For the last three months I have been counseling people on a daily basis. This has been challenging, fun and at times a little overwhelming. One of the facets of counseling I really enjoy is "peeling the onion" and trying to remove the layers people tend to build so we can expose the root cause of the challenges they are facing. I like to listen and look for patterns in peoples lives that might give some insight into their problems. One pattern I see over and over is people are very disconnected. Being disconnected relationally from others causes all kinds of dysfunction for people.
If you think about it, connection is a pretty big deal. From the day we are born being connected becomes vital to a child's well being. Babies that have a strong bond with their mother and father tend to fare much better than babies who do not have a healthy connection. From childhood through adolescence people do some pretty outrageous things in an attempt to connect with the world around them. So where does this strong desire and need to connect with others come from?
I believe there is a pattern in scripture that gives us some insight. When God created Adam and Eve they were in relationship and connected with God. God gives us a design for marriage in Genesis 2:24. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. I believe the idea is that oneness requires a deep connection for a husband and a wife. A connection that is spiritual, emotional and physical. Every couple that I see are essentially saying to me in some way. "We are disconnected and I desperately want to connect with this person". Many times they are so disconnected they are not sure if a connection is possible or even desirable. But this is more than a marriage problem.
I work with many men. I am generalizing but 9 out of 10 of the men I see are disconnected. They are often disconnected from there own feelings, their wives or isolated from healthy relationships with other men. If the thief wants to "steal kill and destroy" John 10:10. His greatest strategy is to get you isolated and disconnected from healthy life giving relationships. Or his other strategy is to present connections that appear to be life giving and relationships that offer connection, but actually lead to death and more disconnect. Let me remind you he is a master of illusion.
John 17 gives us a beautiful prayer. Jesus is praying in the garden before his arrest and eventual death. He is talking with the Father and in his words you hear a deep connection to the one he prays to. In vs. 21 he prays these words, "My prayer for all of them is that they will be one just as you and I are one". I don't believe is a stretch to say Jesus wants you and I to be connected to God the way Jesus has always been connected to the Father and that he wants us to also be connected to one another. This is a pattern you see all through the narrative of scripture.
We were created to be in relationship with God and humanity. It is part of our created DNA. When we are connected in healthy relationships life works pretty well. When we are disconnected life can get crazy fast. Marriages that are connected in healthy ways are fun and life giving. Parents who are connected to their children experience more joy and less stress. Strong friendships that have a strong connection are a great blessing and help us navigate an often crazy and disconnected world.
So connection is a pretty big deal. I believe the model God has given us starts with our personal connection to him and then flows into our connection with others. Think about some of the people you are connected to. Be grateful for the way they impact your life and bring you great joy. If you are reading this and feel very disconnected from those you love and care about hang in there. If God created us for connection and I believe he did. He will give us the opportunities to experience relationships. It may require you to do some things differently so you have better receptors to connect with others. How about I share some thought on that next time.
Thursday, March 12, 2009
We live in a world that is stealing our joy. Have you noticed this phenomonon. I write today more for myself than anyone else. I have believed for years that as followers of Christ we would be a people very familiar with joy. It is one of the characteristics of a Christ follower. But can I tell you I don't see an abundance of joy in the body of Christ. I don't see an abundance of joy in my life. I really want more of it.
In fancy clinical terms there is a diagnosis for people who do not experience joy. It is called "anhedonia" the inability to experience joy. Something has gone terribly wrong in our world. People are joyless and the use of anti-depressants is at an all time high. The other side of this is the pursuit of joy in unhealthy ways, drugs, sex, pornography, stuff, status all things that after a short rush, only deplete any joy that you might have had. It is easy for me to identify joy busters.
Religion when manipulated by man can become a huge joy buster. Satan has really used this one. People go to God hoping to find some joy and man has often created God in their image and created a theology (words about God) that ultimately steal the joy the people came to God hoping to find. This is tragic and probably needs a post all its own.
The truth is God is the source of our joy. I believe he is the source and the only place we can experience true joy. The kind of joy our heart longs for, that has nothing to do with a relationship, the job status, my bank account, the economy or whether the dog peed in the house or not. I think we look for joy in external things and the joy we desire is found first internally.
