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The Richness of Not Wanting

“Oh, there’s that dreadful word again,” I said to myself. My spiritual director had just suggested to me that I might not be capable of getting myself up at 5:00 for an hour of prayer before getting ready for my usual 7:30 breakfast meeting for my business. She said that God would have to do that for me and that this was part of the process of surrendering to God. There was that word—surrender. I dreaded it. It felt like relinquishing my rights, my will, my choices. That conversation was quite awhile ago and, as result of those morning prayers, my spiritual journey has been one of steady descent ever since!

I’ve had to move steadily downhill from control, self-centeredness, ego, self-deception, success, security, busyness and fear. All because of that central compelling call from God to surrender. It is hard work and very counter to our culture, even much of our religious culture. And it’s easy to think that the downhill journey is all downhill, with little to be joyful about. I used to believe that.

I knew little of the other side of surrender, which is freedom, inner freedom. Freedom opens doors to the eternal. Surrender transforms us, it opens us, it heals us, it relieves us of our self-imposed burdens so we are cleaned out and free to be filled with God, in order to be our best selves. I doubt if surrender will become a subject of popular workshops or book titles though, because if most people are like me, they are afraid of what it will cost, how hard it will be and what they will be asked to give up.

There is a simple poem, written by a 15th Century Indian mystic named Kabir, that captures the essence of surrender in a compelling way for me.

Where the Shopkeeper Would Say

I was

Looking for that shop

Where the shopkeeper would say,

“There is nothing of value in here.”

I found it and did

Not leave

The richness of not wanting

Wrote these


The phrase that is most compelling for me is “the richness of not wanting.” Other ways to say this might be: let go and let God, not clinging, releasing, letting go. The word in that phrase that embraces me is the word, richness. How can there be richness in not wanting?

Freedom again. When I have to have…a house, a mate, cars, a certain job, health, money, fame, status, success, travel, clothes, attention from children, recognition, approval, the need to be needed, addictions, control, beauty, a body type etc, I am controlled by these desires, these longings. And I am not free to receive what I truly need instead.

Our culture pushes me to take the road to more—abundance, wider territory, more money, bigger job, multiple toys, having what I want right now. There are books that train our minds to deliver us whatever we dream of. I know best. I get what I want. The guarantee is that I will then be happy. Usually this regimen leaves me blind to what I actually need.

Moving into the richness of not wanting is a long, slow and incredibly satisfying experience. But it involves loss and letting go, releasing our wants in favor or our needs. It probably should not be done without guidance lest we lose track of the meaning in the process. But one thing I know; the journey is worth it and God is in the middle of it.

I would describe my spiritual journey as a slow downward spiral to the heart of God. This journey has brought me through several painful leadership experiences in which I learned to lead from behind rather than from the front. This journey brought me to the cusp of despair as a result of severely impaired relationships. It has transformed my work from traveling and key-note speaking to simpler yet deeper interactions with people. It has allowed me to downsize my living space and release many of my possessions. It has increased the richness and diversity of my friendships. It has deepened my spiritual life and increased my intimacy with God significantly.

So now whenever I crave something I do not need, I ask the simple question “why do I want this?” Usually if I go deeply enough and see what is beneath that desire, it is about security or filling an empty space within. When I can release these cravings I am free. I laugh more. I cry more too. I feel a deeper connection with the beauty around me. And I know joy.

Is this journey for everyone? No. One good church leader said to me, when I was describing the sacrificial life, “Why would anyone want this life?” I agreed. Why would anyone want this life, the richness of not wanting.

Good question. Ask God about it.

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved

Reflections on this essay

What does surrender mean to you spiritually?

What have you surrendered that has felt life-giving for you?

When have you gotten something you wanted and found out it didn’t satisfy you?

How do you experience the richness of not wanting?

How do you experience the freedom of less…?

God’s Joke: the Vanishing Cemetery Plot

Several years after my divorce was completed, I realized that my ex husband and I had not settled the issue of our cemetery cremation plots. Having forgotten this, I had even offered the other half of my cremation site to a Ugandan refugee friend who had no money and no burial plans.

