A Simpler Approach to Spirituality

I’m going to close with a simpler way to process your spirituality if looking at all the individual puzzle pieces (as we’ve done the past few days) isn’t all that interesting to you.  

What constitutes a good day?  Do you ever ask yourself that question?  What do you need to do today, that you can (in reality) do, that would contribute to experiencing a meaningful day?  

It tends to be that we’re so bogged down trying to get done the things that need to be done that we don’t think about building meaning into our day.  Or, we don’t consider what it would take in order to create space to create meaning in our day.  

Of course, building meaning into our day such that we spiritually flourish requires a little bit of planning.  But it’s not just about planning- it’s about intentionality.  Intentionality is at the heart of a flourishing spiritual life.  

Are you living as you intend to be living?  

Spend some time with that question.  It’s not an easy one to answer.  And, the answer will always be a little bit yes and a little bit no.  

Life will be more spiritually enriching if we’re living as we intend to be living.  This means we regularly evaluate how we’re living and intentionally seek to adjust the areas where things aren’t going well.  This process allows our lives to become more full, more spiritually enriching, in part because we confidently know that we're approaching our lives wholeheartedly.  That requires courage.    

If we’re living intentional lives then we will experience ourselves as being more whole, or unified, persons because there will be, over time, fewer discrepancies between our desires and our actions.  There will be less hypocrisy, less internal tension, and the joy that comes from knowing we’re doing the best we can.  

Confession

16 Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.  
James 5:16, NRSV

Step 5: Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs

Confession is a term that points us in the direction of a number of spiritual practices.  We can’t confess until we’ve done rigorously honest self-reflection, for instance.  We can’t confess without surrounding ourselves with community who are willing to hold us accountable to our certain way of seeing, who we, for our part, trust to do so.  

The 12 steps provide us the mechanics required to carry this process out (in step 5 and its surrounding steps).  We take a moral inventory, we share it with God and a trusted accountability partner.  

The Bible casts a more obviously spiritual vision for confession (though, of course, the 12 steps are profoundly spiritual), a vision which includes healing, forgiveness, acceptance, redemption, restoration, and community up-building.  That's a powerful list.  We can't over-emphasize the importance of confession.  

Imitation of Christ

5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8     he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.
 
Philippians 2:5-8, NRSV

We could just as easily title this day, “Character Part III.”  

The idea here is that our spirituality, our participation in God’s spirit, doesn’t happen just so we feel good, or calm, or peaceful (though those things are good), but so that we become people who embody God’s values, such as humility and obedience to God’s way of seeing.  The idea here is that participating in God’s spirit creates within us the capacity to give up on the rat race of striving for power and, instead, being willing to be people who find meaning in a life defined by service.  

Service looks many different ways (though it does not look like codependency, for instance) but it seems to take place where presence meets humility.  When presence and humility meet, we are free to simply be available for a difficult conversation, or show up to a meeting when you know you won’t benefit from either.  You may not benefit, but presence plus humility gives us vision to see that other people benefit from learning that showing up to meetings is meaningful and impactful.  When presence meets humility we are prepared to do things that we don’t need to do (for our own benefit), or things that may actually be beneath us, so that someone else may benefit.  

I don’t want to sound too legalistic.  This humility plus presence stuff is about a mentality, not a certain set of right actions.  Situation and context always inform our actions.  This is about learning to become people who desire to live in ways that benefit others, and then learn to act on that desire.  

Character Part II: Character in Community

22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.  
Galatians 5:22-26, NRSV

From yesterday: If we aren’t paying attention to our character then we may have meaningful spirituality.  

It’s important to note, though, that character is also communal and not simply individual.  When Paul writes about character he is telling groups of people who they need to bind together to be.  And, our character is not something we’re solely responsible for creating.  It is a gift that comes to us as a consequence of life in the spirit which is, in part, shaped by our spiritual disciplines.  

I hope what’s becoming clear is that a well-rounded spiritual life is like a kaleidoscope.  There are multiple parts that come together to create a whole, but it’s not totally clear where the beginning of the image is.  It’s not totally clear which piece does what.  Spirituality is the product of drawing on a number of different thoughts, practices, and ideals and trusting that God weaves them together into a meaningful whole as he shapes us, as people, into a group that embodies His character and will.

