to you, ‘You have to forgive yourself.’ But that isn’t possible. What is possible is to open your hands without fear, so that the One who loves you can blow your sins away.”

Thank you, Henri. Our human nature makes it so very difficult to find the inner strength to forgive. It’s contrary to our inner desires. I think that the source of our capacity to forgive is really connected to our realization and acceptance of the forgiveness that Jesus showers on us.

I call that forgivenNess.

It’s the state of living in the forgiveness of God.

ForgivenNess.

We have to live into that before we can really work on our own capacity to forgive. Until we truly live in this state of forgivenNess those hurdles will be tough to clear. Once we set up residence in that place, however, then we can move on toward the freedom we desire. The hard part is getting to the point of recognizing your citizenship in that place. 

The scriptures point to that citizenship. It emphasizes our identity as being rooted in the forgiveness of God. They invite us to settle in that state. This is the first step toward being able to work through forgiveness of self and/or others.

If you’d like to read more on the topic, check out my eBook “forgivenNess yields forgiveness.”


ForgivenNess
12 Stones

12 Stones

Sometimes we don’t realize the ways in which God has been at work in our lives until we stop and contemplate that activity—the ways that were obvious as well as the more subtle ways.

As a kid I always loved the stories in the beginning of the book of Joshua—“Be strong and courageous.” The spies and Rahab. The crossing of the Jordan River.  The marching around Jericho. 

The crossing of the Jordan River, on dry land no less, was always a favorite. The Ark of the Covenant was carried to the middle of the river, the water was held back, and the people crossed on dry land. Before the Ark was taken fully to the other side, God gave Joshua some instructions. Here is what follows:

“So Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed from the Israelites, one from each tribe, and said to them, “Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. When it crossed the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan were cut off. These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.”  —Joshua 4:4-7

They took the stones, stacked them on the bank of the river in a memorial, and it served as a reminder of the miraculous work and activity of God in their midst. In Spiritual Direction, I always ask new directees to share their story with me so that I can learn and know better where they are coming from. This is in essence a stacking of their own “12 stones.” 

Sometimes we don’t realize the ways in which God has been at work in our lives until we stop and contemplate that activity—the ways that were obvious as well as the more subtle ways.

You, too, have experiences in life where God held you, provided in some way, acted mysteriously, or boldly blew you away with goodness. There are also likely experiences where God seemed distant and hard to be found, and even in those times there was a formational faith experience.

Take some time to sit down with a journal, or your computer, and begin to stack your own “12 stones.” Record your story of God’s goodness in your life, no matter how big or small those acts might seem. Consider the moments where goodness seemed elusive.  Take time to think about the activity of God in your life over the years. What are your “12 stones?” 

As you write about these remembrance points in your life, pause with each one and give thanks for how they influenced who you are today.  Re-read them often, and allow them to be a memorial of the miraculous works of God in your life, especially in the times and places where everything seems to be going poorly. Sometimes we just need that “12 stone” reminder.

Let’s get together and talk about this! Spiritual Direction is an excellent way to begin to recognize the activity of God in your life. Let’s talk about your 12 stones experiences. Read here on Spiritual Direction and let’s book a 1-on-1 session.

Invest in Yourself

Beyond ceasing to care for our bodies, sometimes we fall into the trap of not caring for our spiritual selves, mental or emotional selves, and that can head down a dangerous path in which neglect turns to dis-ease of the soul.

There is sometimes a tendency to neglect ourselves. It might happen slowly over time, or suddenly, in the case of having a child or some other significant life change. I remember, shortly after our daughter was born, making the phone call to the gym to see about cancelling our membership. We just couldn’t figure out how to make it work while caring for a new baby. 

It’s not just memberships at the gym that can get neglected. Beyond ceasing to care for our bodies, sometimes we fall into the trap of not caring for our spiritual selves, mental or emotional selves, and that can head down a dangerous path in which neglect turns to dis-ease of the soul. Some people have grown up with the belief that others are more important and that can contribute to the neglect of self in all areas. With some sense of “hero humility” we tend to the needs of others rather than investing in ourselves. If any of this sounds familiar, please hear this:

You are worthwhile.

You have value.

You are important to this world.

You play a vital role in the lives of others around you.

You are worth investing in.

You are. You are worth investing in, and it’s completely acceptable to acknowledge that fact. It’s actually counter-cultural to truly believe that you, yourself, are worth investing in, and it can feel like an act of defiance and rebellion to rest, care, and invest in yourself.

