Childlike openness

Children arrive with empty hands and open minds filled with curiosity, enthusiasm, and energy. Children accept mystery and incongruity until they are taught that there have to be answers and explanations and that being “right” is more important than being curious and joyous.

O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike. Matt.11:25

Jesus didn’t come to offer self-improvement seminars or equip His followers with tools to gain wealth, status, or power. He was about relationship and revelation. Accepting the mystery of God helps us move out of the shallows into the deep places of God
where we can’t see the bottom;
where there is no compulsion to count the shells and classify the fish;
where we can just receive the experience in childlike wonder and childlike trust.

Lord, it’s so great to be Your child.

Baggage check

Fans of carry-on luggage hate it when we have to surrender our bags to be checked. We no longer have control over the contents. What if someone opens them and takes something out? What might we lose?

Sometimes we treat the baggage from our past like a carry-on. Lugging the past into the present and future. Clinging to our regrets, out guilt, our justified anger and resentments, our protective shields, our griefs until they becomes part of our identity.

…this one thing I do, forgetting what lies behind and stretching toward what lies ahead, I press on… Phil. 3:13-14

Forgetting is a big ask. We can’t erase our memories.  Sometimes letting go feels like more loss. Sometimes we need therapy. Sometimes we need a change in order to begin letting go.

Wherever we are in the baggage-shedding process there is love and comfort in the Father’s arms. Christ walks along with us with easy companionship, helping us shift what we carry so that the load is lighter. God’s Holy Spirit renews from within so that we can constructively carry our memories without lugging the baggage with them.

I surrender my baggage.

Renewable

We throw a lot of stuff away. In the U.S. each person averages 4.6 pounds of trash a day.
We don’t need or want it anymore. It’s beyond repair or at least beyond our desire to repair.
So we trash it. Of the 75% of trash that could be recycled, as a nation we only recycle about 30% of it.

Sometimes we treat our relationships as disposably as we treat our stuff.
Sometimes we view ourselves as irreparable.
When Jesus walked among us, people were proactive in seeking out Jesus to repair what seemed beyond repair.

Behold I make all things new. Rev. 21:5

Certainly for our own health and well-being we do have to let go of stuff, relationships, and habits that are damaging to us. But there is probably a percentage of unresolved, unaddressed things with other people and with ourselves that we’ve simply discarded because they seem too difficult to repair. While restoration may not be instantaneous the way it is for the guy in the Book of Luke, but we can still hold out our hands and trust the God who makes all things new can completely restore what we think is beyond repair.

Lord, help me experience the new You make.

Visionary catharsis

“Ought-to” can obscure the heart’s vision. If we focus on certain expectations, social pressures, or adherence to religious practices we may come to associate “doing it right” with making ourselves pure of heart.

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. Matt 5:8

The Greeks word “katharos” is defined as “pure” or “clean.” It was used to describe a variety of purification rituals which existed in ancient societies. This included the Hebrew scapegoat. “Doing it right” because we “ought to” can become our purification ritual.
“Catharsis” also shares the root word “katharos.”
In psychology catharsis is an emotional experience of dealing with past hurts that results in healing, renewal, and restoration.
Medicines that purge the digestive system are called “cathartics.”
The fog lifts and we see more clearly when we are authentic,
when we expose our damage to Christ’s restorative catharsis,
when we take off the perfect-looking masks we construct out of “ought-to” adherence to whatever practices we identify as purifying.

A pure heart from Christ gives us vision and clarity so that some of our ought-to’s becomes love-to’s and some just dissipate with the fog.

I want to be pure in heart.

Road trip!

Anyone who has taken a road trip know that road quality is not equal all over the country. We also know that some stretches of scenery are monotonous and boring while others are breathtaking and exciting. Unless we are running in place life’s road trip is similar. Every day we deal with an ongoing, long-term set of delights, challenges, and monotony. Each day we encounter new experience, changing scenery, and unexpected obstacles on top of the familiar day-in, day-out inherent in the routes we are taking.

Let us run with cheerful endurance the race in front of us focused on Jesus who is the author of faithfulness. Heb. 12:1b*

There’s an expression “life’s a bitch and then  you die.” The idea that endurance is powering through unpleasant circumstances in sweaty misery is a pretty common picture of endurance. Hypomonē translated “endurance” also encompasses the ideas of cheerfulness and hopefulness into the idea of constancy. So throw joy and hope into the journey.

Help me process the whole of the journey and not just the hard parts. Help me notice the beauty and discover the joy and hope running through all of it.

