Enough Already

Enough is enough. Good enough. Leave well enough alone. Had enough yet? Fair enough! Enough to make your hair curl. 

Never enough…

Oddly enough…

A little over a decade ago, a few months after our youngest daughter left for college, I was circling in a depressed funk. Despite doctoring a day or two a week, I had found real joy in mothering. Our four wonderful daughters were now independent adults living in other states. The fun, fulfilling years I had spent as a church youth advisor had just ended too. Who was I now? At fifty, I felt lost, useless, the most fulfilling part of my life’s work done. What should I be doing for God now?

One Sunday morning in early spring, I settled down into the smooth wooden comfort of our usual pew. As prelude music played, I leaned over to greet Char. Though we sat at opposite ends of the same long bench every Sunday, Char was a fellow worshiper whom I barely knew. However, she was always friendly and smiled during our weekly, “Hello. How are you?” 

This day, Char surprised me. 

“Hello. How are you?” I greeted as usual.

“Doreen,” Char responded a bit hesitantly, “this week as I was praying, God told me to tell you something. I don’t have any idea what it means.”

Ears perked and body tensed in anticipation, I waited. This was completely out of the ordinary for quiet Char and our established church routine. A prophetic word?! For me?! No one ever had a prophetic word for me. Certainly not in our church, and certainly not Char, who barely knew me (and who otherwise seemed so sensible!).

“God said to tell you, ‘Enough already.’ That’s all. I don’t know what it means,” she said, almost apologetically.

I did. I knew what it meant. Immediately the tears began. And they continued gently, persistently all through the worship service that followed. 

I heard “Enough already” on two levels, God speaking. “Enough already with the circling around in self-pity!” was a gentle but clear call to reorient towards God.

But even louder was “You have done enough already. You do not have to do anything more. I am pleased with you already. No worries. You have done enough already.” In this “enough already,” I heard permission and power to explore—To what new ways of loving God and others might I be invited? What might be icing on the already tasty, fully-baked “cake” of my life? I felt freed from striving to make my life sufficient to earn God’s approval of me. I already had God’s approval.

Never enough…

This “enough already” from God was the seed that grew into my attending seminary and then training to be a spiritual director. I felt loosed by God to follow paths with Him that gave me great delight—learning and studying the Bible, theology, spiritual formation, and spiritual direction. Eventually, I quit my career in medicine entirely to follow Christ’s way of asking questions and listening. The yoke of responsibility for using all that medical expertise was removed from my shoulders. I could complete the work for which God made me in a new and different way.

Perhaps Jesus knew he had “done enough already” those many times he left the needy, noisy masses to pray in silence and solitude (Lk 5:16). And perhaps Jesus also heard his Father say, “You have done enough already,” just before he turned his face toward Jerusalem for the last time (Lk 9:51). How could he walk toward death on the cross (Lk 18:31-32) when so many despairing people had not yet heard the good news of the Kingdom of God? How could he who embodied compassion in every healing touch ever choose to stop making people whole?

Oppression, poverty, confusion, hopelessness, disease, disability, and demons still abounded. Yet Jesus knew that the teaching and healing part of his call on earth was completed; he had done “enough already” in these particular ways. So, he walked the path toward crucifixion to complete in a new and different way the work for which he had come. And finally, right before breathing his last, Jesus himself proclaimed “enough already”—“It is finished” (Jn 19:30).

Over the years, God’s “enough already” message has gained many meanings for me. But for now, enough said.

What might “enough already” mean if God said these words to you?

What Do You Expect?

Our daughter is expecting. She is large with child, “all baby,” obviously waiting for something to happen. The clothes, diapers, and crib are ready, expecting to be used. The older siblings are ready, expecting to hold this wee one who has made them “Big Brother” and “Big Sister.” We are ready, expecting a successful labor and delivery, a healthy baby, a new child and grandchild to bring us great joy.

Expectations are powerful. God uses promises, but the enemy so often uses expectations. We expect so much—trains and buses to arrive on time, cars and trucks to stay in lane, children and adults to stay in line.

We expect to live long, satisfying lives. We expect God and/or medicine to heal us. We expect to be happy. We expect our parents, spouses, friends, siblings, grown children, and pastors to meet our needs. 

