Our Dilemma and God's Solution for our Lives

There is a better way to live and a solution to our dilemma! Our solution is life on God’s terms!Every day, I hear the complaints, laments and confessions of people who are tired, worn out and burned out. I am concerned because I hear these messages more than at any other time in my life and work. Being absorbed in the daily hassles of surviving; driven by the tyranny of the urgent and competing demands upon their time, energy and passion, life is demanding. Contentment feels as if it is life on another planet or perhaps only in eternity.We live frayed. We live fragmented. We live divided and we call this way of living the “abundant life.” Deep down, we know that any sense of abundance has eluded us and we resign to live our lives in a quiet resignation of desperation.[tweetthis]The solution to our dilemma is life on God’s terms. [/tweetthis]The fateful dilemma that we have found ourselves living in at this present time is assuaged when we realize that there really is another way of living and a solution offered to us. If we could live a life marked by robust sanity, we'd be crazy not to live our life in a way that promises us a true solution.The life of a person who is following Jesus is first of all a life! It is not ascribing to a doctrinal list of beliefs. Following Jesus is a new way of living—not just going to church; not just saying that we believe; not just adding Jesus into our already crowded lives. Jesus offers us a way of living that cultivates life—a life that is free from the brutal tyranny marked by exhaustion, speed and busyness.The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all” (Romans 8:3 MSG). Our disordered mess is something Jesus came to address, rescue us from and offer us an alternative way that would be radically different from tending the grave clothes of our lives and calling that tending—life.In my work and every day in my work with people, I hear almost the exact same words that Paul again penned for us that describe so well, our every day lives:“I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?” (Romans 7:24).The solution is life on God’s terms.Life on God’s terms is marked by several characteristics, that if embraced and practiced —actually yield a life that is marked by peace from our inner angst; well-being rather than sub coming to the malaise of our current condition and a life that is satisfying and fulfilling. The life lived by Jesus, described by the writers of the New Testament and actually lived out by men and women in other generations can be ours today. Many of us are so absorbed and exhausted by our day-to-day lives that we have forgotten and possibly ignored the fact that there is a solution for us.To live this life—to attain this new life—we must wake up from the lull of our sleep and the numbness our current condition has resulted in and start to live in a whole new way. We can live oblivious to this way of life and daily choose to try to survive—rather than thrive.The life lived by Jesus and revealed in the Scriptures is marked by several important distinctions.

