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Blessing Janet (and Others in Your Life)

In their book The Critical Journey, Robert A. Guelich and our beloved Janet O. Hagberg write, “Those who have been through this stage (The Journey Inward Stage) themselves and may be specially trained in spiritual direction, spiritual formation, or pastoral counseling are unique people and are to be sought out.”

In 2004 that is exactly what I did. I sought out Janet Hagberg. I wanted to learn from her wisdom, her experiences and her heart. And she responded. I met with her and a friendship was born. Over the last 12 years, Janet has been a tremendous source of encouragement and inspiration. She models the relationship with God I want to have. She has served as a mentor and guide through a transformational way of living. And my guess is she has done the same for you in some way…through this blog, her website (, her books, her teaching, her ministry or through her everyday way of life.

This is my last blog entry for At River’s Edge, so I want to take the opportunity to invite any of you who has been blessed by Janet to return the favor and send her a blessing. The best way to do this is through her website: Let her know what it is you appreciate about her or her ministry.

I’ll go first:


I appreciate your willingness to help people grow and heal. I appreciate the way you not only listen to God, but surrender to His voice. I appreciate the way you live simply and modestly which opens you up to God even more. I appreciate your listening ears. And I appreciate your friendship and encouragement.


Speaking of blessings…

Is it more difficult for you to give a blessing or receive a blessing? Here is what I have noticed about myself when it comes to blessings:

  • It is more difficult for me to receive blessings than to give them. Receiving a blessing has been an area of growth for me. The more I see myself as being loved by God, the more I am able to receive blessings from God and others.
  • Sometimes it is difficult for me to give blessings verbally especially if I think the person is “fishing” for a compliment or acknowledgement in some way.
  • Giving a blessing verbally can feel vulnerable for me.
  • I am much better at giving blessings in written form through cards, emails and text messages than through verbally speaking them. For me it feels safer and the words I write are more thought out and meaningful.

My wife and I used to read to our kids each night from a book of blessings called Bless your Children Every Day by Dr. Mary Ruth Swope. It is full of simple blessings to read over your kids in areas such as courage, abundance, abilities, a free spirit, humility, and much, much more. Our kids ate it up! They craved the times we read from the book. And after a while, my wife and I started making up our own personal blessings for the kids. I highly recommend this practice for parents.

The most common “mistake” made when giving a blessing is when the blessing is limited to praise for accomplishments, achievements and a job well done. It is more important to praise someone (anyone, not just your kids) for WHO they are, not for what they DO. The easiest way to do this is to think of character traits you see in the other person. If you are like me, it helps to have a cheat sheet. Character First is a curriculum that teaches on 49 different character traits. So here is what I do: I cheat. I look at the list of 49 character traits and pick a couple or a few (sometimes I may only see one) from the list that I see in that person. Click here to see the list and definitions:

So now I encourage you to practice giving a blessing. Give a blessing to Janet. Give a blessing to your loved ones, Give a blessing to your friends.

In fact, I dare you to try an experiment!

The Experiment

  1. Select one person to bless this week.
  2. Look at the list of 49 traits and pick 3 traits that are exhibited in the person you selected.
  3. Choose a way to deliver the blessing: speaking it verbally; writing it in a card, a note, an email or a text.
  4. Start the blessing by saying, “I appreciate you because you are ___________________.”
  5. Notice what goes on inside your heart after giving the blessing.
  6. Notice how the relationship with that person changes over the next few days or weeks after giving the blessing.

I pray that this exercise is a powerful experience for you.

Barry Thomas














How Much is Enough?


Several years ago I was sitting on a bench in front of one of Minnesota’s ten thousand lakes. This one particular lake sits on the campus of Bethel Seminary in St. Paul. While sitting there I heard God ask me, “How much of my love is enough for you?” I had never thought of that question before. I had thought of God’s love being unending, but I had not thought about how much of that love I needed or wanted? How much of God’s love is needed for me to be satisfied? How much would be enough? I had never tried to actually quantify it before.


(Caution: Nerd Alert. Don’t judge.) I then thought, “What if God’s love for me was the volume of this lake?” Now most of the lakes in Minnesota aren’t very big and this one was probably about 60 acres in size (It’s actually 64.5 acres, but I don’t want to come across as too nerdy.). So I looked up the size of the lake on a map and calculated the volume of the lake by estimating an average depth. (Yes, I actually did this.) Next, I estimated the volume of my body. (Yes, I actually did this.) I then asked, “If God’s loved refilled my body every day, how long would it take to drain this lake?” (Yes, I actually asked this.) After doing the calculations, the answer was an astonishing 1,170,675 days! That is 3,207 years! Here is this small lake on a collage campus in Minnesota and it’s only one of ten thousand lakes in the state and it would take over one million days to drain it.


