No one really likes to admit they are addicted to anything. By doing so, you’re admitting to something having power of you. You’re also implying that you’re weak, or at least weaker than whatever it is that you’re addicted to.
So, I have an addiction.
I keep going back to it. I keep buying into it’s lie. I keep clinging to it because I believe somewhere deep down that it will make me feel alive, make me feel valuable and worthy. But you know what? It never delivers. And no matter how many times I keep going back to my addiction, it fails me every time.
I am addicted to performance and the feeling of achievement or success. And ok, maybe you don’t think you can be addicted to that, but give me a second. This has been a major issue in my life, one that God has worked deeply and routinely on because it runs deep.
I find myself getting my identity wrapped up into how I’m perceived by others. Do others see me as ‘accomplished’ or as ‘successful’ or with some kind of ‘status’ that makes me feel good about myself? Sometimes it leaks over into what others think about how good of a parent I am, or how well I speak or write or lead. And then throw in things like appearance, intelligence, my reputation, my achievements, how my kids behave, and all of these things become synonymous with my worth. In short, achievements add to my worth. And failure, or even the perception of it, deter from my worth. As a result I get addicted to performance and achievement because it makes me feel like somebody.
But it’s the journey of the false self. It’s a dead end. And like I said, even when I perform well, achieve something great, or succeed with flying colors, that good feeling only lasts a short while. Then back to the addiction because the feeling is gone and I need another hit.
Now, I’m not saying accomplishments are insignificant or shouldn’t be pursued. But, there’s a huge difference in finding pleasure in something we do and depending on it for worth, value and meaning. I don’t want to live my life giving all my energy to image projection, or “performing” for others. For one, it’s exhausting. And worse, it sucks me into living in my false self. It takes me away from the God life and keeps me clinging to the self-life or the me-life. That’s the great irony of the human spirit – when we try to consume for ourselves, thinking it’ll make us “happy” or “fulfilled”, it does just the opposite. And in contrast, when we live for something beyond ourselves, God, we find ourselves more deeply satisfied in our souls. Even in saying that, I “know this” but man it can be very hard to live it. So I continue to live in this tension, where God is patient with me, and reminds me of this deeper journey, a journey I’ve been created to be on. I want to disconnect myself from the hamster wheel of tireless and endless proving of myself, earning something from someone, running so fast and furious to keep up and keep a certain image. This causes me anxiety, fear, frustration, and outright exhausts my soul.
This brings me back to GRACE, something I feel I just never can fully get. But it keeps getting me. It keeps reminding me to cling to God, center myself in God, root my identity and worth in a deeper and deeper way…IN GOD. That’s how to break free from my addiction. And any addiction really. I am free – through the gospel of grace – from rescuing myself or proving myself or from carrying the burden of measuring up. And now, if I could just keep living in that truth the rest of my life…
Aside from my parents, one of my first real mentors was my high school baseball coach. His mentorship of me revolved around skill development, namely baseball. However, it went far beyond that. What Coach Holder taught me beyond baseball has many layers, but begins with mental toughness and work ethic. He was a hard nose coach who didn’t let you get away with anything. No disrespect. No laziness. No giving up. We were challenged every day to focus on the team’s best outcomes, but part of that being you coming to practice every day to work hard, give your best, and focus for a couple hours the best you can. When that wasn’t the reality he saw, he stayed on our case very intensely. At times I of course HATED THIS, or even hated even dare I say (at these for the moment). But he pushed me hard and stayed on me to do things the right way, with the right attitude. Of course he intimidated me, but looking back, that was part of his strategy to accomplish what he wanted to accomplish with his players and teams.
I remember the days he would pull me aside (sometimes in weight training class). He’d throw me a tennis ball, mark off 60 feet and tell me to practice throwing the ball against the wall and getting it inside a little square every time I hit it. He would stand there and watch sometimes. And when I wasn’t hitting the goal, he would push me, challenge me, and sometimes yell at me. I felt the pressure. I was nervous, anxious, and sometimes flat out scared that I would fail. He stayed on me for years, literally. And it made me a better baseball player. More than that, he made me a better man. He taught me how to handle the pressure. He taught me how to discipline my mind and minimize distractions. He taught me to believe I could do, envision it in my mind, and then execute. Somehow in the midst of moments like these I knew how much he believed in me. He wasn’t pulling every player off to the side to push them harder, only a few of us. And essentially, best I could tell, it was those he believed in most.