Character: Part I

22 By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.  
Galatians 5:22-26, NRSV

Spirituality is life in God’s spirit.  Whenever Paul writes about life in the spirit he is casting vision for Christian spirituality.  Additionally, whenever Paul writes about life in the spirit,  he discusses character.  Almost without fail.  He writes very little about prayer (although I haven’t done a formal analysis of this- I’m sure someone has).  Interesting stuff.  

So, we can’t talk about spirituality without talking about character.  In the days on humility before God and the communal mindset, we wrote that spirituality asks us to consider who we are to others or, in other words, our character.  Spirituality and character are not separate entities.  I probably haven’t been clear enough on this before, so I’m going to be bolder than I’m normally comfortable being:  One does not shape the other, one does not inform the other.  They are inherently intertwined and cannot be separated out and studied separately.    If we aren’t paying attention to our character then we must question whether or not we are pursuing any meaningful spirituality in our lives.  

Prayer

14 And this is the boldness we have in him, that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 1 John 5:14, NRSV

Prayer is one of the “obvious” spiritual disciplines, but can look many different ways.  We talked in earlier days about how prayer can be a more active experience, one in which we are talking to God (whether out loud or not), or a more passive experience (such as centering prayer’s focus on sitting in God’s presence).  

Rather than saying anything about “how to pray,” that’s a separate conversation, I want to offer a few practical thoughts on prayer.  I know most people struggle to pray at all.  I am one of these people.  If this is you- find the style of prayer that you can do.  In an ideal world we would all have wildly exciting and diverse prayer lives.  We don’t live in an ideal world.  Don’t think about time or frequency.  Focusing on those things is just shame attack waiting to happen.  Spend your energy discovering a form of prayer that you enjoy (or can at least tolerate) and do that when you can.  It’s easier to stick to it if you schedule it and make it a habit but, if that’s not happening, do it when you can.  Any amount is valuable, there is no minimum.  

There is no right or perfect way to pray.  Some people use acronyms or other tools as guides.  That’s fine if it helps you.  Centering prayer is no more correct than a more active form of prayer.  They are all strategies and approaches, they all have value, and they will speak to, or connect with, different people differently.  Find something you enjoy- but be willing to try uncomfortable things.  It took me years to be willing to experiment with centering prayer- now it is my go-to.  So, don’t be afraid to revisit something you’ve previously rejected.  We change.  

There are “talking” prayers and “silent” prayers.  There are also other options.  You can get the Book of Common prayer, for instance.  You can read these prayers, and take them as your own.  You can do the same with Psalms, or Lamentations, or even the Prophets.  Or you can simply pray the Lord’s Prayer.  Or the Serenity Prayer.  You can use pre-written prayers as guides so you do not have to form your own words.  This can be one of the simplest ways to get started.  

Prayer is our conscious contact with God but, don’t forget our communal mindset.  Prayer is also one of the ways in which we serve our community and our world.  It’s far bigger than us.  Community is always first!

A Sense of Wonder

The Lord created me at the beginning of his work,
    the first of his acts of long ago.
23 Ages ago I was set up,
    at the first, before the beginning of the earth.
24 When there were no depths I was brought forth,
    when there were no springs abounding with water.
25 Before the mountains had been shaped,
    before the hills, I was brought forth—
26 when he had not yet made earth and fields,
    or the world’s first bits of soil.  

Proverbs 8:22-26, NRSV

I’m not sure I’m totally equipped to write about “wonder.”  I’ll begin with three recommendations.  Two books:  Sacred Sense by William P. Brown and Beauty by John O’Donohue.  One film:  Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life.  

Wonder is the combined sense of the complexity of creation and the knowledge of our inability to comprehend it.  In it’s most potent form, wonder is a kind of gut-level joyful glee in response to something rather shocking and rare (but we can have this experience over simple and common things in life too- this is, perhaps, wonder at its best).  

