Re-Thinking Our Lives: Using the Language of Repositioning and Discernment

Allow me to share my own personal reflections about what I am thinking regarding "the rest of my life." As I think out loud regarding my own life, it may give you a portal into your own life. Through what I share, it may become a window for you to stare into regarding your own life and future.  My hope is that these reflections will give you some language and tools to help you navigate your own choices ahead and to help you reflect back on choices you made in the past--be they good and healthy choices or decisions that you can know glean wisdom from which become an invitation to choose more wisely in the future.Here, I may offer you some language which may be a bit different than you are accustomed to now.  Some of the language, stories and insight I will share here are the fruit of my year long path of discernment.  So I am your companion in this journey to both understand and explore discernment and finding great clarity about our future pathways.  I"ll tell you about this later.When we travel in a foreign country and hear a different language, it can take a while to learn a few basic sentences to navigate our way through that foreign and distant place. Learning some basic language about the landscape of repositioning is key in not only growing in our own self-awareness and God-awareness but also in terms of knowing where we are right now and where it is we want to head out to next on this incredible journey called life.When it comes to knowing God's will for our lives and how to "do" God's will; how to make wise decisions and move with some sense of inner assurance that what we have decided, is in fact--God's best for our lives--this is what this is all about. So my hope is that this will help anyone at any stage or season of life that wants to live with a greater sense of confidence; a deeper sense of peace and an inner knowing that we are truly not alone in this journey--but that we can deeply sense God is with us--every step of our way.So, the language of our soul, caring for our soul and discerning our future lives in some respect is warranted not matter at what intersection your find yourself at right now. You may be single, thinking of marriage. You may be married, considering children. You may be in your second job realizing that this job is not what you signed up for and you want to hunt again for the right fit. You may be newly divorced, a widow or just buried a parent. You may be full or energy or experiencing burnout. You may be, like me on the threshold of what is called, “retirement” but somehow knowing that you don’t want to quit—you really want to reposition yourself to do what you’ve felt drawn to do for a long, long time. But, before we set out on a course and lock in our GPS on a new direction, let’s first, get some language and some new tools down to help us make wise choices and sense that God is in this deeper work of what I am calling repositioning. Re-Thinking Our LivesAll of us, to one degree or another, are re-thinking our lives. As the world changes, so we do also. Just think of it—the iphone came onto the scene in 2007 and look at how all of our lives have changed with the times. We may not all like what has happened but nevertheless, we are all citizens of this globe we call home and we all need more light for some of the dark paths we must navigate. With the advent of email, technology and social media, all of our lives have been impacted to some degree. In the light of current events, nuclear threats and such hatred going rampant, the world is not the same as it was. It feels more tense; more fragile and more dangerous than at any other time in my life time. There’s angst. There’s fear. There is uncertainity. All of this combined with our own personal circumstances, needs and desires. All combines, I'm not sure I have met a person who is not--at some level--re-thinking their lives.It’s important to realize that when I speak of repositioning our lives. I am not speaking of a linear, programmatic and cookie cutter way to do this—to reposition our lives. To reposition one’s life begins with understanding some language of the soul—the kind of terms and vocabulary that every soul knows deep down inside. This language is what this book is about. It is about like a reading primer that some teachers used in our early grade school experience when we were introduced to words, phrases and finally sentences and paragraphs to begin to learn to read.To learn to read the deeper movements of the soul—the shifts, urgings, longings, aches and consolations of our soul is all apart of what we will explore. What “repositioning” means:Let’s begin with getting our minds and hearts wrapped around the word: “repositioning.”The word, “reposition” means to shift—to adjust. Our internal shifts happen in us as we journey through life making modifications and adjustments. We have been told that the “only constant in life is change” and with this reality, then we are the ones who must make some shifts to reposition ourselves.This adjustment—this amending of our lives—this re-thinking of our future direction is what I call “repositioning.”We are seeing major repositioning of people groups around our world who are forced to reposition themselves physically because of threat, war or persecution. We call such people refugees. They are fleeing one place and in route to a safer, more hospitable place. They may be forced to flee. They may not want to flee. They may dread the entire journey of fleeing but nevertheless, some kind of physical shift is necessary. But, long before these people groups began to move physically from one place to another, there began an inner shifting—a changing of the tectonic plates of their worlds that motivated them to shift from one place to another.  