We expect life to be fair, at least to us. We expect not to feel lonely, not to suffer long, not to be broken or scarred irreparably. We expect to overcome our circumstances, to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, to live independently. We expect to succeed more than we fail, if we just try hard enough. We expect a return on our investments. We expect God to answer our prayers in a way we can see that makes sense to us. We expect God to fulfill His promises in a certain way and in a certain time.

Yet we have a very surprising God. In essence and character, God is constant, unchanging, dependable, and trustworthy. He always keeps His promises. But His ways, especially His Why’s (“Why did You do that, God?”) and His How’s (“How will You do that, God?”), are inexplicable and unexpected. God is beyond our understanding and beyond our ability to predict or control. 

Indeed, one of the few things we can predict about our triune God is that He is so very unexpected. Who would expect God to pursue fallen humanity relentlessly with His love, down the meandering, often backtracking, disappointing halls of history? Who would expect God to choose for Himself a small, stubborn group of nomadic shepherds and bricklaying serfs when He could have chosen the wealthy, learned, and successful Incas, Egyptians, Chinese, Greeks, Romans, or Americans? Who would expect God to keep His covenant promises when we, the weaker party, did not and do not and will not? Who would expect God to value slaves, women, orphans, widows, aliens, and the poor? Who would expect God to tell us to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors, like Jesus did?

Who would expect God to become a defenseless, droppable, discardable, hungry baby? Who would expect God voluntarily to humble Himself, to give up His power, to take the form of a servant in order to die a death of humiliation on a cross (Phil 2:6-8), to be limited in human flesh like us? Who would expect God to be like us—to age, to need to grow in wisdom, to hunger and thirst, to be so tired he naps in a wildly rocking boat, to dread the future so much he sweats blood?

God specializes in the unexpected. He specializes in silences that teach us, in wilderness experiences that shape us, and in long centuries of waiting for promises to be fulfilled at just the right time, in the best possible unexpected way. He specializes in babies born to unlikely women—the barren (Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth), the widowed foreigner (Ruth) and the unmarried, shamed young virgin (Mary). 

Mary showed me how to respond to the unexpected—with trust in God’s goodness, love, power and sovereignty. So I am approaching the delivery of our next grandchild holding my expectations lightly and choosing to trust God regardless of results. I want to shift my focus from unfulfilled expectations to gratitude for what I have.

What expectations of You, surprising God, would You like me to let go? What expectations of myself? Of others? Of the world? Change my expectations to rest in Your promises. Open my eyes to see Your presence, particularly where, when and how I least expect.

 

A Children’s Story: The Boy Who Loved a Chicken

When the miracle of God’s incarnational love becomes too familiar to shine brightly, I remember a story my dad used to tell about the boy who loved a chicken…

Once upon a time, a boy loved a chicken. Nothing was particularly special about this chicken except that she was so extraordinarily loved. She was speckled, brown, average in every way. Unfortunately, as chickens go, she was also average in intelligence, which is not saying much.

In loving his chicken, the boy had a problem, a very serious problem indeed. Instead of eating grain and worms and fat, juicy grubs, his dear chicken ate only stones. Day by day, his little chicken was growing thinner. Though the stones filled and satisfied her for a while, they were gradually killing her. The boy’s beloved chicken was starving to death, stone by stone.

The boy did all he could to fix this frightening situation. First, he tried talking to her. He scolded her, pleaded with her, and told her how much he loved her. He pleaded and pleaded, scolded and scolded, talked and talked. But, being a chicken and not a human, she understood nothing. In fact, she barely noticed the white noise of his love as she busily continued eating stones. 

So the boy developed a plan. He put his precious fowl in a comfy, large, safe pen. After carefully removing all the rocks and stones, he scattered corn, wheat, worms, and fat, juicy grubs all over the ground. The boy spent quite a lot of time, effort, and his entire allowance on strong fencing and the best quality food. “Now,” he thought, “Now my chicken will eat and grow strong.”

But the foolishness of the boy’s little chicken was beyond understanding. She ignored the grain, worms, and fat, juicy grubs that would have saved her life. Instead, she used up her energy digging in the dirt. After much scratching of the smooth soil, she was able eventually to unearth a few small rocks, which she devoured hungrily once again.

