People, Pain, and Deconstruction

Friday night we watched, Bridge to Terabithia. It’s about the awkward friendship of two fifth graders, Leslie – a girl, and Jess – a boy.

Leslie’s joy is the first thing to infect her neighbor and soon to be best friend. She was from an artistic family who told stories, wrote books, and slopped bright paint on their living room walls as they danced. Jess is the only son of a working class couple scraping together whatever they can to make ends meet for their five children. His family are faithful church attendees. They have the stern faces and serious demeanor to prove it. Leslie, on the other hand, had never been to church before and seemed to be captivated by the entire experience of it. 

Out of all the high’s and low’s of their story, this in my opinion, is the most compelling scene.

http://m.youtube.com/watch?v=swcEExbjVMQ

“You have to believe it and you hate it. I don’t have to believe it and I love it.” 

How does that sit with you?

Who do you most identify with in this scene?
– May Belle – certain of a harsh God who’s purpose is to damn people to hell
– Jess – confused as he reconsiders what he’s always accepted as truth
– Leslie – free to embrace the beauty of Jesus without the baggage of dogma

Why do you think that is?  

Whenever I watch this scene I long for the freedom Leslie exudes. I love the simple way she embraces the beauty of Jesus without all the baggage of dogma. 

But I see myself in both of the other characters too. As a young adult I was so certain about things…I felt I had to be. I was so sure about certain doctrines that Jesus and grace got lost in it all. Then about ten years ago I started going through a time of deconstruction myself. I don’t think I was necessarily wrong about all the things I thought, believed, and taught. I just look back and see somethings that were out of focus and other areas that were incomplete. 

God seems to use two primary tools to help us grow. 
1. People – ‘Leslie characters’ in our own lives. If we’re paying attention God seems to bring them into our lives to give us a clearer picture of Him. Some of them stay in our lives for a long time and others only for a season. 
2. Pain – My friend Larry calls, ‘disorienting dilemmas.’ These are experiences and events that rock us to our foundation. They can help us challenge things we’ve always accepted and distill what we believe.   

Who in your life is calling you to live more fully?

Are you in a place where it feels like your belief system is getting in the way of knowing God more completely?

Do you tend to embrace disorienting dilemmas or bury them?

Do you have someone to share that with?

Does it feel like you’ve laid claim to your own beliefs, or more like you’re living a second hand faith of your parents or pastors?

Reconnecting your Head to your Heart

Last week I threw out some suggestions of why we rarely experience long term change even though we really mean it when we declare our resolve to start something, stop something, do more, do less, and change. 
1. Sometimes our goals aren’t big enough.
2. We often don’t have a plan.
3. No one has been invited to walk with us on our journey.
4. We resist admitting that the power to change is beyond us. 

This week I want to zero in on the area of spiritual transformation. 

One of the things I miss about pastoring is being able to stand in front of a group of people and assure them that no matter where they are or what they are experiencing God is near, concerned, and accessible. To be part of God’s awakening process is both thrilling and humbling. I know…Sunday sermons aren’t the only vehicles that God uses…in fact I’m sure he’s had to intercept what came out of my mouth way more than once. But I have vivid memories of people encountering hope. Often times their eyes water, their cheeks redden, their posture changes, and they nod unknowingly.  

The message informs, excites, and moves us toward the mission (the identity and calling) God has for us. Naturally we get excited. We might even get a new Bible or buy a new journal. And for a few weeks we do great. Sermons and podcasts keep us going. Our small group or Sunday school class keep us on track. And for a few more weeks we do alright. We’re doing things…good things…things we’re supposed to do…but if we’re really honest it feels like we’ve just exchanged one type of busyness for another. 

And in our quiet honest moments we hear ourselves wonder, “Where is the life? Where is the joy? Where is the change?”

Do you ever feel like that? I do sometimes.

The answer is not: Leave your church, drop out of small group and put your Bible on the shelf.  

The answer may be: Try something different. Take a few minutes and jot down answers the questions below. It is a brief experience in spiritual direction. 

– Describe your communication with God. How and when are you speaking to him? How are you hearing from him?
– Describe the last time you felt close with God. Be sure to note when that was, where you were, and who, if anyone, was with you.
– If Jesus was sitting in the chair next to you, what would you tell him?

The Enlightenment period emphasized science and reason. Humanity began to seek answers by pulling things apart, observation, and examination. The scientific method was born and applied to all areas of life – including faith. So the spiritual life that once lived in the healthy tension between heart and head shifted mostly into our head. 

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In our desire for transformation, our head has been trained to take over and we default to persuing more information and mastering certain skills as the answer. “If I only knew more about the bible…or better understood what Christianity is about…or could explain it better…that would help me grow and be the evidence that I’m changing.” Not true. 

Author Dallas Willard said, “Spiritual people are not those who engage in certain spiritual practices; they are those who draw their life from a conversational relationship with God.” (Hearing God) 

Our process for spiritual growth must bring our thinking and feeling back into a proper tension. Spiritual direction helps reconnect your head to your heart and reframes your thinking. Our perspective ceases to be, “I need to learn more,” and becomes, “I need to pay attention more.”

Monday Questions

My kids have taught me that we have to do important things on purpose. One of those things is talking about heart issues. They were all in Bentonville with us a couple months ago for Labor Day weekend. I asked them the questions below and I think they would be good for all of us to ponder on this week:

If you could pray only one prayer this year, what would it be?

Where do you sense God delighting in you?
– What makes Him smile when he thinks of you?

Where is God gently (or maybe not so gently) calling you to change?
– Is there something He seems to be asking you put down, stop?
– Is there something He seems to be asking you to pick up, start?

What are you relying on only God for in this season of life?

What might God be relying on you for in this season?

Hidden Gifts

I met with my spiritual director last week. What’s that you ask? Well, I define a spiritual director as “a companion on the journey of growing in intimacy with God. She/he bears witness to the activity of God in your life and encourages you to respond to His love.”

Anyway, she asked about my practice of Advent…basically how do I observe it and how is God speaking to me.

With a sigh I went on to describe the love/hate relationship I’ve had with this season since 1978. Parents who have passed away, miles between my children and me, and relationships that aren’t what they used to be all contribute to a sense of loss that often hangs over me like the thick gray clouds that fill December skies. She listened patiently and without judgment. And then she posed a question that has transformed my perspective.

What are the gifts hidden within the sense of loss that this season often brings?

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While I knew I had time to consider the question I began to see the gifts right away.

  • We raise our children to grow up and be independent. As much as I love my kids and enjoy being around them, I’m glad they aren’t living in my basement. They are sharp. They are healthy. They are adventurous. They are working hard and navigating adulthood in a way that any parent would be extremely proud of.
  • Advent is a time to consider and prepare for Christ’s coming. With His return I anticipate the gift of a great reunion. My parents were people of faith. Though they are absent from the body they are present with the Lord. They have joined the great cloud of witnesses and I believe we will be reunited.
  • Hiding under the boughs of subtle sadness is the gift that I am enjoying life in many corners of my being as life is supposed to go.
  • The greatest gift I reclaimed is the fact that not all of my relationships have changed negatively. My relationship with Krista is not what it used to be. And for that I am eternally grateful. She has gone from friend to best friend to special lady pal (her favorite term I’m sure) to fiancé…and next summer to wife. We are living in the already but not yet, which is not without it’s challenges but is both a mystery and a gift to people of faith.

 

Let me play the role of your spiritual director today.

What are the gifts hidden within the sense that this season often brings for you?