 

The moments that matter

Life a filled with moments. Some moments matter more.
In big ways and in small ways
we experience pivotal moments that change our mood,
change our priorities for the day, for a season, or for a lifetime.
A moment can change the way we perceive something or someone, and
sometimes a moment can change the entire trajectory of our lives.
These are the moments that launch us into seasons.
Sometimes the moments are earth-shattering or it’s simply obvious that we are entering a season .

To everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven. Ecc. 3:1

Some moments we might not recognize as significant at the moment.
Either way, such moments can change our lives.
Being aware of and receiving God’s care in those moment can change the way these moments change us.
Sharing those moments with the people around us can enhance the moment and all that follows.
We need God and we need each other in the moments that matter.

I want to be aware of all the moments that matter today.

Does faith substantially matter?

Faith is basically operating on the belief that what we assume to be true has, or will have, a positive affect on us even though we have no definitive proof. Some working assumptions about God that generally drive faith in God:
1) God loves us
2) God is good
3) The good God who loves us continues to be present and involved in our everyday lives
4) We have the capacity to understand and respond to this good God who loves us
5) Our beliefs affect outcomes in our lives

Faith is the substance of things hoped for.  Heb. 11:1

Our beliefs concerning each of these ideas results in a variety of religions, dogmas, theologies, doctrines, prayer and worship styles. We draw conclusions about the nature of God based on these beliefs. How we relate with God and each other is informed by what we believe.  We build our hopes and we base what we expect in the present and the future on these beliefs.

Some things to consider:
Does what we believe about God lead us to a hopeful place in our lives right now?
Do these hopes substantially influence how we respond to people and situations?

Lord, I want to live my life right now with substantial hope.

The serendipity of transcendence

On occasion we experience transcendent moments teeming with life’s abundance.
Moments in prayer or meditation go beyond our own thought or will.
We experience deep, authentic connection with another human being. 
We experience genuine flow in our work.
An interaction with nature or piece of art causes us to feel more real or understood.
Such experiences, if just for a fleeting moment, give us a sense of satisfaction and wholeness.

Christ came that we might have life and have it abundantly. Jn. 10:10

Then we try to figure out how these moments happen so that we can duplicate the experience.
Sadly, some us attempt to package and market such moments assuming other people’s experiences can be defined and quantified by our own.

It is impossible to force a flash of transcendence.
It is exhausting to try. 
Humans probably don’t have the spiritual, mental, emotional, or physical energy for transcendent moments to be our steady state of existence anyway.
Such moments are a result of being aware and in the moment rather than in pursuing the experience itself.
Abundance is abiding in the love of the Father, perceiving our life in Christ, opening and receiving His Spirit.

God I am grateful to abide in Your abundance. Help me to notice and enjoy where I already am.

What’s the plan?

It’s exciting to launch into something new but we need to plan first.
What is our desired outcome?
What processes, skills, and resources will get us there?
Do we have those things?

Do your planning and prepare your fields before building your house. Prov. 24:27

The tedium of planning beats the even more annoying tedium of tasks that feel pointless. We perform better when we understand and own the goal our daily tasks are designed to accomplish. But…
Even if we plan well we still can’t expect to roll along smoothly and
we can’t view our plans as written in stone.
Sometimes all the planning in the world cannot predict the unforeseen obstacles
We needn’t view obstacles as things that stop us but as opportunities for problem-solving and growth.
Sometimes an unforeseen, unplanned-for obstacles is the very things God uses to helps us develop resilience, openness flexibility, patience, and creativity.

Help me to plan mindfully, execute with skill and flexibility, and grow through problem-solving opportunities.

Fear is a tragic, existential tailspin

Tragedy can put is into an existential tailspin. When we are deeply affected by someone else’s tragedy – or experiencing our own – we may turn our thoughts and feelings to dwelling on the events and reasons that led to tragedy. This can make us fearful and perhaps a little paranoid and overcautious. Expanding those thoughts and feelings into finding existential or theological explanations for tragedy can lead to fear on a cosmic level.

Fear erodes trust. And joy. Relationship with someone we cannot trust is going to end up dysfunctional and full of fear and disappointment. There is no joy, no comfort, no peace, no healing if we are always waiting for the next shoe to drop. Especially if we imagine God is holding the shoes.

The times I am afraid, I will trust in You. Ps. 56:3

If we are to fully receive God’s comfort and peace in the midst of tragedy we may need to stop struggling for explanation, drop our blame throwers, and join all the other mourners in the arms of God. We join the light of God’s love when we mourn with those who mourn. We join the light of His goodness when we trust Him in our mourning. We join the voice of Jesus saying, “Fear not.”