By now the boy was very distressed. What else could he do? The chicken he loved was wasting away. He thought and thought and came up with another plan. His little hen just didn’t know what she needed. She was used to rocks and didn’t realize they were killing her. He would put other, well-fed chickens in the pen with his little hen. Hopefully, as his poor starving chicken watched them eat the good, healthy food, she would be inspired to follow their example.

So, the little boy put fat, healthy chickens into the pen with his beloved little hen. He tossed in abundant quantities of barley, oats, corn, green leaves, worms, and fat, juicy grubs. The chickens sent by the boy ate the good food happily. They grew plump and sleek, but the boy’s own chicken ignored the others completely. She went her own way, scratching in the dirt, eating stones, slowly starving.

By now, the boy was desperate. His heart was breaking. If he didn’t get through to his precious chicken soon, she would surely die. What else could he do? She wouldn’t listen to him. She didn’t understand. She had no idea how much he loved her. Then he had an idea. He would become a chicken so he could speak her language and persuade her to eat healthy foods! 

And the little boy did just that. Zip! Zap! The little boy became a chicken, a plain black rooster about the same size as his little hen. Cautiously, slowly, the little boy (who was now a chicken) scratched the ground and sidled his way over to his hen. 

“Hey, there,”he greeted her kindly. “Lovely day. [Scratch, scratch] Nice pen. [Sidle, sidle] What are you doing?”

“Oh!”she responded cautiously. “Oh, hello! I’m eating, always eating. [Swallow, swallow] Hungry, so hungry. Are you new here? [Scratch, scratch] Here, have a big, fat rock.” (The little boy’s chicken may have had her issues, but she was not selfish.)

“A rock?”asked the little boy (who was now a chicken). “Oh, no, thank you. Do you eat rocks? [Scratch, scratch] You know, rocks will kill you eventually…They are not what we’re made for.” 

As he talked, the little boy paused occasionally to peck and swallow corn kernels, leaves, and fat, juicy grubs (which was a bit disgusting since they were the only insects the little boy had ever eaten on purpose). “Here, try one of these. They’re full of vitamins. [Swallow, swallow, gulp] Quite tasty!”

Doubtful, puzzled, yet unexpectedly hopeful, the little hen watched him for a long while. This little black rooster who had come out of nowhere had no beauty to commend him, but he seemed healthy and strong. He wasn’t pushy or condescending, and he had a wise, kind, patient way about him. As she watched him, her courage grew. Perhaps she could eat just one of those wiggly things. She was awfully hungry. No matter how many rocks she ate, she always seemed to want more. Tentatively, the little hen took a tiny peck at a nearby grub.

DELICIOUS! Melt in your beak! Like nothing else she had ever tasted! A virtual explosion of energy and life coursed through her starving body.  How unexpected! What a surprise! She gobbled up another grub, and another, then some corn, leaves, wheat and barley. In fact, the little hen ate all that day, all the next day, and the next. Gradually she grew strong and healthy. As she ate, she wondered at times where the small black rooster had gone. But she was just a chicken, with very little understanding. She had gone from death to life and would never be the same.

And the little boy was very, very happy.

Deciduous

I am not an evergreen tree. Definitely not. Neither actually nor metaphorically.  

I love evergreen trees, in particular evergreen conifers. Tall and stately, they smell good, live long, and give shape to majestic winter scenes. Sporting a conical shape and waxy-coated, narrow leaves photosynthesizing slowly but surely all year round, they survive tough winter conditions. Walking on their fallen needles, my tread is soft, quiet, springy, and clean.   Conifers grow together well and seem much more likely to share space without shoving, crowding or poking each other. Evergreens behave. Even their seeds are tidy, tucked away from sight, spirally arranged in orderly, mathematically elegant Fibonacci number ratios.

On my walk today, I sensed God telling me I am more like a broad-leafed deciduous tree. Though of course He was right, at first I was disappointed. I am intense, active, spreading, always changing. My emotions and thoughts catch the wind like broad leaves, sometimes blowing about and scattering, often creating crackling untidiness underfoot. My life is lived in seasons, with great variability in fruitfulness and beauty, but rooted in one surety—before long, I will change once again. 

