Category: Spiritual Direction

Prioritizing Spiritual Work

Prioritizing Spiritual Work

If we are going to call our spiritual lives “big rocks,” then we need to treat it as such. That needs to be one of the priorities that is non-negotiable and doesn’t get edged out by the little things. 

Stephen Covey was an author, speaker, and business man best known for his book, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” One of his most popular teachings is to put “first things first,” and he spoke to the idea of “big rocks.” Picture a container in which you must fit big rocks and small rocks. (I’ve seen this illustration also include sand and water in addition to the rocks) If you first allow the small rocks to fill the container you will never get all of the big rocks in. If, instead, you put the large rocks in the container first, the small rocks will fill in the gaps and everything fits. 

In Covey’s principles, the large rocks represent the most important parts of your life, and the small rocks represent the little things that can so often distract us from what is necessary. It’s only when we first focus on the large rocks—the most important things of life—that we can truly live in healthy balance. As soon as we allow the small rocks of life to dictate our schedule and patterns of life that healthy balance disappears.

In my 20 years of ministry, quite often what I see is that individuals will call their spiritual lives a big rock, but then turn around and treat it like a small rock. What I mean by that is that is that there is a tendency to put priority on work, home life, hobbies, etc. and IF there is still room in the container then spiritual life gets included. The reality is that there will always be small rocks that make their way into our lives, trying to edge out the important things in life.

If we are going to call our spiritual lives “big rocks,” then we need to treat it as such. That needs to be one of the priorities that is non-negotiable and doesn’t get edged out by the little things. 

That means setting aside time intentionally to be in prayer and meditation, to read a portion of scripture, to be in worship with others, or to prioritize time with a spiritual director as you work through questions, difficulties, ups and downs.

Whatever it is that helps you draw closer in connection with God, and to further your walk in the journey, needs to be prioritized daily and weekly. If you don’t prioritize your spiritual work, it’ll become one of the rocks that won’t fit in the container of life.

>> Make a list of the “big rocks” and “small rocks” in your life. Does that list fit with the reality of how you spend your time?

>> What are the blocks of time you can prioritize to fit your spiritual life in first? 

>> How can you ensure that happens regularly and not get edged out?

Empty or Broken Vessel?

We’re all just broken vessels in some way. Some cracks and chips are more noticeable than others.

I was thinking the other day about the saying, “It’s hard to pour from an empty vessel.” Of course this is true in its literal sense, but also in its symbolic and spiritual sense. For those who take seriously the call to love and serve others, there is a very real tendency to pour out, love, and serve until our own vessel has run dry.

In the name of helping others we sometimes don’t take the best care of ourselves. It becomes necessary, then, to put plans in place for self-care of body, mind, and spirit: go for a walk in the fresh air, read a book for personal pleasure, meditate on a scripture verse, take a nap, or meet with your spiritual director. Proactively making these practices a priority will help to prevent the vessel from becoming empty.

But what about a broken vessel? That’s hard to pour from as well. I picture a clay pot that has small cracks, or a spout with chips and pieces missing, and in that instance it would again be hard to truly pour out. A cracked vessel can lose water slowly (or quickly), or in cases where the crack is big enough it will prevent that vessel from holding anything at all. This can happen in our own lives as well.

We’re all just broken vessels in some way. Some cracks and chips are more noticeable than others. Sometimes we tell ourselves that we’re the only one who is broken, or we convince ourselves that everyone else is broken except us. In reality we’re all just broken vessels and we just leak at different rates.

The Japanese have a pottery practice called Kintsugi, also referred to as Kintsukuroi. In this practice, pottery which has broken or become cracked is repaired with a mixture that includes gold, silver, or platinum. The practice incorporates the brokenness of the vessel into its story, acknowledges the history, and makes it beautiful in its own unique way. This is what God desires to do in us—acknowledging our brokenness, incorporating it into our story, and making us uniquely beautiful as God’s re-creation.

Whether you are empty or broken, it’s time to tend to your own vessel. 

I’d love to sit with you in Spiritual Direction to discern where you are in faith. Perhaps you have been feeling empty, or maybe it’s time to mend some brokenness. Let’s walk together in healing and move toward wholeness.

Empty or Broken Vessel?
Faithful Feet

Faithful Feet

The problem with focusing entirely on the future is that it’s possible to lose sight of what is right in front of you; the next step.

Far-sighted, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary means, “Seeing or able to see to a great distance. Having or showing foresight or good judgement. Able to see distant things better than near ones.”

Near-sighted, in contrast, refers to being “able to see near things more clearly than distant ones.”

In a literal sense, I guess I’m near-sighted, though that seems iffy the older I get. I think that bifocals are in my near future.