They came to their senses; they somehow intuitively knew; they had what we call a "sixth sense" that informed them that they needed to go. They were under pressure—perhaps pressure they could not take any longer. They were seeking a better life—a better way to do their lives. Their anxiety over what might happen motivated them into action. And also, most refugees do not flee alone. They band together and move in mass to a safer new world.My ancestors immigrated to the United States from Ireland. Something in their souls was stirring. Something inside their hearts was pulling them forward to both leave something familar behind but also to reach ahead for something that was "not yet".  As they repositioned their lives--my very life right now stands on the shoulders of men and women, who stood up and moved out and ventured forth.  As you think back on your own ancestors, perhaps you will be able to grow in a deeper appreciation of what they did--of what they did for you.Clearly it is one thing to have to be a refugee and a whole other concept of repositioning one's life.  But what is important to remember that somewhere along the way--whether one is a refugee or is simply repositioning one's life--there was first some kind of inner movement that gave birth to an action--an action that required a shift, change, new season or new beginning of some form or another. We are all on a journey. We are all pilgrims. The language of the Bible offers us a word that helps define who all of us are as refugees, white-collar migrant workers, blue collar machine workers, medical professionals, pastors or global leaders—we are all pilgrims. We are all on a journey—a journey that defines us throughout our lives on the long road to heaven. The Psalmist knew this language well when he wrote;“Blessed are those whose strength is in you,whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.”—Psalm 84:5 (NIV).Pilgrimage best defines our lives on planet Earth. We start out at in utero in our mother's womb; following a path in our formative years; build travelling companions or friends and navigate the many paths ahead of us. There are the choices of a spouse or not, the kind of job that we feel like that fits us and we are gifted for; where we want to live out of all the choices before us and the pathways of parenting, living out of lives through seasons, trials, joys and sorrows. Each of these seasons are really times of repositioning ourselves for the next leg of the journey.  From womb to tomb, we wake up to the fact that we all are pilgrims on a journey.When author and scholar, Eugene Peterson finds the right and descriptive words to translate for us the Psalmist’s intent in his sacred poem, Peterson helps us with these words:“And how blessed all those in whom you live,whose lives become roads you travel;”—Psalm 84:5, The MessageOur lives are the very roads that God travels. You you imagine for a moment what this might actually look like and feel like? God is on this joruney with us--sometimes a silent companion; sometimes a companion who might pull the rug out from under us to get our attention in some way; and in all ways God is present whether God is seen or unseen. Our own lives are the pathway that God hovers about and within on the long road home. God is our Companion on this pilgrimage and as we age, as we journey forward, this awareness grows deeper and deeper within us to truly know—God is with us. He is not only “with us” but God is in us---moving within us to awaken us; give us keener insight and understanding about our journey.As we shift; as we transition; as we reposition, we can be assured that God is moving on our inner roadways of longing and desire; lament and grief and fears and peace. Knowing this—is like recognizing some road signs that are posted along the path we’ve been trekking.  When we reposition, we can learn to pay attention to the inner road signs--the inner movements of God within us to nudge us this way or that way.  Discernment is about knowing the inner trail markings that can and do offer us the invitation to follow with clarity and certainity. ( I will continue this in future blogs and I would invite your comments, feedback and insights! Please consider posting your thoughts and reflections here on the blog to allow others to have insight and encouragement!)