Yet, in His tender kindness, God also showed me ways He formed me that He pronounces  “good” along with the rest of Creation. Unlike conifers, I bear fruit, sometimes sweet, sometimes sticky and messy, but ripe with potential to feed others. I don’t hold tightly to my leaves but am willing to let them drop and disperse. Broad leaves may just photosynthesize seasonally, but quickly and efficiently.

Broadleaf deciduous trees live in tune to the seasons. In spring, they are brilliant green and unfurling with hope. In summer, they offer abundant shade and respond readily to the slightest whisper of Wind. In autumn, as their productive green chlorophyll breaks down, red and yellow pigments which had always been present become unexpectedly visible. And finally, in winter, the now naked tree is dormant, resting and readying for whatever God brings next.

I still want to be tall and majestic, with less rapid change, more quiet gentleness, less drive to productivity, more unassuming ability to withstand raw winter blasts. But overall, I just want to be more deeply rooted in the reality of our triune God, more quick to absorb all He offers—whether sunlight, rain, the expired breath of humanity, or earth’s nutrients. 

As I age, I become increasingly grateful the Body of Christ boasts such variability and beauty. The human forest which springs from the life Jesus laid down is alive and lovely with all kinds of trees, bushes, flowers and plants, and we are rooted together. I am increasingly awed to discover myself a unique and valued part of what God is up to in this world. And, though our daughters don’t like to hear the words spoken aloud, I am ready (whenever God wills) to fall to the ground, donating all of who I was in this earthly body and opening up space in the canopy for others to take my place.

 

I Hide

I hide. I hide who I am. I hide what I think. I hide what I feel. I hide my strengths, lest they threaten others or make them feel inadequate. I hide my weaknesses, lest they repulse others or give them weapons against me. I hide from others. I hide from myself. I hide from God.

Where did all this hiding begin? In one way, my hiding began in childhood. I was afraid of criticism and anger. I was afraid of being bad. I was afraid of being wrong. I was afraid of not pleasing my parents and not pleasing God. I was afraid of not being enough. 

How did I hide? I stopped trying to share my thoughts and feelings lest I be wrong or misunderstood. Hiding my thoughts and feelings, I disappeared. When tired, I disappeared into books and TV shows. When energetic, I disappeared into constant activity and hard work, physical and intellectual. Occasionally I showed glimpses of myself to friends, but friends safe and constant enough to not harm me were rare.

Hiding, I lived at half mast. I lived furled, folded over. Trying to avoid failure and rejection, I lived in retreat, afraid to move forward, afraid to risk. I lived covered, neither fully seeing nor fully seen.

Where did all this hiding begin? In one way, my hiding began in adulthood. I was afraid I was failing—failing as a wife, as a friend, as a parent. I was afraid of losing—losing my reputation, losing love, losing myself. I was afraid of both not being enough and being too much.

Hiding, I stayed where I knew I could succeed. Hiding, I took care of people instead of letting them care for me. Hiding, I wanted love and acceptance, not respect. I hid my needs and denied my desires, even from myself. Hiding, I tried to please God.

Where did all this hiding begin? In one way, my hiding began in Genesis. “Where are you?” God asks, though He sees all things, even me. “Why are you hiding? What have you done? Why are you not walking and talking with Me in the cool of the evening in our beautiful Garden?”

Like the Good Shepherd searching high and low for one lost sheep, God seeks me, calls for me, waits for me to respond to His voice. Yet, I hide from the One who wants to save me. 

Afraid I am not enough for the God who lived and died for me. Afraid He will ask too much of me. 

Afraid I am too much for the God who continues to create me. Afraid I will go ahead of Him, try to control Him, not submit to His sovereignty and wisdom in all things.

Afraid I am too feminine, too needy, too unsure and therefore not valuable. Not enough. 

Afraid I am too masculine, with too many talents and too much intensity, and therefore twisted. Not reflecting His order and beauty.

What do I need from You, God, to stop hiding? What do I need to know—about me, about You? Who more do You have to BE? What more could You give than what you have already given? Help me, God!

