Discernment

  • Getting in the Flow of Eternity Now

    blogpic.EternityHeartGod has made everything beautiful for its own time. God has planted eternity in the human heart. ~Eccl. 3:11

    This past Saturday I led a Women’s Retreat called, Savor the Moment. We talked about our need to re-imagine time. Since God has “planted eternity in our hearts,” by creating us in the beginning of time through the Word (John 1:1-3) and redeemed us through the resurrection of Christ for eternal life (John 3:15-16), why are we always so pressed for and boxed in by time? Can we re-imagine how to think about and use time in a way that frees us to be in the flow of eternity?

    When I was in high school and college, I sincerely believed that the fuller my calendar, the better person I was. A calendar with no free spaces meant that I was accomplishing a great deal, having an impact, being a “good” person. Perfectionism. Ugh--what an awful way to live! I thought it was what I was supposed to do to be a “worthy” person, deserving of love and good things. That is, until I ended up with stage 2b cancer followed by chronic migraines. Our bodies don’t think that perfectionism and over-functioning makes us morally good; in fact, I have found out the hard way that my body doesn’t like this life style at all.

    How then do we choose what to do and what to set aside? What to commit to and what to pass up? What gets us in the flow of life and frees us up to savor the moments? I learned a terrific discernment tool from a 12-step cassette tape a friend loaned to me several years ago. I have used this rubric many times to help me figure out what activities/hobbies/volunteering to do (or not do) as well as bigger decisions, like vocation and calling. It’s helped me say, “no” to requests and commitments without guilt! Just imagine!

    You can use this tool to decide what activity to begin, or what activity to stop doing. You can use this to discern what relationships are healthy and which ones suck the life out of you. It works best if you make a “date” with yourself and God to reflect, pray and journal about these four areas:

    Desire--God works through our desires—what is it that I really want to do, that tugs at my heart, that excites and interests me?
    Ability—Do I have the ability and skills to do this activity/job, or do I need additional training? Ability can also relate to aging—is this something I can physically do without causing harm to my well-being?
    Time—Do I have the time for this activity, and if not, is there something else I am ready to release to make time?
    Energy—Do I have the passion to sustain this activity? When I imagine myself engaged in this activity, is it life-giving or energy-draining?

    Only when we have all for elements of DATE—Desire, Ability, Time and Energy—do we have a calling from God or a “great fit” for us. It’s hard to savor the moment and be mindfully present when what we’re doing is life-sucking, and not deeply satisfying.

    I used this tool when I felt led to go back into parish ministry after spending nine years at home with my children and running a home business. When I refelcted on DATE in my prayers, I realized I no longer had the passion/energy for my business, but when it came to imagining being a pastor again, I had all for qualities!

    There may be a reason or a value we hold that leads us to continue in a job or activity in which we do not experience all four qualities. For example, we may continue in a job we don’t have the passion for because we provide our family’s health insurance. We can bring that experience to prayer as well, and ask God how we might receive all four qualities in that job or activity to which we need to remain committed. And, it becomes even more important, then, to have our other activities be something in which we experience all four characteristics of DATE.

    What does life feel like when you have the Desire, Ability, Time, and Energy to engage in something you love? We’re more focused, more alive and in the flow of life when we do those activities. We have the mental and emotional freedom to savor what we’re doing, to re-imagine time and to be fully present in the moment. We can experience a bit of that eternity God has planted in our heart. Give it a try and leave a comment below (email or FB message) and let me know what you discover!

     

  • Hope in Endings

    Addendum to Executive Summary for Living Waters Hope

    Revs. Linda and Dan Anderson-Little

    June 3, 2015 

    Bishop Roger Gustafson asked us to reflect on “how we experience hope in the closing of Living Waters”.

