God

The Hurried Spiritual Life

“Gotta go!” Dave looks at his watch, kisses his wife, and walks out the door.  With just enough time to get ready and leave for work, Dave doesn’t have any time to reflect on the day and pray.  “I’ll do it later,” he thinks to himself.  At lunch, quickly bowing his head over his chicken casserole leftovers, he says a perfunctory, “Thanks, God.  Keep me focused today on what I need to get done.  Amen.”  As with most days, since the job is particularly tiring, once Dave gets home, he relaxes with some TV, dinner, and conversation with his wife.  Exhausted when he heads to bed, he says a prayer before he jumps under the covers, but he loses his train of thought.  “Goodnight.”  On to the next day.

Image

Noted speaker, author, and pastor- John Ortberg- asked of his good friend and spiritual mentor, Dallas Willard, what he needed to do to be spiritually healthy.  Expecting some bullet points and great wisdom from this spiritual giant, Willard said, “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life.”  After pausing and a re-emphasis of the same statement by Dallas, John wrote it down.  In a hurried fashion, then he asked what was next.  “There is nothing else,” said the wise man he spoke to.  “You must ruthlessly eliminate hurry from your life, for hurry is the great enemy of spiritual life in our world today.” (Find the story here.)

This hurry is the same thing that keeps us running around with just one more thing to do and one more place to go.  It is a problem of a hurried heart.  It is not the same as having many responsibilities.  Hurry is the rush of “one more thing,” being busy is having a lot to do.  The latter can be done with peace, a calm heart, rest, and love.  The former cannot.  It is not settled, is not content, and it does not rest.

How does hurry hurt us?  It keeps us thinking outside of the moment.  It requires another accomplishment to be satisfied.  It has no end.  It does not fulfill.  We cannot have a close relationship without spending time, without sitting and listening and being with someone.  The hurried spiritual life is as fallacious as the hurried relationship.  Sprinkle a few minutes in here or there, say some nice things, and be on your way.  It does not work.

Distractions abound.  Tasks require our attention.  There is a limitless ocean of needs.  But a healthy spiritual life requires slowing down.  It re-prioritizes.  It takes a breath.  To quote Psalm 46:10 (ESV): “Be still, and know that I am God.”  I am now closing my computer to do just that.

Yours truly,

Justin

Advertisements

Avoiding the Issue

Image

When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways” (1 Corinthians 13:11, The Bible, ESV).

M. Scott Peck, in his work The Road Less Traveled, explained with surgeon-like precision how people deal with problems and pain.  He notes that discipline is the ‘base camp’ of what’s needed to solve life’s problems.

“What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving problems is a painful one.  Problems, depending upon their nature, evoke in us frustration or grief or sadness or loneliness or guilt or regret or anger or fear or anxiety or anguish or despair.”  “…It is for this reason that wise people learn not to dread but actually to welcome problems and actually to welcome the pain of problems.  Most of us are not so wise” (Peck, 1978, pp. 14-16).

There are an infinite number of ways to avoid dealing with our problems.  Sigmund Freud was one of the first to categorize these avoidances, calling them “defense mechanisms.”  In other words, these are adaptive reactions to circumstances that are used outside of a healthy context.  Some examples that most people have heard of are denial and rationalization.  “My boyfriend beats me, but it’s not that bad.”  “I can’t believe in a God who would let me lose my mother to cancer.”  “Alcohol is not a problem; I haven’t had any legal issues.”

“This tendency to avoid problems,” notes Peck again, “and the emotional suffering inherent in them is the primary basis of all human mental illness.  Since most of us have this tendency to a greater or lesser degree, most of us are mentally ill to a greater or lesser degree, lacking complete mental health” (1978, pp. 16-17).

Many, if not all, mental health disorders relate to forms of avoidance.  The paranoid person ends up avoiding the truth about others’ thoughts/opinions.  The depressed person will avoid ways they need help.  The anxiety-ridden person will avoid the pain of facing anxiety head-on.  [Side note: just because you face these things does not mean it is your fault.]  An old adage says, “What you resist, persists.”  In an effort to strive for mental health, we must strive for the truth about ourselves, others, and God- and then face it.

“…Let us teach ourselves and our children the necessity for suffering and the value thereof, the need to face problems directly and to experience the pain involved” (Peck, 1978, p. 17)

-Yours truly

Justin

All quotations- unless otherwise noted- are taken from M. Scott Peck, M.D. The Road Less Traveled (1978), pp. 15-17.

Acceptance and Change

“Self-Made.”  Or so the famous watchmaker advertises their product through a famous celebrity.  The advertising was catchy, but there was a message that stuck with me: “YOU are the master of your destiny.  Your success deserves and even requires such fine intricacies as we offer.”

There are no “self-made” men, only those arrogant enough to believe that they are wholly responsible for where they are in life.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am all about promoting personal responsibility and hard work; it’s a foundation of my focus in counseling- and for a person to truly change, they need a good dose of both.  But when we say that, “I accomplished this with my hands and my hands alone,” something is missing.

I don’t know why I was born into the family I was.  We always had food on the table, fashionable clothes (except for Dad, but that was by choice), shelter, family and friends, and no major worries about the basic necessities of life.  Why I wasn’t born in Tanzania, as an orphan left behind by a violent father and an addicted mother, I don’t know.  Or to parents who weren’t patient with my shortcomings and abused me.  Or…you get the picture.

In fact, if it weren’t for my socio-economic status, family, friends, geographic location, and so forth, I would very likely have not made the friends I did, found the jobs I worked and went to the schools I attended.  I have 100% personal responsibility today and this very moment to make the choices that are mine.  But that’s just it- make the choices that are mine.

A lot of culture and people and pressures around us give all sorts of confusing messages, and part of my job is to walk with folks while they determine what they will live by and for- regardless of the messages and demands and stresses surrounding them.  Figuring out what is my responsibility and what is not is one of the most important tasks I know.

Remember that when you take on credit for what is not yours, besides being arrogant and haughty, you take on credit for what is not yours.  Meaning: that when things that aren’t your fault fall apart, you are more likely to blame yourself.  My point in all this is the importance of considering: “What is my responsibility and what is not?”  It manages stress, decreases anxiety, and gives direction like few other tools.  I will end with the best expression of this topic I have ever heard:

The Serenity Prayer as said in 12-step groups (only a partial expression of the full prayer of Niebuhr) says, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and wisdom to know the difference.”