A Meditation Moment

Growing up is a lot of work AND it promises many blessings for those who choose to work at it. The end of the long version of the Serenity Prayer hints at the joy of a maturing lifestyle.

God [pause]

Trusting that you will make all things right, if I surrender to your will [pause]

So that I may be reasonably happy in this life [pause] AND

Supremely happy with you forever in the next. [pause]

Amen

Dare to imagine what life could be if each day was reasonably happy with the hope for supreme happiness in the next life.

Our goal is to become fully human

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”[1]

~Theodore Roosevelt

What really counts, what really matters, what makes all the difference in life satisfaction is about what you decide to do with your one wild and precious life (Mary Oliver paraphrase). No matter how much others might disagree with your perspective, it is yours and no one can or should try to take ownership of your life from you.

My prayer is that we continue to encourage one another to enter the arena and fight for a life of purpose. Dare to believe that you can and are worth doing hard things so that you might enjoy a life of meaning. You are capable and uniquely qualified to bear the image of God. You are made, and it was a custom job, to show up in this world as a person of virtue. Fully human.

“If you don’t go all the way with me, through thick and thin, you don’t deserve me. If your first concern is to look after yourself, you’ll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you’ll find both yourself and me.”

~Matthew 10:39, The Message


[1] https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/7-it-is-not-the-critic-who-counts-not-the-man

A Meditation Moment

We are almost finished completing our meditation through the Serenity Prayer. Breathe on this…

God [pause], I Trust that you will make all things right if I surrender to your will [pause]...

Breathe and consider your willingness to trust. Ask God to help you in your unbelief.

And then….conclude: “Help me in my unbelief!”

As with most things, we are both/and. We believe. We doubt. This does not make us double-minded, which is not recommended. It makes us honest about our complexity. In truth, knowing that we desperately believe and we have doubts indicates that we have something else going for us that is super important: we tell the truth about ourselves. We are humble enough to recognize that we are not always consistent in living faithfully.

Boundaries can change as we grow

When I work a spiritual program, there are so many decisions I do NOT have to bother considering. I do not have to decide whether I am going to try to manipulate my husband to make me happy - I am not. My feelings are my responsibility. I can move on from asking him to make me happy and ask instead - what do I need and want? I practice the habit of thinking about what I need to do to take responsibility for my own well-being. Do I need a meeting? A long walk? A nap? A snack? Coffee and a date night with my hubby? Of course, part of my work can include saying to my husband, “Hey, I am feeling disconnected from you. I would like a date night. What about you?”

He then considers his own boundaries and can reply, “Me too!” or “I am too tired for a date night tonight; can we just order take-out and go to bed early and snuggle?” I do not have the right to violate his preferences in order to make me feel better. On the other hand, I also know that it is not my job to make him happy either! If he wants a date night too we are happy campers and off we go to play tennis, see a movie or eat out. If he’s too tired my response can be, “Ok! Cool!” With healthy boundaries I also have the capacity to respectfully circle back around later. If I still feel disconnected after we eat pizza and fall asleep at 8:30 pm like two old people, I can say, “Can we revisit the conversation about feeling disconnected? Pizza and our bedtime ritual that resembles a toddler’s isn’t helping me connect with you!”

The ultimate walls and fences that do not move (unless I come to greater understanding of God and his ways that result in an adjustment) are the ways of living and loving that God says are acceptable (mercy, love, forgiveness, respect, kindness, etc.) versus those that are not acceptable (revenge, manipulation, hatred, rage, meanness, selfishness, etc.). These skills were not learned in a vacuum. They are developing as I grow in my conscious contact with the God of my understanding. As my understanding grows, my boundaries adjust accordingly.

“The One that God sent speaks God’s words. And don’t think he rations out the Spirit in bits and pieces. The Father loves the Son extravagantly. He turned everything over to him so he could give it away—a lavish distribution of gifts. That is why whoever accepts and trusts the Son gets in on everything, life complete and forever! And that is also why the person who avoids and distrusts the Son is in the dark and doesn’t see life. All he experiences of God is darkness, and an angry darkness at that.”

~ John 3:34-36, The Message


A Meditation Moment

There are various versions of the Serenity Prayer, and various attributions as to the author (Reinhold Niebuhr is a popular guess). Today we will continue with the longer version.

