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 Shifting of My Emotional Tank

As we age, our capacity to keep our inner buckets filled changes. It’s really that simple. This metaphor, helps me grasp some of the deeper ways and shifts I see taking place in me—in my emotional bucket.If you've not been following me on my thinking about repositioning my life and work, here's a chance to catch up!  I've been writing about my own shifts in how I see my work--my mission and my purpose. You can read about the first blog on my respositioning here.  You can read my second blog-- about the shift from an 8-lane freeway to a 2 lane road here.  This is the third of my entries on my own growing exploration to answer this question: When is enough--enough? And by that word "enough" I mean--work.What mattered to us in our 20’s simply morphs. We shift. No one in their 60's is like they were in their 20's---are they?  We grow, mature, gain wisdom and more life and God experience and we let go of some of the stuff that seemed to consume us in our 20’s.  I think this is a very good thing. I'll explain below. Please keep reading!When I married, my bucket shifted again. There was another person that filled up a big section of my bucket. Her needs. Her story and her desires shifted my own capacity. When we leave singleness—we experience shifts inside. Love stretches us—transforms us and makes us jettison false ideas about shallow kinds of love and affection for the deeper truths that come when we go through hard times, challenges and health scares.  The vows I spoke to my wife in my 20's have a depth now in my 60's that I simply could not understand.  Shifts happen when you actually go through "sickness" and hard times.  The shifts in life deepen the love we thought was love when we were younger. This is an important shift that time teaches us and the God of time reveals to us.When we have children, our emotional buckets shift again. Those little mixtures of ovum and sperm shift our priorities--don't they? Who is ever the same after the birth of your children? Love deepens and so does responsibility. Slow Saturday brunches shift to soccer games, baseball practice and swim meets. Our reality has a way of re-arranging what is important in life.  And here's the truth--we'd never want it any other way. The shifts are good. The shifts are necessary. They shifts are needed to help us become all God intended for us.Our inner buckets shift in our vocational journey as well. Our dreams and passions propel us into high ideals and lofty ambitions. We are driven. We are in a hurry and we are impatient with others who move too slow. We try on our varied vocational clothes to find meaning and purpose. We try this job--then we try another one. Maybe the next job will be "it."  It takes a while--meaning several jobs--to find the right fit. We shift in each job as necessary mentors to teach us who we need to become. We change jobs like migrant workers change fields and climates. We move—become transient seeking a dream status that we believe awaits us. Every shift is needed. Every shift is important. Every shift is an invitation to become more of our true selves.Some of us--when introduced early to the harshness of life, find ourselves shifting far ahead of our peers. Pain in life-- like labor pains in birth--forces us through the dark canal of pain into a new stage--a new shifting. Our bucket gets knocked over through tragedy, divorce, the death of a loved one, something unjust happening to us and more. Emptiness and brokness, come to find out are the real agents of any shift we experience throughout our lives. The spiritual masters tell us that apart from pain--we simply will not shift. We will not change apart from being broken.  These are the real teachers who can morph us into being old souls before our time--before we would ever want to.  Without pain and struggle, some of us simply will not shift. We will hold on--refuse to change--clinging to the same old stage--the same old beliefs. Some of us are so white-fisted about changing that we live immoble--and truly dead before we ever really live.Our aging parents take a place in our emotional buckets like never before. We have to care in ways we never thought about. It’s called being in the “sandwich generation” because we’re squeezed on both ends of life—our own kids and our own parents. Priorities shift. We get stretched in time and money. We are giving out more than we are ever taking in. We long for a shift--for relief perhaps.About this same time, our vocational journey takes on grand importance because we have a sense that we are making a difference. Long hours and good results keep an inner fire stoked inside. We are challenged by our time---thinking we can justify our lack of time by calling some time quality and other time quantity. We will learn later in another phase that this is simply not true. Time is time and time, more than any other factor in our life shifts our emotional tank.My Grandchildren Shifted My Heart Like Nothing Else!When I had my first grandchild, I knew a shift was happening. My inner tectonic plates shifted in a way that was shocking. It was as if a conversion as big as Paul’s falling off his horse in Tarsus had happened to me. Scales fell off my eyes, just as they fell off Paul's eyes. I was once lost--in a way--but my grandchildren's arrival on the planet gave me new sight and vision. My first grandchild brought an awakening—a waking up that is still happening—even after my 10th grandchild is just now announced but still in utero. I care deeply about these souls. I care so deeply in fact, that I want to show up more and be in their lives in a deep way. I’m shifting. I think my four sons see me shifting and are left scratching their heads--perhaps.  