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Dear Subscribers,

As they say in baseball, “I’m hanging up my cleats” and ending my regular blogging activity. I’ve experienced more than five years of grace in which to write what is on my heart and what God gave me to say. Hopefully I’ve done so with a wee bit of compassion, vulnerability and humor.

Now my work in the realm of spiritual and emotional healing is taking up much of my time and energy.I will leave the past blog posts up and available for people to access, since I get a steady stream of searches for certain posts (the ones on forgiveness, family estrangement, and amends). And you just ever know, you may hear from me in unexpected ways when the spirit moves me:-)

I thank you for receiving my words and for occasionally responding to me either in person or in posts. Thanks for being so self reflective and vulnerable yourselves.Thank you for absorbing the love of God more deeply as a result. God really does adore us…and counts on us to be extensions of his love in the world.

Thanks to all my guest bloggers as well. I’ve enjoyed and learned from your posts. You’re written amazing and heartfelt essays, reflections and poetry. You have made this space shine with your words. Jessica Sanborn, Michael Bischoff, Tracy Mooty, Bobbie Spradley, Barry Thomas, Chelsea Forbrook.

Today the last post is from my friend, Barry Thomas. As you will see he pulled a little trick on me, knowing I was stepping down from blogging. Since I don’t edit guest blogger’s words I am self consciously allowing him to shower me with love–on Valentine’s Day.

So I leave you with deep gratitude and appreciation for this opportunity to reach out to the wider world with God’s love.

Warmly,

Janet Hagberg

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Sweet Surrender

by Barry A. Thomas

 

In the first statement of the first chapter of the book Follow Me, Jan David Hettinga writes: “The ultimate issue in the universe is leadership. Who you follow and what directs your life, is the single most important thing about you.” In the book he describes the tension between living in the Kingdom of Self and living in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not a reference to a place with territory and boundaries. The Kingdom of God is referencing the reign of God – God’s lordship.

Often times the Kingdom of Self is the chief competitor to the Kingdom of God. Yes, there are times some external evil is the main problem, but most often it is us. I am what gets in the way of God fully reigning in my life. Jesus taught that a person cannot serve two masters. A person must let go of the Kingdom of Self in order to fully experience the Kingdom of God. The key word that best describes this process is: SURRENDER.

It is impossible to experience the Kingdom of God without surrender. I must let go of me: the things I cling to for value, significance and identity. Jesus showed an example of what surrender looks like when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He was crucified. Three different times He asked God to take away the responsibility of dying on the cross AND each time Jesus said, “Not my will, but yours be done.” He surrendered His own will (and body) in order for the reign of God to be fully present in Him and in this world.

The Locked Door

Several years ago I had a dream or a vision or a mental picture (whatever you want to call it) that had a major impact on my life. I pictured myself walking with God down a long narrow hallway with several doors on each side. We squared up in front of one of the doors. God tried to open the doors, but it was locked. I looked up and read the sign on the door. It said “Career.” For the first time in my life I realized that my career was off limits to God.

Up to that point, God had blessed me with a good career working for a good company. I had always rationalized my job by saying, “God has blessed me through this career and because of it I will be a blessing to others”. And I was. I gave to church, I helped support missionaries and I had financially helped under-resourced people. What I did not realize was a fear that was running in the back of my mind – a fear that God would take it away. So after saying “God you have blessed me through this career so I am blessing others.” I would mentally whisper to myself, “So don’t mess with it.”

Through this picture of a locked door, God was making it clear that I had not surrendered my career to His lordship. Now He wanted the key and He wanted control of that part of my life. So I gave Him the key. I surrendered my career over to God. I didn’t know what the implications would be, but I didn’t want anything to be off limits to Him. Except for my baptism, it was the most meaningful act of surrender in my life.

The Surrendering Process

The surrendering process involves three simple steps:

  1. Surrender everything you have to God – everything.
  2. Listen to what God has to say about it.
  3. Do whatever God says.

Very simple, but not easy. Maybe surrendering everything feels too overwhelming. If so, take surrendering one step at a time and start with one area of your life, or one decision or one day. Journaling has not been one of my strongest disciplines, but for a period of time when I did journal I would start out every entry with this simple prayer: “Dear God, You are Lord of my life, every part of it. I will follow wherever You lead.” There were some days those words were hard to write, but it was important for me to surrender one day at a time.