    It’s a wonderful question.  We both have remained hopeful about the future of the church, the need for continued mission and experimentation in our changing culture, as well as personal hope in the presence of God in our own lives.  Below we highlight some concrete sources of hope:

    Impact:  We know that we have made an impact in some people’s lives; we have given skeptical and hurting people a new conversation, a new opportunity.  We trust through the miracle of the Spirit, this will continue to ripple out.

    Small Group: The impact we’ve made is most notable in the Small Group that met consistently from the very beginning of Living Waters.  The depth of conversation and shared intimacy has far surpassed any experience either of us has had in our traditional church experience.  We are heartened that at least 6 members of this group will continue to meet 3x/month with us as part of our personal outreach and spiritual practice which continues to be a source of great hope.

    Support: We have been humbled by and so grateful for the support we have received from every corner of the church – both as we imagined Living Waters, carried it out and closed it.  We have had wonderful conversations and engagement with the staff of our local and national judicatories, colleagues, our Steering Team and Intercessory Prayer Team, as well as those in “official” committees tasked with decisions to support us and offer oversight.  Even as we struggled with Linda’s health challenges and the decision to close, we have been buoyed by the prayers and love of so many, which continues to give us hope.

    Discernment: We both feel God’s continued presence and grace in our lives.  We’re discerning what we gained from this experience and are still in process of listening to what God might be up to next for us.  Dan is pursuing some possible Interim Pastor positions to provide income during this process.  Linda is exploring what kinds of ministry and commitments will be compatible with health and well-being.  We have also realized that we can “discern rightly and still decide incorrectly”.  We rightly discerned the need for mission with the “Nones”, trying bold experiments in ministry, and that we both have gifts for mission development.  However, Linda engaging in this kind of ministry, and perhaps trying to build ‘fast and big’ were not correct decisions.  The gift of distinguishing between discernment and decision, gives us hope that God’s faithfulness is ever true, even in the midst of our limitations.

    Funds: We’re grateful for the shared discernment of our judicatories, coach, Steering Team and Prayer Team that it was time to conclude the ministry before all the resources dwindled.  We find hope that there is still $47,000 still available for new mission in the Presbytery of Giddings-Lovejoy and the Central States Synod. 

    Faith: Because this has been such a positive experience in so many ways, we are sad, disappointed and very sorry Living Waters did not work, but we have not been brutalized or torn up by it.  We rest with conviction on the very core of our faith, which is that God raises new life from death and God always has the final answer.  We trust in our resurrection hope that death is not final and that the Holy Spirit will always work new ways to bring grace and love to all of creation.

     

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  • It's All About That Love

    My life, my prayers, my purpose - it all starts with love – not me loving God or me loving others, but “beholding God, beholding me and smiling,” as the Preparation Days encourage us in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  I prayed this one exercise everyday at the beginning of the 9-month program.  It was on Day 57 that my prayer experience moved from my head to my heart!  I moved from picturing God smiling on me to feeling God love me.

    Yesterday during my prayers, I simply asked what God wanted to say to me and here’s what I received:

    The more I accept how much God loves me, the more able I am to carry out what God wants to do through me. I am freer to listen to the inner voice. Since God loves me so much and fulfilling God’s call is my primary aim – my calling flows out of God’s love for me. 

    If I am trapped in self-hate and self-criticism, I cannot do what God wants me to do because I don’t feel worthy or deserving of such attention, such joy.  Thinking I can do God’s will then feels ego-driven, and the negative voices say, “Who do you think you are?  You’re not that great to be fulfilling God’s will.”  

    It turns out that my worthiness has nothing to do with what God can do through me because it’s rooted in who God is and not who I am.  It turns out that no one is worthy to be an instrument of God – it’s pure gift, rooted in God’s self-giving love. It’s a fact, a reality, apart from my worthiness or my acceptance of it.

    Since God’s love comes to me a priori, the primary purpose of prayer and meditation is to experience how much God loves me.   From this vantage point, new vistas open up that are not limited by my narrow view of what I think I am supposed to accomplish in life. Such love leads me to new questions for my day:

    • What in love does God want to do through me?
    • Since God made me and loves me, what work, relationships and tasks flow from this?
    • How does God want to show up in the world through me? 

