Category: Searching

“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
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
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.

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.

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“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!”
There Is More

There Is More

The girl had never noticed the gate, or at least she didn’t remember ever seeing it before. It was old, weathered wood with rusty hinges, but with no way to see through it it might as well have been stone like the rest of the wall.

There was a young girl who found great joy in visiting a small park bench nearby her apartment in the city. The park bench stood along a high stone wall, and several flowering plants sprung up from small cement holders giving a lovely fragrance and color to the usually gray surroundings of the city. A large tree stretched over the wall from the other side and shaded the space. Every day the girl would leave her apartment to go and sit on that bench and enjoy the flowers of her quiet, little spot. It was not especially impressive, but it was her refuge in the midst of the hard and dirty surfaces of the city landscape, and it gave her a place to sit and dream the afternoons away.

One day as she sat on the bench, she heard the sound of laughter and of children playing. She looked around in every direction trying to determine where the sound was coming from until suddenly she realized it was on the other side of the wall. She climbed onto the back of the park bench and was able, just barely, to stretch high enough to see over the stone wall. She was astounded to realize that the tree, whose shade she had always enjoyed, was part of a large, beautiful garden. Stretched out before her eyes was a formal English style garden with topiaries and decorative hedgerows. Beautiful flowers bloomed among several flowing fountains while butterflies and bees flew about the space. 

The children in the garden looked up to see the girl peering over the stone wall. They laughed and called to her, “Come on in and play with us!”

“I’m not big enough to climb the rest of the wall. I can’t make it,” the little girl said.

“Don’t be silly, just use the gate right there! Come, we’ll open it for you.”

The girl had never noticed the gate, or at least she didn’t remember ever seeing it before. It was old, weathered wood with rusty hinges, but with no way to see through it it might as well have been stone like the rest of the wall. As the gate swung open, the children giggled again as her eyes opened wide to take in the beauty of the massive garden. They all let out a squeal as she joined them, and they spent the rest of the afternoon together running around the topiaries, hiding behind the decorative hedgerows, and dancing with the butterflies.

Before this day, the little girl had never considered that there might be more to enjoy than her solitary park bench on the other side of that stone wall. As she stretched and strained to see over the wall, new worlds unfolded before her in magical gardens. She only needed to get past that wall.

Our spiritual journeys can often seem just fine. What we have experienced has been enough, and really it might be all we have ever known. Far too often we have stayed there in the same place without ever realizing that there is more—more to be explored and experienced, new people with whom to journey, and magic to be experienced as our spiritual horizons expand. There is more. 

Scale the walls or find the gate. Explore new spaces. Dance with butterflies. 

Don’t just stay on the park bench.