From the perspective of a mentor, one thing I’ve always held onto was the power of believing in someone. That can play out in all different ways, but people sense it and see it when it’s present. The reverse is also true. When we’re trying to mentor people, or when we’re having the “developmental conversations” with someone, they know whether we believe in them or not. If we really do, and they sense that, they will be way more likely to open themselves up to us, receive our input, allow us to shape them, and ultimately they will become better for it. The question we all must ask ourselves about those we’re mentoring, or those we want to mentor, is: Do we REALLY believe in people? Do we see their potential? Do we envision them excelling or do we see them so critically that we end up so focused on what they don’t do well? Great mentors capitalize on who they are and invest in the development of people’s strengths. I was a left-handed pitcher, who had potential. My path to “success” (as a baseball player) was shaped by this coach of mine. I ended up getting a division one scholarship to the University of South Carolina, the best baseball conference in the country. There were many factors that contributed to this outcome, but Coach Holder stands at the center of my success. He mentored me into some level of excellence in the sport of baseball. And more than that, what he left me with was who I became because of his investment (and belief) in me. Who will you believe in, invest in, and help succeed?
I have a new book about Mentoring out if you’re interested - http://www.missiopublishing.com/protege/
The Psalms make up the authentic and profound hymnbook at the heart of the Scriptures. These 150 “chapters” have been the ongoing lifeblood of Jesus followers for centuries. Yet in modern-day Christian circles, the Psalms are either rarely used or they get reduced to a few verses to be recited as “filler” in worship services. Perhaps we don’t realize the depths of what we are missing.
The Psalms are among the oldest poems in the world, and they still rank up there with any poetry in any culture, ancient and modern, from anywhere in the world. They are full of passion and vulnerable emotions, horrendous misery and unrestrained jubilation, tender sensitivity and powerful hope, unimaginable grief and unprecedented worship. Any human being who is open to new dimensions of the human experience, any person who loves good writing, anyone who wants to get snapshots into the bright lights and dark corners of the human soul, anyone open to the beautiful expression of a larger vision of reality — should react to these poems like someone who hasn’t eaten a good meal for two weeks. It’s all right there before us.
The Psalms have captured the attention and generated excitement of many who have been sensitive to powerful writing on the great themes of human life. These people know that praying, reading, reflecting on, and singing the Psalms can be and have been transformative. The Psalms can change the way we understand some of the deepest elements of who we are and who God is. These writings invite us deeper into the human journey, where life-transformation and true change emerges. Though we sometimes know what to do with the Psalms – all the emotions, the anger, the grief, the anxiety, and the passion – the words we read are powerful, and sometimes provocative. It’s a vulnerable and sometimes dangerous exploration to dive deeper into the Psalms, because they just may shake things up in our spiritual life. But in truth, I believe that’s what we all need, at least at times.
Ultimately, the Psalms cultivate unique ways to view the world, one another, and ourselves in a radically different way – God’s way.
This summer, I”ve been plunging deeper into the Psalms with a group of about 40 people. We’re seeking to make the prayers and poems of the Psalms our own prayers (and even poems). We desire to foster more authenticity between us and God individually as well as between one another communally. We’re opening ourselves up to God’s deeper work in our lives, hoping and praying our summer conversations in the Psalms will jettison us forward in our spiritual growth and shape our soul. (Inspired by a reading from NT Wright about the Psalms).
More reflections in the Psalms to come in future summer blog posts.
I love reading stuff about the soul…for many reasons.
The soul is complex, mysterious, and most of all stands at the very center of who we are and who we are becoming.
Recently I’ve been reading through John Ortberg’s latest book, Soul Keeping (which is AMAZING by the way), and much of the content involves quotes and conversations John has had with the late Dallas Willard.
There are a few quotes that really resonated with me of late, ones I wrote down in my journal. I’ve just been mulling over them a lot and they really speak to the soul, at least my soul.
“You must arrange your life so that you’re experiencing deep joy, contentment, and confidence in your everyday life with God.” I want to live deeply in this place.
“The failure to attain a deeply satisfying life always has the effect of making sin look good.” So true! Reminds me of the importance of joy and living a deeply satisfying life (and he’s talking about finding that IN GOD, not in other things)
I like these little “Dallas phrases” about Spirit, beauty, and joy, three things my soul longs for – John Ortberg says in his new book, “…part of why Dallas is difficult to read is he has a very precise definition for every word. Spirit is “unembodied personal power,” beauty is “goodness made manifest to the senses,” joy is “a pervasive sense of well-being.”