Help me to see what I already hold and be thankful. Help me to see who I already am and be thankful. Help me to look at You and see you and be thankful. Help me to see with Your eyes and Your mind and Your heart. Help me to celebrate You.

Help me to come out of hiding.  

The Practice of Repetition

Western culture has developed a repulsion for repetition. We treasure invention, innovation, individuality, spontaneity, and newness. Yet, our minds, hearts, and spirits are formed by constancy, practice, and repetition.

Scripture is full of repetition. Repetition sometimes allows truth to spread from our heads to our hearts. Like all Jews of his day, Jesus likely repeated the Shema every morning and evening—“Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” The psalms were repeated often as prayers of God’s people. In fact, so well known were the psalms as prayers that Jesus needed only to pray the first line of Psalm 22 (“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”) to bring to his listeners’ minds the entire lament.

But wait! Doesn’t Jesus teach against “vain repetitions” and “empty babble” (Mt 6:7) in our prayers? Yes, Jesus warned us not to use prayer as a way to manipulate God, as if He were weak, unknowing, and uncaring like the pagan gods. Instead, with hearts turned in adoration to God, we can join in Spirit with the four living creatures in heaven who never stop saying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Rev 4:8). Or, like the persistent widow (Lk 18:1-8), we can keep asking God for what we need.

In what other ways can we use the spiritual practice of Repetition to allow God to form our hearts for His joy and honor? Memorize and pray the psalms, particularly repetitive refrains such as “His steadfast love endures forever” (Ps 136). Read and meditate on the same Scripture passage daily for a week or more. Repeat the Lord’s Prayer, paying attention to each word, phrase, and request. Listen to the same hymn or worship song again and again. Like a hammer striking a nail more and more deeply into the wood, allow God’s love and truth to penetrate more and more deeply into your heart and mind.

Savor God’s gifts. List them. Review them. Record them. Remember them. The Israelites often (repetitively!) built monuments to commemorate God’s action in certain places. The feasts and festivals (such as the Jewish Passover and Christian Holy Week services) celebrate and savor God’s interaction with His people. The Scriptures themselves were written to review and remember. Write down your own stories of God’s steadfast love to you, your “people,” and the world. Use narrative, poetry, or song. Draw or paint a picture. Place a memento where you see it often to remind you of God’s character, words, provision, and love.

Other ideas? Go deep instead of broad. Choose one new Christian spiritual practice (Just one!) to do daily, day in and day out. Consider examen, lectio divina, practicing the presence of God, praying the hours, meditating on Scripture, or breath prayer. Ask God which practice to choose; wait for His answer; then proceed, like a child learning to walk. Expect falls but keep getting up again. Our doting Parent is cheering for you, fellow toddler!

In Finding Our Way Again: The Return of the Ancient Practices, author Brian McLaren tells the story of a concert violinist who gives 200 concerts a year. Three are disasters due to illness or technical difficulties. In 190, the audience is pleased because her performance is excellent, as anticipated. However, seven of those concerts can only be described as transcendent, unexpectedly breathtaking, as if time were suspended. The violinist doesn’t know how those concerts happen. She is playing the same music on the same violin. Somehow, in those concerts, God touches and infuses the notes with His own beauty, His own music.

What can we learn from this story? Neither the 190 good concerts nor the seven transcendent concerts would have been possible without the foundation of daily practice. Mundane repetition provides the ordinary human framework for God to fill and infuse with His extraordinary presence and power. God seems to love repetition. Let’s watch for God’s repetition and use this practice ourselves.

 

Meditation on Rembrandt’s Painting “Return of the Prodigal Son”

The parable of the Return of the Prodigal Son was told by Jesus as part of a series of stories in response to the religious authorities grumbling about his friendships with sinners. As recorded in Luke 15, the main truth Jesus is trying to convey in his tales of a lost coin, lost sheep and lost son is God’s unrelenting, loving pursuit of His lost children.

