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?           

Shedding Old Skin

A snake shedding its skin has been a rich metaphor for me to work with during sabbatical.My problem with our sabbatical being over is that I’m not ready for it to be over. Things have not jelled. I need more time to process some things. I’ve not read all I want to read. I’ve not had the time (believe it or not) to think about some things and get them in concrete. I wish we would have taken longer. Perhaps I needed two more months for things to jell in my soul.John Climacus wrote in the 7th century, “A snake can shed its old skin only if it crawls into a tight hole.” Sabbatical has given me a tight hole in which I've been able to shed some things, find some things and experience some things. It's been rich and rewarding. But here's the deal: I still have old skin on me and in me. Despite my best efforts and intents, I want to come out of this sabbatical time: clean, new and different.With just a few days remaining on Sabbatical, I now know I’m going to walk with a limp. I’m going to still struggle. I’m going to disappoint many of you and my family cause one would think: You should be different given this time!Illusions of being different are born in the waters of baptism. We long to be more than we are. We want to become different than how we see ourselves. We think it's a whole new world when we start out on the spiritual journey. But on the journey we find we carry with us a lot of stuff in our suitcases that never seems to get unpacked and cleaned out. Call it snake skin, graveclothes, habits or addictions--there are some things that just seem like we struggle with--perhaps till we die. Sabbatical has been a time of stripping down my own suitcase and throwing off and away that which simply does not work anymore. Carrying baggage can be so tiring. I’ve found not much dies in those waters of baptism. Demons breathe underwater despite our best efforts to get rid of them. That’s how I feel about re-entry. Not all my demons have died--despite my best efforts to drown them.I’m 60 years old for crying out loud. I thought I’d be done with some stuff by now. Will I still wrestle with the demons of drivenness; performance and pleasing others? Would I not really be better off by doing this…or doing that?One of my grandchildren is almost ready to be potty trained. Being potty trained is all the talk now when we Skype. I can understand my grandson's dilemma. Something has just got to give and change. I’m “almost” ready for a new phase of life myself but somehow when I look down, I feel all messy. It’s not clean. I need someone to help me.Before we even started our sabbatical, we scheduled a re-entry retreat. It begins tonight. So, I'll be able to have some great conversations with a sage like saint whom I've grown to trust. This person, in so many ways is my pastor, my soul friend, my companion but just a head of me a bit--or a lot--depending on what day it is.So, this week, we are leaning into the wisdom of my spiritual director (someone older, wiser and more potty trained than I am). We begin this final act of transition. I want to explore what is for me in my sabbatical and what is for our team. What is for my family. What needs to remain private. Who knows, maybe after my third day with my spiritual director I will have shed my old skin once and for all.

Sitting in the Potter's Inn: My need for Transformation!

by Stephen W. Smith at Potter's InnAs we began moving furniture into the brand new Inn, I sat alone in the Great Room for some moments to let what what happening sink into my soul. As I sat in a chair we had thought would look good in the Great Room and the thought came to me, how ironic to be sitting here alone in this place of transformation.I well remember in 2003 when Gwen and I started the venture of establishing an actual place for transformation to happen that it would be me, the first one called to sit upon the Potter's wheel and hear the Potter's wheel being spun around and around. If transformation is going to happen, then it has to happen with me first. That was my thinking....and that is what has been happening. As we have called others into the journey of spiritual transformation, we have always been mindful of our need for the Potter's hands to pinch here; squeeze there and impress hard here.As I sat yesterday in the Great Room, that same feeling came over me. If anyone needs transformation, then I must be willing to yield to the same process that we are calling others to embrace.So I sat. Sat some more. Prayed and asked the Potter to be so ever gentle with me for I have been feeling fragile.This is a sculpture that God gave me a vision for in 2004 showing the two shaping hands of the Divine Potter. One is ever so gentle and one is digging in hard. Transformation requires both! I had the vision for this but could not actually sculpt it so I asked Clay Enoch, a renowuned sculpter in Colorado Springs, to help me. "Forming Hands" was the result and our ministry sold 2,500 of these sculptures which greatly aided in funding the early days of Potter's Inn ministry. Currently we are sold out and have no plans at the moment to resurrect this limited sculpture.