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Reflections on this video

What is the part of yourself that you have the hardest time loving?

Where did you get that message, that it or you are not loveable?

Who loves you no matter what?

Are you courageous enough to love all of you?

How much of you does God love?

Holy Brokenness

I have an anxiety disorder. It came on rather suddenly six years ago although I think it had been building for years. It seems that everyone has some malady they grapple with, whether it is physical, psychological, emotional or spiritual. I experience my anxiety as primarily spiritual yet connected to my emotional and physical existence. I have come to name my experience of anxiety as holy brokenness.

When my anxiety reaction first appeared it was traumatic. It happened during a time in which I was trying to reestablish myself financially after a painful divorce. I was re-writing two books, traveling as a public speaker, and leading a large fund raising event for a non-profit. Over the course of a week or two I found I could not face any of my responsibilities and I could not manage any stress. In fact, I couldn’t leave my home without anxiety. I had a strong intuitive sense that this anxiety originated deep in my soul and something new might be in the offing but the truth is, it also scared me.

My first step in the healing process was to visit my doctor. I told her my symptoms and also told her that I wanted to see my therapist and my spiritual director before considering medication. She said if I could develop a plan with my therapist in two sessions she would agree not to pursue medication. I was relieved, not because I would avoid meds, since I think they are very helpful, but because she heard me when I said this anxiety felt spiritual to me.

My therapist and my spiritual director both agreed that my anxiety was largely a spiritual matter and they helped me set up a plan for listening to the call in my disorder. I needed the strength of my two wise counselors to provide me guidance while we uncovered the inner truths about this anxiety. It was not easy. There were days I thought my life was over and I would not be able to care for myself.  But their support and encouragement kept me going. What I discovered was that I had a dis-ordered life and my psyche was calling for a radical change. My dis-ordered life was causing me high anxiety. I needed to STOP—traveling, keynoting, training, consulting. Just stop.

The radical truth, that I was living a disordered life, was hard for me to absorb. If I didn’t listen and went against what my soul knew to be my highest good (and I did this several times), my body would react clearly and promptly. For instance, one day I gave a keynote speech on leadership as a capstone to a year-long program for emerging women leaders. While at one level I knew that my keynoting days were over, I took the booking because I believe in women and I needed the money. On my way out the door of the meeting place I developed a nosebleed that went on for fifteen minutes. My anxiety spiked. I took this as a warning sign to really stop my keynoting life style.

The spiritual side of my anxiety was this: God was clearly calling me to a new way of living, but I was clinging to what I knew, what seemed most secure, yet was slowly sucking the life force out of me. The persistent call from God in my prayer and in my journal was to trust God to be present and to guide me into my new life. Some days I returned to prayer and my journal several times, just to stay emotionally stable. It took fits and starts but I gradually learned to trust God more than I trusted myself. It was hard. Those were lean years financially and work wise–but rich years spiritually.

Were there miracles along the way? Yes. Occasionally I would get an unexpected check in the mail that would cover a bill I was worried about. I learned how to reduce my expenses far beyond what I could have imagined and without feeling diminished. And when I quit traveling as a speaker several people asked me to mentor them by phone or by internet. I learned to quilt as a healing and meditative practice and it has opened doors into a community of care and compassion. And my most satisfying work of connecting people in the mainstream with people on the margins came as a result of personal ownership of my own margins of anxiety and fear. Pain connects us at deep levels. Compassion and joy are the result of pain well attended.

I will always have anxiety but now I seek to embrace it as a wise old sage. It is my early warning system. My psyche is now keenly sensitive to over achieving, over scheduling (not more than two things in one day) and to anyone who is not safe for me. These are my most vulnerable areas. Once, right after a quiet prayer, I was eating breakfast and my hand was trembling. I asked the old sage what the alert was for and then checked my schedule for the day. I was meeting with someone I had to be alert with so that I would not get hooked in emotionally. I quickly devised an exit plan for my safety if I needed it. I am amazed that my body knows my anxiety before my mind is aware of it, and this cellular wisdom never lies.

There is a verse in 2 Corinthians 12:7 (the message) that has always bothered me. Paul says that he was given a handicap that kept him from getting a big head and kept him in touch with his limitations. In the next verses he says he did not see it as a gift and asked God three times to remove it, but his answer from God was clear; Gods grace was enough for him and God’s strength came into its own through Paul’s weakness.

At first when I experienced my anxiety disorder I didn’t like thinking that I needed God more because of my weakness. But as I’ve experienced the persistent love of God in the midst of my anxiety I feel God’s strength in my weakness. God is my inner sage. And, as a result, I can see my anxiety as the holy brokenness through which God works.

What gift would you receive if you embraced your brokenness?

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved

Reflections on this essay

What is your disorder; physical (ie; diabetes, cancer, heart disease), emotional (ie; abuse, neglect), psychological (ie; post traumatic stress, compulsions, addictions), spiritual (ie; loss of meaning or purpose, living out of your false self)? Or are they all connected?