In this parable, both sons are lost. The younger son, looking for love, respect, independence, and the satisfaction of all his desires, collects all his inheritance and leaves. In doing so, he rejects his home and family, essentially saying to his father, “You are as good as dead to me.” The older son stays put. Less adventurous and much more dutiful, he is sober, respectable, self-righteous, and self-centered. Neither son sees his loving, forgiving, compassionate father as a “papa.” Neither son really sees him at all. Instead, they both treat him as their banker or their boss. Yet, he pursues them both, running out to meet the wayward one and leaving the party to plead with the offended one.

Henri Nouwen has written a powerful book on this parable, illustrated by Rembrandt’s painting of the same name, The Return of the Prodigal Son. With Nouwen, let’s take a long, slow, meditative look at the painting.

First, notice where your eyes are drawn. Though offset, the union of returned son and embracing father dominates the scene. Our gaze wanders away to the towering, withdrawn, judgmental figure of the elder brother, but the father’s welcome draws us back. Three other figures are visible in the background—one perhaps a seated steward (symbolic of the sinful tax collector beating his breast in repentance) and the other two quite ambiguous in gender and role.

Look at the younger son who has just returned home. His head is shaved like that of a prisoner. Does he have lice? Is this penance? His clothes are tattered and torn, his feet are calloused, one bare foot, shoes split by the long walk home. Unlike the father and brother, this broken man has no red robe of wealth and authority. However, despite great hunger, he still has not sold his short sword, perhaps a tie to his true identity and home. All this repentant sinner seems attentive to at present is leaning into his abba’s* arms. Is he pausing perhaps to listen to his dad’s heartbeat as he had when a child?

Pay attention to your need for God. How desperate are you for God’s unconditional love and acceptance? Are you able to receive that love without even a shred of belief that you earned it? In what ways are you poor and undeserving of God’s love? Can you “return” to God to tell Him about your poverty, failures, sins, addictions and needs? Can you believe that God is not ashamed of you as you are but is unconditionally embracing you? Can you accept that God has no expectations of you except that you come to Him, want to stay with Him, and to surrender to His love?

What would it be like for you to let God gaze at you this way? Imagine what it would be like to let God touch you this way. Can you let God welcome you into His loving, forgiving embrace? What do you need from God for this to happen? Ask God for what you need.

Look at the elder brother. He is richly dressed and stands taller and straighter than everyone else. His hands are crossed, his face stern, distant and disapproving. The elder brother represents the Pharisees—those who are self-sufficient and pretty sure they’ve got it right. Every Christian is tempted to be a Pharisee after the glow of “first love” gratitude to Jesus for salvation has decreased over time.

In what ways are you like the elder brother? To whom do you compare yourself to make yourself feel better? Of whom are you jealous or resentful? Who are you competing with as if a scarcity of love or respect exists? What would you need in order to hit your knees and throw yourself in loving trust, abandonment, and repentance at your Abba Father’s feet? What do you need from God in order to whole-heartedly love and welcome your brother as he is? Welcome your spouse? Your children? Ask God for what you need.

Look at the father, the abba (“papa”) who is bent far over to comfort and welcome his repentant son. His right or dominant hand is soft, gentle and tender, caressing and comforting his son as a mother would. His left hand is strong and sure, placed on his son’s shoulder protectively, firmly and reassuringly like a father would. The dad’s eyes are turned completely towards his son. His entire posture shouts, “Welcome! Come into my arms! Come home to me.”

The word “prodigal” means “wasteful.” Yet, the most wasteful figure in the story is the father. Timothy Keller calls our God The Prodigal God. This dad wastes his wealth on the younger son. He wastes his love lavishly on both selfish sons, without hope of return. This father allows his sons to hurt and reject him.

What do you need in order to become like the Father—welcoming and forgiving others, even those who have harmed you or others, perhaps far more than they know or will acknowledge? What do you need from God to become like Christ—loving sinners (including those who are failures, dirty, hopeless, or “lousy”)? What do you need to be willing to be prodigal (wasteful) with your time, money and love? What do you need from God to choose to be faithful and not effective? Ask God for what you need.

*Abba, which means “Dad” or “Papa” (the affectionate, intimate term  used by an adult child for his father), is how Jesus taught us to address God the Father in the Lord’s Prayer.