Joy is found on the inside. Kind of an inside out thing. It is found in our internal world, in the deep places of our heart and often a place we neglect to go or attend. Call it soul care, spiritual transformation whatever you want but there is a place deep within each of us that longs for attention and is the wellspring of life.
I like the idea of a "divine spark". God's word refers to Jesus as light. C. S. Lewis spoke of the little Christ in all of us. We teach about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. These connect and fuel our divine spark. The Christ in us is a light a spark if you will that is intended to give us life. It is present but if not attended to or cultivated the spark wanes, the light fades. Does not go away but can be so muted that we experience anhedonia. Joy becomes something that is hard to experience.
So today I pose the question. "What are some things in your life that are stealing you joy?" Beware there are many. The world we live in is all about pouring cold water on you divine spark. Identify the joy busters in you life and get rid of them, move away from them, don't empower them to steal you joy.
Then start to attend your divine spark. Like a gardener caring for her garden take care of your heart. Pull some weeds, use some fertilizer, sit in the garden of your heart and meet God again.If you want to be warm stand by the fire, if you want to be wet get in the water, if you want to know joy go to the source. Slowly I believe our divine spark can begin to glow brighter and brighter. It can begin to light our path. It is the cure for anhedonia. You can rediscover joy and joy is contagious. Once we start to experience it, others are blessed by it. So find your joy and share it with the world around you.
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
I am currently re-reading the Shack. Have been fascinated at the buzz this book has created. Young has stirred-up something significant even if he has made many uncomfortable, even mad. I am re-reading because of a men's group that I am, who wanted to read and discuss. This read I am moving through the book with a little different view. I came across something last week that jumped off the page.
Papa has invited Mack back to the shack. While pondering, if God would send a message and even if he had why would he want Mac to return to the shack. Mack ask this question. "And why the shack- the icon of his deepest pain?" I would argue that if you get nothing from this book this is a question worthy of thought.
Young tackles many big ideas in this book. But none more important than this idea of God meeting us at the deepest place of our pain. If I ask you today, " what is the deepest wound of your heart?" What comes to mind? Is there something that comes quickly but you push it back and search for something a little more comfortable. Something that maybe does not hurt quite as bad. Maybe you know exactly what the deepest pain is and that thought brings strong emotion and the idea that the pain and heart ache you feel will never go away.
Why would God want to meet us at that place? Why would a loving God want us to revisit that pain and heartache? Maybe you have even thought. "How could a good God have ever allowed that to happen to me?" Where was he when this happened and why did he not step in and do something, anything? All of these are fair and good questions.
On the other side maybe you have chosen to believe, bad things happen to good people every day and that is just how it is. I just need to have faith and get over it. Be strong, don't question and just move on. No need to dwell on the past it does no good. I will somehow just pretend this never really happened and move on. I guess at some level I understand this attitude as well. It is basic survival. A kind of pain avoidance.
But what if God wanted each of us to revisit our own personal "shack". The icon of our deepest pain. Not live there, not go there and stay forever, but go there so we could find healing and wholeness.
I believe it is at the place of our deepest wound, that we can find God. It is at this place we can discover once and for all that God is real. We can discover at this place of helplessness and vulnerability that God is in fact good. I think if you strip everything away that really is the question we and the world are asking. "Is God good?" "Can God be trusted?"
The place of our deepest wound would suggest that he is not good, that he can not be trusted. That he will not show up when you need him the most and will only disappoint. I get why people would believe this. But I know if you are brave enough to visit you own personal shack and when God shows up and he will, something changes in your life. The reality of the one true living God starts to heal. You discover that he can be trusted, that he is faithful. You are given new eyes and a new heart.
So do you have a divine appointment? If so, be brave, walk into the pain believing God will meet you there. It will be risky, hard and painful. How is that for encouragement? Is is worth the risk. And much better than the alternative.
If you have visited you own personal shack, tell others about it. People need hope, they need to know the reality of a living and loving God. At some level this book Young has written has given people hope. You story will do the same. Share it!