How do you feel God is present to you or is calling you to a new place through your pain?

How has your disorder reordered your life or deepened you?

What do you think about Paul’s summary of his disorder?

Would you name your disorder holy brokenness? Why or why not?

What gift would you receive if you embraced your brokenness?

My Body a Temple


My body a temple for you

What can be holy in me

The wounds memories pain

I release them all to you


What can be holy in me

You heal and send me forth

I release them all to you

I bring healing to the world


You heal and send me forth

The wounds memories pain

I bring healing to the world

My body a temple for you


Janet O. Hagberg, 2012. All rights reserved.

This is a french pantoum poem with specific repeats. It is best if read aloud


Reflections on this poem

What is holy in you as God’s temple?

What gets in the way of your holiness?

How has God healed you?

How do you, in your own way, bring healing to the world?

It’s Nothing to Worry About But…

Have you ever sat in your doctor’s office and heard her say, ”Well, I don’t think you need to worry about this, but I’d like you to see a surgeon.” (Or take another Xray or go to a specialist). In my head when I hear the work “but” alarms go off, fear leaps in and I begin planning for my funeral. I can fast forward in a nanosecond to the ultimate conclusion that I am dying.

I think we have a monumental fear of death in our culture—so much so that we spend millions of dollars on prevention, then billions more on feats of technological wizardry to cure whatever ails us. Our once firm faith can fly out the window as soon as someone we pray for to be cured dies instead. Why is this?

For one thing, death is not considered normal any more. We often put dying people away somewhere and we rarely have dead bodies lying in our living rooms for reviewals as in years gone past. Another reason we fear death is that the process has shifted from a spiritual realm to the realm of medicine and technology. It almost seems like a technological failure when a person dies, despite the fact that we all die. We even have health care directives to protect ourselves, in some cases, from too much medicine and to let our own final wishes be known. I heard a sobering but intriguing way to think about death in a  sermon recently in which the pastor said that fear of death may indicate that, ultimately, we may not take our faith or spiritual seriously. This is very challenging for me to hear but he added that if we could conceive of our death as the spiritual end of a satisfying and healed life and a reunion with our God, it would make for a different death experience.

I’m not saying these things to indicate that I have this all worked out. I get scared, just like everyone else, when I have a serious health scare. But I have learned that it all works out better if I bring my fear to God and ask God to show me how to proceed. I also ask for God’s clear presence with me so I can be fully present and not live in so much fear.

I had an example of God’s presence—and God’s droll humor—a few years ago in what, to me, was a medical scare. In a routine physical my doctor noticed that one of my ovaries was larger than the other. She grew immediately concerned but shielded me by saying, “It’s nothing to worry about BUT I’d like you to have an internal ultrasound.” I told her I had had surgery on my ovary and had some of it removed but she seemed not to hear me. I knew that her mother had just died at a young age and I supposed she was being overly cautious but I agreed to go for the test. Even with these facts I got scared that something bad was happening in my body.

I went home, made the appointment and began praying into my fear. I looked at what this could mean, what the message was, and what I was being taught by this experience. I was learning to trust God and to listen to my own truth from my body—that nothing was wrong. God told me clearly that Jesus would accompany me the whole way through this process and I would be OK no matter what.

When I got to the lab I met the gentleman who would be doing the procedure. As we met I could tell he was Hispanic and he said he was from Spain. During this uncomfortable procedure we talked about Spain, where I had spent time and we talked of his family. At the end of the procedure he was kind enough to tell me that he could tell that part of one ovary had been removed but he could see no further issues. I breathed a sigh of relief that I did not have to wait a few more days to find that out.

I told him I had brought some chocolate to give him if the procedure was done with as little discomfort as possible. He said “thanks” and that I could leave the chocolate at the front desk for him. When I asked his name he said it was Jesus (pronounced Hey-sous). I chuckled inside because it was now clear that God had done exactly what he had promised—had Jesus accompany me the whole way through this process.

It seems to me that whenever I get scared because of an illness or fearful about  my end-of-life process it reveals that there are still issues “under the rug” for me to embrace. In this case, trusting God with the whole process no matter what the outcome. And if I had not addressed my fear with God I would have missed God’s assurance of Jesus’ presence—and I certainly would have missed the humor of my Spanish tech Jesus.

By facing into each fear or issue more fully, with God’s help I feel life becomes fuller and freer. Our lives are in God’s hands anyway so whatever happens we know God is present and is accompanying us along the way, not always rescuing us or giving us all that we want, but holding us and loving us and those we love in all circumstances. This holy presence also helps us make courageous and wise choices, not out of fear but out of hope and love.

And I believe this deep intimate faith, accompanied by friends and supporters who are not afraid of death, help us deal with our health issues as an integral part of our spiritual journey—so we can both live and die well.

ÓJanet O. Hagberg, 2011. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay

When have you had a medical scare that you turned over to God?

How did God appear in your situation?