Meditation on Bouguereau’s Painting “Compassion” (the Crucifixion of Christ)

In the painting Compassion by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905), the echoes of compassion draw us in. The word “compassion” is derived from two Latin words cum (meaning “with” or “together”) and passion (meaning “suffering”). Take some time to pray with this painting. Who is suffering with whom? Who is comforting whom?

The crucified Christ is turned toward his disciple, who chooses both to carry his own cross and to turn toward Jesus in his pain. Though the disciple’s left hand holds his burden, his right arm encircles Jesus and the cross, with his right hand immersed in Christ’s flowing blood. The Savior is completely restrained, rendered helpless by the nails, yet he is still the Comforter and Source of his disciple’s strength. Despite the brutal pain portrayed here, a surprising sense of peace and timelessness permeates the scene.

A similar theme is found in lyrics from the song “How Love Wins (THIEF)” from Music Inspired by the Story: “This is how Love wins / Every single time / Climbing high upon a tree / Where someone else should die / This is how Love heals / The deepest part of you / Letting Himself bleed into / The middle of your wounds / This is what Love says / Standing at the door / You don’t have to be / Who you’ve been before.”

Consider the following questions:

1) What cross are you carrying for the sake of Christ? What cross is Jesus asking you to carry but you have not yet picked up? What do you need from Jesus in order to continue to trust God and persevere in carrying the cross you have or one he is inviting you to pick up? Ask God (Jesus, Father, Spirit) for what you need.

The crosses of Christ and his followers are not the same as suffering that comes from sin (our own or others’) or from the persistent brokenness of this world. For example, the suffering of abuse or of addiction is not necessarily a “cross,” though Jesus can still enter into this pain to accompany and comfort us. Instead, carrying a cross is voluntary. Like Jesus, we as disciples choose to carry our crosses, which directly result from submitting to the will of the Father for His sake, for our sake, and for the sake of others.

Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.” (Mark 8:34-35) To his hearers, a “cross” symbolized not just suffering but death. Jesus was saying that for his sake and our own, our self-will, self-centeredness, and self-righteousness must die.

Yet the good news of Jesus is two-fold. First, we know the final victory will be His. Every hour and day we persevere brings us closer to seeing Christ unveiled, when the fullness and warmth of His intense, radiant love will fully heal and restore us and all of Creation. Second, Jesus wants to help us NOW. He chose to join us NOW in this broken world. Love wins NOW. Christ’s compassion, His suffering with us, can revamp our pain from producing pure destruction to bringing new birth, transformation, the fruit of the Spirit, and hope.

2) In what other ways are you suffering right now? Physical pain, disability or loss? Emotional pain—unmet expectations, fear, anxiety, confusion, despair, depression, discouragement, grief, or regret? Spiritual pain—doubt of God’s reality, power, knowledge or personal love for you, a sense of God’s absence or silence? What do you need to welcome Jesus into that suffering? He is “God with us.” What is God wanting to heal or relieve now? Ask God for what you need.

3) In what ways is God inviting you to show compassion to others? In what ways is God inviting you to receive compassion from others, from yourself, from God? Respond directly to God with these answers.

Consider listening to “Praying Through Your Pain” sermon by Jimmy Davis. This is an excellent message on Psalm 43, suffering, and prayer (in particular, the PAPA prayer).

What is Spiritual Direction?

“So, what is spiritual direction?”

At times, the easiest way to answer this question is to say what spiritual direction is not. A spiritual director is not a counselor or psychotherapist, not a life coach or personal trainer, not an accountability or prayer partner, not a pastor, and not the same for every person. Spiritual direction is not pushy, and not even very directive!

So, what is spiritual direction? Spiritual direction is an ancient Christian practice that is very effective for spiritual growth. Generally, the director and directee meet monthly for about an hour. According to the Mennonite Spiritual Directors Association, “Fundamentally a ministry of prayer, spiritual direction is a one-with-one relationship in which directors accompany others on their journey to mature faith in Christ.” Key words here are “prayer,” “relationship,” “accompany,” and “Christ.” Spiritual direction is helping another person fulfill their desire to really know our triune God. All else is “loss” in comparison to “knowing Christ” (Phil 3:8).