As part of my inner journey at the time, I was practicing the art of letting go, gracefully, of things I did not need or want any more, or that I was clinging to. Lots of things had already left my life, I had reduced my expenses significantly and I was beginning to practice living more consciously. This process of letting go brought up a lot of old memories that I needed to either celebrate or heal. It also allowed me to live more simply without feeling diminished. So I knew that there was wisdom in letting go and in living smaller.

But when the cremation plot issue arose, I got frightened. A cremation plot seemed a necessity and the cost of buying half of it back was prohibitive. I checked the costs of a new site and they were four times what we had paid. I simply could not afford it. I needed wise discernment on this decision. It felt big to me, almost foundational. I needed to make a good decision so I prayed, wrote in my journal and listened carefully to God’s direction.

In a graced moment that could only be God speaking to me, I received an idea, a small plan, that I felt would free me from the fear and provide me a way to the future. I needed to let go of my fear of not having a place to rest after I died. I knew the plan was right the moment it came to me. I would be cremated but have my ashes scattered in a place that was meaningful for me. I could then release my cremation site to my ex husband if he wanted to buy it from me. God transformed my fear into generosity and I offered to sell him my half for a low price if he would include a stipend for my refugee friend. I presented him with the options. He agreed to buy me out and the case was closed.

Or so I thought. But God was not done yet.

Several months later I heard about someone who had given her body for medical research. I remembered a dear friend of mine who had done the same thing. He even worked with the undertaker to have an athletic supporter put on his body that said, “Go Hawks,” the name of the mascot of the university he chose for his bequest. I chuckled when I remembered this story.

I pondered this bequest and called the University of Minnesota to see what the process entailed. I even told the story of my friend’s bequest to the man who was in charge of this process at the university. He chuckled too. I asked if I could do something similar, like have a silk scarf with the university logo on it put around my neck. He said he thought that would be fine. So I sent for the forms and kept praying about this donation as an option, as a way to keep on giving after my death. I was already an organ donor so I thought, “Why not give my whole body?” As I pondered this choice, it felt better all the time and I was deeply satisfied with my decision.

The day the forms arrived from the university, I sat down to read through the details and the alternatives. One of the issues was what to do with my body when the university medical school was finished with it. I knew they would pay for the cremation but would I just have them give my ashes to my friends to scatter them in a meaningful place? As I read the four options proposed by the university, one read like this: The university will, upon request from the donor, put the ashes in a special plot for all donors with an appropriate marker of gratitude at Lakewood Cemetery.

I began to chuckle. I knew this was God’s doing, God’s way of joking with me. It had to be. Lakewood Cemetery was the very cemetery I had just relinquished to my ex husband as my final resting place. Now it could, once again, be my final resting place. Not only was it free but it held more meaning and humor for me than it had before. And I would be totally disentangled from the cremation site that had become so complicated. This new site felt like a whole, healed place for me. I completed the paper work and got a silk scarf with little insignias of Goldie, the golden gopher, mascot of the university, running all over the scarf. I sent it all in to the university and now I cannot help thinking about those medical students who open the bag and have a reason to chuckle.

God’s humor is so imaginative.

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2009. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay

When have you been surprised or frightened by some unfinished business that could affect you adversely?

How did you step back and bring some calm or perspective to the situation that helped you cope?

What new insights came to the situation?

What humor was involved in the solution?

How do you experience God’s sense of humor?

Dear Subscribers,

I’m sure you join me in heartfelt compassion for Boston and Texas as they recover from the events of the past week. Today, our pastor (who lived in Boston for 23 years until he came to MN recently) remarked that so many people seek out God in times like these. He suggested that we focus on all the kindness and heroism that these tragic events brought forth. I would add; focus also on what matters most in your life and pay some kindness forward this week.


It’s Only Money


At an earlier time in my life my husband and I were both working full time and we made a choice to consciously manage our money. I remember a time when we were sitting with our accountant fretting about how we would come up with enough money to pay some unexpected taxes. In the middle of the conversation our accountant totally surprised us by saying, “It’s only money.” I almost gasped because it seems so counter to the anxiety I was feeling at the time. But his words have stuck with me ever since. “It’s only money.”

What exactly did he mean? We all know (don’t we?) that money can’t buy happiness? But if happiness is a new car, a trip abroad or a new wardrobe the culture teaches us we can buy happiness? I must admit I am confused by this money-and-happiness thing because I do feel happier when I wear my patent leather Mary Jane shoes and when I go to opening day at the ball park (my happy place). However, I’ve lived long enough to know that money can’t buy me the things that matter most.