How much of God’s love is enough for me if His love refilled me every single day? It is definitely less than the volume of that one small lake. God was telling me and showing me that His love for me was more than enough. There is more love available to me and for than I can imagine.


If you could get better at one thing this year what would it be? Would it be something physical like losing weight, exercising, eating healthier, running faster or running farther? Would it be something mental like reading, meditating or problem solving? What about something emotional like connecting, listening, enjoying? What do you want to be better at?


For me, it would be to be able to receive God’s love in greater measure. If I was able to do this one thing, it would affect all areas of my life. I imagine I would have more confidence instead of insecurity; peace instead of fear; compassion instead of criticism and joy instead of anger. Overall, I would be able to see myself more of the way God sees me and be able to love others better.


How much of God’s love is enough for you?


Ephesians 3: 17b-19

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”






Humility as God’s Ho Ho

There is a wonderful, even magical, story in the Old Testament. It involves Elisha, one of the famous prophets in history, and the widow of one of his colleagues. (II Kings 4:1-7) The widow comes to him in crisis, telling him that a creditor was about to take her son as a slave because she could not pay her debts. In fact, all she had left was a small amount of oil in a jar.

Elisha, in what seems like an unusual bit of advice, tells her to ask all of her neighbors for empty jars, then take her two sons with her into her home, close the door and start pouring her small portion of oil into the jars. As she does what he asks, (I can only imagine what she was thinking to herself) the oil somehow increases until it has filled all of the jars. Since oil is a valuable commodity she now has enough oil not only to purchase her son’s freedom, but to support her family for the foreseeable future. It is a miracle story, one we would all like to claim for our own lives when times are hard and resources are thin.

I was pondering this story during my prayer time, letting the truths of it soak into my heart. At the time I was particularly grateful to God for letting me see a plan he was laying out for me to move from my condo and my current life style in a “happening neighborhood” to a simpler and smaller life style in a “green” development in a more racially and economically mixed neighborhood. It was a major move for me and reflected a change in priorities, values and commitments.

Yet, I was grieving this move from a place I loved, on the bank of the Mississippi River, with gorgeous views of the city. I was also going to miss the regular contact with the neighbors I had come to care about. And facing this new neighborhood brought its challenges too. I was a bit fearful of the potential for crime in a lower economic neighborhood, even though I had friends there and a welcoming church waiting for me.

But the unmistakable truth alongside the fear and the loss was the clear sense that God was calling me to this new home.  He had already provided human “angels” to help me make the transition. I had mentors and friends in this new place. I felt as if I was moving to a new way of being, feeling a renewed energy in my life, seeing a vision for my place in the world. I felt God paving the way, providing me with the people, resources, and a willing spirit.

So while I was reading this story, I could identify with God’s largess and could even see this move as a way for me to help multiply God’s love, like the widow’s oil in the story. I was praying for God’s guidance about how to share the abundance of grace—God’s oil—poured into my life. I felt much like the widow, that even though I was in a difficult transition and my future was unclear, God was supplying for me in generous ways. I felt so grateful and honored to be in this place of abundance with God.


In the quiet of my prayer I heard a voice from that place within me where God dwells. The voice chimed in, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, my dear one. You are not the widow in this story. You’re the empty vessel.” The voice sounded light-hearted and gentle like it was singing a nursery rhyme or something like that, starting on a high note and descending like a slide. The message was clear and challenging, yet I could sense a chuckle behind the challenge.

Just like that. Few words. TRUTH. Humility. Loss of ego again. No gentle approval of my claim to be the widow in the story, just a gentle truth with a chuckle. And, of course, God was right. My ego would love to be the widow, the unsung star of the story, and I would love to identify with God’s largess for me. I’d love to have the small amount of oil in my own vessel multiply and be of great worth. I love redemptive endings and being part of them.

But God was clearly telling me that being an empty vessel was more closely attuned to my current state, or needed to be. The vessel represented the acceptance of my emptiness, my dependence on God to fill me, which was really my new calling.