According to the Evangelical Spiritual Directors Association: “Spiritual direction is a safe place to explore your questions and concerns about your life with God. A Christian spiritual director is a trained listener who will accompany you as you share about your spiritual journey, helping you notice God’s presence and activity along the way, as well as your personal reactions and responses. Hospitable, confidential, and grounded in biblical truth, spiritual direction is a ministry that helps you grow in prayer and live into your calling as a follower of Christ.” Key words here are “trained listener,” “your life with God,” “notice” and “hospitable.” Good spiritual directors are not trying to instill their own theology but to create a hospitable listening space in which God patiently, lovingly, persistently forms you to be all He specifically and carefully designed you to be (Ps 139).

God is always communicating with us. The spiritual director helps the directee hear, see, feel and recognize our self-revealing God. As we see how God is already active in our lives, our relationship with Him deepens; we see all of life more clearly; and we get glimpses of how to follow Him and how to allow Him to love us. The personal relationship with Jesus of which we have heard so much and the abiding and passionate love for God we have always desired finally come to life.

For Christian spiritual directors, Jesus is central to all of life. This unchanging foundation will come out as they do spiritual direction, particularly in faith that God is self-giving, good, holy, unchanging, and untiringly communicating with the directee. However, there is much freedom in direction because there is much, much trust in God alone as the Director. This freedom shows up in multiple ways. For example, directees may be offered options of ways to pray, but directors do not “check up” to see if they did it.

Spiritual directors trust that directees will continue to move toward God (as much as they are able, often in fits and starts) as God is speaking and inviting them. It is not a director’s job to make that happen, just to accompany, support and cheer the process. However, it is a spiritual director’s job to be a careful and care-full listener and to pray often for their directees.

So, who would benefit from going to a spiritual director? Oh, that answer is much easier…Anyone who wants to grow in relationship with God! Spiritual direction is particularly helpful at times of transition, for discernment and decision-making. However, meeting with a spiritual director is also an opportunity to see God at work, reflect on life experiences, understand oneself better, explore hopes and dreams, and especially to offer time and hold open space to hear God’s voice.

Pastors, priests, and ministers often benefit from spiritual direction because they are so prone to busyness, resulting in spiritual exhaustion and neglect of their prayer life. Spiritual direction provides them a safe, confidential place to ask God questions and a pause for listening to God’s answers. However, new believers and seekers also encounter God again and again as they turn their minds and hearts to find Him. Our God desires to be found.

Starting spiritual direction can be a frightening endeavor, as can any decision to really know God. A lot of courage is required to intentionally invite God to enter and indwell us—mind, heart, spirit, and body. We experience an unsettled feeling, wondering what in the world this holy yet forgiving, unmanageable yet attentive, huge but tender, unfathomable yet fatherly God has in mind for us. However, in taking the risk to know God better, we learn new ways to “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:10) and to join with the Apostle Paul in declaring, “For me, to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21). We experience afresh God as our refuge and strength and the lover of our souls.

So, what is spiritual direction? Perhaps the best answer to this question is found by responding to the invitation Jesus so often gives us, to “come and see.”

You ARE

Buoyed by hope,
Suspended in peace,
Falling free in faith,
Time and space somehow immaterial,
I am unhooked and unhinged
by the God outside (and inside)
who takes me in and out too.

“Fear not. I AM with you.”
God’s non-anxious Presence within,
without
a clear beginning
or end.
At the mention of Your name
Precious Jesus,
Prince of Peace,
Savior King,
my waiting heart turns, tuned
to Your Voice,
my tongue moves to confess, repeat, shout, whisper
Your Name
that covers us,
holds us,
bowls us over,
with covenant love
til gratitude wells in,
up,
over,
and out.
How IS it that
I could know You—goodness, gracious?!
How IS it that
I could ever doubt Your love?

You ARE
A Gift to all who will hear,
to all whose ears burn
to resonate with the One and Only Heart Song.
You ARE
A Gift to all who will see,
to all whose eyes long
to feast on the Wellspring of Beauty.
You ARE
A Gift to all who will feel,
to all whose souls ache
to return to the Tender Touch
and persistent pressure
of their Lover, their Maker, their Source.
You ARE
A never-ending Gift to all
who seek truly,
know deeply,
and mine the courage to receive
YOU.