  1. A life of rhythm. A life of rhythm is a life where we engage in our work and activities but then we dis-engage. We are not always on, available and obsessed with the doing of our lives. We discover a rhythm that is sustainable; a rhythm that fosters life within us not one that we endure with a slow, steady leak—draining us without any re-filling. Our obsession with work/life balance shows our predicament. We would rather try to “manage” our lives which few can do, to live in a rhythm where we are “on” then learn to truly “cease.” We see in Jesus’ own life a clear way of living that sustained and strengthened him to finish well—not burn out or give up or resign to a fate that was not his own choosing. Choose a daily and weekly rhythm. Choose to honor this rhythm and live in this rhythm for a month--a full 30 days and see what a difference you will experience.
  2. A life with attention to the soul. Our interior life needs attention. Otherwise we will ignore the place where true life begins and emerges from—inside us. When we examine the life lived by Jesus and offered to us, we learn that Jesus used silence and solitude to foster the life within. He pulled away from noise, people and things and entered lonely places (Luke 5:16). There, in the quiet and stillness around him and within him, a deeper way of living is born—a life more meaningful than all of this hurried existence we experiences. Inner silence is that place where peace, contentment and satisfaction is cultivated. Without attention to our inner life—we will live obsessed with outer markers of success and live divided; rushed; and annihilating our souls. All spiritual writers agree on this one and fundamental point. Silence and solitude promote well being and without silence, it is virtually impossible to live the life Jesus came to offer us. A healthy life—a life that is living well—is a life that honors the interior life. What results is an active life—a life of giving out but a life also of intake, receiving and being. Practice 15 minutes of quiet every say and one hour of silence and solitude every week. Build this into your life. Turn off your technology and fast from being on and available.
  3. A life of priority. Jesus made it clear—first things first. By this he raised our consciousness to live with a vertical perspective—a life continually focused with a Kingdom perspective. This is a perspective that we first establish in our lives—to live for what really matters. We then learn to re-focus and return to this way of seeing life as we lose focus, get consumed and need to return to our real and right priorities in life. We simply get back into the way of living with God as our solution and the ways of Jesus as our proven ways that nourish life. We can lose perspective and we can get off track—yet, we can also return and change our direction. We move away from “managing our lives” and spinning plates to a whole and other way of living. Wake up to the spiritual dimension of life and grow your soul by doing first things first!
  4. A life of prayer. When we learn to live by prayer, we live in a deeper, more reflective and less reactionary way of living. A life of prayer is a life of going to our inner room—our hearts and learning to pray with words and without words. We experience the God who is truly with us in our day-to-day living and we turn often and quickly into a posture of prayer that becomes a place of life and encounter. So many of us struggle here. Having never been taught how to pray, we limp along. And implement new ways of being with God through prayer.
  5. A life of living in a healthy way. True life is living with true health in mind. We honor our bodies. We rest them. We tend to them. We give the body what it needs to live and to live well. Since we are what we eat—we live with this in mind. We learn to make choices with our body that sustain us—rather than deplete us. We receive through good sleep, good movement and good nourishment. Since our bodies are the “temple” we live in a way that matters and does not abuse the physical address of our souls. Eat. Move. Sleep. These are the big three ways of honoring the physical dimension of our lives.
  6. A life of forgiveness. We live making mistakes, messing up and stained by sin. The life of Jesus is a life of continual turning from the results of our failures with God, others and self and living clean. Forgiveness is at the core of the teachings of Jesus. We forgive our enemies. We forgive those who hurt and disappoint us and we learn that we can forgive ourselves. The journey towards forgiveness is a necessary pilgrimage to live a life of peace. There is no peace without forgiveness. We let go of hurts and failures. Sin is assuaged and we live without self condemnation that plagues so many of us. Sit quietly and see if your attention is drawn to someone you need to move towards and take the initiative to forgive today.
  7. A life of serving others. The Dead Sea in the Middle East is dead because there is no outlet. The waters pour into this basin but there is no place for the sea to give out. A healthy life is a life of making outlets to give our lives to others and then we realize that this paradox happens. As we give—we are the ones who also receive. The hymn writer said, “Because I have been given much, I too, must give.” The life of Jesus is not an escape from human need and misery. It is a life of giving love, mercy and a simple cup of water to those in dire need. Choose to give to something to someone every day and certainly every week.

 Each of these seven distinctions require choices and action steps. We come to realize that this distinctive and living this way may not really be our normal way of living. But we can create a new normal—a life that is marked by these very normal and realistic, yet life altering ways of living. We sometimes live our lives on auto-pilot thinking that we do not have to give attention to some or all of these markers of true life. Yet, as we practice each marker—as we give each distinctive daily, weekly and monthly attention, we live our own healing and participate in our own transformation. As we live a whole “other” way—we discover that we are living a whole and other kind of life—a life marked by the ways of Jesus and a life sustained by God’s Spirit within us.What we need is a plan---a way to do this new life.  I believe that if practiced and embraced, these seven distinctives will yield the life we long for--the life we are attempting to live.  Take each of the seven distinctives and make a plan to begin to practice each one. These are not things to "add" to an already over committed life. The answer may well be to take away other things that over promise and under-deliver the life you want to live.For each distinctive, consider taking something out of your life and life style so that you can replace it with the markers that will sustain you and cultivate the life you long for right now.It's time to wake up and start living!     