The Eight Lane Freeway of Our Working Lives

Living life can sometime feel like driving fast on an eight-lane freeway.It’s busy.It’s intense.It’s stressful.It requires intense focus to stay in your lane.You have to monitor the dashboard of speed limits, fuel gauge and timing.You have to watch out for crazy drivers and the inherent possibility of road rage at any moment.It’s fast.It’s slow too much of the time it seems.Even when we're driving hard, we sense the need to multi-task--to do more work. To get 'ur done!You can feel stuck because the off-ramp is 10 miles away and your sitting idle. I know few people who actually enjoy spending time on freeways. When I hear people talk about taking a nice Sunday afternoon drive—they are never describing this motif: “Let’s get on the freeway where we will experience the exhilarating times of intensity, stress and a high likelihood of getting stalled or stuck in insane traffic." No, when people envision a nice drive, they are thinking of a country road where they can take in the scenery of forests, vales and rainbows.I’ve sat with this metaphor for some time now—trying to discern my future. Ever since I wrote my initial blog on this heart-felt theme, THAT (Read THAT blog here) blog has been the most read article of all time for me. It’s received the most SHAREs on social media and people are writing me; calling me and stopping me to say, “You took the words right out of my mouth. You described my dilemma perfectly.” I’m glad my own attempt to figure out my next phase of life might be giving words to so many inner rumblings. It seems many of us are restless—no matter what age and stage of life we are in. Many of us want to “reposition”. I hope we can and I hope my encouragement to simply articulate some of my inner world might help you.Metaphors are helpful because they actually help us envision and picture something real and explore what this image stirs inside. An image opens our mind and heart up more than a Powerpoint presentation can. We need more than linear facts to make sense of life. We have more than a left brain to give inform us of meaning, purpose and conviction. Metaphors were the masterful way of how Jesus taught. He appealed to the right brain to help us envision the life he came to show us how to live.  Friends, this is precisely why, the teachings of Jesus were so revolutionary and life-changing. People could actually come to "see" the life he was describing. He used the everyday symbols of dirt, trees, bushes, birds and storms to help people explore their inner geography. Jesus was brilliant in his efforts to help us look inward by using the outer world and draw parallels.When I think of staying on an eight lane freeway for the next season or chapter of my life, my thoughts do not go to a good place. I have, to be honest, a sinking feeling.   When I listen to people talk about “How much longer can I go?” or “I just want to finish well”, I picture the eight lane freeway. Is finishing well running out of gas and pulling over to the side of the loud, busy traffic and just say, “I’m done. That’s it.” Is an abrupt exit off the freeway the only way to do this? What does that term, "finishing well" really mean? Does it mean more work? Harder work to get to a certain place so that you can work again? There are many questions we need to look at. There are many rocks that need to be turned over to expose the Rollie-pollies of our illusions about work and life as well as God and faith.What I’m sitting with goes like this: moving from the eight lane freeway to a 2-lane road. I want to continue but I do not want to continue at the pace, speed and intensity I have been traveling. If you've lived so much of your working life on an eight lane freeway---something might be pulling you to consider an alternative route--a route that is more than just thinking about the grass being greener on the other side kind of thing.It seems reasonable to me, at this stage of my processing the next chapter of my life, that I and perhaps you need to sit with these questions:

  1. What is the lane I want to be in for the next season—the next stretch of my life?
  2. Where do I really want to go and feel the need to go?
  3. What would it look like to find my lane—the lane that converges all my passion, experience, desire and gifts? Then, this question, how do I take an off-ramp to get in the lane I simply want to be in?
  4. What is it going to cost me to get off the freeway that I have traveled for so long?

This thing about work is deeply etched into the soul of every Protestant. Work is a part of the fabric of our lives. We are so enmeshed in our work that many of us go through some culture shock even musing about NOT working. We can’t imagine it. We don’t really have categories or training to help us find a lane upon which we can live without work.It’s the ethos called, “the Protestant work ethic.” Well, Catholics have this too--the feeling and the need to work hard, remain faithful to be saved. In this ethic--our worth and dignity come from our work--not our essence. There must be no slaggards in the ranks. People who don't work are bums. This belief and ethic needs to be looked at deeply and it is really the work of the soul to do this work now while we are working and considering our alternative lanes. We can find where these messages lodge in our story. We can explore how our experiences of work shaped our soul and who modeled this kind of living and narrative for you? What a fascinating small group this would be—a group formed to hear each others shaping experiences about work, the value of work and how our working parents and friends lived their life out in their work.Let me just say this briefly, our worth and dignity do not come from our work.  Our worth comes from knowing we are created, formed and shaped by God because of our identity as sons and daughters of God. We are the Beloved of God--apart from our work. That's the core foundation to healthy living and a healthy soul. Miss this and you miss nearly everything.Our world has shaped us into human doings. It’s precisely here though in our being—not our doing that we must redefine and reposition our selves and our lives. Most people I sit with are afraid of stopping their “doing” because of the deep seated fear that they will simply not know who they are apart from their work. Here’s a good question to ponder with a friend: Who are you apart from your doing?Start this kind of inner work now—the inner thinking and reflective work now—before you get off the freeway—before you take an exit—before you quit-- before you start pulling off the freeway. Thinking about this now will help you actually know and recognize when it’s time to take the off ramp to the road you actually want to drive on—for a while.Take your name tag off—take your lanyard off which gives your position, worth and dignity—and who the heck are you? Who are you without your “doing”?  This kind of thinking may well be--the exit ramp you've been looking for that is just ahead.