Empty, waiting to be filled, unsure, dependent, surrendered; new words that I was not totally longing for, but now learning to live into. In the story, the empty jars were also a gift from God, a sign of hope for the widow, who must have been elated that her neighbors would give them to her, even though she was unsure what would happen once she got them. So I became a vessel, willing to be given, willing to be part of a miracle of love. I am of value precisely because of my emptiness. I was not moving to my new neighborhood to simply pour out my gifts but to be a vessel, willing to be, to learn, to receive, to love. We are all of immense value in our emptiness—an emptiness that God knows how to fill so much better than we do.

As soon as I heard those rhythmic words, “Nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah. You’re not the widow; you’re the empty vessel.” I knew God was messing with me again, in that familiar way, gently nudging me off of my pedestal, bringing me to a richer, simpler and even more profound truth—empty vessels are more likely to be filled. It was what I needed to be—an empty vessel. I could feel the gentle humor, the loving nudge. It felt familiar. I could hear the chortling chuckle. I could imagine the twinkle in the eye, the sly smile that accompanied those words, “Empty vessel.”

One of my friends would call this experience one of God’s Ho-Hos. I like that. And, as a result of this God Ho-Ho, I felt a joyful sense of expectation in my emptiness.

End Note: I did not make that move to a different neighborhood, since I could not sell my condo in the economic environment of the time, but I felt the significance of being open, willing and eager to move. And the empty vessel image is still meaningful to me. several years later.

© Copyright, Janet O. Hagberg, 2009.


Reflections on this essay

Which figure or symbol from the story would you be?

How have you felt God leading you into a new direction that is unknown?

Where has God surprised you with a new truth about yourself?

How have you experienced being empty and then being filled?

What is one of God’s Ho Hos in your life?



In my continuing quest to know God more intimately, the facet of God that may be the most astounding is about God and love. God not only loves us in such amazing depth and breadth that we can’t begin to grasp it, but God IS love itself. This, as some of my grandkids might say, blows me away! God’s essence is love. So as God reaches out to love us on a daily basis, God is giving of God’s own self. As we receive God’s love we are actually enveloped in God’s own being. What a gift!


The following collection of verses show some of the emphasis that Scripture places on God our Lover. Read them slowly and prayerfully. Allow the Spirit to speak and God’s message, unique to you, to sink in.




You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Psalm 86:15 Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Psalm 138:8b I have loved you with an everlasting love. Jeremiah 31:3b The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning. Lamentations 3:22-23a The Lord takes pleasure in those who… hope in his steadfast love. Psalm 147:11 Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:7 The Lord your God…..will renew you in his love. Zephaniah 3:17


How precious is your steadfast love, O God! Psalm 36:7a Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8b Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. 1 Corinthians 8:1b

The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the one who trusts in him. Psalm 32:10b NIV Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God… for God is love. 1 John 4:7,8b


God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1 John 4: 9,10 For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. John 3:16 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 1John 4: 11 Christ’s love compels us. 2 Corinthians 5:14 NIV We love because he first loved us. 1 John 4:19 God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us. Romans 5:5b


Who will separate us from the love of Christ?…I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35a, 38,39 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him. Psalm 103:11 …Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, in order to make her holy…Ephesians 5:25b,26a  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Ephesians 3:18




Could we with ink the ocean fill,

or were the skies with parchment made,

were every stalk on earth a quill

and every one a scribe by trade,

To write the love of God above

would drain the ocean dry,

nor could the scroll contain the whole,

though stretched from sky to sky.

O love of God, how rich and pure,

how measureless and strong.

It shall forevermore endure,

the saints and angels’ song.

Author unknown



….How have you experienced God’s love in your life?

….List some of the adjectives that describe God’s love.

….Reflect on what it means for you to have a love relationship with God.



Thank you, dearest God, for being our amazing Lover.




Hi, I’m Bobbie and am what some would call seasoned. Now in my early eighties I look back on a life full of experiences through which God has shaped and refined me – still a work-in-progress – and for which I’m so very grateful. My first husband and I raised three daughters and both of us worked full time. Following his death from leukemia, God gave me another good man to partner with. Our combined families now delight us with 17 grandchildren. Our church’s prayer ministry is my passion. I also enjoy reading, journaling, long walks, jig-saw puzzles and knitting prayer shawls. I’ve known Janet and treasured her friendship for close to 35 years and am honored to share on her blog.


c Barbara Spradley, 2015, All Rights Reserved


Dear Friends,

Today I have a guest blogger, Mike McNichols, who has an interesting approach to Eucharist, especially for Protestants, who have not taken Eucharist very seriously. I’ve struggled with the meaning of Eucharist and have now come to see it as a unique form of intimacy with Christ. I hope this essay invites you to reflect on Eucharist, no matter what your faith tradition. If you enjoy this, I’d recommend a book Mike has written called Shadow Meal.

