Patience and process

When we focus more on “getting it right” than “being right”, it is easier to align ourselves with our core values as people of faith. We can know, for example, that God is a big fan of patience and process.

Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.

~ 1 John 3:2-3 NIV

Because we expect transformation without requiring it as a prerequisite for God to love us - we can work on “getting it right” without performance anxiety. We are not trying to win God’s approval, we are acknowledging his love and eagerly cooperating with his transformational work.

How can you shift from “being right” to “getting it right”? What would change if this was your perspective?

Change requires practice

Shifting our focus from always having to be right toward a commitment to “get it right” is one of my favorite concepts that Brene Brown hammers home in her book Dare to Lead. This compulsion to know all the answers and be right all the time is a heavy burden. Lay it down!

Getting it right is a whole different ball game. When we work to “get it right” it makes us curious - we can ask, how can I improve? It creates an atmosphere of humility. We can assume that we have more to learn. We can think of ourselves as scientists running our own customized experiments. “Getting it right” implies process. It promises improvement without demanding perfection. It provides direction when we’ve lost our way without the need to blame or defend ourselves for the confusion.

After a terrible six month stretch of sickness I found a trainer to help me get strong because I was feeling so very weak. (The bear in the woods example came to my mind often in those days.) My trainer knows more about how to customize fitness to my particular brand of weakness than I could have ever imagined. Over a year into the process, I see progress. My “get up” form is decent. I can press a 20 pound Kettlebell with each arm for multiple reps. I can hold the plank position for longer than I thought possible. I practice my deadlifts several times a week and am making decent progress with my weight progression. I am getting stronger.

But in each of the above exercises, every single week, my trainer finds something to correct and improve in terms of my form or my degree of weight difficulty. Just today we worked extensively on repositioning my arm just a few little inches during a particular exercise. Without her, I would not be this particular. But without her, I would also not be making progress.

What do you need to change? Who can help you practice changing? Today I receive comfort and joy as I surrender to the process of being a willing student and active participant in my own recovery. I could not do it without a great coach. What kind of coaching might you benefit from?

Numbness and Fantasy Living

The most effective way I know of to stay the same is to either stay numb or commit to fantasy living. If we want to avoid change, these are two guaranteed ways to succeed. Numbing can be anything - too many Lifetime movie binges rather than actually participating in life is one way.

Since we are fortunate enough to have grandchildren this year, I was happy when the clan decided to go to a Christmas tree lighting in our neighborhood. They are so much fun when you watch them acted out in a Christmas movie.

In our situation, we had to wait almost an hour for a table at the restaurant where we were going to eat before walking to the tree lighting. It was bitterly cold out, and the marshmallow roast looked like risky business for a two year old (Can you say foreboding joy?). The hot chocolate stand was over-crowded and under-prepared for demand. The tree lighting itself was preceded by a series of song and dance routines - which I enjoyed, but the babies did not. Half the group left before the tree sparkled and those of us that waited were underwhelmed by the lights. If we want spectacular, the television was the way to go.

But we did not want spectacular. We wanted experience. Together. As a family. And if that’s what we wanted, then there was joy. I thoroughly enjoyed myself. We talked, we laughed, we fed a baby and listened to a toddler yell, “Where’s my cheese quesadilla?” Pete even got confused and went into the women’s restroom instead of the men’s. You cannot find that on the Hallmark Channel.

This is life on life’s terms. It’s all we have and it is more than we could hope for - so long as we are not numbing and not pretending.

How has fantasy living messed with your reality?

When has numbing caused you to under-react to a problem in search of a solution?

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

~ 1 Corinthians 13:12 NIV

Scarcity over Celebration

Brene Brown has written about the concept “foreboding joy.” It seems to me that what she describes as foreboding joy is that feeling we get when we are afraid to be too happy because it might jinx our good news. When my daughter was pregnant I had a very hard time believing that she was actually pregnant. As her girth expanded, I came to accept this as possible good news but I struggled to feel joy - because what if? What if something went wrong?