There are two primary movements to surrendering. The first movement is letting go of something – letting go of self, letting go of control, letting go of a dream, letting go of what I cling to for worth and significance. The second movement is submission to something – trust, faith, God’s promises, God’s love. Letting go of the Kingdom of Self and submitting to the reign and Kingdom of God.

Often times surrendering involves not knowing the outcome. When I gave God the key to the locked door labeled “Career”, I did not know what the implications were. Was God going to ask me to stay on my career path or instead ask me to sell all my possessions and go live in a grass hut in Africa? I had no idea what was going to happen.

Grief and Surrender

Last week in my blog post I talked about embracing the grief process, what grieving has looked like for me and some of the lessons I have learned along the way. The graphic below illustrates what stages of grief look like.

(Sorry graphic did not transfer). It is a large V shape with words describing the various ways grief is expressed, getting darker and harder as one goes down into the V and then lighter as the grief is embraced to reveal wholeness.

 

Here is the Big Idea: The surrendering process is a grief process. When a person surrenders, he or she will most likely go through the stages of grief: denial, anger, fear, isolation, new strengths, new patterns and hope. Surrendering is a process of letting go of control and giving that control over to God. Grieving is the stages of emotions one experiences after any kind of loss. Both of them are processes of letting go of the old before experiencing the new or even knowing what the new looks like.

 

Here’s the next Big Idea: The surrendering process is a death, burial and resurrection. It is a letting go of the old even before I know what the new may look like. Going back to my locked door vision, I was afraid of what would happen once I gave God the key to that door. I didn’t know if God would go in the room and simply look around or if He would go in the room and remodel the place. In the middle of the process I felt disoriented, confused and depressed.

Here’s the last Big Idea: The surrendering process is a transformation process. This surrendering business is not just a one-time conversion experience. For Christ followers, surrender is a way of life. In Luke 9:23 Jesus says, “And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” As Christ followers we are called to die to ourselves. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” Surrendering is be a rhythm of life for those living under the reign of God.

The Rest of the Story

Within a couple of months of giving God the key that day, I considered making a career change into full-time ministry. There is no way it would have been an option as long as that door was locked. Within five months God opened up an opportunity for me to make that change. Many people have asked if it was difficult to make the change from an engineering career to full-time ministry. I tell them the change was actually easy. God made it clear this was the direction He wanted me to go. The difficult part was surrendering – giving God the key that day. Once that was done, the rest was easy.

 

And because I gave God the key that day, I have been blessed in immeasurable ways. I would not have experienced Kingdom living as fully as I have if I hadn’t surrendered. I agree with Hettinga’s declaration: leadership is the ultimate issue. I believe surrendering is the secret to living in the Kingdom of God.

 

 

What do you have difficulty giving up control of in your life?

Is there an area in your life that is not submitted to the Lordship of Jesus?

What step can you take to begin to surrender that part to Jesus?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Love, Work, Play

I’ve been thinking about marriage a lot this summer since I was invited to three weddings. It raises reflections for me about the connection of love and marriage. While I was mulling this, I remembered a quote from Sigmund Freud stating that humans need two things in order to be satisfied; love and work. I can’t remember who added a third to that list, but it was play. Perhaps we need all three of these to have a healthy balance in our lives.

So let’s go on a journey with love, work and play and see where it takes us…

Love
To be transparent about my relationship with love and marriage, I feel grateful that I’ve been unusually satisfied with the amount of love I’ve given and received in my life and yet my track record with marriage is less than stellar. I believe in marriage and all that it brings to those who embrace it sincerely, and, at the same time, I think of it as excruciatingly wonderful. Maybe this discrepancy is what draws me so strongly to ponder love and marriage.

Love is the most complicated, and in my experience the most misunderstood of the three human needs. Love, for me, means caring, shared memories, positive regard, respect, shared time, vulnerability, trust, presence in pain, ability to work through conflict without hostility, provision for one another, affection, appreciation. The finest marriages result in each partner becoming their best self with the support of their partner. Most marriages (and friendships) have a hard time measuring up to that standard day in and day out, but after all, we’re human. What confuses me is that, if we “know” that the one we’ve chosen to marry is the right one, why do 50% of marriages, even Christian marriages, end up in divorce. And the numbers are higher for second marriages. I grieve that in my soul. I know love asks a lot of us and most of us need to stretch and grow in order to be up to the task. Marriage is the beginning of our inner work as a couple, not the end. We come together to grow in each other’s company not to breathe a sigh of relief and slump into self-neglect.