    Each day is full of new possibilities!

     

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  • Listening to the Spirit

    20210105 165122Message for Holy Trinity Sunday on Isaiah 6:1-8, Romans 8:12-17, John 3:1-17 given May 30, 2021 at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church. I regret that due to technical difficulties, there is no video recording of this sermon or worship service.

    When I served my first church in Detroit, MI, I met a woman in the neighborhood named, Regina, who had been ordained by her congregation—not because she went to seminary like in our tradition, but because she had the gifts of the Holy Spirit for ministry. She became one of my mentors. When we would discuss issues, she would say, “well the Spirit said, to me…” and she would go on to tell what the Holy Spirit said directly to her.

    I had spiritual experiences, but I did not have the sense that the Holy Spirit was speaking to me, like Regina did when she was referring to an internal conversation with the Spirit. I would say to myself, “I just do not have that gift.” But after a while I thought—“maybe I am just not quiet enough to listen!”

    All 3 of our Scripture passages today talk about listening to and being in the Holy Spirit:

    • Isaiah is in the Spirit when he is given the vision of the Lord sitting on the throne, his sins are forgiven with a burning coal and he hears the Lord call him into ministry.
    • Paul calls the believers in Rome to live in the fullness of their identity in Christ which is to be led by the Spirit of God as children of God.
    • Jesus calls the Pharisee Nicodemus into full relationship with him by being born of water and the Spirit.

    But listening to the Holy Spirit does not come naturally to us as Lutherans. We are more comfortable with the Creator—the Father/Mother of God—with the mind, with knowledge, with study, with linear thinking and argumentation, and logic. When I was in seminary, the first classes we took were Greek and Hebrew, biblical interpretation, theology and history—and these are all important and valuable disciplines for understanding our texts and I love and value them.

    Such emphasis on the Bible makes us amazingly comfortable with Jesus—with his life and mission, with love of neighbor, and social justice where live out our faith in Incarnational and sacramental ways. We are terrific at disaster relief, feeding the hungry, doing global mission, building water wells, hospitals, and living out our faith in a way that embodies a God who came to us—in a body—and who continues to come to us in through bread and wine—earthly elements. We love the story of salvation where Jesus’ humanity bridges the divide and heals the brokenness between us and God, redeeming our suffering, forgiving our sin, and bringing us into a wholeness and union with God that lasts forever.

    But this Holy Spirit stuff makes us a little nervous. We do not want to become too emotional or out of control. We are not going to speak in tongues or talk about being born again. We are not going to have some wild vision that we cannot distinguish from a chemical imbalance in the brain. We will not whoop and holler or dance and sing (no matter how much Pr. Linda tries to get us to move!) Many of us come from ancestors who have been ignoring their feelings for generations, and we are not about to let all out, Holy Spirit or not.

    But then I met Regina, who was the most loving person I had ever met, who answers the phone with the words, “peace and love,” speaking as if she was having conversation with Holy Spirit. She was so peaceful—and if talking with the Holy Spirit led to that kind of peace, then I wanted some of that, too.

    So, I started to practice listening. I did all kinds of prayer practices and met with my spiritual director, and I quieted my mind and heart and body and listened (and if you think I have energy now, you should have seen me 30 years ago—it wasn’t easy!). And then, slowly, I started to hear. Over time I realized, I could hear, feel, know, understand the Holy Spirit’s guidance in much deeper ways than I had been taught. And it was not about emotion. In fact, it was quite the opposite. If an emotion or trigger does come up, it means we have something to work through or breathe through, often fear or anxiety. We may need to attend to those strong emotions with counseling, conversation, journaling, or calling your pastor! But the Spirit’s guidance is most often

    • Neutral- no emotional charge
    • Compassionate-Loving
    • Truth (freeing or hard)
    • Impersonal- you are a witness, watching something unfold*

    Sometimes we can have an emotional response to the message—relief, or overwhelming love can cause tears, or we may be afraid to do what God asks us to do, but the Spirit does not give us fear.