God [pause]

Living one day at a time [pause], Enjoying one moment at a time [pause], Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace [pause], Taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it [pause]

What will today bring? Consider living it well, wisely, with gratitude. Breathe.

Boundaries in light of God's Will

One of the consequences of living by a set of unhealthy principles is boundary confusion and mayhem.  A boundary is an invisible and essential fence that is supposed to guard our personal space.  Every human has them.  They are flexible and can be adjusted as situations arise.  I have a very thick boundary around my relationship with someone who has a history of verbally abusing me.  I have a very thin and pliable boundary in relationship to my husband who is kind and respectful and loving toward me.  There are two kinds of walls - one is internal and the other is external.  The external wall serves to protect us physically and sexually.  The internal wall protects us intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.  In both situations we have a responsibility to share with others our boundaries so that they can respect them.  We have a responsibility to respond according to what they teach us about their willingness to respect our stated boundary.  Perhaps most important of all - we are absolutely responsible for deciding and living by our boundary preferences.  We cannot make someone else respect our boundaries BUT we can make decisions that keep our boundaries intact.

For whatever reason, Substance Use Disorder disrupts the boundary system of the suffering person, their family, and their friends, but a host of other issues also disrupt boundaries.  Some folks choose to build a fortress to protect themselves from the chaos that the active addiction creates.  Others are so freaked out by the chaos that they completely abandon their walls and crash through the walls of the person they love who is suffering in a misguided attempt to save them.  They are overly helpful. In the biz we call that enmeshment and enabling.  Healthy boundaries help us choose whether we will say yes or no to others; they also help us graciously receive a yes or no response from others.  As we heal and grow, we begin the necessary work of repairing the walls.  One of the “simple” but hard to apply aspects of our work is learning the discipline of using our boundaries based on God’s will, not our own.  We turn to his word for guidance.  We learn, for example, that no matter how desperate we feel it is not okay to treat others disrespectfully.  We have a boundary of respect for self and others BECAUSE God says that this is how we treat one another.  There are countless examples of re-framing our boundaries and beliefs as a result of leaning into the work of understanding how God says we are created to live and be in the world.  This is the journey of a lifetime.

 

But me he caught—reached all the way

    from sky to sea; he pulled me out

Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos,

    the void in which I was drowning.

They hit me when I was down,

    but God stuck by me.

He stood me up on a wide-open field;

    I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!  

~Psalm 18:16-19, The Message

A Meditation Moment

A few days ago we took a meditation moment and breathed through the first part of the Serenity Prayer. God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change… Today - we continue…


God [pause]

Grant me the courage [pause]

To change the things I can…[pause]


Ponder courage - what do you need to be courageous about? What things can you change? Allow your mind to gently ponder this as you breathe.

Expectations and Conflict: Part II

Consider your story by journaling about the following questions:

○ What have I expected of others?

○ What have others expected of me?

○ How have these expectations impacted my life? How might they threaten my recovery and spiritual transformation?

A Meditation Moment

Sit quietly and recite the first part of the serenity prayer. Pause after each phrase.

God [pause]

Grant me serenity [pause]

To accept the things I cannot change [pause]

Take a few moments to imagine God listening to your request for serenity. Imagine how you might find serenity today. Pause and consider the things that you wish would change, but you have no power to change. End with a repetition of God, Grant me serenity...

Competing expectations lead to conflict

The young woman sitting before me was striking.  Her makeup was dramatic with eyeliner stretching far beyond the corner of her eyes.  Her jeans were fashionably ripped, as were mine, but her jeans were more hole than fabric.  Mine just had a couple of half-hearted shreds.  A beret sat jauntily on her head and her lips were ruby red.  Her eyeshadow was deep violet.  She practically purred like a cat stalking a mouse.  I knew my role: I was the mouse.  She came in with a list of complaints she wished to lodge against her mother.  She wanted to “clear up any confusion” necessary for me to “get her mother back on track”.  Interesting, I thought. 

 

Just a few hours before, her mother had sat in the same chair.  She wore pearls and a tailored suit with four inch heels and a no-nonsense attitude.  Her makeup was muted but I suspected botox made her minimalist approach possible. 

 

Both women came loaded with expectations despite their very different presentations.  They had expectations of each other; they had expectations of me.  These expectations competed with one another for both attention and energy.  Sides needed to be taken, control needed to be exerted if anyone was going to emerge as victor.