If love is what I outlined above, is marriage the only way of knowing what love is? I think the culture (neighbors, friends, parents, the church, work associates, well meaning aunts/uncles, even magazines) would say yes, at least if you look at the focus churches place on marriage and family and the number of businesses associated with the marriage market. And just ask any single 30-year-old if she or he feels the pressure to “find” the right person to marry in order to feel normal. The latest US Census reports that more than 50% of adult Americans are single, 53% of them women, 47% of them men. That is astounding given that the cultural norm still seems to be married with two+ children.

Of course, we all need love. Whether married or single. Which I suggest means to love and be loved in return? How do we satisfy that desire, if marriage is not the only option? I will suggest four sources of love that I have observed to have satisfying effects on people’s hearts: friends, animals, nature and God. Let’s start with friends. Here I would include family, friends, teammates, mentors and military comrades, all of whom can give and receive love in their own ways. The animal option is a no-brainer; connections with pets and untamed animals are deep-seated ways of relating. Ask any pet owner or anyone who has swum with dolphins! And nature includes things like water, plants, trees, birds, mountains, flowers and prairies. Most of us yearn to be in nature since it restores something to us that we don’t seem to find any other way.

The fourth and, in my experience, the best way to receive and give love is with God. With God there is always a guarantee of being loved in return, no matter what (even better than pets who can hiss or growl!). God is a lasting presence that never leaves us, even if we lose our earthly relationships. I know many people have negative images of God from childhood, and I heartily encourage those who do to work with someone to help heal or change that image. For me, love is from God and includes all the things I mentioned in my definition of love. In addition, unlike some human love, God’s love is unconditional and unending. Even when we question God’s love or feel God is absent, God still waits patiently for us to once again allow divine love to flow into our hearts.

If we feel unconditionally loved by God, we are whole, no matter what our marital status; married, divorced, separated, single, committed. Our love is not dependent on other things, despite the cultural pressure and shame.

I also seems clear to me that single people can love and be loved, that married people can love and be loved, but that marriage does not guarantee love in the way I describe. One of the issues with marriage that I have experienced and seen others experience too, is that we look to our partner to meet our needs and when they don’t, we blame them. I think we are looking to them to fulfill something that we can only truly get from ourselves and from God, unconditional love. And if we do seek love primarily from God then we can honor the things that our spouse does give us instead of being disappointed in what they don’t give us. No human can meet all of our needs.

Everyone can feel love, needs to feel love, no matter what. I find this liberating and hopeful.

The forms of love in my life have been somewhat unusual since I lost my second parent by the time I was thirty-nine years old and I was estranged from my only brother due to alcohol. So my forms of love have been, not only with marriage partners, step-children and in-laws, but with a host of others. I have adopted brothers, sisters, mothers and fathers and I have opened my heart to mentoring and friendship relationships with a group of amazing people, who give to me and receive from me as much love as I can handle. This kind of love includes emotional and spiritual intimacy, sharing of honest emotions and mutual good will. And it requires that I stay present to the relationships and not take them for granted.

Other kinds of love? I’ve had pets most of my life, mostly gentleman cats, but dogs as well, and I hold nature, especially birds, trees, flowers and moving water in high regard. Oh, and I have an ongoing love affair with the MN Twins.

If you are game, I’d like to invite you to reflect on love, especially on the people, pets and nature experiences that have given you a feeling of being loved. How did it change your life? And God, how does feeling love from God make your life different? And how have you seen your love affect others’ lives?

Work
The second part of the equation of what all humans need is work. By that I mean to be productive in some way, to contribute to the greater good, to feel some sense of accomplishment. What does work usually give us that matters most to us? Many people would say we work primarily for money but I have found, in my career development work, that was not the case. Sure, we need that basic security (and many workers do not even have that) but after that we usually don’t work for money. Volunteers and parents do not work for money and their work is just as meaningful as income generated work, even though the culture does not value what they do as much.