Tuesday, February 24, 2009
I really enjoy exercising. Especially with the kettlebell. The kettlebell is the bomb diddy and I do not even know what that is, but it is better than good. I have a Dr.'s order not to do kettlebells for two weeks. I am sure he was concerned that I was getting to strong for my own good. So I am going to have to run more over the next two weeks. The best part of running is that I can think while running.
Yesterday I had several cool thoughts but one that is going to stick. I was running and thanking God for the time he has given me to exercise. Just reflecting on the blessing I receive from exercise and glad that the Father has given me that joy. I then decided for a time I would give God the time back plus 10%.
So here is what that will look like. I ran for 28 minutes and did some work in the garage with Jerod later for about 40 minutes. So I got to exercise for an hour and 8 minutes yesterday. Today I will give that time back to God plus 7 min. Today I will spend an hour and 10 minutes, listening to God, reading his word, writing in my journal and praying. I am really excited about this. This morning my time was wonderful and I will finish later tonight.
The Lent season starts tomorrow and I have decided this will be what I give up for lent. I have no sense that I am really giving anything up, I guess that is OK. I think God has given me a win win. I get to exercise and I get to spend time with Abba. Life is good.
Tuesday, February 17, 2009
What's love got to do with it? Sounds like a good line for a song. I have a few thoughts left over from valentines day. I am not a big fan of valentines day. It is a marketing racket that forces you to do something nice for you sweetie. The whole thing seems to loose some validity when you and every other guy on the planet does something nice for someone they love. And by the way if this is the only time you do something special for that special person in your life, "shame on you."
I am seeing more and more that love is a choice. V-day seems to eliminate some of your ability to choose. You can choose the type of flowers, the special gift or where you might go to eat, but the choice has been made for you when all of this is going to happen. For me something is lost in this. It feels forced. But I am straying from my real thought here. Was not really intending to rail on V-day just that I am not a fan. Although it did cause me to think a little about love. So, what does love got to do with it?
I have decided that maybe love has everything to do with it. Scripture tells us that, "God is love". This seems the very essence of who God is. It is funny to me how we attempt to explain God. Explain him, explain how and why he does the things that he does. Even though he clearly states in scripture, "My ways are not your ways." I don't fully understand God and actually kind of glad that I don't. But I do think about the fact that his love must be very different. A more excellent kind of love. A love I wish I could extend to others more often.
Maybe the challenge then begins how we would define love. That is where we get in trouble. Many ideas about what love really is. Most of them have to do with feelings and emotions. Specifically our own feeling and emotions. I have a thought, and it is just a thought related to this idea that God is love.
I think it is safe to say God's love is not based on an emotion that comes and goes like the Texas wind. Safe to say as well that his love is not based on, "what have you done for me lately." Some how he does not love one more than another. His love does not hinge on my response or lack of it. His love really is other. It is other than how we typically define love.
God's love seems to be a choice. He has simply chosen to love. That kind of love is other. It would not sale very easy in our culture. What if you told a man who grips about his wife, "you need to simply choose to love her." What about the wife who's husband forgot V-day again! The council was simply, "you can choose to love him." People would be lining up for that kind of council. Wouldn't they?
God's love is transforming. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that, he has chosen to love. So, what's love got to do with it? Maybe everything, "but hey, it's your choice."
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
One of the big moments in the life of Christ, was his baptism. God affirmed him that day in a public way. He blessed him with the words, "you are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased." God models to fathers and mothers how important the words are that are spoken over our children. I want to publicly affirm my son Michael.
Michael is our oldest and a Sr. this year. Hard to believe he is in his final months of high school. This reality makes his mother sad and makes me reflective. Tonight is senior night for the basketball team. One of many things that will take place over the next few months that will mark the end of this season of Michael's life. So today I reflect on Michael's basketball career.
Michael has taught me some valuable lessons through his basketball journey. I will be a better father in this area for Mason and Madison because I got to practice on Michael. Mason and Madi you really owe your brother a huge thank you for this. Maybe even a big hug. Michael I have told you many times. This was uncharted territory for both of us.