Going Unplugged

My heart was like this pole: wired, tethered and always "on."For me to have a true time of sabbatical—a true time of ceasing from my work, it was necessary and mandatory that I abstain from social media during my season of rest, renewal and restoration. There is no way, that what has happened in me could have happen or would have happened if I would have stayed wired, on and available. You might think you are the exception and that you could rest and renew your heart by staying on and wired but that, my friends is an illusion that you are hooked into actually believing. In order for me, and perhaps you as well, to live sanely and with a sense of vitality and not mere survival, we need to discipline ourselves to go wireless in order that we can live in a robust, abundant kind of way. I had to do this. I needed to do this. Perhaps you do also.In today’s world, fasting from technology and dis-engaging from forms of social media are vitally important and needed. When we are so wired and insist that WiFI be omnipresent, we are submitting ourselves to a false and dangerous world. Let me be clear, I am an advocate for social media. I use it every day. However in my sabbatical, I unplugged and went off line for months and I believe in doing so, I created the space where I could cultivate my inner life; do more inside work so my outside job would go better and cultivated a sense of serenity and well-being that being wired seemed to rob me of in my life. Here are five reasons why:I found this in a store in Sedona while on Sabbatical. Do you think it is true?1. Social media nourishes illusions about life that are not true. The images we post ; the snippets of updates we read; the “trending” of our interests builds and re-enforces a false view of life. No picture reveals the whole story, does it? Behind every smile, there is something else we do not see but is as real as all the grins we are staring at online. There is something unsaid behind every post and every instagram photo. Photos don’t reveal our child who is ADD; our son who we caught on a porn site our aging parents feeling unwanted or perhaps unloved. Pictures of men don’t reveal their inner struggles. Pictures of a ladies night out don’t clue us in on one of them having a secret addiction. Images, themselves are not the whole truth.2. When we are always present to social media, we are not present to ourselves, our hearts and God. By skimming scores of quotes, posts and images, our minds are simply taking in what it seems everyone else is doing and everyone else is saying on a particular subject. We don’t take time to reflect, to become mindful of our own thoughts, feelings and convictions. We simply react and “like” things. We grow numb to ourselves—perhaps even numb to the promptings of God. Paralyzed in doing anything else other than hold our phones and go into a catatonic trance—we withdraw to live in a wifi world- a world that is void of human touch; eye contact and presence. We grow impatient in conversation privately insisting and demanding that someone we’re trying to talk to get to the point so we can move on to something else. We do not linger with deeper implications of thoughts and are void of the ability to reflect—that one important aspect in humanity that distinguishes us from my dog and the birds that feed at my feeder. To reflect is what makes us more god-like than perhaps any other quality or characteristic in life.3. Many forms of social media enable us live on the surface rather than moving deeper in our hearts. Social media has a way of enabling us to live at the edge of subjects by reading quotes or hearing a few sentences about a subject. We don’t have the time, we think and we don’t take the time, to reflect more about something. We don’t look at both sides of the argument because our hurriedness causes us to skim and not to process.4. Addiction to social media is as real as an addiction to porn or alcohol. It is as dangerous as a meth addiction. By taking regular times of fasting from social media, we can break and curb what we feel is our “need” of it. Turning your phone off during meal times; turning all forms of beeping, buzzing and vibrating off for two hours a day or going dark or off by 8pm at night creates the needed space for conversation and reflection. Many forms of social media are actually pain remedies. We do not want to be alone or feel alone so we “engage” with an illusionary world that enables us to escape from a world we are navigating. Try fasting from all technology for your Sabbath—a true day of ceasing, which is the literal meaning of to Sabbath—is to cease.5. Social media helps devalues human relationships. Sure, it’s great to get the birthday greetings and to quickly read the news of something you really do need and want to know. But, when we lean heavily into social media by picking up our iphone every 72 seconds to see if something new is posted—while we are having lunch, coffee or a meeting with another human being, we are saying: “My social media life is MORE important than you are.” It’s rude, insensitive and uncaring to use social media in a meeting, during a conversation or sharing a meal. I’ve gotten to the point of asking the person I’m meeting with if they would mind to turn off their phone so we can be focused, present and truly "with" each other in our time together. Social media fosters a culture of living in a true attention deficit world. Can you create a “No Wire Room” in your home or workspace where phones are not allowed?To do this is part of the answer. It is part of fostering resilience. Here’s what helped me to unplug, go dark and get unwired. I asked one of my teammates to read all my emails and to decide what I really needed to know during my sabbatical. Yes, I did this. Do this for your vacation so you can really be “off” and not always checking. The checking is what gets us into trouble. What you think will be a 5 minute email results in getting pulled into so many issues, stories and crises. I put an “auto-responder” on my email telling anyone who needed me that I was off and my teammate would decide how to respond. I told my team that I was not to be called, emailed or texted by them during sabbatical; that if I was needed in case of death or the retreat center had burned down, that only one person was to get me the news. This helped to establish a boundary for them and a boundary for me. It gave me permission to go off the grid and in my going off the grid, I was able to find myself and come back with a greater sense of life inside me than I really knew was possible. We decided to not interact with our staff, Board, donors or anyone related to our work to really help me have the much needed space. It was hard. All have been gracious and kind and this one thing---protective of us during this time. They surely knew how much we needed it. Their silence was, in the end, love to us.Did I look at Facebook some? Sure. Going cold turkey was hard and it is in any form of withdrawal. It was hard for me to give up double stuff Oreos but when I chose to give up those edible demons, something better happened. My desires changed. I wanted to go off of social media; not just that I needed to go off social media and that is precisely the place where transformation happens—not in obeying the rules but by changing what you really want. When our grandson died, I wanted the world to know. When I read something that felt life altering, I did not want to withhold it. So I broke my own rules and posted a few things. But I did not look for responses of how many people liked it. (Well, I tried not to look.)