I work because it satisfies my desire to express ideas, it gives me an outlet for my creativity, it engages me with other people’s stories and it inspires me to share spiritual healing experiences. Staying engaged with friends and clients helps me feel whole. But we all work for different reasons. Here are a few of the other reasons people say they work.

Recognition and approval

service and social welfare
variety

leadership and personal power
Mastery/skill/achievement

independence
Interpersonal relations

moral value
Self-expression

creativity and challenge
Adventure

teamwork

If you are game to reflect on your motivations for work, which three motivations do you resonate with the most? Be honest! Knowing why you really work and how to obtain more of what satisfies you results in renewed energy, productivity and satisfaction.

I was writing this essay at one of my favorite restaurants and I asked my server why she worked. She said it was the exercise built right into the job and the social outlet it gave her. Then when she goes home she is tired but she gets to spend time with her seven pets! (this includes 3 rescue and foster pets). She said that, as a single woman, it was a good life. I asked her where she gets love in her life and she said, “To be honest, from my pets more than from my children.”

But, sadly, work has its negative side effects as well. We can become addicted to work; becoming married to our work with no balance in our lives. We can produce degrading products that hurt or injure people. We can become greedy and overly competitive. We can lose our jobs for whatever reason, and suffer grave consequences of identity or health.

So how do we work in a way that leans towards deeper satisfaction and contribution? I’d suggest that we bring our love for God into our work. I do not mean that we necessarily witness for our faith in the workplace since that is precarious and even illegal, but that we allow who we are in our inner connection with our loving God to seep out deliciously into the core of our work.

~What if you’ve had a deep and lasting experience of community through meeting with a group of spiritually minded people? Why not bring the concept of true community into the workplace, even if you don’t talk about it that way. Just try to create loving communities that represent the gifts of your spirit!

~What if you are a creative person but do not have the obvious outlets to use your gift in your main work tasks? How about asking God how to use your creativity in other ways at work, for events you volunteer for, for photos or posters if that is available, for spoken word opportunities at celebrations. Use your creativity to bring your spirit of love from God to people in the workplace.

~What if you believe in the power of inclusion since you feel so included by God? If, in your workplace, there are diverse cultures, why not really engage with people from other cultures and see what can happen from those engagements?

~Ask yourself this question: When have I had a spiritual experience at work? See what other opportunities come to mind as a result of things that you may have forgotten about or not thought of as spiritual.

So whatever your gift, ask God how you can use that in the workplace in a more sustained and satisfying way. If it’s humor, ask how you can use humor in a satisfying and sustaining way. If it’s collaboration, ask how you can use your skills in collaboration in a more expansive way at work or in your volunteer work.

I’m working with a group of ten people from different occupations and from different age groups (from 30s to 70s). We are asking what it looks like to be a healer in our workplaces, spiritual and emotional healers. So what would it look like to do accounting in a healing way? To do ministry in a healing way? To create art or to write in a healing way? To parent in a healing way? First we needed to look at what qualities were helpful in being a healer and then we needed to look at how God works, so we weren’t caught in trying to do this healing by ourselves. I think we’ve concluded that we can’t be effective healers (whatever that means for each of us individually) unless we are also in a healing process. It seems elementary now but it was a revelation when we first discovered that truth. So we heal, we ask God for guidance, we claim our gifts, we look to see what healing opportunities are coming our way. Daunting but very satisfying.

And here’s an intriguing thought. What if love and work are integrally connected? What if a portion of our work is actually to give and receive love wherever we are?

Love and Work. What love and what work are beckoning us? If we keep asking we will keep learning more.

In order to love and work effectively, we also need some balance, some outlets for rejuvenation and release. What about play?