    How the Spirit speaks to me and to you may be different: Today we affirm a Trinitarian God—we are made in this image—Creator, Jesus, Spirit, so God can speak to us in a variety ways--through our Mind, Body or the Spirit/Intuition. We may have one dominate way or maybe we have all channels open. Spirits messages can come in the

    • Mind – new thoughts, a flash of insight, an idea, a problem solved—that came from outside yourself, a voice that rose up, rather than one you generated
    • Body – experiencing a gut feeling, a heaviness or warmth in chest, a sense of energy moving in the body, a feeling of peace, goose bumps, some other physical sensation
    • Spirit/Intuition – A sense of knowing without words, feeling of love or compassion, seeing a picture or image, seeing color, or a vision, or even a dream at night (start writing them down as soon as you wake in the morning).

    Sometimes Nothing happens. You may have nothing noticeable happen and simply relax in the presence and peace of God. That’s ok! I prayed for 52 days once and nothing happened. WAIT is legitimate answer from the Spirit! 

    So today, we are going to practice listening, which I know is unusual for sermon. It will just be brief, and we’re just scratching the surface, but I want to give you a way to practice listening, which you can then try on your own. I want you to think of one simple question where you would like guidance, help or an answer. Just one. It could be about your health, what to do about a relationship, if you should sell your house, a question at work, the future mission of the congregation. We all need to practice, because in order to recover from the pandemic and be healthy people, in order to discern our future as a congregation, in order to follow Jesus in all areas of our lives, we want and need to be led by the Holy Spirit. Get as comfortable as you can in your pew:

    • Close eyes—and begin to breathe deeply. Let us pray- “we ask for your presence Holy Spirit, for your fire to rest upon each one of us, and dwell with in us, as we listen for your loving presence and guidance in our lives. Amen.
    • Continue to breathe deeply in and out
    • Focus on your breath—the rise and fall of your belly
    • If thoughts come, let them float by like clouds without thinking about them, and come back to your breath
    • Breathe in the Spirit, blow out fear
    • Breathe in Christ, blow out worry
    • Breathe in God, blow out anxiety
    • Breathe in peace, blow out stress
    • Breathe in gratitude, breath in love, breath in Spirit (blow out anything negative)
    • Now ask the question you had in mind and see what comes up in your body, mind or intuition
    • Pause and pay attention for several minutes
    • It’s okay not to notice anything –sometimes faith and Spirit are about relaxing in the peace and presence of God together.
    • Acknowledge what you have received.
    • Internally, say thank you and express gratitude for this sacred time and whatever you experienced.
    • Take another big deep breath, wiggle your fingers and toes
    • Open your eyes and return to the present space

    Jot down anything that came to you or any experience you had that you want to pray about, return to, or reflect on later. This is just one of many ways to listen to the Holy Spirit when we need guidance, help, encouragement, wisdom, and that sense of the companionship of God coming alongside us in our life. I did this exercise yesterday as I prepared for today. I asked the question of whether St. Luke’s should sell the building or stay. And guess what answer I got? It’s not your decision. Your job is to be a non-anxious leader who helps the process.
    Let’s test this against what I said earlier about the Holy Spirit:

    • Neutral- no emotional charge—this is a neutral message without emotional charge of anger, fear, pain
    • Compassionate-Loving –it is compassionate toward the congregation where the decision lies and loving toward all of us—putting us in our right place/roles
    • Truth (freeing or hard)—it tells me the truth. It frees me from trying to work/manipulate a preferred outcome; it’s also hard for my ego in that I have no special or secret knowledge as a pastor or in this conversation with the Spirit
    • Impersonal- you are a witness, watching something unfold—this message reminds me that the Spirit’s larger work is not about me—I am a witness to what God is doing in the church as a whole, I am a participant and leader in helping something unfold—nothing more, nothing less. My role is not more or less than anyone else’s

    Now Isaiah’s vision of the throne of God, Paul’s encouragement to be led by the Spirit, and Jesus’ words that we are reborn through water and the Spirit may not seem so unnatural or strange! As we engage in this practice together and on our own, we are truly becoming Lutherans where “spirits come alive!” (St. Luke's tag line!)