I trust You as I mourn with those who mourn.

Releasing the tension of unruly ducks

Many of us tie rest and relaxation to having all our ducks in a row and feel anxious when our ducks won’t cooperate: when we have to leave projects unfinished,
when we have to wait for replies and decisions, or
when an unexpected complication happens.
The tension of unruly ducks settles between the shoulder blades, in the gut, behind the eyes, or somewhere else in our bodies and keeps pressing.

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest there. Ps. 91:1

God  invites us into a careless rest.  Living in God’s shelter means peace and completeness does not depend on anything we’ve been carrying around, anything we’ve been waiting for, or anything we’ve been working toward. We can let those ducks scatter. God will help us round them up again as needed. It’s okay. We’re okay.

God, I shelter here, at rest, in You.

For people who got me here and the people who are here with me now

Wherever we are here and now is a result of a series of words, experiences, and relationships in our lives and how we processed them.
We didn’t get here alone.
We can be more grateful, appreciative, and positive about the past, the present, and the future
when we reflect on key conversations and experiences with people who loved us and wanted good for us,
when we choose to seek out the people who value and encourage us, and
when we choose to consciously value and encourage the people around us.

Speak encouraging words and build one another up, as you are doing. 1 Thess. 5:11

For the people who loved me, wanted good for me, and expected good from me
For those who speak kind, authentic words
For those who recognize my worth
For those who listen and let me be known
For those who let themselves be known to me
For those who discover, explore, and laugh with me
I am so grateful.
Help me to be encouraging and to build them up.

Thoughts for when we’re losing it (whatever it is)

Every single person experiences loss.
Sometimes we lose our resources or health.
Sometimes we lose people we love.
Sometimes we lose our sense of security or balance.
Sometimes we lose our sense of purpose or identity.
Sometimes we lose our ability to reason and respond constructively to what we feel and experience.
Sometimes we simply accept loss as the norm and expect nothing more.

The Son of Man came to seek and make safe and whole the lost, the ruined, the destroyed. Luke 19:10

The restorative, redemptive, reconciling love of Christ seeks all of us, especially when we experience loss, when we feel ruined, and when we make destructive choices.
Christ seeks relationship so that all of us can be loved, feel safe, and experience abundance.
Every. Single. Person.

Help me to experience and to expect abundance. As the norm. Help me to desire this for all the humans I encounter and interact with them accordingly.

Morning prayers Pt. 2

Morning prayers are not really us “inviting” God into our day  so much as awareness of God already encompassing and permeating our lives. God already knows all we need to get done, all the problems we need to solve,  all the concerns we have no control over, all that is fulfilling and all that is daunting about the day ahead.

You encompass my journeying and my resting and are well acquainted with all my ways. Ps. 139:3

Too often we treat prayer like a “to do” list for God when a more organic, relational, and productive approach might be simply joining the flow of the day with which God is already well acquainted.

I am open to this day’s journey with, in, and through God; to awareness; to conscious being in the conscious doing.

 

 

A groggy approach to morning prayer

Approaching morning prayer in rhythm with our natural body clocks could open us to God’s creative solutions and unexpected insights. Typically those who believe in God engage in some kind of morning prayer. We tend to associate morning prayer with shaking off the sleep and transitioning into full alertness, focusing on God or whatever activity we perceive connects us to God. Doing this might actually tamp down our natural awareness and openness to Holy Spirit inspiration.

Since most of our schedules keep us from waking up naturally, we usually have to wake up right in the midst of the sleep time when our sleeping brains are most active. Sleep helps us process and engage with events and ideas in ways we can’t seem to access through wide-awake analysis and focus. So, odd is it may seem at first, it makes sense that brain science studies are finding evidence that we are most creative when we are slightly groggy, tired, or distracted.

You encompass all my journeying and my resting. You are well acquainted with all my ways. Ps. 139:3

God is well acquainted with the ebb and flow of our creative and our analytical thinking. Perhaps those semi-conscious between-the-snooze moments  are optimal times for prayer and meditation that is open-ended and receptive to Holy Spirit inspiration.

Encompass my resting and waking up.

 

 

The eye of the needle

There is no way for us to fully experience God as the source of meaning, abundance, security, and identity if we make money, security, success, or anything else the thing that defines, satisfies, and consumes us.

Jesus has an intriguing conversation with a rich young man that is told in three gospels. (Matthew 19:16–30, Mark 10:17–31 and Luke 18:18–30.)