It’s not selfish or self-seeking to do so. You deserve to take time for you. If I’ve discovered anything in my years in ministry it’s that I am less effective in all areas of my life when I have poured everything out. I am more effective in all areas of my life when I have taken the time to be filled.

Two years ago I took a 30-day sabbatical after 18 years in ministry. It was long overdue to take that time. I felt a little guilty, and I knew that most people don’t get that kind of opportunity, but I also knew that I was running on empty and would soon burn out. I had seen it happen in numerous colleagues b/c they didn’t take time away. Seeing the results of that lack of prioritization, I realized that I was worth investing in myself. 

In the two years since then I have taken numerous steps to ensure that I invest in myself. I find time daily to be away from others in silence and prayer or meditation. One day each month I go to a retreat center to meet with my Spiritual Director, to share my struggles and celebrations, and to bear my soul and be loved regardless. I walk the grounds of the retreat center and breathe deeply in time that is my own. Sometimes I still feel guilty for having that time, but I know that I will be better for it and investing in myself.

Just recently I took another 30-day sabbatical as an act of investing in myself. In contrast to the last time when I was at the end of my rope, this time was much more “preventative self-care” while I am still at a healthy place. Yes, investing in yourself is self-care, and it’s preventative in that it continues to fill you up before you ever get to the point of empty.

I know it can feel selfish, self-serving, or counterproductive in using your time, but I promise you that investing in yourself reaps endless reward. Taking some time in the midst of life, in order to invest in yourself, shows that you believe in your personal worth. 

It will recharge your spirit. 

It will renew your mind. 

It will establish patterns of sabbath in your life that will create change in other areas of your life.

You are worth investing in.


Let me know if you are interested in Spiritual Direction as an act of investment in your spiritual life. You can contact me through the website or set up a 1-on-1 here.

Invest in Yourself
I’m Off to Make Space

I’m Off to Make Space

Beginning Sunday, July 14, I will be off to make some space for a month. As a pastor, I am blessed to be given time away from my church roles for a 30-day spiritual renewal leave (sabbatical). I will be shutting down my lines of commuications, suspending my blogging, and walking away from social media for that time.

During my month away I will be reading the Psalms in their entirety, reading “The Interior Castle” by St. Therese of Avila, as well as “Chasing Francis” by Ian Cron. I will be journaling, reading fiction, finding some space near water, and enjoying family time. There is likely to be a new tattoo to commemorate my time away.

When I return in the middle of August I will be booking September appointments for Spiritual Direction, both in person and via Skype/Facetime for those who are at a distance. If you are interested in more information on what that looks like and how it works, just reply to this email and in August we will schedule for September.

I’m also working on a lead for a physical location for my practice, so stayed tuned for more information on that. 

Enjoy the next 30 days. Make some space of your own. I will talk to you soon.

Keep Hiking

The intention is to continually evolve in who we are and who we are becoming, ever closer to the end product that Jesus desires to see lived out in us…

At our church we use the image of a hiking map to depict spiritual formation. It’s a far more organic idea of how we grow and develop in faith when compared to rigorous step-by-step processes that churn out disciples. In hiking there is far more focus on the journey, enjoyment of the steps along the way, a variety of ways to get from Point A to Point B, and a realization that it’s better done with a friend and with a focus on the ‘getting there’ rather than just the destination.

Right now I’m preaching a series on this, and I talked about the need to keep growing, and in fact to keep hiking—to keep being formed spiritually rather than feel as though you’ve arrived.

The temptation in spiritual formation is to work the program and arrive at the destination, but the reality is that we don’t arrive at any destination until our last breath has left us. In the mean time there is a need to keep on hiking. If you’ve ever been to a local park, hiking trail, or even state/national park on a somewhat regular basis, you’ve probably noticed that things change. 

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher born in 544 b.c. said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” Just as with the river, the hiking trail never truly looks the same no matter how many times you hike it, because nature keeps moving, changing, and shifting, and the hope is that you do too. 

We need to keep moving, changing, and shifting in who we are as people—at least that’s how it’s supposed to work. Some get stuck, I suppose, but that’s not the intention. Some people stop hiking and set up camp, but that’s not the point. We are called to continually evolve in who we are and who we are becoming, ever closer to the end product that Jesus desires to see lived out in us, and that means looking as much like Jesus as possible. 