    *I am grateful to Dr. Judith Orloff who uses these to describe insights from our intuition, which I also understand to be part of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

    Image: I took this picture of a mosaic by Sonia King which is part of her VisionShift project, a mosaic installation for HALL Arts in the Dallas Arts District.

  • Success Through Surrender

    Single Golden Leaf FallingThe only way I know how to change behavior is to change behavior: make a different choice in the moment. This is difficult in a culture bound by addictive patterns fed by self-reliance. Addict Nation author Jane Velez-Mitchell asserts addiction is not just about the usual—alcohol, drugs, and gambling, but that top addictions in the US include prescription pills, technology, shopping, and food (fat and sugar). Dr. Mark Hyman argues that sugar is 8 times more addictive than cocaine because of the way it lights up the reward center of the brain. We probably all have some kind of addictive behaviors, making it challenging to change any unhelpful habit.

    In my experience, the harder I try to change my behavior on my own, the more difficult it becomes. We live in a culture that idolizes hard work, never giving up, pushing oneself beyond previous or reasonable limits. When I exercise on the eliptical machine at the YMCA and stop to sip water, the digital read-out urges me, "keep climbing." We live in a "keep climbing" culture, which is why it's hard to accept that often times, success is found not in trying harder, but rather in letting go.

    The moment of surrender is the weakest moment for a human being– an emptiness that admits, finally, that I cannot of my own will and power, do something different, create something new, change my behavior or become a deeper more whole person on my own. Ironically for Christians, this moment is also our most powerful for we become open to the movement of God. As the Apostle Paul says, "For whenever I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Corinthians 12:10). We surrender to a power greater than ourselves, allowing this power to work through us to effect changes, newness, and behavior beyond what we can do on our own. This is the basic first step of any 12-step program. I visited an AA meeting 14 years ago, and what the speaker on Step 1 said still sticks with me: it's not about trying harder; it's about admitting that we can't do it all.

    On our own, we're stuck in unhealthy behavior, be it eating or drinking too much, using technology to avoid intimacy, and other cyclical patterns hurtful to ourselves or others. Surrendering our weakness to God, we are more powerful than ever through the great I AM, allowing God, the universe, the creative Spirit and power of life to work through us, fill us, use us, change us.

    How does one do this on a daily basis—moment by moment? How does this God-consciousness permeate our being so that discernment of a power beyond us is ever-present on our mind and heart directing our thoughts and actions? The answer is the same as the joke about the pianist rushing down the street asking a New Yorker for directions: "How do I get to Carnegie Hall?" New Yorker: "practice, practice, practice!"

    How do we develop a daily God-consciousness? Practice, practice, practice. It's why we call prayer, meditation, and other disciplines Spiritual Practices. We're always practicing, we never arrive. Time with God in prayer each morning sets the stage for the day. The actors are Jesus and the Spirit, the props are the circumstances of my life, the script is revealed as I move through the day as I continually listen to God the Director feed me my lines. It's a relationship with the inward presence of God; a listening inward to the voice of the Spirit, rather than outward. It means a slower pace, a response not a reaction, a thoughtful, measured, centered pace to life.

    Through such practices, a God-consciousness can become our daily companion, our daily script, our daily desire. Listening for God's voice and direction in the quiet of the morning enables me to hear God's voice in the noise of the afternoon. That the day is not up to me is pure freedom when I let it go. I am not side-lined, but through Christ I then become a valued actor who gives voice to the Spirit. Indeed, God's grace is sufficient, for power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9).

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