Christian is two now and I celebrate both his and Norah’s, our granddaughter’s, existence every single day. But in the dark of night, after a long day, when I am feeling vulnerable and discouraged that thousands of people will get in fights over a free piece of cheesecake but cannot be bothered to call 911 when their neighbor is being attacked - on those days, I start to sense an attack of foreboding joy. If left it its own devices, foreboding joy can steal our present day moments of real joy. I use various coping strategies to stave off foreboding joy - most of the time these skills are effective. They also make it more likely that I will be able to do what it takes to change what is needed in order to improve both my conscious contact with God and my capacity to bear his image. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Find a way to get in touch with gratitude daily. Just do it.

2. Add rituals that are calming after hectic days of showing up for commitments - exercise as a transition from work to home, journal, Exam prayer, meditation, yoga, sleep with a fuzzy weighted blanket, keep your bedroom dark and cold, play board games rather than zoning out in front of the tv (no scary movies if you do turn on the tube), read good books (not thrillers).

3. Eat nutritionally so you won’t be as tempted to stress eat at night; avoid caffeine.

4. To avoid getting agitated before bedtime, cut off technology a couple hours before sleeping. Emails that arrive at night are almost always problems.

5. Find ways to take breaks during the day so that you aren’t so exhausted that you cannot rest at night. When I get called to the hospital for an emergency it can be stressful and often brings sad and bad news. I ALWAYS treat myself with something after I am finished at the hospital. I may go walk through the aisles at Barnes & Noble. I may go to my favorite barista and order a delicious decaf treat. I do something to balance the sorrow out and take a pause, even if the break is small.

6. Work play into your day.

7. Plan to start your day with doing something that takes care of you first, before you start caring for others. Drink your coffee out of a beautiful mug; put your breakfast on a pretty plate; have a quiet time; do a yoga stretch; get your walk in, etc. The goal is to be able to say, if your day goes to hell in a handbasket, “Hey, the day didn’t go as planned BUT I sure enjoyed _______ before all hell broke loose.” Some days, this is enough.

Change is about hanging in and being consistent; it is easier to do that when you are enjoying yourself. turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God.

~ 1 Thessalonians 1:9 NIV

Perfection and Failure

I remember the year that I decided my New Year’s resolution would be something wild and crazy - commit to healthy eating. No sugar. A lot of lettuce and sprouts. We spent New Year’s Eve at the beach with our friends and headed home mid-day on January 1st. Pete, who had no such delusions regarding his eating habits, had a two pound bag of M&M’s sitting between us in the front console. Mindlessly, I munched away. Then I remembered - Oh, no! My New Year’s resolution is RUINED!! I guess there is no hope for change.

I probably ate 20 M&M’s - which was enough to convince me that the year was blown. This kind of all-or-nothing thinking is the hallmark of perfectionism. It is destructive. It is a set up. It serves as a simple and extremely effective strategy for not actually having to DO, COMMIT, CHANGE.

Should we just give up? Heck no! We can work at improving. We can give up on the lie that we are what we do - especially if other people notice and praise us for our excellence. Healthy efforts to change are NOT about performance or perfecting. What is it about?

1. Evaluate self without tying it to what other people think.

2. Ask the question: How can I make progress toward my goal?

Scott told a story in a recent message about an experiment where folks were given the instruction to figure out how to get everything on the table mounted to the wall (candles/matches/box of thumb tacks). One group was told that time was not a factor; take as much time as you needed. The second group was instructed to go as fast as they could in order to win a prize. Which group was quicker? Group one.

Performance pressures decrease our abilities. Stress reduces our dexterity, our creativity, our ability to perform. Perfectionism is not helpful for becoming more successful. Good enough is an attitude that creates more success. The pressure to be the best inevitably reduces our chances of being #1.

Perfectionism is the enemy of transformation. It’s a tiny god that demands feeding but gives nothing in return but shame and guilt. How can we encourage self-compassion and a commitment to growth? One way is to find a way to encourage empathy even as we join together in daring to dream that we can be and do better at bearing the image of God.

We may not change

We’re one week into a new year. What are you going to do about it? Set resolutions? Give up and NOT set resolutions because it’s too discouraging when you have failed by the third week in January? Yep. Me too. I have a love/hate relationship with resolutions. I love to make them; I hate it when I cannot live up to their promise.