But I don’t think our accountant was talking about happiness. I had the feeling he was saying that we were fretting over this money a bit more than we needed to. You could say, “Well that’s easy for him to say. He has money.” That’s true. But I think he was saying something even deeper, or at least I heard a deeper message. I heard “Don’t let money control your life. Don’t let money make you so anxious. Keep it in balance. Keep it in perspective.”

Before you read the rest of this essay about money, do a simple exercise with me. Suppose someone gave you $5,000. What would you do with it and why? Your decisions will likely resemble what your family of origin would have done with a comparable amount. Jot down your honest answers.

Tilden Edwards, a wise spiritual director and author writes about money in his book, Living in the Presence. He says that money is neutral, but like anything else in our lives, it can be used for good or for ill. One thing money can easily become, in our culture, is an idol that enslaves, deflects or destroys us. (p.110)

So let’s move beyond money buying happiness to money as an idol. That has a bit more juice for me. Idols are things we worship and ultimately put in place of what we say matters most or our reverence for God. But let’s not make this a guilt trip or a stewardship sermon. Let’s just let our history with money inform or enlighten us. How would we know if money has become an idol in our lives? Edwards suggests that if money is an idol we would probably exhibit those “deadly sins” of greed, envy, sloth and pride, those behaviors that bend our best selves into inner strangers and injure our neighbors. It seems money can bring out our worst selves if it becomes an idol.

What might money as an idol look like?

*We might spend all of our money on ourselves, clinging to it for security

*We might spend our money intentionally on things that elevate our status or enhance our image

*We might control others with our money to get what we want from them

*We might begrudge or punish those who don’t work as hard as we do or are temporarily without resources, like refugees

*We might make work or the accumulation of money an addiction, thus damaging ourselves and our relationships

*We might be dishonest in our business practices so we could make more money

In your decision about the $5,000 gift, would any of your choices be influenced by this idol category. A few of mine teetered on the edge of idolatry:-) The image I have of this idol category is of one person drinking cool water from a large cup that he/she then holds up for God to fill while other people are looking on without cups.

Another option for money, according to Edwards, is to let it be an icon (sacred symbol) through which God blesses us, a resource from God that we are called to appreciate and circulate with joy. This means we are grateful for our money and see is as the sacred gift that it is. If we can see money as a gift and tame it for the benefit or ourselves and others, money is transformed. We can appreciate it and what it can provide for us without clinging to it (on our good days!).

How might we use money as an icon in ordinary life? Here are a few ideas that I’ve collected from talking to friends, reading and experimentation: Try gratefully buying what you need instead of just what you want or crave; give intentionally of your time and money to activities that help others; tithe 5-10% of your income to God and community; buy clothing from used clothing stores or attend clothing exchanges and donate your clothing to causes; establish principles for your use of money and stick to them; if you get a bonus, consider giving some of it away; reuse, recycle, refrain; help your children fill a piggy bank with spare change and use the money for special causes; find meaningful ways to use your hobby for the good of others; ask God to help you downsize without feeling diminished; give anonymous gifts that produce joy in people; buy fair trade food and non-sweat shop clothing so as not to exploit farmers and workers in other countries; pay it forward; when you travel get to know people in the culture you are visiting and learn to appreciate and honor them; eat food that is healthy and nutritious and that supports local agriculture; make cookies and give them away; take a spiritual interest in your work by intentionally adding worth to your workplace; pray about major financial decisions; talk about money in your family and the role it played in your childhood.

How do you honestly react to these examples? In your decisions about your $5000 gift, did any of your money decisions fall into the icon category—as God’s gift to you, to circulate in the world? Would you change the way you originally answered the question or leave your decisions as they are? Why? The image I have of money as icon is of a lot of people with individual cups standing around a well into which God has dropped a huge cup big enough to provide for everyone who thirsts.

The most challenging way that Edwards describes our relationship with money is to see it as sacrificial, giving it away without regard for a personal outcome, which takes an act of trust, to believe that what we need will come to us through God and others. He concludes that as our spiritual lives deepen we will naturally be drawn to a certain simplicity, not for moral reasons but because we have seen through the happiness myths about money. We have the sufficiency of real wealth, not that which is only connected with money. And real wealth costs nothing. We can receive it easily and pass it along easily as well. (p 111).