Rich guy: Good teacher, what must I do to gain eternal life?
Jesus: Why do you consider me ‘good” when only God is good. You know the commandments, don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie, honor your parents.
Rich guy: Well, I’ve kept all the commandments my whole life, even as a little kid.
Jesus: There’s one more thing. Go sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor. Then your treasure will be in heaven. Come follow me.
The young man walks away from Jesus completely demoralized because he had a lot of stuff and he doesn’t want to part with it.
Jesus tells his followers:

“It’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to journey in the Kingdom of God.”

It’s not about the commandments. The rich young man assumes that Jesus is asking about his religious bonafides because his experience is steeped in law. Jesus is asking in order to show that law, including the commandments, is an insufficient indicator of spiritual health.

It’s about the journey. Christ is the door, so Jesus isn’t telling the guy that selling his riches gets him into His Kingdom but explaining what it will take for him, individually, to gain awareness of life in His Kingdom. The Greek word usually translated “enter” erchomai actually means “going in and going out,” like a journey, not like a portal.

It’s not about the money. There is no record of Jesus asking anybody else to sell all their stuff. Jesus isn’t being harsh. This is an intervention. He really loves the guy and wants him see that his riches are a poor substitute for the abundant experience that life in Christ offers.

It’s about identity. The young man defines himself by his riches. Identifying with Christ means letting go of our own baggage and dependencies that we use to define ourselves and being and living as our authentic selves instead. 
I like to think that as he got older the young man figured it out. It took me awhile.

God, I want to be aware that I live in You and You live in me. Help me think, choose, prioritize, and embrace as one who journeys in Your kingdom.

 

Getting past the existential whys

Adding existential or theological dimensions to existing pain leads to oversimplification, trite platitudes, and assigning blame. Dwelling on the existential whys can promote shame and cause us to create false narratives about ourselves like:

I am a spiritual, emotional, mental, physical or relational failure.
There is some nebulous lesson that I am incapable of learning without suffering.
I’m not worthy of success.
God is punishing me and I deserve it.
Evil prevails and I am complicit.

 In failing health the Apostle Paul writes from prison:

My expectation is that I will not be ashamed of anything, but trust now, as always, that Christ is magnified in my body whether in life or death. Phil. 1:20

Maybe we are better off just working the here-and-now problem itself rather than focusing on the existential whys.
Maybe our expectations are better focused on experiencing God in, with, through, and for us in this particular circumstance rather than on trying to figure out what God expects from us in order to get us out of the circumstance.

I trust Your love and goodwill. I trust my relationship with You. No matter what.

Silence is not peace

Silence can leave us in our respective corners making assumptions about each other and attacking each other based on those assumptions.

What if we find out about each other as human beings first?
What if we acknowledge our biases and separate fact from opinion in our own narratives first?
What if we listen with open hearts and minds?
What if we genuinely consider and research one another’s points of view before we respond?
What if we respond with respect for the person no matter how much we disagree with the idea?
What if we refuse to let differences isolate or threaten us?
What if we make our goal reconciliation rather than forcing agreement, compromise, or compliance?

If possible, as far as it depends on you, be at peace with all people. Rom. 12:18

If we avoid talking with each other about our differences we will not be able to form authentic relationships that lead to authentic peace. Relationships, not forced agreement or regulations, move us toward a peace that is open, free, and safe for everyone.

I reject fear, pride, and offense as responses to those who disagree with me.
I embrace love, acceptance, and understanding.

Meditation on R & R

Getting away from home and from work and relaxing with other humans who care about us, doing things we enjoy, or simply resting reconnects us with God, with each other, and with who we are beyond our routines and obligations.

I meditate on all Your working and talk through all You are doing. Ps.77:12

Love, relationship, and reconciliation are workings of God in our lives. Being away from normal routine and enjoying ourselves helps us rediscover wonder and joy, open our minds to new ideas or old dreams, and connect more deeply with people and things we love.

But feeling some sort of obligation to use our down time to seriously meditate on God’s deeds defeats the purpose of rest and relaxation. While we are having fun we can still be aware that important things are happening within us while we are resting and enjoying. Some things that happen on vacation need to come home with us.

Thank God for vacations!

Beyond chemistry, classification and mechanics

In Voyage of the Dawn Treader C. S. Lewis wrote a dialogue between Eustace, a scientific materialist and Ramandu, a fallen star:

…’In our world,’ said Eustace, ‘a star is a huge ball of flaming gas.’

‘Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made  of .” [Ramandu answers]

We can analyze the contents of our world and try to explain the mechanics of it’s origins and it’s forces, but mysteries remain. God shows up in our wonder and awe.

For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. Rom 1:20(a)

Lord, help me to see beyond what I can know and explain.