Loaves and Fishes, Bread and Wine

 By Michael McNichols

Director, Fuller seminary, California Coast


I was raised up, for the most part, in Protestant/Evangelical churches. In those unique religious settings, the Lord’s Supper, or Communion as we usually called it, was seen as a purely symbolic ritual, serving to remind us of Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross. We only shared the Lord’s Supper once a month or so, and I could never quite get my mind around the whole thing. If it was only symbolic and just a way to remember something, then why did we really have to do it? Was it really necessary? I can read the Bible and remember about Jesus. I don’t need a tasteless wafer and a shot of grape juice to get me to do that.

It might just be me, but I even translate this thinking to other areas of life where symbols are used. Some of my neighbors fly American flags from the roofs of their houses. I’m fine with that, but I don’t feel the need to tell everyone that I’m an American when I live in California. The connection should be obvious.

So I’ve had to struggle and work through my thinking about Eucharist. And the more I struggle the more deep meaning I find, and the more I catch glimpses of the deeper reality behind it all.

We experience the Eucharist together in a relatively small space, as most churches do. We come, not out of our qualification or self-induced purity, but rather at the invitation of Jesus to come and dine. Our table may be a small table, but it represents the real table that Jesus has prepared—a table that stretches though the ages and across all nations. It is a table with countless seats and place settings, because the invitation to come is broad and sent to all people. It is a table where we receive the true bread of heaven, bread that will always satisfy. As Jesus said,


“Everything that the Father gives me will come to me, and anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.” (John 6:37)


When I think of the story of Jesus feeding a crowd of 5,000 people with just a few fishes and some loaves of bread, I wonder if that isn’t what is happening at a deeper level: The real miracle is not that there is more food, but rather that there are now more people at the table. Jesus often scandalized the religious elite by claiming that the down and out, the outcasts and sinners were loved and valued by God. The religious leaders didn’t want those kinds of seats at their table because they thought it was only for people like themselves. Jesus says otherwise.

If the loaves and fishes are signs that point to Jesus, the bread of heaven, then maybe the receiving of that food is a sign of response to the invitation to Jesus’ table. The multiplication itself appears to be a sign of the limitless nature of God’s love and care and the sheer recklessness of his embrace. I don’t recall any one in the crowd having to be interviewed before eating in order to determine their suitability. Everyone was fed.

This Eucharistic practice of ours is both sign and wonder. It is sign because it points to the deeper reality of God’s broad and expansive love. It is wonder because we can never fathom how we were ever invited in the first place. But Jesus has seen through all of our attempts to hide and disqualify ourselves and has reached across years of pain, loneliness and brokenness to say, “Come.”


Many of us wonder how and why God does what God does! And we question God’s role in our lives. Here is a short video that Tamie Koehler and I did showing how we experience God working in our lives, calling us ever closer and sometimes with humor.


Reflections on this video

How do you experience God in your life?
What is your image of God?

How does God meddle in kind ways in your life?

What would you like from God now?



Today I share with you a refreshing prayer that I just received from Alice Loddigs in her little book of prayers called Insaneprayers. She has a blog, Thanks Alice for this helpful prayer.


hello God. it’s me. alice

remember me?

of course you do


you must be wondering the same thing

as i’ve been pretty quiet for some time

but i do remember you too


i’m hearing that you like to hear from me

i’m thinking you like boldness in your friends

i’m really trying to learn to be more vocal


i’m seeing you at work in my life

and in my head

and in my heart

and frankly it scares me  just a bit


do i have any audacious temerity?


i believe in you

why is it SO hard

to believe that YOU

have faith in ME?


i believe

dear God, help my unbelief


Reflections on this prayer

What is the bold prayer you would like to pray to God?

What holds you back?

What do you think about God’s faith in you?

What scares you about God at work in your life?

Thanks to my young friend, Jessica Sanborn, for this thoughtful essay from her own spiritual journey.



This word conjures images of side-walk preachers and desert prophets. What have you done wrong lately? What do you need to repent from? To turn away from?


As a person who likes to follow rules, most often my answer would be: I think I’m good, thank you.