Play
Play feeds our souls. Play is so fun. We need it. We crave it. We spend millions of dollars on it each year. So play is good. But I’d suggest we look at it carefully to keep it playful and not just another way to work.
My premise: we need to learn to play without feeding our addictions
Many people in our culture think they know how to play because they engage in competitive, adventurous, or physically strenuous exercise. Our culture encourages these activities as a way to balance a stressful work schedule. I would suggest that these activities be called stress reduction techniques but need not be confused with the concept of play. Most of them inadvertently feed people’s addictions, especially the work addiction, and do not relieve long term stress, which leaves deep scars on the psyche.
Think of a few of the ways you usually play—recreation, travel, hobbies, exercise. I used to describe play as anything that took my mind off work. Now I think about it differently.
Play may seem to many of us as something we left behind in our childhoods, but playing (without feeding our work or other addictions) can help us feed our soul. Feeding our soul not only rejuvenates our mood and our body, but it also helps us remember who we are and whose we are—and helps immensely in getting us up in the morning. Feeding our soul fuels the love and work that we desire in our life.
I suggest that soul feeding is what matters more than love or work, and that it is vital to our life. We feed our soul through solitude, rest, dreams, breaks, exercise, prayer, music, healthy food etc. And mindful play is a fine way to feed our soul.
Reflect on this list of some key characteristics of soul-feeding play and see what activities come to mind for you. Which of your regular activities have these characteristics? Which don’t? Why?
• Activities that leave your body, mind, and spirit rested and refreshed, even though you may get physically tired.
• Activities in which you do not have to win or be an expert to feel good about yourself.
• Activities that stimulate your creativity.
• Activities that take your mind completely off your work and problems.
• Activities that increase your appreciation of others, of nature, of relationships.
• Activities in which you laugh freely and do not feel angry, tight, or ashamed afterward.
• Activities that do not require you to travel long distances.
• Activities in which you do not have to prove yourself or be in charge.
• Activities that do not require a large investment of money or exhaustive maintenance.
• Activities that bring you closer to who you were as a child.
• Activities that feed your soul.
Soul play may now include singing in the shower, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, stopping at a coffee shop to read a book in the afternoon, making a shawl for a neighbor, riding your bike with no destination, giving someone a free ticket to a concert, dancing in your office when no one else is watching.
Reflect on which of your play activities meet at least half of the criteria listed above. Some probably do and some don’t. Try substituting one new play idea for one of your current ones. You may have to expand your concept of play to include things you previously would have rejected. Or you may consider doing your current recreation in a different way. Don’t expect people to applaud you when you change. Most people are moving too fast to notice. You can applaud yourself.
My list of soul play activities includes reading in my favorite chair, walking in nature, driving on curvy roads, making icons, having coffee with friends, baking cookies and brownies, watching murder mysteries on TV, tango dancing in my living room and watching pro baseball and college basketball. I believe that soul play, whatever that means to us, brings us closer to others, to God and to ourselves.
Here’s a soul play story from my earlier years! I think it represents the time I changed my concept of play in my life—and it made a big difference. In my ex-husband’s family golf was important. My father in law was the son of the head groundskeeper of a large metropolitan golf course. He played exceptionally well. My husband and two stepsons also played well. So naturally I played too. It was our family sport, and it was competitive. Tempers flared when things did not go well. I finally figured out that although I loved golf and could hold my own with these men around the greens, it was not fun or relaxing to always be competing, betting, or comparing scores.
I decided to play my own golf game. First I read the book Inner Golf and practiced the principles until I was playing a relaxed inner game. Then I decided to enjoy the weather and nature, since they were major reasons I liked golf. Lastly I decided to scrap the official rules and make my own rules. If I didn’t like the lie of my ball, I improved it. If I didn’t like the length of the hole, I shortened it, like when we came to a long par five. I dropped my ball at the 250 yard mark and played from there.
I began enjoying golf so much that I made a decision that almost started a riot. I quit keeping number scores and started keeping letter scores: W for wonderful holes, S for scenic holes, G for a great shot. My philosophy of golf was, “It doesn’t matter. “ Not only did I enjoy it immensely, my game was more relaxed and consistent.
So, God can be involved in love, in work and in play. How do you experience God in your love, work and play?

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2015. All rights reserved.
Reflections on this essay, in case you haven’t already done this in the body of the essay!
Which is more compelling to you, love, work or play? Why?
When have you given and received love in a satisfying way in your life?
Why do you work? How have you increased your satisfaction in work?
What is your most soul restoring form of play?
Where does God fit into your love, work and play activities?
How does that make a difference in your life?

A note on this essay. Some of the “play” portion of this essay was published in a chapter called Soul Leadership in my book, Real Power, 3rd edition, 2003.

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?