When we hike a trail that is known to us, we will notice the changes to the environment, but not just because nature changes. We also change and that affects how we see and experience that trail. When we keep hiking spiritually we will notice changes to the environment and opportunities we face, but we will also see and experience them differently because we have changed in the process. At least that’s the point. 

I’d like to challenge you to keep on hiking in your spiritual journey. Explore previously unknown trails, double back to some scenic overlooks to enjoy the experience, and be sure to hike with a friend. Spiritual Direction is an excellent way to survey the landscape of your faith, and to journey with someone who will hold you accountable to keep on hiking.

I’m currently accepting new clients for Spiritual Direction sessions to begin in September. If you feel like you’ve gotten stuck, or been camping too long, and if you’re interested in pursuing Spiritual Direction, send me a message and we’ll talk.


Keep Hiking
Last Words?

Last Words?

…if I needed to write my last words, a message that I knew others would see and might be a lasting message for others, what might that message be?

I was dreaming deeply about some negative event. I don’t even know what that event was, or what happened, but this mysterious event caused me to run and hide in a closet for safety. On the inside of the closet door was a large pad of paper, and somehow I felt that I needed to write a message on that pad that I knew others would see. I fumbled with a handful of pencils, most of which were worn down, and I tried to find one with enough lead. 

I finally grabbed one while thinking of what I might write as this message to whoever might read it. Was this a “last words” sort of message? Was I going to make it out of this alive? Was this something that people needed to hear regardless of what happened to me? I’m not sure.  And I don’t know what I ultimately would have written. I woke up to my alarm beeping having never written a single letter.

I don’t know what the “me” in the dream would have written, but it gave me pause to consider if I needed to write my last words, a message that I knew others would see and might be a lasting message for others, what might that message be? I’m sure I would write a message of love and goodbyes to the people in my life, but what else?

As a pastor, when I baptize anyone at our church, these are the words of truth and identity that I speak over people:

“You are beloved. Precious child of God. Beautiful to behold. This name given to you by God can never be taken away.”

I think that would be my message. I would be pleased to share this message as my final words to others. This would bring great joy to have these be my parting words to others.

What might yours be? 

Do you embody that in the way that you live your life?

That’s the interesting part for me to think about. If these are the final words that I might like to have as a lasting legacy, do I live in such a way that that message is true in life just as it would be with my last breath. Do I embody that message in my life interactions with other? I sure hope so.

.

There Are Always Blue Skies

My view was obscured, but that didn’t change what I knew was on the other side.

I stood on the deck looking across the lake, cup of coffee in hand, as the birds sang in the crisp morning air. Typically the other side of the lake was dotted with little houses, mostly summer homes and getaways from some other life that the owners were escaping. This particular morning, though, the fog obscured my view. I could make out some faint shapes, but no colors, and only my memory could fill the gap of what was over there.  

It was a different story just a couple days earlier. I had been standing in the same spot, a different cup of coffee in hand, looking across the lake and awestruck by the beauty of the water, blue skies, and cute little cottages across the way. What a difference a day or two, along with an overnight storm, had made on my ability to see clearly.

My view was obscured, but that didn’t change what I knew was on the other side.

I knew the lovely little cottages were still over there. In spite of not being able to see them well, I could know with certainty that they stood solidly in their place. The little A-frame cottage, my favorite of the houses across the way, assuredly remained in its place in all of its cute little glory. I could trust my memory in spite of not being able to see it.

My view was obscured, but that didn’t change what I knew was on the other side.

That’s similar to flying in an airplane when a storm is brewing. The skies look ominous, but the captain says over the speaker, “We’re going to quickly get up to cruising altitude above the storm.” It’s a bit bumpy getting there. It can feel touch and go, and your stomach flips and flops as you eye the airsick bag just in case. But as you clear the storm clouds and turbulence you find that the sky is still blue above it all.

It didn’t seem possible in the midst of the storm, but the blue skies were always present in spite of not seeing them. There are always blue skies.

Life can throw a lot at us, and sometimes it feels awfully dim, but the God who is with us in the times of blue skies is also present when it seems that God can’t be found. Sometimes our view can be obscured, but that doesn’t change what’s on the other side. 

Storms, turbulence, or silence are real, but so are the blue skies. Lean into the uncomfortable faith that the same God IS present.

 

There Are Always Blue Skies