And as a pastor, I resonated with this too (from DW) …the truth is, if you’re a pastor, you will always reproduce your own life. Because the people who are closest to you, if they see a discrepancy between what you say and how you live, they know what you really believe is how you live. To believe something means to be ready to act as if it’s true, so we never act in violation of our genuine beliefs.” I long to live an integrated life. I quickly drift off and need large doses of grace and recalibration from God’s Spirit. This is the deeper journey with God in a nutshell.
If you’re a reader, check out Ortberg’s new book: Soul Keeping. Powerful stuff in there! And most importantly, keep striving to find what brings life to your own soul, and live there. Live with your soul connected to your Creator.
In one story in the Gospels (John 5), Jesus connects the dots for a confused person. In this story, the Jews come to some very strong (and incorrect) conclusions about Jesus. As the story unfolds, we discover that they are really against Jesus. Why? Because He’s been healing on the Sabbath and calling God, “My Father.” In this instance, Jesus doesn’t choose the path of trying to affirm them nor does He try to engage them about their brokenness and calloused hearts. Here He doesn’t challenge them to take action like He does with people on other occasions. And He isn’t even simply trying to provoke them.
Instead, Jesus reminds this crew of people of everything that has been happening. When he does, Jesus realizes they are confused. And as a result, He jettisons the conversation into a fairly long overview of events (John 5:19-47). Jesus talks about his relationship with His Father. Several times He uses a phrase, “Very truly I tell you.” He recounts what he’s been doing, noting that they shouldn’t have been surprised. He talks about how the Jews sent messengers to John, and names what they’ve seen as they’ve searched the Scriptures. Then Jesus concludes by recounting why they are responding as they are. He articulates what’s really happening with them. He is trying to define, or perhaps redefine, reality for them. He’s driving towards truth and trying to reframe the conversation. What is Jesus really doing? He’s clarifying any confusion by connecting the dots for them and trying to get them to “see it.”
Sometimes the most relationally intelligent thing to do is to help those who are confused (about what to believe, how to interpret life or God, etc.) to connect the dots. Maybe we need to reframe things for someone. Perhaps we need to recount some of their own life story to remind them of God’s activity in their life. Maybe we need to offer a different perspective that can provoke their thinking or help them reframe or redefine reality. This approach revolves around what I call gentle confrontation, which often reveals how open someone really is to looking at things with a different perspective. Gauge people’s response and seek to discern their openness. This will help you determine how much you press into the conversation. Remember, we can’t force growth upon another. Instead, we can come alongside people and start by paying attention to their openness – to God and to us. That informs how we move forward in that relationship and conversation.
Jesus gave people what they needed. He served them by challenging people in a way that made sense for who they were and where they were. He discerned where people were at and sought to meet them in that place. People aren’t always ready for all you want to give them. So be gentle, be patient, and trust in God’s activity. You can’t make people grow, only God can. Jesus approached every conversation, every relationship with servant’s heart, and so should we. Ask yourself, “What does the person you’re talking to need in order to be challenged towards openness to God?” Or, “What is God trying to do or say in this moment?” And then, how do you step into it in a God-honoring way? Don’t understate your role in speaking words of challenge. But be clear that God does the work, not us. We have a role, but our role isn’t to “make growth happen.”
Be prayerfully patient with people. Seek to help them connect the dots. And then release the results to God.
On one occasion in the Gospels (John 3), Jesus penetrates religious and intellectual hiding. He interacts with Nicodemus, a man chock full of answers to life’s toughest questions, especially the religious questions. In short, he was a man who had life figured out. So here comes the conversation involving Jesus and Nicodemus.
Nicodemus asks a theological question: “Can a man re-enter his mother’s womb and be born-again?” Jesus understands that Nicodemus is a religious man. But this image doesn’t stop Jesus from engaging a needed conversation. He responds: “You are Israel’s teacher,….and do you not understand these things?” (v. 10). Basically, it seems to me that Jesus is being a little sarcastic here. He says in essence, “So you call yourself spiritual, huh?”
Due to Nicodemus’ posture as being religious, Jesus discerns that he needs to be agitated a bit and confronted…in love of course. In other words, he’s saying, “Come on now. You ought to get this stuff already.” Nicodemus prefers his old way of viewing the world. He’s gripping to his already existing assumptions about life. Jesus knows this man is complacent and needs to get shook up. He needs to be jostled on the inside.