 

This is how each of us experience life.  No wonder we use substances to numb and forget!  This is not how God operates.  He has much to teach us about stating both our needs and our wants clearly without demanding that someone else change to meet them.  God gives us guidance for how we can take responsibility for our own lives within the context of surrendering to his will.  This frees us from the pressure to bend to the expectations of others.  This does not mean that we get our way.  What it means is we get out of the way of all those loaded conversations where people are trying to either please or control one another.  It relieves the stress of having to figure out who in the room wins and what our part is in each skirmish.  Instead, we are given the gift of boundaries.  We begin to learn how to live within the boundaries of God’s care for us.  This is a lot HARDER to figure out than it sounds.

 

A soundtrack played in my head as I listened to these two women exert tremendous effort to get the other person to make them feel less anxious by asking me to serve as a velvet hammer that each wielded against the other.  The band Cake’s song Short Skirt, Long Jacket rang in my inner ear.  It speaks of expectations, often competing ones.  It sets the bar high for some random girl that is somehow supposed to fix the world of the guy who sings it.  We do not have to live this way.  But tremendous humility and willingness to change will be required if we want to get out from under the weight of living in a world that only loves winners.

God looks for people to bless

Just after that, Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said, “Because you went for help to the king of Aram and didn’t ask God for help, you’ve lost a victory over the army of the king of Aram. Didn’t the Ethiopians and Libyans come against you with superior forces, completely outclassing you with their chariots and cavalry? But you asked God for help and he gave you the victory. God is always on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to him. You were foolish to go for human help when you could have had God’s help. Now you’re in trouble—one round of war after another.”

~2 Chronicles 16:9, The Message

One of my favorite things about the Bible is its honesty. Time and again it teaches us how forgetful we humans are when it comes to our fragility and God’s patience with us. “God is always on the alert, constantly on the lookout for people who are totally committed to him.”

As ambivalent as so many of us feel when we think about firing ourselves as CEO of our lives (known in recovery circles as the Third Step), this is the part of a spiritual pilgrimage that is simple - sort of. It requires only one thing of us: we make a decision.

How simple is this step? It is so simple that…

You do not have to understand what it means.

You do not have to join any organizations to prove your commitment.

You do not have to change a single behavior, belief, thought or feeling.

You do not have to convince others or even yourself of your sincerity.

The one thing that you have to do in order to proceed on your journey of faith is to accept this one thing: God is on the alert and he is looking for committed people to bless. That’s it.

On taking the Third Step….“There [is] definitely no drama around it. It [is] just an act of willingness”[1]

~ By the Book


[1] https://www.nacr.org/center-for-12-step-recovery/by-the-book-doing-the-twelve-steps/by-the-book-step-3 at 13:30.

Defensiveness is not a strategy

Years ago I had the grand privilege of teaching high schoolers each Sunday morning. Man, are they smart. And funny. And irreverent. And loaded with potential. If you do not have the privilege of really digging in and spending quantity (quantity - not quality) time with this group, it may be tough to appreciate the depth of their curiosity and their capacity to ferret out BS when they see it.

I had this one kid whose attendance was sporadic, and when he was there he was not exactly dialed in. This made me curious. Mostly he looked hung over on Sundays and there were some rumors about his extracurricular activities and the possibility that he might be a bad influence on the other kids in the group.

One day while buying groceries and junk food for my kids, his dad approached me about his son’s “religious education” and chastised me for his son’s sporadic attendance and his lack of bible knowledge (as evidenced by his inability to quote scripture verses from memory). This, according to him, was a reflection of my poor teaching and my lack of commitment.

So here is the thing about this story. This dad did not go to church. At. All. At the time I was super mad. But after I paused to prepare and really thought the story through, I felt an increased responsibility to this young man. I redoubled my efforts. I did NOT ask the kid to memorize scriptures but I did a few small things to increase his awareness that we teachers saw him. Cared about him. And without saying a word to anyone else about the encounter with the dad - who I would not have even recognized except for the fact that his kid was with him (yes, he said all this in front of his son) - we upped our game.

This was super hard. I wanted to “out” the dad for being a deadbeat. I wanted to whine and complain about all my weekly efforts and this dad’s absence from the life of his kid and I wanted to shout from the rooftops, “HOW DARE HE!!” But the problem with this approach was that it would not have been helpful to the kid, and that was my priority. That was in-line with my core value of loving kids as an expression of bearing God’s image. He already had one fun house mirror of a father image, did he need me tarnishing it further? No.