Five Benefits of Vacation

There are at least five benefits of taking time off and being away. I'm talking about the wonderful deposits we place into our souls when we take a vacation.I’m returning from four weeks off of work. Four weeks might seem like an extravagance—that you cannot afford. I understand that. But for me—for us—we simply had to take this time off and had to be away. Here’s why

  1. I needed time off and away because I needed to detox my soul.

Stress can make you sick. Like a sponge, we absorb so many things around us and into us that we are not fully aware as to how much we have taken on and taken in UNTIL we are off and away. My time off allowed me the much needed time and space to realize a few things:There had been too much work.There had been too much time devoted to problem solving. My mind was too busy--too filled with people, stuff and things that drain and not give me life. I needed my vacation. I needed every bit of it and there is nothing wrong or nothing really selfish about taking time off. In doing so, we will be the better for it and the better for all, if we take the time we need to trickle charge our inner batteries.There had been to much care-giving that I almost reached my tipping point of what felt like going over the edge—the edge into a very dark space that I could feel, smell and a space that touched me in the dark hours of the night. We greatly underestimate the toil of our work on our souls. Take some time to think  about what you've lost by all your gaining at work.For me, everything and everyone began to feel “too much”. This was a sign of how desperately I needed the time off and the time away. When our thinking becomes jaded; when we live in a state of cynicism and sarcasm and the inner voice begins to chant to us that “No one cares and no one ever will care…” then this is a time to stop. This is a time to dis-engage. This is a time to pull away and be as off as you possibly can.I realized that in the past year I had tried to save many drowning victims. Some of them made it and survived. I’m glad for that. But in all my efforts and my accumulated sense of fatigue of over 40 years of ministry of saving others, I was thinking that I may not survive--that I could not save myself from the rip tide of a raging current I felt sucked into. I needed time to rest, time to breath and time to come back to my senses.Few of us have the ability to be aware and awakened to the slow, steady drain on us of our work—especially if we are in caring professions such as teaching, ministry, mission or helping people. My slow leak in my soul had to be looked at and stopped if I was to make it to the finish line. My time off allowed me this time to de-tox from the toxins that had accumulated in me, on me and around me.Time off and away helped me to regain a sense of who I am and what I want to be about.  Time off does that--it helps us come to our senses. Like the prodigal in the parable of Jesus, a pig stye of a mess can help us come to our senses.  Sometimes pig-styes helps us decide who we are and what we want in life.

  1. My time off meant I needed to be away and not just off.

Because I office in my home, home can sometimes be a symbol of work, not just a home. My cluttered desk symbolized my cluttered mind and muddied mind. I needed to be away.  To vacation is meant to "vacate" or leave the ordinariness of our lives and to walk into some kind of adventure that will help us--if not heal us.Jesus knew this well. He explicitly told his followers that “It is to your advantage that I go away”. His being away would call his followers up to lead, not to just follow. He was, of course speaking of the advantages of his Spirit coming soon, but nonetheless, he left them many times in doing his own inner work of  solitude and vacating his own work for the work of his soul.My time away meant unplugging and detaching from mind-draining meetings filled with conversations about plans and strategy. My time away meant I would bask in sunshine and the shelter of Douglass Furs. I would stare at humpback whales not my computer screen. My time away would be time to let myself “come down where I ought to be” as the Quakers say so beautifully in their anthem, “Tis’ a gift to be simple. Tis' a gift to be free. Tis' a gift to come down where we ought to be.”  Vacations help us to come down. We come down from the junkie highs of busyness and adrenaline rushes and addictions of doing way, way too much in our lives and with our lives. Vacations can be a taste of the simple life--a glimpse of what heaven may be like.My time off meant a time away to the pacific shores of California and into the wilderness of Colorado. Wilderness is the soul’s invitation to rest—to become small in the grandeur of mountains too great to comprehend and sunsets too glorious to do anything other than shut my mouth and open my heart. I needed the greetings of trees, the swells of the ocean tides and the song of the western Tangier—I saw my first one and the lushness of green meadows.3. My time off and away was a time to go into beauty and to breath it in. There is nothing that replentishes the soul like beauty. Beauty awakens us to another world we miss when we move and live in perpetual busyness and in our multi-tasking, overly complicated lives. We think too much of ourselves, our work and our accomplishments. Beauty makes us feel small and when we become small, we are allowed to fathom true greatness and Greatness. Beauty pierces us and I needed to be pierced to let the pus out of my infected life. I had become infected and the antidote to the soul’s infection is quiet beauty. I listened to music. I walked in solitude across the summer wildflowers of Crested Butte landscapes. I sat by roaring rivers that flowed….that’s all the river did. It flowed and flowed…and I thought to myself, I want my soul to flow again. Day by day I began to feel the flow again with me. It was life and it was good. It was very good. In time and through time I felt myself becoming unstuck--and isn't that anyone's real goal in life... not to be stuck but in the flow of real life?