The angry cry to repent–to be sorry–to feel guilty . . . that doesn’t change me. I have a tendency to be sorry, to feel guilty. Those are some of my least attractive personality characteristics. Sorry and guilt aren’t transformative emotions for me.


Turning away from wrong may be a part of repentance. But it appears that “repent” actually means so much more.


It means to return from exile. To return home. To return to God.[i]


The call to repent is a call to your soul: “You are not where you are supposed to be. You are far from home. Come home! Come home!”


Oh. I do understand that.


The call to come home resounds in my heart.


The journey of coming home is changing me.


* * *


It is so easy to get lost.


You can be someone who grew up in church, stayed there, followed all of the rules, and still be far from home. You can look like you have things all together and still be lost.


For me, lost happened in just one moment–

when faith severed its connection to my heart and took up residence in my mind.


Instead of listening to my heart,

I reasoned in my head.


I denied the power and truth in my heart’s responses

as mere physiological reactions to emotion.


The farther I traveled from heart, the harder it was to hear anything other than the noise in my head.


Heady faith can only take you so far.


Without the heart to guide it and warm it, faith becomes cold and hard.


Lost in my head, God’s love seemed more like a childhood story, something others claimed to know. But I couldn’t feel it. And without love, faith is nothing.


With just my head to guide me, I made “good” and “sensible” choices. But I was pouring my energy into work that was draining my soul. I was not doing what I was born to do. I did not know what that was.


I was lost from my heart and from God. I was not where I was supposed to be.


* * *

Jesus told a few repentance stories, stories of coming home. The most famous coming- home story would be that of the prodigal son. We are familiar with the image of the Father anxiously watching for his son, running to meet him, celebrating his return. It’s beautiful. I still don’t identify very much with the prodigal son– he was much too wild for me. But there are many that need to hear his story. Who need to hear that God is so very excited to see you coming down the road, stumbling toward home. That God runs to meet and embrace you. There is nothing so terrible that you could do that could separate you from this God’s love.


Repentance, for me, was more like Jesus’ story of the lost sheep. Out of a flock of 100, one sheep wandered away. It might not even have known that it was lost. Its wandering away wasn’t necessarily a moral shortcoming. It just got lost. It was not where it was supposed to be. The sheep’s owner left the 99 sheep looking for the lost one. Their reunification was joyful and happy. The shepherd scooped up that lost lamb into his arms and brought it home rejoicing. There is no shame in this meeting. Only joy.



I got lost without knowing it. I think I was also found without realizing what was happening. I didn’t hear a call to repent. I don’t remember hearing a sermon that pointed out my errors. I don’t recall making a conscious effort to change my life, to turn it around. But looking back, I realize that repentance is what happened to me. God came calling, searching for me. This falling into repentance is pure grace.


I am thankful that we have a God who longs to have us where we belong. Who searches for us, calls to us, and comes to find us to bring us home. I’m thankful that God is happy to find us. It feels so good to be found.


So what do we do when we realize that we are not where we are supposed to be? When we think we may be hearing God’s call to come home? For me, that first required taking a cue from Samuel when he heard God calling. Like me, he didn’t recognize God’s voice right away. But with some help, he learned to stop and answer, “Here I am.”


“Here I am.” I want to be found. I need help finding my way home. I’m not sure I even know what home is. “Here I am, God.”



Next, I needed to let go of the things that didn’t fit right. Repentance usually requires leaving something. You need to leave where you are not supposed to be in order to come home. I’m assuming that place is different for every person.



I needed to leave church to find my way home. I needed to leave my job in order to find my way home. I needed to leave fear in order to find my way home. I needed to leave my head and open up my heart in order to find my way home.


(I don’t want to take too much credit for making brave decisions to let go of things. I knew deep down that I didn’t belong, but I didn’t trust that choice. I waited and waited. The panic attacks let me know that it was the right time to make the change. Pure grace.)




Coming home is not a once for all deal. I don’t know that home is necessarily a destination. I think it is a journey, a way of being. And sometimes we get ourselves a little bit lost on the way. It is easy to do. But there is always joy in the finding.


ÓJessica Sanborn, 2014. All rights reserved.


Quote “To return home. To return to God” is from Marcus Borg, Jesus: Uncovering the Life.












Sacred Fire

God gently holds our feet

to the sacred fire

in  unconditional love

As a result

we are able to experience

God’s promise

that joy will emerges

from pain well attended.

Janet O. Hagberg

Reflections on this entry

Where in your life is God holding your feet to the sacred fire?