When we were in Texas back in the fall, a group of us saw a shooting star almost too large to believe.  The only way I can think to describe its size is this:  Imagine holding a ruler up above your head at arm’s length, pretending it was far off in the distant sky, and not in your hand.  That was roughly the size and shape of the shooting star, only it WAS way up in the sky (millions of miles away???) and not just a couple of feet from our eyes.  

In Texas, at night, you can see all kinds of shooting stars.  We stood around for a while and saw several small ones, and we were amazed (To use the same exercise:  imagine holding a small blade of grass above your head at arm’s length.  Nothing in comparison to that ruler.).  And then came this bad boy.  We started shouting and jumping up and down.  For those of us who hadn’t seen shooting stars before, we found a sense of wonder in the small ones, and that sense of wonder grew exponentially when the giant one flew across the sky.  That is a sensation you just don’t want to find yourself too distanced from.  

Wonder is ever-present in scripture.  It can be a positive or negative experience.  The people sometimes maintain a sense of awe over their disappointment in God (Job 38 or so).  There is wonder over creation (Gen. 1-2), wonder over sex (Song of Solomon), wonder over the meaning of life (Ecclesiastes), wonder over the incarnation (John 1), wonder over the scope of God’s plans (Colossians 1).  

Wonder is connected to humility.  It is the reminder that there are forces far greater than ourselves operating in the world, but it also carries with it a sense of appreciation for these forces.  I believe “wonder” is what happens in the moments where we experience joy as a result of how small we are.  This is a very odd and bizarre kind of joy.  It makes us appreciate the little things in life, fleeting moments of awe that pull us out of our worries and grant us the privilege of perspective, however briefly.  

I don’t know why this strikes me as being one of the “top 8” aspects of a well-rounded spiritual life.  It just does.  

A Communal Mindset

13 Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.  Colossians 3:13-15, NRSV

A communal mindset is, well, what it sounds like.  We learn to see ourselves as part of a group- God’s family.  We understand our responsibility for living as a reflection of God’s image and character to be a group responsibility.  We cannot shoulder this burden as individuals.  This is good news- there is no alternative universe that exists where we, as individuals, live perfectly.  It’s never been asked and it’s never been expected.  Part of living as a holy community means seeking God’s way of dealing with imperfection.  By responding to challenges with gentleness and loving concern, we represent God.  We assume, perhaps, that we only represent God when we avoid temptation and imperfection altogether.  Not so.  

This means we will sacrifice some personal wants, desires, dreams, or goals in order for the community to operate as a collective unit.  It means there will be disagreements and conflicts and hurt feelings.  It also means we are committed to doing the difficult work of resolving those conflicts and hurt feelings because we are spiritually connected (literally, by God’s spirit).  It means we’re committed to voicing the ways in which we have been harmed so as to give the community the opportunity to respond with love.  

The good news is, this communal mindset also means we will benefit from the “goodness” of others.  We are spiritually linked, and the community’s work reflects on the individual and vice versa.  When we are not doing well in life, we are carried by the community and still get to take credit for the work of the community as a result of this spiritual link between us.  

God works in the world primarily through people.  This is a great responsibility.  Yet, at the same time, it also means we have many opportunities to see God visibly on display, at work.  

Spirituality as Meditation and Inner Peace

In the last few years, Christianity has re-discovered the wisdom (or spirituality) of the Desert Fathers and their practices.  Those who are unfamiliar with the Desert Fathers probably see these practices as being “Eastern.”  Christians have a long tradition of silent prayer, centering prayer, meditation, and the like, though many people don’t know that and tend to call these practices “buddhism.”  Buddhism does, of course, practice similar techniques, though with a different emphasis.  These practices are known to have calming effects, among many other things.  There are a couple key differences between this view and the “Spirituality as Privacy” view.  One is that the “privacy” view is pretty much limited to scripture reading and explicit, spoken requests to God.  In fact, the privacy view would probably be skeptical of people who practiced prayer techniques that emphasized silence, nature, and a mere “resting” in God’s presence.   The second as that the more meditative group tend to speak about spirituality as if it's about finding a piece of yourself that has been lost.  