My emotional bucket is shifting-- pushing other less important matters out of my bucket—giving more and more room to these little souls who seem to thrive on having time with me. Here's the truth: I cannot keep piling things into my bucket. Something has to shift. My bucket can literally only hold so much. Are you at your limit? If so, it may be time to shift somethings around--perhaps putting some thing out of your bucket.Through time and in time, I am shifting. My emotional bucket is changing its capacity. I cannot carry everything I use to carry in this bucket of mine. Some things will have to go. Somethings will come into my bucket that are not only going to re-arrange my life--but shift my inner life.Let me try to explain this shift more personally now.I am aging. I'm not 20 anymore.  I"m not 40 anymore.I am changing.I am shifting.I am not only aging—I am "sage-ing."I am arriving at a plateau where I can finally look out and see the horizon but also see  some drop offs  and dangerous cliffs.I may not need to take another mountain.  I use to talk this way.  Every challenge was something to conquer. Now, I'm seeing things different.I see the need to be careful. I sense the need to be wise--really wise.I do not want to make a mistake chiefly because there is no longer time to recover from a big mistake.I am seeing shifts in my emotional bucket that are going to inform my life in a different way than I ever thought before.I am growing wise and the shift in me is this: I want to give my wisdom now to only those who really want my wisdom. I no longer feel the need to convince, persuade or coax people to drink from the same cup I am drinking.I am thinking I can relax a bit more by not trying so dad-gum hard--all the time.I want to be available to those who are thirsty—to those who are hungry. I don’t want to have to motivate anyone to change their life unless they WANT to change their life. That’s a shift in me for sure.I'm realizing that only God can shift us anyway.  All change is in God's arena. I see a shift in the writers of our Scriptures.As I have read the second letters of Paul, Peter and John, I have found myself liking their second letters far, far more than than first letters. Take Paul for example. He said some things in I Corinthians that were…well—harsh and hard. As he ages, I’ve seen a remarkable shift in his own bucket. He softens. He’s more mellow. He’s far, more pastoral. Luke tells us about the emotional bucket shifting for Paul in the final verses of the book of Acts. I’ve sat with Acts 28:30-31 for a couple of years now. I’m drawn to how Luke narrates Paul’s inner shift. Here’s how Luke hints at Paul’s shift:“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!”Paul started as a religious zealot as a young man. His zeal was fierce. His energy was extraordinary. He traveled widely. He suffered greatly. He was resilient. Yet, as Paul aged, he shifted and in this passage, we learn that only two things were on his mind and heart: He told people about the Kingdom of God and he told people about Jesus. These two things consumed the final two years of his life. Not church planting strategy. Not leadership development seminars. Not mapping out world evangelization. He simply shifted as an older man to tell people about the two most essential truths: God’s rule and God’s Son. Complete. An amazing reduction of decades crusading for doctrinal purity. A distillation of many things to just a few things. His bucket shifted.  I wish that more and more preachers would shift to how Paul shifted rather than being so cantankerous--like I am sure I was. Can we major on the majors? Can we please major on the majors and let these minors pass away with our childish ways and childhood shifts?Peter too! 2 Peter is just a nicer book than 1 Peter. I learned this while spending a year in 2 Peter when I wrote my book, Inside Job. Peter morphed from a fiery, reactionary wanna-be leader to a real pastoral type. He’s much more passionate from a deeper place in 2 Peter than I see him in his first letter. This morphing—shifting—changing his own emotional bucket led Peter to become the head of the church—not as a young, fiery leader but as a sage like leader. I’m glad to see his shift and it gives me great hope for my own shifting inside.As we go from decade to decade, we simply must shift inside. We must keep growing—keep shedding old snake skins to have soft hearts and wise eyes. We cannot do it all. Perhaps we are not meant to.When we hear the stories of the great men and women in Scripture, we see them shifting. All of them shifted as a matter of fact. No one stays the way they are in their 20’s. Seriously. Would anyone even want to? I doubt it.Preparing for our Final ShiftI am glad to see my own shifting and be a witness to this shifting to you. I hope my words—my shifting may give you words to your own feelings—your own inner rumblings of a change that is not only good—but necessary.All shifting in our lives is only preparation for our final shift into eternity. If we can shift well now--then we will be prepared to shift from our final breath on this earth to the first breath with God.  Now, this is a shift that, more and more, I look forward to making.  How about you?           

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.