In 2019 it is possible that you may not change in any significant way. Are you ok with that? Is it okay to be okay with that way of living? Is this acceptance or nihilism?

According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, nihilism is the rejection of all religious and moral principles, in the belief that life is meaningless.

I am not okay with not changing in 2019. I want to keep growing and I assume that means that change is required.

I am not giving up on the possibility that I can get better with age. Like a fine wine. Or Helen Mirren.

For the next few days or so, I’m going to blog about some of the issues in my own life that have stymied my capacity for growth and as a by-product, change.

I hope that by visiting my past mistakes, I might find a path forward for meaningful change, i.e., transformation. We can fake change or submit to the process of actually doing the work of change. I am too old to fake it. How about you? Are you willing to think about what is holding you back?

Practice Preparation. Seriously. Do it.

As a pastor, I often have the privilege of sitting with folks in crisis - and crises happen to all people at some time or other - whether we are prepared or not. But preparation helps. It does not avert all crises, but it can avert some and mitigate the consequences of others.

My girlfriend who keeps picking abusive husbands? She agrees and allows me to say this to you about her - she does NOT prepare. She says she is a love addict. And by that she means that she is compulsively, habitually, repetitively mesmerized by a certain type of guy who she cannot help but believe will meet all her needs for security and significance. Once the “spell” is broken (27 busted lips and a couple broken noses later), she wakes up and says, “My gosh, what was I thinking?” She wasn’t thinking; she was reacting. She was under the spell of kryptonite. The thing my friend prepares for most consistently is creating a “self” that attracts the kind of man she believes will save her. But salvation is a gift from God, so her plan is doomed from inception.

In “enneagram” language, which my friend is starting to explore, her patterns can be described like this. Her virtue is humility. She is uniquely equipped to bring humility into any tribe she joins. But when there is an assault on her virtue, when she doubts God, herself and the abundance of his love for her - she falls prey to her kryptonite. In her case, she is fixated by flattery and driven by the passion of pride. Obviously, these are antithetical to humility, which is how this stuff works. Overcome with spiritual kryptonite, she falls into a pattern of dependency in all her relationships. What she needs more than anything is the spiritual practice of solitude, so that she can regularly check in with herself; consciously put on her spiritual armor; remember what she is most likely to forget.

Instead, my friend is scared of alone time. She is constantly looking for companionship and says that once she “sees” a guy that seems “perfect” (wealthy, good looking, and willing to support her financially), she gets tunnel vision. She only has eyes for HIM. This is exactly how people describe traumatic events!! When we forget the bigger picture and our place in God’s story, that is a traumatic event of sorts. It takes us to places that our mind, body and spirit do not truly, righteously, peacefully, faithfully want to go. Like any addiction, the object of our obsession cannot ever deliver on what it promises. But oh how it promises. She sees freedom when she is handed an American Express Platinum Card and a club membership. But as a creature made in the image of God, she is especially equipped to live in the holy idea of freedom - as defined by the kingdom of God, not the local country club scene.

What gives you tunnel vision? What has your own compulsion promised but never delivered on?

Are you ready to resist spiritual kryptonite?

10-12 And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. 13-18 Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

~ Ephesians 6:10-18 MSG

Here are a few thoughts that I hope address the discussion on what’s wrong with us, as it relates to this passage in particular:

1. Whatever is wrong, however it weakens us, that is not God’s plan.

2. There are competing forces for our attention; we must learn how to use the tools that God provides to help us continue to live out of our “image bearing” selves.

3. This is serious. Pay attention.

4. Although God is awesome, he expects us to do the work of preparation.

5. Be humble; accept help.

6. Spiritual disciplines result in quantifiable actions - truth, righteousness, peace, faith and salvation. These are more than concepts; they are guideposts for living.

7. Stay alert; pray.

8. Encourage one another.

These eight or so concepts are weapons to combat spiritual kryptonite. They are our suit of armor.

How would you evaluate your readiness?