There are a couple of dangers here.  One is that spirituality isn't necessarily about finding something we've lost, it's about gaining something new.  Spirituality is about receiving a new version of yourself through participating in God's spirit- which is transformative.  Second- any retreat into solitude has the potential to be a retreat from the world; it can be (though it doesn't have to be) a desire to remain unaffected.   The other danger comes in seeking internal peace for its own sake.  Living faithfully in a world that does not typically value faith’s values means living with a great deal of tension both internally and externally.  Seeking internal peace for the sake of internal peace is a way of denying the reality of what is.  It is escaping difficulty simply because we do not feel up to the challenge.  

However, earnestly seeking God through a certain discipline and finding some peace in that process is a beautiful thing.  This is one of the great benefits of meditative practices, including physiological benefits such as stress reduction.  Yet, these practices must be grounded in a deep engagement with all aspects of life (and community) or else they are comfort and little more. 

If we are not deeply engaged with life, then meditation becomes entertainment.  

Humble Submission to God

12 As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Colossians 3:12, NRSV

Spirituality begins with the confession that there is a God and we did not get the job.  As such, we do not interact with God as if equals.  This does not mean we cannot be honest, that we cannot question, that we cannot challenge, it just means that we do so with the awareness that our vision and understanding are limited.  It also means that our plans and purposes and desires are secondary to God’s if (or when) they are not aligned.  

It means that whatever life throws our way, we (perhaps gradually) learn to accept and live with those circumstances, trusting that God has structured creation in this way intentionally (with all of its chaos, injustice, and suffering).  God does not exist to answer our questions or solve our problems; we exist to witness to his grace, mercy, forgiveness, and love.  He may choose to engage our questions and our problems and, in fact, He probably will at times, but we do not live with this expectation as if it’s something we “deserve” or something we’re “owed.”  This is when we cross over into pride.  

And, spirituality is not just between us and God.  It is just as much about our relationship to the people and world around us.  Living in humble submission to God means that we refuse to manipulate or cajole the people and circumstances around us such that we can create whatever we imagine might be the ideal version of life.  Humble submission to God means we accept the life God gives with all of its warts.  We refuse fantasy living and give up the desire to force others to conform to our fantasy.  

Footnote: This does not mean we do not exercise responsibility in our lives- it just means that manipulating, controlling, or dominating others is not a form of responsibility.

Spirituality as Privacy

The second camp of spirituality that I mentioned a few days ago is the group that views spirituality as something that happens when we’re appropriately isolated.  It is private, above all else.  No other person may inquire about it nor will I mention what happens there.  It tends to be this view comes with certain rules about what happens in the private space, namely, scripture reading and prayer, and they must be done for a long time or else you’re wasting your time.  (As a youngster I was given the mantra, “15 minutes a day…No way!  Gotta have more to be hardcore.”  In other words, 15 minutes or less of spiritual discipline may as well be zero.)

The danger in this view is that we become disconnected from the fact that all spirituality is, first and foremost, communal.  Spirituality comes from God’s spirit and it comes upon the whole group of God’s people, and individuals benefit from that, but spirituality is not primarily about personal, private experience.  If we ignore the communal aspect of spirituality, we gain little from spiritual privacy- it becomes more like spiritual isolation.  Our spirituality, as individuals, is both led and informed by what has first come upon the group.  

The benefit to what this view emphasizes is the fact that spirituality is truly, deeply personal.  We would be unwise to ignore that or to treat that as unimportant simply because we believe that the community does take precedence over the individual.  We can prioritize both the community and the individual, we do not have to choose.  This is a demonstration of an order of events as much as it is anything else.  

The group’s spirituality leads to the individual’s.

Well-rounded Spirituality

9 But, as it is written,
“What no eye has seen, nor ear heard,
    nor the human heart conceived,
what God has prepared for those who love him”—
10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. 13 And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual. 1 Corinthians 2:10-13, NRSV

Yesterday I wrote that I wanted to spend some time unpacking the key elements of a thriving spiritual existence.  I'm hoping that doing this will accomplish at least two things.  1. I'm hoping this list will open your eyes to things you already do that are profoundly spiritual.  I want you to be able to see your current life as one that is deeply meaningful and filled with God's spirit.  2. I'm hoping to help you find some new things to focus on that may renew your energy for spiritual matters.  So, here's a list of things to cover over the next few days.  