Michael taught me I was his dad not his coach. These are very different functions. The gift I have been given is to be Michael's dad first. I would forget this sometimes. Dad's love and encouragement are to be first. They also instruct from time to time but I would get the order backwards sometimes. I am slowly learning to not lead with instruction. It was often heard as criticism. I have started to see that now, but did I mention it is senior night. We are at the end and I am just know starting to see some of this.
Here is the subtle difference. When I lead with love and encouragement I am communicating my value is in Michael as my son. When I lead with critique and coaching I think I sometimes communicated his value was somehow tied to how he played basketball. Not a good message to send to my son.
So on senior night I want Michael to know. "It really has never been about basketball. It has always been about you." Understand I enjoy basketball and I have enjoyed watching you play. But it was never about basketball, it has been about you.
So on senior night I want you to know how much I love you and how proud I am of you. You have modeled perseverance. Something you will need in life. You have worked through set-backs and disappointment. Broken wrists and sprained ankles did not stop you. You never said "why me", you stayed the course and are finishing well. I told you they do not typically give awards or do write ups for team players. But you have modeled what it means to be a team player. You have done what the coaches have ask you to do. You have worked to fill your role whether a starter or a key person off the bench. You have been about team and that is a quality we do not see much anymore.
I love the young man you are growing into. Your time playing ball will help you as you move on to the next season of life. Your hard work, dedication, perseverance and being a team player will be characteristics that help you succeed. I believe at the core of this is a faith that I am seeing in you more and more. A faith that is becoming your own. Keep wrestling with that, keep searching and remember God is faithful.
Today I echo the words of the Father. "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."
Love you Michael!
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Have you figured out that in the Kingdom things seem to be upside down. I am convinced the closer our walk with God becomes the more we start to notice how opposite He is from the world we live in. God is trying to teach me something and I am slowly starting to listen. His world is other.
God is clear He wants all of me. The struggle for me then becomes. How much of my life am I willing to submit to Him? I ask God to fill me with His presence and He is always willing, but He understands better than I that the process at best can be a little uncomfortable and at times even down right painful.
Here is one of the ways God is other. The world is all about pain avoidance. It promotes comfort, quick fixes and raising to top as quickly as possible and if you cut a few corners or walk over a few people on the way, so be it. God calls us to lay down our lives. A process that involves dying to self. But somehow in God's economy when we die to self we actually find life. Doesn't really jive with the typical day to day message we hear in the world. But maybe we need to listen with a different ear.
Last night on Lost. If you are not watching this show be reminded, God's grace is sufficient. Sawyer and Locke are having a conversation. Sharing a quick, not exact summary here. Sawyer is questioning Locke about some past events and the pain and discomfort they created for Locke. Sawyer basically says, "Don't you wish you had made a different decision and avoided the pain it caused. Locke's answer is "other". He responds, "No, because I would not be where I am today." He understood that, discomfort for a time ended up being life giving.
Last night I picked up some anti-inflammatory cream for my elbow that a Dr had prescribed. I rubbed it on before I went to bed and this stuff lite me up. I thought my flesh was burning from the inside out and literally could not sleep for the majority of the night. I called the Pharmacist this morning wondering why he would give me battery acid in a tube to rub on a already aching elbow. He explained how the medicine worked to block pain receptors and said something very interesting. "This is going to sound counter intuitive, (ding-ding) but what you need to do when the pain gets to intense is put some more cream on." I am thinking, "are you nuts, I just lost a night of sleep because I put this cream on my elbow, and you are telling me the thing that cased the pain will actually help relive the pain if I put more on. Sounds like a bad plan to me.
His instruction was "other". It made no sense and I did not want to follow his directions. But I also want my elbow to heal. For two months I have had no relief with methods that were comfortable. So this morning I followed his advice even though I did not want to and so far it has not been as bad as it was last night.
What if the pain we feel sometimes, even the pain we feel that is God inflicted, is pain that might lead to healing. What if God loves us so much, He would be willing to let us experience pain and that pain was our path to healing and wholeness. That my friend is other. It is counter intuitive.
God's ways are not our ways. I tend to forget that some days. God is eternal and He sees through a totally different lens. I believe God understands, a little pain that can move us closer to Him, to wholeness, healing and dependence on a loving God is well worth it in the long run.