I do not know where this young man is today. I do know he made his way, eventually, to seminary. This is no guarantee that he has pursued a life of faith but I am pretty sure it required continued exposure to God’s word. I know that he has had a profound influence on my life. He is the kid that opened my eyes to all the ways we judge others and make assumptions about them. He made me realize I could do more - not because I had to, but because I wanted to.

It’s okay to learn even from people who don’t have it all together and even those who stir your anger. It’s okay to find inspiration in rumors of failure or in the face of criticism. How might God be getting your attention today through weird means and mean people?

Changing habits means telling the truth

Have you ever tracked every single morsel you put in your mouth on one of those tracking apps? I have. It’s eye opening. My nutritionist does not recommend this as a daily practice. She wants me to live my life and learn to use my eyes to see what I am eating and learn how to fuel my body wisely.


I continue to learn. But because of my propensity to not pay attention to details, my forgetfulness, my outright denial about some of my habits…that app can serve as helpful accountability. So long as I tell the truth.


There it is.


The fly in the ointment.


Tell the truth. Particularly - tell MYSELF the truth.


So here we go with a question for today: Just how seriously do you take your faith journey? If you had an app on your phone that could measure such things, how are you doing?


And I am really curious about this: What criteria would you use to assess your spirituality? What actions, thoughts, feelings and core values reveal the seriousness with which you take your relationship with your Higher Power?



“[He] said to me as I was walking by, ‘God takes this more seriously than you do.’ “

~ By the Book (view the video here)

Building trust is a long process

We have a mechanic whom we trust. If he says our car needs a major repair we thank him for finding the problem. We do not get second or third opinions - although I do not think he would be particularly offended if we did seek outside input. We do not waffle about whether or not to take his advice. We do not curse our misfortune at his hands or blame him for finding a problem. Why? Because we trust him.

Why do we trust him? Because we have built a solid relationship over the years that has made trust possible. He has never let us down, although there was that one time he forgot to tighten a new tire fully and that resulted in an interesting ride back to the shop. Did we stop going to him because he made a mistake? No. He immediately acknowledged his error and made amends. Our long history gave us context to chalk it up to a fluke and we did not allow it to overly influence our capacity to trust him.

Trust is built over the long haul. This is true in all relationships, including our faith in God. But today

does not have to bear the weight of total trust building. Today is a step not the entire journey. But it does require taking a step. We have to keep a steady pace, we need to keep actively engaging in our faith journey. We have to allow for confusions and even doubts. We have to “turn” and keep “turning”, one day at a time (as the Third Step points out so clearly when it asks us to turn our live and will over to the care of God).

God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

~Ephesians 4:15-16, The Message

Are you actively pursuing spiritual maturity? Is there anything you need to change in order to continue your faith journey?

Meditation Moment

Today, try a loving kindness meditation. Think of someone and find your gratitude for them. Name at least five things about them you appreciate. Move on to another person and pray gratitude and appreciation for them in five specific ways. Do this as long as time and concentration permits. Gratitude is super good for us. It has more benefits than eating cruciferous vegetables and flossing. Just kidding - but it is really, really good for our souls!

Trust is work

My husband’s willingness to trust me with his color choices seems like a silly, small matter. But his struggle was real and I often think about how hard it was for him to admit this one true thing about himself - he mixes up black and blue. How hard should that be? It isn’t like he was copping to being a serial killer! If I think a bit longer, I realize that I too have trouble with small truths.

Is it any wonder that, if we struggle with realistically assessing ourselves in areas where the results really are no big deal, we will struggle in the arena of trusting God with our WILL and our LIFE? For decades I did not have much hope that I would ever understand God enough to trust him. My vision of who God is was impaired. One day I came across these verses:

So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.

~ James 1:16-18, The Message

I had a moment of receiving “light cascading down” as a series of new thoughts. (I did not realize at the time that this was my experience; it is only in hindsight that I understand that this is what happened to me.) Here is a list of what eventually became a new way of seeing for me. (Kind of like having my own spiritual form of color blindness taken from me.)

* I am off course; how much more off course can I get? I’m dying from my disease.

* What if I am off course in part because I have been wrong and blinded by my own faulty way of seeing and understanding the world?

* What if the book of James is right, and I am wrong?

* What do I have to lose?