  1. My time off and away fostered an intimacy within with God and with my wife.

When we are “on” we feel torn between priorities and choices. Time off and away relaxed that tension. We did what we WANTED to do and we did not do what we did not want to do. We made healthy choices about meals. We hiked a lot and that led to conversations we enjoyed that we simply did not have back in our routine of life.On one day, Gwen and I were praying together and reading a Psalm—the poetry for the soul. We were struck with one verse in which the Psalmist says so simply God wants to bless us with peace.(Psalm 22:11). I thought, “God really wants me to experience peace—to live a peaceful life. This is what he longs for when he thinks of me. He’s not so much concerned with the questions I am about my work and life. He simply wants me to live a life of peace.” I loved that verse and I love it to this day. I want that peace more than I want anything else in my life, don’t you?Gwen and I chose not to talk about some things; some people and some future things. We needed our minds and our adrenalin glands to relax. So shelving some conversations simply helped us. We live in the complex world of relationships and people’s problems including our own. So choosing to NOT go “there” actually helped us.  Hard talks and difficult conversations are always going to need to be processed. But perhaps we can even choose to "vacate" difficult subjects and to allow the soul and our tired, worn bodies to recuperate. There will always be re-engagement but for this time--for this time off and away we need to work on what we engage in and what we vacate from.In the few days back now, we’ve chosen to transition (and we are taking three days to be back home and transition to a very full schedule) we are now beginning to talk about this next week, next month and next season that is here. But the choice to Sabbath from so much work-talk, God-talk and people talked helped us to simply BE together and not feel torn apart by our opinions and ideas.  One big mistake I see people doing is not allowing transition time to come back early, unpack, get ready to re-engage. There's a rhythm to everything---even to a healthy vacation. I've learned the hard way by years and years of stop and jerking back in--feeling the jerk of a quick re-entry without time, grace and being good to myself and perhaps my team mates.

  1. Our time off and away helped us experience rich times of contemplation and life-giving reflection.

Time off and away allowed us time to chew on what we were reading rather than speed reading to get through the book or text. We read, re-read and continue to read again some chapters from amazing books such as Eugene Peterson’s brand new and yet his last book to publish, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire.” One chapter in particular about “training up children” or parenting has us talking everyday about what it means to raise up a child, a staff member and people in general. We read poems and poems read us. We took the time to slowly digest words so that they did, in fact become our necessary bread each day. I read a wonderful book by an African about silence. Robert Cardinal Sarah’s book, “The Power of Silence Against the Dictatorship of Noise” offered me words from a perspective other than an American to understand the sheer power of silence and what silence can do in us. I have loved this book and his thoughts—so different from my own.We chose to not watch the news. We chose to not know what was going on out there so we might better know what was going on in our own hearts and within us. It was a healthy choice for us. I chose to have no communication with our team at work. I needed a hard line to be drawn so that I would not try to spin the plates of work, team and planning with my own soul's work and need to find life with me.  Again, it was a healthy choice. I had a few emails that I chose to respond to but hearing nothing helped me hear more deeply from Someone who really wanted all of me for this time.The lost art of contemplation and reflection is a great concern of mine. We are so bent on getting information. Our churches have perhaps fallen into this also. So much teaching. So much preaching. So much information giving. We forget that the spiritual life is first, of all, a life to be lived…not the amassing of more and more stuff. We have no time to process what is happening in us and around us. We are reactionary to everyone and everything popping off at the mouth on social media leaving carnage in our social media paths. I'm tired of this. I'm very tired of this.We cannot live the spiritual life or a life marked by abundance by feasting on the stale bread of social media. We can not make sense of life, God, relationships or anything else in 140 characters. That's the simple truth. There I said it.  So, I chose to fast from Facebook. I chose to fast so that I could feast on something far, far, far more nourishing to my soul than seeing pictures of you and those imagines stirring up feelings in me that I often would not like. Your times in Mexico and the beach only made me jealous actually. While I was sometimes glad for you, I was more wondering why I couldn’t be sipping that drink I saw you drinking? There was room under that umbrella on the beach. So why didn’t you invite me to join you?” Things like that and more and worse made me glad to choose to leave the false and pretend world we project so often on social media platforms. That world does not foster the real world of intimacy, connection and peace. At least it does not for me.If Jesus, himself took regular time off and to be away then why shouldn’t we do the same? This is a question that seems to run counter-cultural to our ethos of work and life and our not taking the time off and by being away may be doing far, far, far more damage than we can realize by being on; being present and being consumed with our everyday life. There are many more benefits from time spent being off and away. Think of your own and make the choice to come back to life as I am doing.(If you buy the books I mentioned here on the links provided,  your purchases will benefit the ministry of Potter's Inn.)