Sometimes the most relationally intelligent (and loving) thing we can do is to shoot straight with someone in conversation – in love, some people need to be shaken. One of the things we must learn to discern is when a person really needs to be called out. For instance, on how they fear change. And here’s the thing. Many hide behind religious language, intellectual debate, or theological questions. But don’t let these things fool you. There are many religious people (like Nicodemus) who are spiritually complacent and unwilling to change. They may want to engage at an intellectual or theological level, and they may even be thoughtful and articulate about these things. But are they really engaging life and God with an openness to change? If they’re not, perhaps it’s time to jostle them much like Jesus did with Nicodemus. People we run into like this may want to discuss and even debate with you. And they usually do it with passion. They also usually have a strong belief that they know the answers to life’s tough questions. Humility is usually not their leading characteristic. For many of us, it is tempting to engage these folks in debate ourselves. But in the case with Nicodemus, it’s interesting to see that Jesus wisely chose a different approach. In that case, Jesus didn’t get into a debate about the exact nature of rebirth.
Perhaps we should rethink how we approach situations like this. Maybe you comment with something like, “I enjoy discussing thoughts about life and God with you, so let me ask you, how is that working for you?” Or, “When life gets hard for you, when things don’t go right, how do you handle that, what do you do? What has that looked like in your life?
The application in short is, ask thoughtful questions and steer the conversation away from debate, and more about reflection and discussion about how their faith is working or how it works when it’s hard, etc. etc.
On one occasion in the Gospels (John 5), Jesus empowers a fearful and passive person. In this story, a paralytic man has been stuck by this pool for awhile. Although this man is broken and in pain and suffering, Jesus handles the situation quite differently compared to say, his approach with the Samaritan woman. Jesus discerns that the man’s need isn’t to ruminate on his difficult situation. Rather, Jesus discerns that he needs to be challenged to do something about his perplexing condition. Jesus isn’t reluctant. He doesn’t hesitate. Instead, He challenges the man: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Jesus is bold. He doesn’t allow this paralytic to make excuses. He speaks with authority, “Get up!”
There are people in and around our lives who are passive and fearful about making critical life choices. Perhaps the Evil One has them imprisoned by fear. They wonder what others might think if they…(fill in the blank). Or what if this isn’t the right decision…(fill in blank), or what if I look stupid…, or what about this other option…, etc. People quite often need a bold challenge that will empower them to overcome their lack of courage. Sometimes by challenging someone, the person suddenly sees with clarity or sees what you say to them as a sign from God. God shows up when we use our “challenge” to actually empower another person. But by challenge, I don’t mean we confront them with what they are doing wrong (although there’s an appropriate place for that). I’m talking about empowering people through challenge. They need to be challenged to do something. To take a risk. Serve someone. Take action. “Get up and walk!”
One quick example from my life. I regularly lead small groups for people investigating God and faith. Usually after week one or two of our discussion group, I invite participants to move through this next week, and ask God to show up in their life, to show them a sign that He is real, or that He present. This is my challenge to them. Many of them feel a little uneasy, but almost all of them do it. Then we come back the next week and share. It’s usually pretty cool what we hear from them. And remember, these are often people who don’t even believe in God. What would you do if you got a sign from God? What’s holding you back from asking for one? Jesus used signs so people could understand and see God’s love in their lives. However, many of the who experienced these signs or miracles didn’t receive them as gifts from God and they didn’t respond in faith.
In one story from the Gospels (John 4), Jesus discerns and then engages someone’s pain and brokenness, a Samaritan woman. Jesus meets this woman who had a checkered past. His desire is to draw out this woman’s pain and bring it into the open so he can offer her something significantly more valuable – “living water.” To do this, he approaches her with tender affirmation. As Jesus interacts with her, he discerns her willingness to open up about her brokenness. Multiple times, He affirms her for her vulnerability and self-disclosure. He says, “You are right” (a few times). After he affirms her with a tender heart, he points directly to the core issue at hand. She’s ben married five times. Now she’s living with another guy.
For most people, if someone (especially Jesus) exposed all this in conversation, they would scurry off in shame and embarrassment. But instead, she remains. This seems to reveal a spirit of nonjudgmental truthfulness, a quality desperately needed in those who follow Jesus Christ.
When interacting with other people’s brokenness, we ought to embody this same nonjudgmental truthfulness.
It would also serve us well to practice the same when we look at our own brokenness.
Relationally intelligence people help others talk about their disappointments, pains and struggles in their lives. We draw this out first by asking thoughtful questions and then listening with tender compassion and genuine empathy. We will also serve others well to talk honestly, openly, and vulnerably about our own lives—our pain, our disappointments and our struggles. In reality, sharing our stories of struggle, and how God’s redeeming power has been at work, can be the necessary voice of hope that helps others who are facing seemingly insurmountable difficulties.