Friends,

A few weeks ago I published several sentences or words from scripture, from the weekly lectionary, that you could choose for your pocket prayers. This is how I use them:  I just write one word or a phrase that stands out to me on a small card. I put it where I will notice it, like in my calendar or in my purse or on a mirror or in a pocket. I just want to stay with this one word or phrase and see what happens in my life, see what else comes up that will illuminate this word in my life. Sometimes I keep just one verse for months, even years. I’ve been living with one verse for more than ten years now and I still see it moving in my life.

Here are my options for you for this week. Just see what happens. I even included a few options for those of us who admit to being clutter freaks!

Janet

 

Ponder the rock from which you were cut.

Their grip is broken. We’re free as a bird in flight.

“Thank you!” Everything in me says, “Thank you!” Angels listen as I sing my thanks.

Keep your eyes open for God. Watch for his works. Be alert for signs of his presence. Remember the world of wonders he has made.

Love from the center of who you are. Don’t fake it.

(And for those of us who clutter:-) )   Give me a bent for your words of wisdom, and not for piling up loot. Divert my eyes from toys and trinkets. Invigorate me on the pilgrim way. Let your love, God, shape my life.

 

Reflections on this exercise

How does it work for you to concentrate on one verse or word or phrase for a week?

What is God saying to you about the word or phrase you chose?

What is the gift in this exercise for you?

 

Scripture for Pondering: Lectio Divina and Pocket Prayer

 

In my prayer experience each day I choose to read the scripture that is cited in the common lectionary, which is a selection of Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament writings, chosen by a small prayerful group of people for use world-wide. Each week there is a different combination of scriptures and each season of the church year the scripture aligns with that particular season. If you have any interest in following the lectionary, the web site that I use is http://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/ I print out the portion for the next two months and put it in my Bible.

The way I choose to use the scripture is two fold. The first is called Lectio Divina, or divine reading. It is an ancient way to pray with scripture by settling in more deeply to a small portion of scripture. I will describe my own version of this process which goes something like this: I read the assigned scripture and just let one verse or word surface for me, one that especially calls to me or seems to stand out in some way. Then I quietly stay with that phrase or verse or word and see what comes to my mind or what feelings emerge. I ask God to show me what this means and how it relates to my life. Then I stay quiet to see what else emerges. Lastly I write about it in my journal and thank God for giving this to me. If you want a more formal version of Lectio you can google it and find the exact steps. There is even a video describing how to do it on uTube.

The second thing I do is called my “pocket prayer.” I just write one word or a phrase that has really stood out to me on a small card. I put it somewhere that I will notice it, like in my calendar or in my purse or on a mirror or in a pocket. I just want to stay with this one word or phrase and see what happens in my life, see what else comes up that will illuminate this word in my life. Sometimes I keep just one verse for months, even years. I’ve been living with one verse for more than ten year now and I still see it moving in my life.

 

So I invite you to use either a lectio or a pocket prayer.

I will list several of my “stand out” verses from the lectionary of the last year or so, randomly, to see if any of them stand out for you. If they do, use them. If not, let them go. They are all from The Message translation by Eugene Peterson. I use that version because I find it authentic and the language more accessible. I won’t list the scripture references because I am illustrating how to use them just for the word or phrase, not for further scripture reading. Enjoy and learn…

 

A whole healed put together life right now.

 

Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

 

Your fidelity, a roof over our heads.

 

Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

 

Keep company with me and you’ll learn how to live freely and lightly.

 

God’s spirit beckons.

 

Vibrant beauty has gotten inside of us.

 

And the verse I’ve lived with now for several years is this: And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, says the Lord.

 

Reflections on this piece:

Which verse or words stand out for you? Why?

What deeper meaning do they have in your life?

What pocket word will you take with you?

How is God calling you to a deeper place of intimacy with Him?

 

Beatitudes: Blessed Are the Poor in Spirit

Matthew 5: 3-11

 

I share four versions of each beatitude: New Revised Standard Version, The Message, one of several choices from an Aramaic translation, and Christine Paintner’s reflection from her book, The Artist’s Rule. The reason for this is that the Beatitudes are frequently hard to understand or to translate to our own lives. I hope that this opportunity to experience them from different viewpoints will open them for you and take you to a new place within yourself. I hope this inspires you to write your own beatitude or to sing it or to pray it. Blessed are you who receive this love.