What did you learn from the experience about you and about God?

How do you view your end-of-life from a spiritual perspective?

How does your medical team respond to your faith?

How do you sense God helping you discern different medical choices?



A Reluctant Healer: Please Don’t Do That To Me Again

Recently I received an email from a woman who said she would like to see me in spiritual direction because she was at the “wall.” She had read my book in which I described the wall and she identified strongly with it. I have committed to working primarily with people at the wall so I told her I would pray about her request and get back to her. The wall is a difficult but holy place in which we come face to face with God’s deep healing power and the release of all that has separated us from God. It is a dark and lonely place at times but it is precisely in this dark place that we are most likely to find God.

As I prayed about seeing this woman, God gave me a strong yes to her request and added, almost as an after thought, “And I want you to wash her feet.” I said “What? I’ve never done that before.” I figured it must be a metaphor. I shrugged it off, and emailed the woman to set up an appointment.

When she arrived she was grateful for my willingness to see her and sincere in her desire to heal. She was ready to engage with the wall, to find God’s healing there and to do whatever it took to move with God’s spirit and call in her life. I sensed early in our session that we would work well together.

Even so, her story of childhood abuse, at the hands of her older brother and his friends, for ten years was horrendous. She had already done a lot of therapeutic work on the abuse so she could talk about it coherently but it was still deeply sobering. We both cried for her lost childhood. She even had an understanding of why her brother was so calloused. He was born in the midst of her mother’s deep depression following the loss of twin babies and he and his mother never bonded. This did not excuse him but helped my client understand that the abuse was not her fault.

She related a few distinct memories to me, which have stayed with her. One was of Jesus appearing to her while she lay crying between some hay bales in the barn, after one of the abusive episodes. Jesus said she could come home with him then, or if she chose to stay here, he would give her meaningful work in her career that would arise out of her pain. She chose to stay. Jesus fulfilled his promise to her.

The other memory was more difficult. When she was ten she needed to have foot surgery or she would be unable to walk. Her brother told her he heard their parents saying the medical costs of her care were too high so they were going to have the surgeon cut off her feet. She was petrified. During surgery she either woke up or imagined she heard a saw cutting off her feet. The moment she awoke from surgery she checked to see if her toes were still there. They were. But the memory is encased in her cells. Every time a friend has any foot problems, she quickly checks to make sure their toes are in tact. As I heard this story about her feet, you can imagine what I was thinking! God already knew her story and was preparing me in advance for my part in the healing. At the end of our session I told her the story of what God had told me to do with her—wash her feet. Heal her memories. We both cried over the loving and healing potential of our work together. And I asked her to tell me when she was ready for me to wash her feet. I was grateful and, honestly, a bit dazed by the holiness of it.

This experience reminded me of a story that the great preacher, George Buttrick, told of a routine visit he made to a woman in the hospital at the end of a busy and tiring day. He wanted to see her, get out, and get home. As he spoke with her and asked about her health she asked him to pray for her. He uttered what he thought was a perfunctory prayer and was ready to leave. But she restrained him, ”Pastor, I’m feeling better already. Yes, I’m feeling so good I want to get out of bed.” She got out of bed and began walking around her room. “Pastor,” she said, “I believe I’ve just been healed. Oh, I’m so grateful. Thank you Pastor, thank you.”

Buttrick left her in this ray of gratitude, went out to his car, sat in the driver’s seat and said to God, “Please, don’t do that to me again.”

As miraculous as both of these stories seem, mine with my client and Buttrick’s with his parishioner, I have to admit I felt a bit like Buttrick did. As grateful as I was, and as amazing as it felt to me to be a bit of God’s grace in the world, I shy away from that kind of holy power. I believe in the power of God’s spirit but I have never sought out any training to be a healer. And I have memories of the faith healers on television in my childhood that were deemed pretty strange but very intriguing at the same time. At a deeper level I also suspect that I do not feel worthy to be used by God in this way. Yet, even though I don’t understand it, since it defies logic, I still long to be so open to God that God can use me in some healing way.

I don’t want to get in God’s way but I also don’t want to be a source of attraction as a result of my gifts. As one of my friends said, following a successful program he had orchestrated, “It’s nice to be liked but I hate to be the rage.” Besides it’s all mystery; how God works, when God works and through whom God works. So I guess I am a reluctant but obedient servant of God’s healing power when God chooses to use me in a healing way. Henri Nouwen would likely call me a wounded healer. I like that because it allows me to stand under the same fountain of grace as those I serve—and we all get soaked together.

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2010. All rights reserved. (My client granted me permission to tell her story, and we did do the foot washing several months later. It was a holy act and God was fully present.)

Reflections on this essay
When have you had an experience of God that seemed miraculous or that defied logic?

Did it happen during a time of joy or sorrow and was that a factor for you?

How did the experience effect how you perceive yourself?

How did the experience effect how you perceive God?

How do you feel about having greater intimacy with God that these experiences may engender in you?

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