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“Resting in God: In the Presence of my Enemies”

Psalm 23:5 (NRSV)

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Psalm 18:17 (NRSV)

He delivered me from my strong enemy,

and from those who hated me;

for they were too mighty for me.

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2007

Reflections on this icon

How does it feel to you to have inner enemies, as opposed to enemies outside of you?

What does it mean to have God prepare a table for you in the presence of your inner enemies?

How has God helped you to heal from the inner enemies that could harm you?

Which one is most difficult for you to face?

How does your knowledge of those inner enemies help you to grow or to gain wisdom, to have your cup overflow?

Gossip as Self-Help?

When I was in high school there was a tight group of girls who formed the inner clique. Then there were several girls who hovered near the clique in hopes they would be accepted. They are called wannabees. I was one of those girls, friends with some of the clique members and desperately wanting to be accepted by the rest. Rosalind Wiseman, in her book Mean Girls, wrote about high school cliques and the incredible power they have. She cites the ways in which girls on the outer edges try to be connected to the core group. One of the ways they do this is by being news carriers; gossips.

I think I was one of the gossips, using this as a way to make myself valuable to the group. It allowed me, or so I thought, to be in-the-know and it helped me to inflate my sense of power. Now I know that I did it out of hurt, fear, insecurity, intimidation and a need to be included. It makes me sad to think about it, but I have compassion on my young self because those high school years are still one of the most vulnerable times of our lives.

Gossip is willfully spreading information (true or false) about another person that demeans, undercuts or hurts them. It is very powerful even in its most subtle forms. Our high school clique members could cut a girl or boy apart and toss them away with just one sentence. There were dress rules, hair rules, dating rules. If you broke them, you were vulnerable. The clique members may not have been conscious of the rules but the rest of us knew them well.

Gossip. We all do it, don’t we? We speak ill of friends, spouses, bosses, co-workers, celebrities, athletes, religious and political leaders, children, parents. The list goes on and on. Men are just as prone to gossip as women but they call it banter. It is sometimes hard to see why it is so harmful because it is such a part of our talk-show culture and it feels so powerful at the time; giving our opinions, being in-the-know, inflating ourselves. We are rarely aware of the deeper emotions underlying gossip; anger, revenge, fear, insecurity or jealousy. Go deeper and it could be a need for self-assurance, a need to be needed, or a way of gaining power outside of ourselves because we don’t have it within us.

But you only need to be the target of gossip a few times before you see how destructive it is. I’ve had lies spread about me by people who disliked me. In one case it caused me a year of pain. Not only did I feel hurt and angry, I felt totally powerless in responding. Arguing with gossips usually just fuels the flame. How do you take words back? How do you erase words in print? How do you heal? I found that by living the life I am called to live in faith, my life speaks the truth no matter what people choose to say. That’s all I can count on. Now I’ve learned to keep a distance from chronic gossipers or ask that they not speak ill of others when they are around me. Gossip is never life-giving and both the gossiper and the target are equally hurt or lessened by it.

So how can gossip be a form of self-help? For me, when I hear myself gossiping (because now a little voice inside informs me) I pause and ask God why this person raises hurt, anger, threat or fear in me. Then if I can get underneath my surface anger (the gossip itself) I can start to open the real issue. Usually it means I either need to let the issue go, by holding it more lightly, or go to the person and work on what is going on between us. Adding a third person as the receptacle of my gossip is only adding to the problem and to my burden. If I can tend to my own unmet needs I can usually find the nugget in the pain.

There are some times when truth telling about ourselves and another person is life-giving but that is different from gossip which is usually demeaning. In the Jewish tradition there is a tree of life, and as we embrace each of the ten levels of the tree, we grow in holy stature. One of those levels contains the concepts of Gevurah and Hesed; the right and left arms of God; judgment (teaching, instruction, directed love) and mercy (nurturing, greatness, sympathy, free flowing love). We make a judgment, as in discernment or diagnosis, and then we stay with the process, for the mercy or compassion or tough love or whatever is called for as part of the healing. This is the honorable way to use information, as a way for further healing and growth or for self-protection or new life. The two, though, go hand in hand; Gevurah and Hesed; judgment and mercy. Counselors, pastors, spiritual directors, and doctors who use these two equally do their best work with clients. We can too.