Let me tell you three true stories of money as a sacrifice:

*Pedro, who had to fend for himself in inner city Chicago at the age of seven and has survived homelessness and chronic disease, said in a talk he gave recently that if he only had $10 left and a friend of his was stressed and needed cigarettes he would give him the money. When asked why, he said, “Because he needs it more than I do.”

*Tom, a caregiver for his wife who has early onset Alzheimer’s disease, has consciously chosen to work in lower paying but more flexible jobs so he can be more present to his wife. He will run out of his savings in a few years but trusts that he will be OK because he feels God was totally present to him in this decision and will open new paths for income when the time comes.

*Vanessa, a woman of means, has admitted recently that she has food/eating issues that she needs to address. As part of this growth process, she has decided to fund and also give her time to a wellness center at her alma mater, where she is also a trustee. This will take a substantial portion of her wealth. She is doing this as part of her own healing and as a way to honor her spiritual path.

The image I have of money as sacrifice is that God is actually raining nourishing water down to fill our cups. Our job is to catch the rain and give  our full cups to others. What is the call to you—and to me—to use our money sacrificially?

It’s only money. What a wise and evocative statement from my accountant. Money just is. If money is neutral and I have the guilt-free option of turning it into an idol, an icon or a sacrifice, how would my choices change my life or my relationships? What if I ask God to help me see my money more as a gift and an adventure with God? Some very interesting questions for me to ponder since I just got a gift of $5000.

Ó Janet O. Hagberg, 2013. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay

I have four books to recommend if you want to get deeper into your issues with money; Living in the Presence by Tilden Edwards, The Soul of Money by Lynn Twist, Lost and Found by Geneen Roth, and The Secret Messages of Money by David Krueger. Geneen Roth lost her entire life savings in the Bernie Madoff scandal so she writes with a lot of skin in the game:-)

I think I gave you enough questions to reflect on just by following along with the exercise of receiving the gift of $5000. But here are a few unfinished sentences to think about (from Geneen Roth’s book Lost and Found).

Rich people are…

In my family money meant…

Having a problem with money allows me to …

If I had money I wouldn’t be able to…

My “normal” is…

Baseball Brings You Home Again

Why Keep Score!



For when the one great scorer comes

To write against your name,

He’ll write not that you won or lost,

But how you played the game.

Grantland Rice, 1908

I’ve been a Twins fan since my childhood when Bob Allison, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Harmon Killebrew were household names. It was such an adventure going to games at the old Met Stadium with my Dad or watching the team play on TV on summer evenings. I played softball on a park board team through most of elementary school and middle school so I learned how to play the game at the “dirt” level. Our team made it into the regional competition several times and I remember batting against a pitcher who threw so fast we could hardly see the ball go by. That made me appreciate at a deeper level just how good those major leaguers were. I followed professional baseball, sometimes closely sometimes haphazardly during my twenties and then my two stepsons brought baseball to the front burner by their involvement in the game.

But the day that changed my life was the fateful day about ten years ago when my stepson, who had become a sports writer after college, taught me how to keep score.  That did it. I was hooked. Permanently. Never before had I gotten so totally involved in the game. It increased not only my enjoyment and understanding of the game but also my commitment to it.

Some of you reading this are doubters. You’re saying, “I enjoy the game enough without keeping score.” Well, that might be true, but think of these other reasons for keeping score before you decide for sure.

IT KEEPS YOU IN THE GAME: When you keep score you always know the line up, who’s at bat, who’s up next, and how each player has done so far in the game. You know who’s hot and who’s not. You can see the trends in the game, such as the likelihood of more hits in the first inning if the pitcher has not gotten into his groove, or in the sixth and seventh innings when the starting pitcher begins to tire. You can see at a glance how the pitcher is doing, whether he’s getting batters to ground out, fly out or strike out. You can see how beautiful a shut-out looks on paper. And keeping score keeps your mind from wandering to stressful or unwelcome subjects like work or cleaning the garage.