1. Humble submission to God
2. Communal mindset
3. Sense of Wonder
4. Prayer (all forms)
5. Character or virtue
6. Confession
7. Imitation of Christ
8. Every moment holy

What would you add?

Shame is a Spiritual Antagonist

I don’t know how to keep shame from creeping into a room. Heck, I don’t even know how to keep shame from eating away at my heart.  But because I personally have struggled with shame so much I have learned a few techniques that help me manage it, even as I work and wait for healing.  Shame is going to make merry anytime we are trying to improve our conscious contact with God or become more decently human or love others or treat ourselves and others with respect.  Shame is a condition many of us need to heal from AND learn to manage as we recover. 

 

The aforementioned church staff was simply a family system of sorts that was experiencing a team shame attack.  Before we could take meaningful action we had some work to do. 

 

As I sat, listened and learned from their family fight, I identified the group at the precontemplation stage of change.  There was no meaningful contemplation happening; they were ill-equipped in their whipped up stage to determine a direction and they certainly were NOT ready to proceed with action steps.  In precontemplation, they were reacting to the crisis.  These guys and gals were saying, thinking, feeling and proposing action steps that were more related to how they individually and collectively handled stress than anything more substantive and meaningful - like following their core values!  This stuff happens to me all the time, so I could feel their pain.

 

I saw a glimmer of opportunity.  Perhaps I could provide some much-needed calm.  Of course, me being me, this would require divine intervention.  But isn’t this where our hope always lies?  In recovery, aren’t we always called to admit our powerlessness and unmanageable parts, come to believe that a power greater than us can restore us to sanity, and turn our will over to God’s care and control?  Under duress, these were not the primary thoughts of the group.  Maybe I could remind them that we had a God who was ready to help us.

 

So we looked at 1 Corinthians, and then I asked them a question:  what do you see here?  At first, all they saw was what their shame wanted them to see - sexual immorality was super bad and it got people banished.   Look, this is true.  But it is an incomplete version of the truth and does not get us to the heart of the issue.  When we read a passage like this we're being dumped into the end of a story, and we miss the process.  When we miss the process we overlook some important dynamics that lie beneath the story itself.  

 

We have lots of contemplating to do before we just jump on the banishment bandwagon.  Because the truth is, God has many tools dangling from his belt.  Banishment is not the only option.  Plus, it wasn’t the thing I was hoping they would notice. 

 

To be continued….

Sneaky, Sneaky Shame

Everyone is quick to point out how much they hate being shamed but it rarely provides an automatic insight to help us not act as shamers.  Shame is sneaky and shows up sporting a bunch of different looks.  It can be kind of punky, aggressive and direct - attacks on others’ looks, character, ethnicity, etc.  It can hide out in silence - when we fail to speak up against wrongdoing.  It can really go stealth and try to mask itself as righteousness.  It can go underground and manifest as a critical voice in our heads.  It can develop strength and stamina for running and keep us from living our one wild and wonderful life.  Shame has mad skills of disguise.

 

When the group met to discuss the problem with their recovery ministry shame was in play big time.  The Senior Pastor looked serious and stern, but he was playing a game on his iPad.  The Care Minister was extremely emotional, crying and sobbing when discussion arose about staff termination.  The Missions Minister muttered that there was too much estrogen on display for the team to get much accomplished.  And the content of the discussion?  Wowser.  Brutal.  All of it.  Every stitch of it was completely unproductive.  Eventually people wore out or grew so frustrated that an uneasy silence emerged.  Soon folks were stirring as if waking from a nap; catching sight of me and our team the Senior Pastor suggested without much enthusiasm, “I guess maybe you should offer a couple suggestions for us to consider.”

 

“Glad to.”  I said.  And I asked them to turn in their bibles to this:  Everyone has heard that there is sexual immorality among you.  This is a type of immorality that isn’t even heard of among the Gentiles - a man is having sex with his father’s wife!  And you’re proud of yourselves instead of being so upset that the one who did this thing is expelled from your community.  1 Corinthians 5:1-2

 

Tomorrow I will continue the discussion on shame, but today do me a favor.  Read these verses as if you’ve never seen them before and see what you notice.

