Living the Questions

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” -Rainer Maria RilkeLearning to live the questions is a part of our spiritual formation. Letting go of our need for having the right answer defines an important passage in our maturity. Maturity is more than amassing the right facts and having all the answers tied up in our doctrinal statements and political alignments. There are deeper stirrings within each soul that we awaken and pay attention to. Most of our education endeavors, when we look back on it, was a way to find the answers. Our inquisitive minds launched us on a noble search to know—to know how things work—to know how the body functions—to know how to make money—to know how to accomplish certain tasks and responsibilities. But there is a deeper sense of knowing. Finding our way forward in life and knowing God’s will for our lives is about holding questions in our hearts without and inner urge to answer too quickly or with all assurance that we’ve settled a matter, once and for all. Living the questions of life, love, purpose and faith is about wrestling through issues, perspectives and views until some type of clarity comes—or does not come at all. Here are five questions that are worthy to live wrestle with in a person’s life: 

  1. What happened?

This is the question that is based on your story—the story of your life. What happened is the pivotal question that invites a person to begin to reflect—and not just tell their story. By reflecting we look at what happened to us from various perspectives. It is not a question that is answered in a linear, chronological way. It is a question that invites us to linger with the questions that asks: Who shaped me to be who I am today? What issues stunted my growth? What wounds do I carry? Who inspired me along the way? Why am I interested in this or that?  By knowing every part of our story: sexual, vocational, physical, relational, emotional. Our stories make us unique and there are no two stories alike—even if you are a twin. Each of us is unique and owns a particular point of view that needs to be understood.  When we explore "what happened?" we are invited into the deepest part of ourselves and often unknown quadrants of our heart that are often ignored, underdeveloped and sitting in only darkness. 

  1. What do I need?

When we ask ‘What do I need?’ we acknowledge that we are not self-sufficient or self-made. Many hands shaped us from the cradle to the grave and our needs change throughout the varied seasons of our lives. When we give ourselves permission to ask this question, we acknowledge that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” and that our needs make take time, exploration and courage to navigate. In marriage, we learn to ask this question in a different way: ‘What do you need?’  I’ve found that this question has a way of neutralizing conflict and putting both me and my wife on level ground. It seems to stable a growing tension or rift. The key, however is to REMEMBER to ask this question—and to remember to ask this of ourselves. I’m convinced that Jesus allowed himself to ponder this question in his action filled life and ministry. When he got into the boat to cross the inland sea, he needed to sleep—and he did. He needed to rest. He needed to eat. He needed to be with people. He needed to be away from people. The insight we gain is that he did not push down his own needs be they physical, relational, or emotional. 

  1. What do I want?

Understanding our own desires is to know that our desires are our portals into our own souls. By knowing our own longings, desires, yearnings and aspirations, we recognize that desires are of God and that these desires are embedded into our souls when we were created. “What do I want to do with my life?” “Where do I want to live?” “Who do I want to share my life with?”—these questions and more distinguish us from a dog, a cat, a horse and an insect. To be human is to recognize the image of God is stamped with desires. When we read the Gospels, we are reminded that Jesus, himself asked this crucial question often to those he encountered and each time he posed the question of "what do you want?"--transformation happened in the one he asked the question. 

  1. How can I walk with God?

Ever since Eden, this one question has dominated all people from all continents of the earth. This is a question of relationship more than it is a question of religion? Religion is how people answer this question but underneath our religion is our need to be connected to the Divine. This connection comes down to a daily experience—a relationship that is personal, intimate and life-altering. If you’re considering using these questions as a Sabbath time of reflection, you may want to ask, “How did I walk with God this past week?” and “How can I walk with God in the coming week?”  If you're busy this week, how can you walk with God through and in the busyness?  If you are traveling, this question may help focus you from veering off onto a path you know you don't really want to walk. 

  1. How can I help?

This question puts us in the midst of community where we own the fact that we are not alone on this earth and we can and should help. Our help can be broken down into a daily way to help; a weekly way to help and even an annual theme of who I want to help.  Asking this question helps us to remind ourselves that we are stewards and not owners.  The earth is the Lords--so how can I help? My relationships are gifts--so how can I tend to them?  My body belongs to the Lord--so how can I help steward my physical well-being? When we live the questions, it goes without saying that we need to realize that this is more than just answering the questions.  We look under the rocks to find what's growing on the underneath side?  We look in dark places--in unvisited regions of our hearts to simply consider the question.By living the questions, we learn that we need someone to ask the questions of us--and hopefully in a loving and caring way?  The soul recoils from being interrogated.  For the soul to emerge, we need a safe person, a safe place and a safe time frame that all facilities our living the questions.This is why I have a spiritual director. I make a monthly appointment with a wise, old soul to sit with every month who simply knows and senses the right questions to ask me and in the asking and the responding, I am living the questions--I am awakening my soul to what is going on in me and around me that I need to pay attention to.Of course, we can live the questions with trusted friends who know how to ask and how to listen rather than interrupting us or always offering us their insight.  Listening is key when we want to live the questions. Listening is key to know how to ask the right question that will free the heart from a lodged iceberg locked up inside our hearts.  Consider using these questions with a friend over coffee or lunch. Consider these questions or others at meal times with your family. Consider good questions in your small groups.To live the questions is to confess our humanity and our need for each other to both listen and to respond.