IT’S FUN TO LEARN–AND THEN TO DESIGN–YOUR OWN SCORING SYSTEM: There are certain simple symbols that are part of baseball tradition: like K for strikeout, BB for walk, and CS for caught stealing. Whenever a player gets a single, you might draw a line that starts the diamond shape, from home to first, in the box next to his name. There are numbers assigned to each fielder as a short hand way to identify them quickly. Soon marking a ground out to the third baseman as “5-3” becomes second nature.

But the fun part is learning and making your own scoring “code,” like asterisks for great defensive plays.  And whenever I come across a play I haven’t scored before and it baffles me, I just email my stepson and he fills me in. It makes for great conversation.

YOU CAN KEEP TRACK OF HISTORICAL MOMENTS:  What you add to your scorecard or score book is up to you, but I love to record great defensive and offensive plays, historical moments, controversial plays, as well as the standings of various teams at the time they played the Twins.

Here are a few examples of things – big and small — I’ve kept track of in my score book in just the last few years.

*September 1999:  Eric Milton pitches a no hitter against Anaheim. 13 strike outs, 2 walks. Only 5th pitcher in Twin’s history to accomplish this. Twins win 7-0.

*April 2000:  Cal Ripken gets his 3000th hit at a Twins game.

*June 2000:  Fan interference takes a home run away from Mitch Meluskey (Houston Astros) in a game against the Twins.

*July 2000:  Sammy Sosa hits home run #25 against the Twins in his bid for the HR title.

*July 2000:  Milton vs. Clemens (Yankees). Both pitchers have no hitters going until the 6th and 5th innings respectively.

*June 2001:  Guzman gets four bases (and 2 RBIs) on a BUNT (and a defensive error) against Cleveland.

*June 2001:  10th Anniversary of the World Series Win in 1991. Twins are currently leading the AL Central.

*August 2001:  Celebration of Kirby Puckett’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

YOU GAIN RESPECT FOR THE GAME AND FOR THE PLAYERS:  Keeping score has increased my appreciation for the finer points of the game, the underlying rhythms, ups and downs of players, and the incredible preparation and practice it takes to be a major leaguer day in and day out. Now I watch the signs from the third base coach to the batters and the base runners. I watch the pitch count. I am more aware of the reasons for the order of line-ups and pitching changes. I am in awe of the diving catches of Doug Mientkiewicz and the twisting-in-mid-air throws by Guzman and Rivas. I believe, with Alistair Cooke, that the double play is the most beautiful play in baseball.

Because I keep score I read more books on baseball and watched Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary.  I understand better now the long and sometimes glorious, sometimes sordid history of baseball as a chronicle of America.  And I watch the game become more international each year.

IT TAKES YOU BACK TO THE BEST MEMORIES OF CHILDHOOD:  Baseball is part of the fabric of summer. Keeping score takes me deeper into the richness of that fabric. It brings me back to some of my best memories of childhood, playing softball every day, sharing the experience of winning and losing with good friends (with  whom I am still close), and being with my Dad at games. Baseball brings you home again in your mind after you’ve been away for a long time. I think Robert Benson describes this aspect of baseball well in his philosophical book, The Game, (2001):

I hope my kids will remember that baseball is a game about going home. And in that way at least, it is a game that mirrors everything, because everything in life is about going home again. It is about leaving home, and going out to a place where home is far away, and then doing the things that you must to get home again, some of them simple and routine, some of them occasionally heroic and glorious.



Janet O. Hagberg

Author, public speaker and ardent baseball scorekeeper

Reprinted with permission from Gameday, Vol. 1, Iss.3, 2002.

Two stimulating opportunities:

Margaret Silf, who wrote The Inner Compass, one of the most inviting books on the inner spiritual life, will be in town Monday April 22 9-11 at St Patrick’s Church in Edina. She came all the way from Scotland for this session and a retreat so try to attend this. $50 sponsored by Loyola Spirituality Center.

An artistic debut! A few friends and I are showing our artist creations for the first time at NE Mpls’ Art-a-Whirl on May 18-19, Sat 12-5, Sunday 2-5. Studio 1400, 1400 3rd Street NE. 612-296-3376. Join us if you can and if you are curious about my contemporary quilted icons.

Today I’m sending you an essay in honor of the opening of baseball:-) I just can’t resist. This one is an article I wrote for Gameday, a baseball rag that was sold on the grounds of the old domed stadium. Humor me! Next week I’ll start the series on money.


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