How to resist your vulnerabilities

The way Superman beats Kryptonite Man is in a Kryptonite resistant suit. Evidently. I don’t really know, but google says so (Note from the nerdy editor: He also recharges by getting exposure to the sun- there’s probably a good metaphor in there somewhere as well).

How do we beat our vulnerabilities? How do we live out of our virtue and not our fears, frustrations and freak outs?

Well, now, that’s a long story.

But the same experts who teach us about our virtue and the assaults on our virtue that result in us justifying the unjustifiable and living in anger, pride, deceit, envy, avarice, fear, gluttony, lust and sloth suggest that it has to do with practicing spiritual disciplines that have the unique capacity to protect us from our particular form of kryptonite.

So maybe...we too need to acquire a suit that is resistant to our vulnerabilities.

10-12 And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels. 13-18 Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

~ Ephesians 6:10-18 MSG

Learn how to apply them. This seems important.

To be continued...

Sometimes we lose touch with our virtue

Superman was the embodiment of the image of God. He stood for truth, justice and the American way. He played roles in cartoons, television and film (so very successful - our icon of a Super Power!). Superman had extraordinary gifts - great strength, the ability to fly and other super powers. In my research I found this statement describing him: “the ideal superior man of the future who could rise above conventional Christian morality to create and impose his own values, as described by Friedrich Nietzsche in The Spake Zarathustra (1883-5).” Who knew?

But Superman was not all “virtue” - he had his vulnerability. His was kryptonite. Kryptonite is a green crystal whose strange emission of radiation renders Superman weak and sick. Harmless in small doses to mere mortals, it was toxic to Superman.

If it is true that each of us is born with a particular virtue, than those that believe this also purport that we have our own unique kryptonite. When we lose touch with our virtue we freak out. Because we are created to live with the capacity for expressing this particular virtue that represents the character of God, when we lose touch with this “image of God bearing” self, we are in a state of discomfort. Our dis-ease forces us to try to soothe ourselves; we justify why we can let go of our divine call to show up and represent God; we choose instead to grab for something that makes us feel more comfortable and less vulnerable. This is the way kryptonite works on us - but in very particular ways. Our vulnerability is directly related to our particular virtue.

The way we justify? Through resentment, flattery, vanity, melancholy, stinginess, cowardice, planning, vengeance and indolence.

How these justifications manifest themselves? Through anger, pride, deceit, envy, avarice, fear, gluttony, lust and sloth.

To fully understand these vulnerabilities we would need to unpack them in detail. As best as you can tell from this inadequate description, what is your kryptonite?

What is your kryptonite?

Venture further with me into my imagination and what you might notice is the way I am thinking about how each of us shows up in our respective communities in this one particular “way” (virtue) AND when we all keep showing up, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.

Could this be true? I hope so.

It takes a bit of the weight off, right? When I am faced with the potential to “bear God’s image” - that is pretty overwhelming. But created to hold and carry and share one particular part of the image of God? That sounds awesome.

Additionally, it allows for the need for all of us to show up for community, which I happen to believe with all my heart. But do we have to show up and be all the parts of God? No way! That’s codependency run amok!

Again, I can breathe. Because it occurs to me that if I was created to bear one particular part of the overall image of God, maybe I am uniquely created to thrive in the bringing of this one true thing. But I am NOT responsible for bringing all things. Just one.

For example, I can bring the courage, but courage isn’t the only characteristic of God needed for any and every situation. Our community gathers once a month for a potluck dinner. We have stopped trying to keep lists and control the outcome. Some months we have mostly desserts (my favorite months), other times we make all the carnivores among us extremely happy as we have loads of meat but few veggies. Once a month a potluck is a fun adventure. But on a daily basis, I strive for more balance.

Daring to believe that we all have one primary virtue (don’t drag out the analogy too far, we can at various times be virtuous in other ways too) that our tribe desperately needs us to bring to the table helps me wake up to both my potential and my problems.

In a truly paradoxically and balanced fashion, it turns out that for every virtue, there is an equal and opposite temptation to be lacking in virtue. If my virtue is courage, then I am more prone than others to be plagued by cowardice. See how that works?

This self-awareness can be a huge motivator for further exploration. But for today - think about this: what is your virtue? What is your kryptonite?