How do you experience God’s unconditional love in that?

What joy are you embracing in your life now?

How has your pain become a gift?

Is God’s Grace Sufficient?

It’s curious what we remember about our childhoods. What stands out is usually the really bad stuff or the really good stuff. But scattered here and there amongst the memories are some poignant stories that just have a category of their own. One of these stories for me started out as an innocent adolescent’s question but has taken on more theological significance to me now than when it happened.

I was in junior high, probably about confirmation age, experiencing a fabulous week of summer Bible camp, something I looked forward to all year. The week was jammed with sports, swimming, boating, ping pong and hiking, in addition to the mornings of Bible study and Missionary teaching. And then there were the boys. One of the reasons we loved camp was that we developed crushes on boys at camp. Maybe there were just more opportunities to be together there but it always seemed special to go out in a boat together or to sit holding hands at campfires. It seemed magical. Actually the whole experience seemed magical.

But this particular year during the teaching time in the morning the pastor said that the definition of sin was “anything contrary to the will of God.” That confused me and, being the curious girl I was, I started wondering just how we would know what the will of God was. This was an exceptionally important question because at the church of my childhood, sin was a mighty big concept. We were taught to take it very seriously. If you accumulated a lot of sins you could potentially be damned. And being damned had serious consequences; an eternity in you-know-where.

I knew what the big sins were for teenagers; dancing, SEX, smoking, gambling (including Bingo), card playing and movies. Then there were the really big sins which seemed more for adults; adultery, murder, wanting other people’s stuff, and working on Sunday. But this idea of sin being anything contrary to the will of God troubled me.

After thinking about this all week at camp, I went to ask my cabin counselor a confusing question. “Does God will us to fall into big holes?”  She said “Of course not,” and tried to reassure me. “So,” I asked, “Why isn’t falling into a big hole sin if it’s against God’s will?” She got a troubled look on her face, almost a panicky look as I recall, and took me immediately to the pastor so he could counsel me. I told him my question and his response was simple; God’s grace is sufficient.

That may have solved the problem for him but it did nothing for me. He didn’t ask me to elaborate on my question so he could find out what was behind it. I may have not even known what was behind it but I’d guess it was something about an arbitrary and sometimes mean-spirited God who felt a lot like my father. My pastor’s answer wasn’t wrong theologically, it was just too abstract for my junior high mind to grasp, and I got no further explanation, so I went away bewildered.

But that phrase “God’s grace is sufficient” has hovered around the periphery of my life ever since. I must have assumed there was something positive about this grace, yet it remained pretty abstract.

Then I went through a multi-year period in my life in which everything I thought I needed to be happy disintegrated, leaving me with just the bare core of who I am. During those years I came into contact with a powerful women, an intelligent, funny and theologically deep woman from the 16th Century who became my spiritual mentor and friend. Teresa of Avila, saint, mystic, reformer. She had many of the same struggles I did and she developed a keen and rich intimacy with God as a result. She taught me to trust that God was involved in everything because all of life was meant to teach us more about ourselves and about God. Her theological stance was “all is gift.” She even wrote a treatise on intimacy with God called The Interior Castle. Her life and writings really spoke to my heart about the journey to intimacy with God. The more I went to God with all of my fear and anguish, the closer I felt to God.

It took years for me to really grasp this intimacy, not to be afraid of it, but once I owned its truth, God transformed my life. In my darkest hours I still felt like I was mysteriously on the right track. But the most important thing she taught me was not to rely on myself for anything but to rely on God alone. Her favorite phrase, one she used as her motto was “Solo Dios basta,” meaning “only God suffices” or “God is enough.” Her shortened version, the words she muttered as she walked the convent halls was “Basta, basta, basta.” What caught my attention was the word suffices, meaning enough. There was that word again. It felt like I had returned to a journey I began in 8th grade.

Teresa, a feisty wonderful woman of the 16th Century brought home to me, in practical and concrete ways, the true meaning of the phrase “God’s grace is sufficient.” Now I know in my soul that it is true. God’s grace IS sufficient. And now, when I think of that junior high school girl within me who was already seeking God’s compassion and unconditional love with her questions about God’s will and deep holes, I just whisper “Basta, basta, basta.”

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


Reflections on this essay

What do you remember most about your childhood religious teaching?

Was it life giving or neutral or fear based?

How do you define sin for yourself today?

How have you found God’s grace to be sufficient?

How do you find more intimacy with God in your life?

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