By unpacking gossip we can look beyond our own anger or hurt and use it as a trigger for deeper self-reflection and understanding. Our urge to gossip is a sign; to remove ourselves, to let go of that person, to heal ourselves, to offer understanding and mercy, to deal with our anger, to be on a path of healing with that person, or to call others who can better cope with the person.

When I look back now, to those girls in the clique, and apply mercy beyond my judgment, I can see how their behavior gave them a kind of confidence that helped them cope with their own insecurities, which seemed well hidden. They wanted to be loved and accepted, just like the rest of us. It’s also much easier for me to see them as vulnerable now that I’m not in their orb any more. When the Queen Bee of that clique, at one of our last reunions, sincerely complimented me about who I’ve become in my life, I was deeply moved, as if my high school insecurities had gently healed with just a few words.

So now when I gossip or think about someone with judgment and without mercy, I know it’s a sign that I am looking for love and acceptance myself. I’ve also learned that only God can supply that love and acceptance so I know where to turn to do my healing. This allows gossip to be my first step in self-help:-)

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2010. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay
How did high school cliques affect you? How did you react?

What is your favorite target of gossip now? (friends, bosses, sports, politics, religion, talk show hosts, family)

What does it do for you?

How does gossip hurt you, as a recipient?

How have you applied judgment and mercy to people?

How have you applied judgment and mercy to yourself?

How have you healed from gossiping?

These are All Just Signs

I sat down to talk with God one day
and asked where do I look for you

How do I find you

You already do look for me God said

How is that I asked

You look for me by shopping when you are low
and by taking that extra drink when you are stressed

You work long hours hoping to find your worth
and you eat to fill that empty place within

Your most creative way of looking for me is
expecting someone else to make you happy

These are all just signs you are looking for me

When you know this is true

You will find me


©Janet O. Hagberg, 2006

Reflections on this poem

Where do you most naturally and joyfully find God?

Which of the not-so-healthy ways of looking for God do you most identify with?

What does it mean, that these are indications you are really looking for God?

How does it feel to have a breakthrough and to find God through these unusual ways?


To purchase my sixteen poems in a book, Conversing with God,

go to my website

Anger is Good for Cleaning Closets

There are a few reasons to get good and angry. One great use of anger, built right into our DNA, is to help us to run lickety-split from saber-toothed tigers. Another good use of anger is to alert us to physical or emotional danger in relationships. But the best use of anger, for me, is to get my closets cleaned. I can get rid of two years of closet clutter in fifteen minutes when I’m really steamed up. I’ve also tried using love to clean my closets but anger gets it done faster because I’m willing to toss out more.

So anger serves some legitimate functions when we are in danger (or have cluttered closets), but most of the time we are not fighting for our lives. Yet anger, which is still hot wired into our system, can get triggered many times a day and can change our mood almost instantaneously. For some people anger is a motivator; it helps them right a wrong, solve an injustice or stop someone’s actions. Anger drives many reform movements or cause-oriented organizations. I know people who are energized by anger; they use it to get going in the morning and they will even stir up a good fight to affirm the emotional connection with friends or family, although anger usually doesn’t do much to increase intimacy, I’ve found. I once dated a man who was much more affectionate after we fought. When I saw that pattern, I exited the relationship.

I believe anger is present within us as a path to wisdom, but can only give up its fruits if we embrace it to see what it means in our lives. Otherwise anger disables us emotionally. We either project it out to others as criticism, blame, frustration, judgments, or withholding; or we project it inward as resentment, remorse, self- recrimination, shame or physical symptoms. A few physical symptoms that may be associated with unprocessed anger are adrenal problems, sinus, arthritic fingers, halitosis, palsy, boils, burns, bursitis, TMJ, carpel-tunnel, earaches, gout.

Most angry people are hurt people, in my experience. Anger is a sign of inward dissatisfaction or mistaken beliefs about ourselves that, when tapped into, cause us to react defensively or angrily. And anger’s senior executive, rage, represents a deeply wounded person, which is hard to see when the rage is spilling over onto us. Some intensely angry people subconsciously use anger as a defense against intimacy and love. It is just too painful to feel vulnerable.

