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ForgivenNess

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.”


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.

12 Stones
Invest in Yourself

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.

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.

I’m Off to Make Space
Keep Hiking

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.


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.

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Last Words?
There Are Always Blue Skies

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.

 

Lament on a Trampoline

The interesting thing about lament in the Psalms is that nearly all of them move through the emotions of grief and pain yet ultimately conclude with a sort of doxology; a way of offering praise to God.

Recently I spent time at a weekend training where we were given an “exercise on lament.” That’s kind of a strange activity isn’t it—to practice the process of lament? I don’t know about you, but it seems that in our culture we don’t always have the opportunity, or permission even, to properly process grief through the act of lament. We are told to guard our emotions, stifle tears, and in some ways not process our feelings. That’s the opposite of what we see in the scriptures.

If you’ve ever spent any length of time reading the Psalms, they are filled with lament, both individual and communal songs of grief or pain. Most times we tend toward Psalms which are upbeat and full of praise or thanks, but there are just as many (or more) that focus on lament, grief, and crying out to God. If you’ve ever wanted to know how to lament just turn to the Psalms.

Anyway, I was given an opportunity to spend about 45 minutes contemplating something in my life which I might not have fully lamented to that point. Something sprang to mind immediately so I grabbed my journal and headed outside the house to the lovely backyard on a warm summer day. There, in the corner of the yard, I saw a trampoline.

Why not lament on a trampoline? 

I crawled up onto the warm, black trampoline surface and sprawled out on my stomach, journal before me, and began to contemplate a life situation which I had processed only partially and needed some good lament. I journaled and thought and journaled some more. I wrote my confession of grief and pain, lamented an area of brokenness in my life, and read through several Psalms of lament to better express myself when words seemed to be missing.

The interesting thing about lament in the Psalms is that nearly all of them move through the emotions of grief and pain yet ultimately conclude with a sort of doxology; a way of offering praise to God. Even in the dark moments of the Psalm writers’ life, and when enemies were closing in or chaos surrounded them, those songs of lament inevitably turned to the goodness of God in the midst of the bad. Even in lament there can be found a glimmer of hope and an opportunity to praise.

As my time with this lament exercise came toward a close, my words seemed to be used up. I had journaled and thought and journaled some more. I had written my confession of grief and pain, and in many ways I had given over that area of brokenness to God. It was still broken, but I had fully lamented. 

Still lying on my stomach in the middle of the trampoline, I looked at the many springs surrounding the outside. It occurred to me that even if a couple of those springs were broken the rest of the springs would still provide the support and “bounce” needed to enjoy the trampoline. Even if one area of my life included some brokenness, the rest of my circle was still healthy and supportive. In the midst of lament there was still space for doxology. 

With my last five minutes of the exercise, I got up and jumped on the trampoline. Why not lament on a trampoline? In that time I offered a doxology of praise to God who was, is, and will continue to be with me in the midst of the brokenness and darkness and lament.

(If you have been unable to lament, consider the Psalms as a tool for moving forward through grief toward doxology. Psalm 3, 4, 5, 7, 9-10, 13, 14, 17, 22, 25-28 are just some of the many many Psalms to read. Sitting with a Spiritual Director can also help you work through the process of lament. I’d be honored to walk with you in that process.)

 

Lament on a Trampoline
Putting up fences

Putting up fences

Fences for the many parts of your life can keep those details in their proper circle while ensuring that they don’t allow outside circles to cross over and cause issues.

When I was about five, my favorite toys were Matchbox cars, Lincoln Logs, and the Red River Gang western set which consisted of cowboys on horses, cattle, and lots of fences. I would spend hours making log cabins, setting up corrals for the cattle, and driving a small red Jeep Wrangler matchbox car around the homestead. I remember the fence sections would interlock with one another and I could make circles and squares of corrals to keep the cattle in, but making one long fencerow wasn’t really an option. Sometimes they fell over in that configuration, there weren’t enough pieces, and logically only one long row wouldn’t keep the cows from wandering off. I had to stick with smaller closed corrals.

This came to mind awhile back when talking with a friend. We were lamenting about the busyness of life, the intrusion of work into home life, and the general difficulty of maintaining balance when there is little margin in our lives. I’m sure we aren’t the only two who experience this.

The day I got my first smartphone was an exciting one—the Blackberry Storm. As exciting as it was, it was also another step toward blurring the lines between work, home, and entertainment. I remember thinking about how effective I would be once I was able to access calendars and emails while away from the office. I would be able to balance all of the areas of life in the palm of my hand and it would be glorious. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it would become all-consuming for me.

Years later I still struggle some with how to disengage in my off hours. People have access to me all the time. I rarely turn off my phone and work stuff constantly comes right to me. I know that I’m not alone in this. Some people have phones for convenience and keep a rein on the intrusion. Others have a more difficult time with that, including myself. 

Back to the fences. My friend and I began to talk about putting up fences in life—not a long fence row to divide work and family—but instead smaller corrals to create separation in the pockets of life and identity. Work can be all-consuming, but that doesn’t mean that it belongs at the dinner table. Sabbath days help the body, and sabbath from technology helps the mind and the heart. Constant blurring of lines increases stress, prevents rest, and certainly impacts our relationships when we don’t strike a balance with the many facets of life and schedules.

Putting up fences can corral some of those unruly aspects of life. Those squares or circles of fencing for the Red River Gang kept the cattle IN and the pests OUT. Fences for the many parts of your life can keep those details in their proper circle while ensuring that they don’t allow outside circles to cross over and cause issues.

What do you need to put a fence around to keep it in the proper place? 

What systems do you need to put in place to ensure that your many circles remain separate? 

How can the use of fences give more honor and space to your relationships? 

 

“You’ve got to want it!”

When we do the work and put in the intentional focus, results will follow. But you’ve got to want it first.

Human tendency is often to take the path of least resistance and that’s precisely what landed me at the gym as an overweight-out-of-shape pastor. I coasted with my physical health, ate poorly and often, and generally let myself go while reconciling that I was doing “God’s work” and that was more important than taking care of myself. If I just drank more Mountain Dew and some “roller dogs” from Speedway I could make it to the next meeting. A brief physical, blood test, and a shocked look from a nurse when my results came back led me to some drastic changes in diet and joining a gym.

I’ve now been working out at the same gym for about 6 years. It’s a class-style format similar to crossfit. We work out in smaller groups, usually rotating around the room through various exercises, while the trainer gives instruction and encouragement via microphone through the sound system with music thumping in the background. There are several phrases that the Owner/Trainer will say in the midst of the class. 

“You’ve got to want it!”

“This is where you dig deep, push through the pain, and that’s when you get results!”

I tease him that we have the same job, he’s just way more muscular than me. Just as with our need for physical training, our spirits also need training work to grow and develop. Our tendency in spiritual formation is sometimes to take the easiest route, shift into autopilot, and generally let ourselves get out of spiritual shape. On occasion there is a crisis that leads to a new path of formation, and other times we may just look up and realize how far we’ve wandered. Regardless of the cause, that phrase of “You’ve got to want it” rings in my ears. “This is where you dig deep…that’s when you get results!” 

When we do the work and put in the intentional focus, results will follow. But you’ve got to want it first. Take some time to do a little assessment. 

  • Are you where you want to be in your spiritual health? 
  • What will it take to make the necessary changes to move in that direction?
  • What is your first step, and when will you take it? 

If you’d like to explore Spiritual Direction as an option, send me a message and we’ll talk about what that could look like.

 

“You’ve got to want it!”