Shame and Spiritual Abuse

Last week I had a consulting gig at a church that had a recovery ministry blow up in grand fashion.  Lack of leadership accountability, no small doses of codependency and maybe, perhaps, possibly a tiny bit of grandiose thinking and arrogance on the part of the church team that swooped in to clean up the debacle was stymying the work of restoration.  And I haven’t even gotten to the part of what actually went down within the recovery ministry that caused the crash and burn!

 

As I sat around the table listening to the various perspectives represented - the church staff, the recovery ministry team, the church’s human resources department and its legal team, man, I just wanted a good cup of coffee and some headphones.  It was brutal.  Mostly the conversation focused on the religious beliefs of the congregation that they felt the recovery ministry leadership had disrespected.  They were mad.  While all this conversation swirled, the lead pastor, sitting on my left played on his ipad.  I was a bit envious and wished I too could pull up my solitaire game.  Sometimes it is hard to stay present for suffering.

 

As the contention gathered steam I felt like I had acquired an invisibility cloak and was stuck in the middle of a family drama.  Folks forgot that they were their to share their story with my team; they were too busy picking each other off with their verbal long rifles.  I opened up my bible and reminded myself of another time when a church had to deal with sexual immorality…

 

Everyone has heard that there is sexual immorality among you.  This is a type of immorality that isn’t even heard of among the Gentiles - a man is having sex with his father’s wife!  And you’re proud of yourselves instead of being so upset that the one who did this thing is expelled from your community.  1 Corinthians 5:1-2

 

Let’s talk banishment.  To be continued….

Disappointing Sincerity

I have studied people all my life, not in a creepy way, but with a lot of curiosity and interest.  As a result of wasting so much time people gazing, I have accrued a cache of information about people and myself.  One thing I’ve learned about myself is how little I understand people!

 

When I was young, I used to think that sincerity was the key to an abundant life.  It’s not.  Sincerity has very little correlation with mastering change or receiving the gift of transformation.  I learned this from working with guys from a treatment facility in our community.  The newbies that come through the program show up after detox with the same wild variations in disposition and personality that the rest of the human population possesses.  Some are sincere about getting sober, others are surly and resent the program.  It is completely impossible to pick out which guys will run the distance and which ones will relapse.

 

Sincerity disappoints me more often than not. 

 

But what has worked for people is this more elusive component of change called determinationDetermination is a nice, sturdy word,  but don’t let that fool you.  A person can practice determination with as much creative expression as an artist. 

 

There was this guy who started attending our church while in treatment.  He was not peppy.  He was pitiful.  At 65 years of age he had not been sober in a sustained way since he was 10 years old.  He had no expectations that the program would work, but it was winter and we were in the middle of a particularly cold spell and he was court ordered to attend a program and this was the only one he could afford (free).  He didn’t like the 12-steps or the program director.  He didn’t make friends easily and he was kind of a whiner.  He was constantly living with consequences for misconduct.  But he kept at it.  Today he works a full-time job, owns a home, returns to the treatment facility to volunteer multiple times a week and has acquired a small but faithful bunch of buddies who encourage and support one another in sobriety.  At a public speaking engagement recently he said, “I never even considered that I could one day not live under a bridge.”  He was NOT determined to live a big dream or dare to be great - the world knocked all that out of him at an early age.  But in desperation he followed instructions one day and then two and three until he had amassed a boat load of days - he determined to simply do what it took to stay in a building that also happened to have a recovery program experience.  Determination.  One step at a time.  What do you need to determine to do?

Truthful Intentions

Whether I am thinking about change for myself or on behalf of others, it has become a helpful practice for me to identify what stage of change we are in.  My husband and I began talking about downsizing five years ago.  We were NOT ready for a change but we were willing to have a conversation about the what if’s.

 

This stage of change is called pre-contemplation.  Neither of us was particularly serious about downsizing, but it seemed that we were getting to an age where we should at least start the conversational ball rolling.  We daydreamed and discussed, argued and agreed over various pros and cons of making a move.

 

We didn’t actually DO anything. 