 

 Blessed are the Poor in Spirit

Verse 3:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (NRSV)

 

You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is the more of God and his rule. (The Message)

 

Tuned into the Source are those who live by breathing Unity; their ”I can!” is included in God’s. (Aramaic)

 

Paintner’s reflection: She says the Beatitudes are not about our big radiant self, but about the tender, quiet self, or the self who has been shut out for some reason. Now we can invite the wisdom of the quiet self.

“To be poor in spirit is to surrender yourself to something much bigger and vaster than you own ego. This poverty allows you to recognize your experience of exile in the world. God is present as the one who stirs in the depths of our hearts, not in the dominant ways we usually think out in the world. The experience of poverty and brokenness often acquaints us more deeply with the gift of simplicity as we discover what is most important. Where in your heart do you experience this call to simplicity, to finding that place where you and God meet? Notice what stirs in response, and be present to this experience. “

 

Reflections on this post.

Where does this beatitude resonate in you?

Which version speaks to you and why?

Where are you poor in spirit right now?

Where in your heart do you experience the call to simplicity that Paintner describes?

 

The Soothing Side of Silence

 

In this busy, sometimes chaotic world, it amazes me what a bit of silence instills within me. Peace. Rest. Calm. Even if I take five minutes between engagements to stop and come back to my center, I feel more grounded and present and able to engage more easily.

 

I want to be more conscious of ways to notice or even cultivate silence in my life. So I listed ways in which silence is present in enriching, healing or life-giving ways in daily life and in our spiritual lives. Please add your own…

 

The silence in friendship that bonds us between the times we connect in person

A silent retreat; just God and our souls communing

The silence of friends holding our grief with us when words are inadequate

The silence of a group praying together without words

The silence of a comfortable relationship in which talking is not always necessary even when we are in the same room dong our own things

 

 

 

The silence in church just taking in the music or prayers or the awesomeness of God

The silence of restraint from saying words that would be intentionally hurtful to another

The silence between notes or at the end of a musical piece before the audience applauds

The silence of our car when we have turned off the ignition but before we have opened the door

The silence of time when that is what is necessary in order to heal a relationship

 

 

The silence of satisfaction when it is clear a relationship has healed

The silence of a cat sitting in our lap with non-verbal affection moving between us

The silence of catching the eye of a friend, partner or spouse across the room while others are present

The silence preceding the national anthem at a sporting event

The silence of nature at rest, of quiet lakes, sunsets or sunrises, rivers at low ebb, oceans between waves

 

 

 

The silence of the calm before storms or the eye of a storm, whether internal and external storms

The silence in a movie theater after seeing a compelling movie or at a poetry reading after hearing a riveting poem

The silence of recognition or gratitude or awe at experiencing a miracle

The silence of internal pleasure upon receiving a handwritten card at our mailbox from a familiar address on our birthday

The silence of a hug, a kiss, a touch and genuine love-making

 

 

 

The silence of recognition when a courageous decision has been made and carried out

The silence of a ballpark when a batting star hits a long ball and everyone waits to see if it is a home run

The silence of God residing in your soul

The silence of bliss at the first bites of your favorite meal

The silence after the fireworks have exploded and fallen from the sky

 

 

The silence between a close baseball play at the plate and the umpire’s call

The silence of a baby sleeping

The silence of a cathedral between services

The silence after a spring rainfall

The silence after a bell has rung

 

 

The silence of viewing and absorbing art and beauty

The silence of loving emails and text messages

The silence of the first sip of a favorite wine

The silence of a holy yes.

 

 

Ó Janet O. Hagberg, 2014. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay:

What are your favorite types of soothing silence?

What affect do they have on you?

How does God enter into your silence?

What is your best story of sacred silence?

 

 

 

 

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?

Let Your Yes be Yes and Your No be No

I’ve always been intrigued and challenged by the ideas expressed in two scripture verses about simply saying the truth. In Mark 5:37 and James 5:12 we are directed not to use oaths but let our yes be simply be yes and our no be simply no. I’m sure there are some theological nuances that I don’t understand at work here but what is challenging about this for me is that I have a hard time in conflictual situations just saying my truth (especially saying no) in love.