* What if I choose to believe in this God who is not deceitful, not two-faced, not fickle?

* What if God really believes that we humans are the crown of all his creatures?

* What if God believes in me?

In the AA Big Book, and in meeting rooms, there are talks about having a moment of clarity. This was one of mine. In some ways it felt like I had been in a dark, airless, windowless room for a long, long time and someone had swept in, turned on a light, thrown back the curtains and opened the windows. Fresh air blew in and cleared away the stench of stagnation. I do not believe I could have “done this” on my own. I believe that God was doing for me what I absolutely could not do for myself - giving me, a blind beggar, sight. How about you? Is it time for a good Spring cleaning of old ways?

Seeing what condition my condition was in

My husband grew increasingly frustrated with my insistence that his favorite shirt was black, not blue. The more I questioned his choice, the more impatient he grew. He decided to end the insanity. We were on vacation with our extended family and he, in all his certainty, decided to poll the assembly about the shirt color. He received twelve votes for black, zero for navy blue. He trusted these people. There was no history of arguments about who is right and who is wrong on the subject. He did not think I had tried to rig the jury because I had no advance knowledge of his plan to ask for feedback from the peanut gallery.

This is a loving group of people and the subsequent ribbing he received was good-natured and he was an excellent sport. Later that evening, he acknowledged that I had been right about the shirt. He explained that his eyes saw it a certain way, and he could not, “un-see it”.

Can you relate? How often has someone confronted you about your using and called it a problem? All the while, using for you seems like a solution.

In my husband’s situation, once he realized he had a problem, he asked for help. We agreed that in the future I would be given the privilege of providing feedback should he happen to choose clothes that did not match. I silently decided to do so as respectfully as possible. I could empathize with the struggle to change one’s mind about a belief that had been held so tightly all his life.

Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.

Don’t let anyone under pressure to give in to evil say, “God is trying to trip me up.” God is impervious to evil, and puts evil in no one’s way. The temptation to give in to evil comes from us and only us. We have no one to blame but the leering, seducing flare-up of our own lust. Lust gets pregnant, and has a baby: sin! Sin grows up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer.

So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.

~ James 1:12-18, The Message

One of my favorite things about recovery and faithful living is that both journeys offer the opportunity to develop the capacity for humility. My husband had to learn it in this small, seemingly insignificant example of colorblindness. But profound sacred truths are often hidden in the small and mundane moments of life. These moments CAN change our experience of life - in a beautiful, sacred way.

An Outsider's Perspective

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, pray to the Father. He loves to help. You’ll get his help, and won’t be condescended to when you ask for it. Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought. People who “worry their prayers” are like wind-whipped waves. Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.

~ James 1:2-8, The Message

If we want different results after all our attempts have failed to produce it, we must look outside ourselves for the truth.

In recovery...“You get this theme of responsibility which is saying if you don’t assume 100% responsibility for this condition, you are probably not going to get better. You can’t change the past, you can’t change other people, you can only change your own life.”

~ Quote from NACR video By the Book: Click here to view.

Combat spiritual blindness with accountability

My husband is colorblind; so is my son. The difference between the two is that, while my son recognizes this deficiency, my husband refused to admit his limitation for quite awhile. My husband wanted to believe that a particular favorite shirt is navy blue. It is not. It is black. No amount of his understanding it to be blue will make it blue. The shirt is black. Sometimes he happens to wear something that looks fine with the black shirt - other times he looks like he got dressed in a dark room with his eyes closed. My son, on the other hand, allows his wife to pick out his clothes. And he looks fine, all the time.

We all suffer with a side-order of blindness. It causes us to believe things that are not true and not believe a bunch of stuff that is absolutely true. When we are in this position, life spirals out of control in confusing ways. These false beliefs and denials that we hold as truth cause us to take actions that do not produce the results we want.

The ONLY way I know to change this dynamic is by making a decision that requires our own certainty to stand down AND choose to trust God.

Meditation Moment

Mindfulness meditation is as simple as sitting, breathing, and focusing on the present moment and breath. Research indicates that this is extremely helpful especially for folks struggling with depression and anxiety. I like to start my time of meditation with this opening prayer, “God, I am going to sit here and simply be present. I do this as an acknowledgement that you are God and I am not. So I sit in honor of you.”

When your mind gets distracted with thoughts and worries and plans for the future, just take a deep breath and refocus on the sit.