Becoming Who We Really Are: The Journey of Being Human

We are always becoming. From the day we were born, and really before that—we embarked on a journey of becoming. We do not stay who we were and we will not remain who we are at this very moment.Who of us would ever want to remain our 6 year old self? Is there anyone who wants to go back and remain 13 for ever?We morph. We change. We grow. We transform. This is the story of our lives.Take a look at me and my grandson, Charlie. He’s just six months old in this picture. Every parent knows that the terrible two’s are coming. But that doesn't matter to me. I'm his grandfather--his Pappy.He’ll go through adolescence; go through puberty; challenge his parents, go to school; get a few jobs, date a few girls and marry someone when he’s ready. He will try on vocational clothes—trying on one job, another role—yet another position until he, at lasts can say, “For this—I was made.” It will be a journey.  Sometimes, we seem to lose sight of the fact of our formation. As Charlie's Pappy, I consider it to be my chef--role to help him know his story and claim his story and live out of his story. I don't have to raise him. But I do want to help him understand his story.Then, there is Charlie’s spiritual journey. A person's spiritual story is really EVERY chapter of their life-story: health, past, relationships, vocational journey, fears, dreams, failures, sin, glory and more. Charlie, like all of us has a spiritual story—a sort of flowing and winding road where he will learn about God. He will hear about his original glory—that deep place within his soul that is all good and full of light. I honestly believe that the most important role of a grandparent is to re-enforce the original glory into our grandchildren. I say this because the parents are so consumed, like we all were, with survival, diapers, driving the kids around and discipline. He will be told about his sin—Lord knows, so much emphasis is on that part of his story that most of us have never even considered our original glory. Before there was sin, remember--there was glory.  He will be shaped by love, hurt, rejection, passion, longings and failure. All of it will shape his little soul that you see today.Charlie, like everyone of us, will be soul shaped by geography and place, good people and hurtful people. He will encounter mystery, facts and figures and be drawn to one or more of those shaping realities.  He will have his own distinct dreams and longings separate from his father and mother and his grandparents. He will make his own choices—some good and some not so good that will all shape his soul.Gifted writer, Madeline L’Engle pens these true words for us:“I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be... This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed in any of these ages...the delayed adolescent, the childish adult, but that they are in me to be drawn on; to forget is a form of suicide... Far too many people misunderstand what *putting away childish things* means, and think that forgetting what it is like to think and feel and touch and smell and taste and see and hear like a three-year-old or a thirteen-year-old or a twenty-three-year-old means being grownup.And Spiritual author and mentor, David Benner writes, “Identifying and embracing your lineage is an important part of any pathway to greater wholeness because it involves remembering your own story. All the parts of your journey must be woven together if you are to transcend your present organization and level of consciousness. For myself, the great challenge was re-embracing traditions that I have grown beyond and that offered—even at the time—an oppressively small worldview. I did not want to be an ex-evangelical or an ex-fundamentalist. Too many people live that life of dis-identification, and I did not want to share their anger and “stuckness.” It was essential, therefore, for me to identify and embrace the gifts that had come to me from these traditions. This was the way in which I came to know that everything in my life belongs, that every part of my story has made important contributions to who I am. And the same is true for you.Charlie will have chapters of his life that he will have to make sense of. Each of us have chapters—some we like and some we don’t. There are sad chapters of failed marriages, broken relationships and following our prodigal hearts.  But what sense can we make of these shattered pieces of our story--these illusions that are so hard to die in us?When I look back at some of my chapters, I’ve noticed that as I’ve “moved on” or “moved through” a particular season or chapter, I had no real way of integrating THAT particular chapter into my story or soul.  At times, I felt like I was shedding old snake skins so that something new could come out.  I felt the need to "get rid" of the old skins rather than embrace them.  How about you?For many years now, I have called myself an “Re-Covering Baptist.” That always gets a good laugh in most circles I speak in except when I am among the Baptist themselves.   But truthfully, there were things—boxy things; narrow things, and some things I could never quite figure out that all seems to be informing me, “This is not you, Steve.” “This is not who you are. Pay attention.”  I'm wondering if in my telling you this about me, what might stir inside of you?  