 

Our daughter is philosophically opposed to talking without doing so she began to send us links to homes with first floor masters.  Some communities provided all the outside maintenance and lawn care - for a monthly fee of course.  On Sunday afternoons we might go to an open house or sit around on our ipads looking at pictures on Zillow (which, fyi, everything looks better via picture than in person). 

 

Fortunately, our daughter recognized that we were not ready for change.  She did not grow frustrated with us over our lack of enthusiasm for putting our house on the market.  However, her father, my husband tired of our reindeer games and soon was unwilling to look at a picture, much less show up and traipse through an open house.

 

It’s super crucial for us to realize that when any of us are pre-contemplating, that’s all we’re up to - very little doing and no change is involved in this initial first step toward change.  It’s an essential step; this is how change starts!

 

Let’s make this personal.  Are there issues in your own life that you are contemplating - but not ready to address?  That’s ok!  It’s where you are!  But it might help your loved ones to be honest about where you are so that they can adjust their expectations accordingly.  And, if you love and serve folks who need to make changes but who teach you that they are early in the change process - good to know!  It SHOULD impact how you serve them.  For folks who at that first stage of change called pre-contemplation, a listening ear is a wonderful gift.  Someone driving them to distraction with action plans isn’t quite as helpful! 

Habits

I am a big fan of habits.  I habitually brush my teeth.  This is a good thing.  I have tons of habitual behaviors that I do without thinking; they keep my brain from overheating with exertion; habits can be our friend.

 

However, habits can also be our enemy.  I developed a habit of putting this really delicious, silky smooth and loaded with sugar creamer in my coffee.  Yum!  Once I developed the habit of having it, I did not enjoy coffee without it.  It was only when I was given information that inspired me to decrease my sugar intake that the lovely little treat that I so enjoyed became my enemy.  Because I was habituated to it, it had the power to knock my numbers out of alignment before I had even had breakfast, much less eaten three meals and a snack! 

 

Lately I’ve been re-evaluating my habits.  I’ve decided that I want to keep the ones that support my core values but relinquish some that are inconsistent with my values.  Coffee with a creamer that doesn’t fit my nutritional objectives has to go.  I will miss her.

 

When I began my journey of eating realignment, I needed education, accountability, support and incentives.  Habits don’t just disappear when we wish them gone!  I understand that we do better with change when we replace habits, plan for change, and develop a patience for taking steady next right steps toward our goal.  Grandiose thinking and change are not great partners. 

 

For today, consider what you would like to change in your world.  Tomorrow we will consider change and how it works.

 

What are you in the process of becoming?

In closing out the month, I'll ask the question again:  What are you preparing for?  What process are you engaging?  

We are all preparing for something all the time. The question is what are we preparing for?  Do we know what we are preparing for? When we don’t know we’re likely preparing for some outcome other than the one that we truly desire.  This is because desirable ends require attentive, dedicated, or conscious preparation (as opposed to unconscious preparation). 

If we overlook the profound spiritual power of process in our lives then we invite an unmanageable load of disappointment to fill our void.  This is because overlooking process means we are overlooking the only opportunity (or opportunities) we have to introduce meaning back into our lives once we've been crippled by circumstances outside of our control.  

Being process-oriented people means asking the question, Am I doing everything I can?  

If the answer is yes, then we begin a conversation on radical acceptance.  

If the answer is no, then consider introducing a more intentional process to your life.  Only then will we know what the possibilities are. 

Faith as Process

We become faithful people when we choose to enter in to God's process of shaping us into faithful people.  

When we say it this way, we're acknowledging that we're not in control of the outcome that God has in mind for us (individually or collectively).  We enter into the process of doing what we can to create space in our lives (and the community's life) for God to move in whatever ways in which he chooses to work.  

We may never know the ways in which God chooses to work.  All the more reason to dedicate ourselves to be in process and live in radical acceptance.  We are only able to control the process we dedicate ourselves to, never the end results.  That process creates space for God's movement.  And so the process is our goal.  It's all we can do.

The rest we leave to God.  And we learn to accept whatever that is.    God may have specific goals and ends in mind for us.  

That's his prerogative.  He's God.