The Gift of the Sea: A Lesson in Solitude

The world today does not understand, in either man or woman, the need to be alone.  How inexplicable it seems. Anything else will be accepted as a better excuse. If one sets aside time for a business appointment, a trip to the hairdresser, a social engagement, or a shopping expedition, that time is accepted as inviolable. But if one says, I cannot come because that is my hour to be alone, one is considered rude, egotistical or strange. What a commentary on our civilization, when being alone is considered suspect, when one has to apologize for it, make excuses, hide the fact that one practices it—like a secret vice!  Actually, there are among the most important times in one’s life—when one is alone. Certain springs are tapped only when we are alone.”  The Gift of the Sea, p.44The beach invites us to re-think our lives. Such open spaces, unobstructed vistas and the ebb and tide of the waves make it possible to think about the trajectory of one’s life and if one likes the way they are headed. This is happening to me during our pilgrimage at the beach. Today, in reading The Gift of the Sea again, deep feelings surfaced within me.Solitude is something I was late in understanding in my life and work. After completing an under-graduate degree, three year graduate degree and work on my doctorate--I now realize that no teacher, preacher, mentor or friend introduced me to solitude until solitude came and found me in my broken estate.  Perhaps no one might really embrace solitude until they have to or might die. There, I realized that people could not energize my heart nor give water to my soul—only solitude could. What work could a preventative lesson in solitude offer leaders? This is what fuels my soul now to keep going at my work in Potter's Inn.Now I wonder why in all of my attempts to learn the things of God, to read the books about God and to listen to a thousand speakers talk to be for God was I not introduced to the need—no, the necessity of solitude. Some of us are too busy. Some of us live too much in our heads and some of us have stripped all the gears of our soul so that there is no slowing down at all. (In Chapter 3 of The Jesus Life, I show how Jesus lived his life in a rhythm of solitude, then engagement in his work).In all of our efforts to try to help people, one great injustice we are doing is not helping people understand the power of solitude. We have developed great programs to teach English as a second language; programs to dig wells, programs to do most everything except teach people the life giving way of Jesus, himself when he embraced solitude as a normal way to refuel is own soul and renew his heart’s purpose. We love our music and the tiny gadgets that provide the music, but what of the quiet? What of the Great Silence that men and women of old practiced every night—every night throughout their lives? But where has the voice been to speak to us about something as native to the soul as being quiet and knowing God. Even the Psalmist said, “Be still and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10). When then, is the church so quiet on teaching on such a vital subject as solitude?Something so vital, so necessary and so needed should not have to wait until we are broken, piled up in a heaping mess and desperate to stumble upon something so simple as solitude? It’s counter-intuitive isn’t it?  That through silence we hear what we cannot hear in any other way.In a compelling chapter that I read this morning from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s, The Gift of the Sea, (Chapter 3), I feel better equipped to answer the pleas of the woman in Baltimore and the man in Denver who complains, “My life is so full, how then can you expect me to do this—to practice quiet?”  I will now say, “It is not another additional thing you need to do in your life. It is THE essential thing we have to do to experience a sense of abundance in our life rather than feeling so empty, so depleted, so tired and worn out and calling that false life—the abundant life.