Look at a few examples that may be familiar for you:

People at work gossip about another person and it makes you feel uncomfortable

A friend turns bitter when her husband dies and it is very difficult to be with her now though she calls you frequently

A neighbor has asked you to take care of his three dogs whenever he travels and you don’t feel you can take it on any more

Your spouse has changed dramatically and is manipulating you to keep bailing him/her out of trouble without changing his/her behavior

You are in a couples group you’ve been in for ten years but you are newly single and feel that the group no longer welcomes you

 

In these situations I mostly use the most convenient ways out; I usually hedge or find excuses or use a cold or illness as an excuse not to get together, anything so that I don’t have to deal with the truth of the situation as it affects me. It’s hard, first of all, to be honest with myself about what I’m feeling or what I want out of the situation and what I’m willing to risk to do something about it. Then it’s hard to be honest with another person without using anger or resentment or bitterness as a motivator. Underneath all of this is usually fear and hurt, fear of loss, fear of retaliation, fear of abandonment, fear of being hurt, fear of vulnerability. In some families this fear of vulnerability is so strong that family members pick fights with one another right before they are about to part so the parting will be easier. It seems easier for them than saying that they will miss one another.

It’s hard to be sincerely honest without unintentionally hurting or irritating someone. But then Richard Rohr adds another dimension to our yeses and nos. He suggests that we ponder sacred yeses and sacred nos. So, for instance, if we are facing into a difficult situation and we bring God in, how would that change how we deal with our responses. God does not ask us to be a doormat nor does he inspire rage. Jesus was quite honest with people, especially in conversations in which he wanted them to think and grow.

So I’ve asked this question of God; how can I be honest, be grateful for the other person, be graceful and yet establish with them what I need in order to be in a more whole place within myself? Letting go of friends who no longer fit is an especially hard situation for me as is having boundaries with someone who is threatening to me. I’ve found that my intention is the most important thing to attend to. If my intention is healthy, it will work out in both of our best interests.

Here is my four-part way of addressing relationships that need to change. It can either be done in person or by a note.

*I am so grateful to you for…(Be prayerful about my intent and state my gratitude for what has been good about the relationship).

*I sense that…(State what is happening now or what has changed in the relationship without blame or shame. State how it is affecting me, not about what they are doing. Sometimes we just have less common ground, or we’ve gone different directions or I don’t feel like participating or I can’t handle the requests. The message can usually be heard better if I can keep it neutral but truthful).

*I realize this may mean…(Bear the consequences and be clear about my willingness to do that. Say what I can do and what I can’t do. In other words I need to give up what they have that I need or want so I can let go freely with no dangling issues).

*I wish you…(Bless them on their way or suggest a next step that would be helpful for you both without trying to control or chastise or be right. Humility counts for a lot here, knowing that both parties are involved in this conflict).

 

The result? Usually I feel as if I have preserved my own integrity and taken care of myself in the process. I am also grateful for what was meaningful about the relationship. I am less likely to be hooked in by others’ issues once I use this practice and I usually feel a stronger sense of inner power as well. And God usually either enriches the relationship or replaces those I have let go of with others who are more compatible.

I remember a situation in which a woman came to me to talk about her husband’s hurtful behavior towards her. I helped her sort it out and she sincerely appreciated it. In fact, she told her husband how good it was to talk with me. A few years later she died and her husband approached me to give me something she wanted me to have. In the process I felt that he was pursuing me in ways that were not comfortable for me. At one point he put his hands on my neck inappropriately and it sent shivers down my spine. I have a history of dealing with abusive men so it alerted me to do something right away. I wrote a note to the man thanking him for telling me that his wife wanted to give me a gift because she appreciated our friendship. But I said that I didn’t have any interest in becoming better friends with him. I wished him well and thanked him again for the story of his wife. I never got the gift she had left me but it was worth it not to have to deal with his behavior towards me. I felt clean and detached and relieved. Afterwards I felt God smiling at me for noticing this red alert and doing something about it.

 

Janet O. Hagberg, 2013. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay

What current person or group are you engaged with because you “can’t get out?”

What is not life-giving about it?
What feelings are lingering within you that you need to work though in order to change or leave?

 

Try writing a “sacred no” letter to this person or group. Use the four parts: I am so grateful…Now I sense that…I realize this may mean…I wish you…

 

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