So how do we work with anger to allow it to heal us and take us deeper as well as closer to God? We need to find out what it means to us. A wise counselor told me that my anger was a sign that I was not taking adequate care of myself. I resonated with that and found it to be true. It might be good for my closets but it was a sign of a need for change. I’ve been intensely angry only a handful of times in my life, times when I was either in imminent danger or I was in intense grief, both of which require immediate attention. My garden-variety anger is usually a call for me to monitor my hurt and my heart, and to call on God’s compassion as a salve for both. When I get angry my heart closes and when I resolve my anger it opens again. So peace is good heart medicine.

When I can attend to my own need for compassion, I can extend my compassion to others. I ask God to help me discern whether to just silently open my heart to the other or use that same compassion to deal directly with the person or situation that is arousing me. The key is looking past the anger to discern the healing message and then reopen my heart accordingly, to engage the other, to refrain from contact but forgive, or to simply have compassion for myself.

I have a friend, Tom, who has a lifetime acquaintance with anger, and his understanding of his anger has brought him to a new place of wisdom. He says that, as a young person, he needed more love than he received so he took over his life, as a way to be in control of things so he would not be disappointed. He developed a super charged angry ego with very high expectations and unclear standards. He always exceeded anyone’s set standards so he could be assured of the power, safety, security, esteem and affection he needed. Of course, it didn’t work. And once he saw what he was doing, he could see how his behavior was killing him emotionally.

For his everyday anger, which is more of a challenge, he has a process, which I find insightful. First he simply notices his anger without doing anything about it. He takes his anger to prayer, open to whatever might be underneath it. The first step in embracing the anger is the compassion step; to have compassion on himself, especially if the anger is related to unreasonable expectations or if it comes from grieving. This compassion usually resolves the anger. However, if he continues to ruminate or gets obsessed with the anger, he knows it is about deeper grief so he turns to God for that healing. But if he is not obsessing or ruminating, and the anger returns, he knows he needs to deal with the issue between him and the other person. He finds a no blame/no shame way to understand the other person and what they are or are not committed to do to move forward. He looks at what is missing between them and then he can ask if there is a way they could come to a new understanding. He has mastered the art of embracing anger and he is known for his even-handedness as a result.

Justice issues used to be a big problem. Now he has a humorous way of dealing with them; if there is some wrong to be righted, or some complaint waiting to be addressed, he imaginatively and silently gives it to another committee and lets it go with a chuckle. If we can laugh at ourselves it signifies healing.

Embracing anger as a signal for deeper love for ourselves changes the face of anger to one of expectancy. If anger is part of our inner world, it is a call for transformation and self-care. Remember, we, and the world are unfolding exactly as God intends.

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2010. All right reserved.


Reflections on this essay

How do you know if you are angry?

When have you used anger to get out of danger?

How does your anger affect you and your relationships?

How do you process or embrace anger effectively?

Where does God enter into your process of healing your anger?

How is anger a gift for you?

Hi All,

We’re starting a new series today on the theme, “facing our ‘demons.'” Don’t let that scare you off. I hope to use humor and my own life experience to show how healing it can be to just admit some of our lesser gifts and let them be our teachers. I’ll use essays, poems, an icon, and perhaps a video over the next several weeks to illustrate this theme.

I also appreciate your responses to the posts, either public or private. Until now I thought that when I responded to posts on line you would all automatically get my responses and I didn’t want to flood your email.  I found out my responses only appear on the blog site. Yea. So I will try to respond to your posts. For private responses,

If you are enjoying or feeling fed or challenged by these postings and would like to invite others to join the blog, please do so. You just tell people to go to the site and click on the email subscription option on the left side of the page. Then when they have subscribed they will get a confirmation from feedburner that they need to respond to in order to validate their subscription. Thanks so much for traveling this inner journey with me at river’s edge.We have more than a hundred people subscribed, watching God dismantle their cottage. If you don’t know what what means, please read the About page on this blog:-)

By the way, it’s beautiful at the edge of the Mississippi River with all the lush greenery and the high water levels this summer even though these high waters have caused damage elsewhere. Oh, the paradox of running water, to soothe and to complicate our lives.



Stillness at the River

What is soothing for you about being near a river?

How does water, moving with currents and eddies, affect you differently than a quiet lake or a roaring ocean?

If a river could speak, what would it say to you?

If you had a chance to put a worry or a stressful situation on a barge and send it down the river, what would it be?

Photo of beauty at the Mississippi River, taken by Janet Hagberg

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