In regard to the rest of my life, I have always been the type of person who sees more clearly what is distant—looking toward the future. Dreaming, planning, and organizing the steps to get to my desired picture of the future. I spend a lot of time thinking about what is “not yet” but “could be.”  There is definitely a place for that in life. It’s necessary in moving forward, and it seems appropriate to this time of year (see my eBook on Advancing in Life, well worth the investment in your future!).

The problem with focusing entirely on the future is that it’s possible to lose sight of what is right in front of you; the next step. Always looking to the future makes it harder to have faithful feet in the next step.

Lately I’ve been doing a lot of dreaming about what things might look like in the future. It seems that I have a pretty clear picture of what “could be” down the road and yet that’s not where I’m living right now. Right now is the only “right now” that there is, and it seems like I have been increasingly frustrated with “right now” because it’s not the future.

I can dream and plan and organize the steps to get to my desired picture of the future, but the only actual thing I can do right now is be faithful in the next step. Faithful feet. The next step. One after another.

I’m curious about your sightedness. Do you look out ahead, or simply to your next step?

What’s the next step before you? How can you be faithful in the next step?

“I feel pain!”

How often do we take an assessment of our current situation and give words to our feelings? Do we actually declare that we feel pain?

A small group of friends was gathered around the table at our house one evening. My son was small, and he was running around the house in his socks. He passed through the dining room like a rocket, and as he hit the kitchen linoleum lost his footing and wiped out. There was that brief moment of no sound, and then he let out a wail and yelled, “I feel pain! I feel pain!”

I’m pretty sure our concern for his injury was mixed with some laughter at the particular phrasing he used to indicate he had hurt himself.

The way that he voiced his injury made us chuckle at the time, but it also is a beautiful picture of the way that a young person gives words to feelings that we adults should perhaps take note of.

How often do we take an assessment of our current situation and give words to our feelings? Do we actually declare that we feel pain?

I would venture to guess that most of us have little issue naming our physical pain, especially as age sets in and the aches seem to multiply—it’s more a case of singling out which pain is most noticed at the time. It’s even culturally acceptable to share that ailment publicly with others.

It’s far less common (and less acceptable) for us to name our mental, emotional, or spiritual pain. I’m not sure why that is. If my back is causing me pain I can let everyone know. If I feel some ailment in my spiritual life that is far less acceptable to voice.

But you know what? Sometimes “I feel pain.” 

There’s no reason that we shouldn’t feel free to voice our mental, emotional, or spiritual pain. The cultural norm has shifted more toward acceptance of seeing a therapist, addressing our mental health, and working any number of programs. That has not yet happened in the realm of spiritual pain—but it’s possible. And necessary.

Spiritual Direction is a safe environment in which you can declare your spiritual state and express that you “feel pain” for any number of circumstances. 

Spiritual Direction enables you to assess where there might be pain and to begin to give voice to the ways that you have been hurt, or are being hurt. 

Spiritual Direction offers a path to walk with a companion as you seek to move toward healing and look for ways to alleviate the pain of the past.

If your spirit is crying out, “I feel pain! I feel pain!” then let’s talk about how Spiritual Direction might be the right next step toward healing for you.

“I feel pain!”
Capturing the Sun

Capturing the Sun

What we can know is that our greater awareness of the goodness and light in the present is an equipping for the season of darkness that will come at some point.

I sat in my family room on a Friday morning enjoying a day off. I could see through the window that the sun was just cresting the neighbor’s house to the east, and I was about to be blinded by sunlight. My first inclination was to move to the other chair. My second inclination was to sit and enjoy the sun on my face.

I chose the second.

The sunlight broke the edge of the window frame and poured through onto my face. I leaned back against my recliner and allowed the sun to warm my body.  As I closed my eyes to bask in the sun, the light turned the inside of my eyelids red with delight. 

The experience brought to mind the numerous other times that I have paused to enjoy a moment in the sun—sitting on the beach with palm trees nearby, lying on a boat dock at the lake, standing in the parking lot at church taking in a beautiful sunrise. Each time I tried to absorb the sun’s warmth and energy while etching the memory of the experience into my mind to draw upon later.

St. Ignatius taught that these are the sorts of experiences to seek to be aware of in their moment, and to seek to hold on to, so that when you are in a season of desolation you have a well of experiences upon which to draw. This was a moment to capture and hold on to.

No one knows when a season of desolation or darkness might come, only that it will eventually come. That’s a reality of life and spirit. What we can know is that our greater awareness of the goodness and light in the present is an equipping for the season of darkness that will come at some point.

I could have viewed the sun coming through my window as a slight annoyance and changed seats. Instead I chose to be aware of the gift of this moment and to store it up. 

What moments do you store up for a later time?

Have you ever stopped to think about this concept?

How can you improve your awareness so that moments like this can be stored up in your life?

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:

Dead or Alive?
Band-Aid or Balm?

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.

“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.

“Why?” is the Wrong Question
Faith With Doubt

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:

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