What or who are you "re-covering" from?Some of us will be recovering from some thing; some group; some political affiliation, some denomination or some person. Some of us will have addiction in our story—a lot of us. Some of us will have abuse. Some of us will discover we were abused not by what was “done” to us but by what was not given us—that every human being created in the imago Die deserves, requires and needs to be whole and healthy.I have heard the stories of thousands of souls—and the stories that bother and confound me the most are those that go like this:-I don’t have a past.-My past was buried and all I have is a present and a future.This past Saturday, I took a long drive and came upon a church with a big sign which read, “No one has a past—only a future.” I sat in the parking lot so disturbed by that sign that I had a quiet protest with my coffee, then drove on.What a lie—to say “no one has a past.” Here’s the deal. Charlie is living his past every single day right now.  And so are you.  So am I.So much truth and so much light is in our past that it’s really shocking. Our challenge is that so many of us don’t really know our story. We say, “We can’t remember.” Or, “That was so long ago, I’ve forgotten it.” I doubt it. The mind stores up all of these gold memories for us to mine and find the nuggets of gold that will enrich our lives.  Gwen and I have been working with a gifted therapist who is trained in helping us unlock the memories we can't dredge up--but have "bothered us". It's been such a helpful investment--particularly in our marriage. We felt the need to finally unlock the door of  each of our past that had gone unexplored and unexamined. We did this because we were hitting some impasses--all about our individual formation stories. It felt like our individual "past" stories were colliding and creating friction.  After 37 years, we felt like it was time to dig in and see what was "there".  We are both enjoying the fruits right now of such work--more peace and contentment than ever in our marriage.The apostle Paul reminds us, “We see through a glass dimly but one day, we will see face to face.” I think there’s far, far, far more to that verse than we can ever quite imagine. Our stories and Charlie’s story is already dim. We just don’t quite get or understand the power of people who shape our souls. We have not had enough science to reveal how our memories—our traumas—our beautiful experiences make us who we are.As I review my own story from time to time, I am realizing the power and significance of the shaping experiences of having a dramatic conversation on January 21, 1972 in my university chapel. Later, I was deeply shaped by flaming charismatic friends and one amazing Lutheran Pastor (Herb Mirley) who helped me break out of my boxes and experience an inner life where Jesus lives. Having a creed was not enough for me. I wanted it all. These friends helped me speak in what I though was “tongues”—but gave up after feeling like I forcing "it" to convince my friends, “I had it.” I was discipled diligently for four years by an Inter-Varsity staff worker who singled me out and poured massive time, books and memorizing Scripture into my soul. Some of what he "taught" me, I know now is wrong and not correct. I tried then to make a break from my denominational roots but did not have the courage to do so, so settled in for twenty years until I could find the words and muster the courage to say, “This is not me.”Like Benner, I am learning to embrace all of my chapters—all of my story into one, whole and integrated story that has shaped me.  It feels as close to what David wrote when he prayed, "Give me an undivided heart, that I might praise your name." For many years, my heart has been divided by doctrine, boxed by fears and marshaled by an energy that now I see was man made--not God shaped.Even now, I am still becoming. I am not done. There are still some things I need to lay aside in order to grasp hold of what is ahead of me. Some labels don’t fit me anymore and I want to grow in my gratitude for these chapters rather than be held hostage by them. I want to thank the Lord for the good I got wearing the label and courageously be willing to keep moving forward.How would you tell your story?  Who knows your story?  It would be a good goal in the the year ahead and find some trusted, safe and loving friends to listen to your story--and you listen to their story. Here are six suggestions:

  1. Use my book Soul Shaping to explore your past shaping events and people.
  2. Read or re-read my book The Lazarus LIfe where I tell me story through the story of Lazarus. You'll be given language and vocabulary to dig into your own story. There's a work book also for more and deeper work.
  3. Develop a time line in five year increments where you note the people, places, events and internal awakenings you experienced including abuse, trauma and rich and wonderful events.
  4. Make a time with 2-5 friends and give each person one hour to tell their story uninterrupted and unedited.
  5. Be kind to yourself as you dig into your story. Most stories have chapters and novels of guilt and shame. See if you can find the light and grace in each chapter of your story—for God has been with you all along, just has it is with Charlie right now.
  6. Ask God to help you remember and consider sitting with someone gracious, non-judging and who can deeply listen to your story.