You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Suffering and Intimacy with God’ category.

All Loss is Gain


Last week God dropped a little nugget into my lap. God said, “All loss is gain.” This is hard to wrap my mind around since the usual arguments ensue: what about babies who die? What about the holocaust?


While reflecting on this some particularly challenging scripture came to mind as well; verses about losing your life in order to gain it or giving up important things in order to experience something else or seeing good things coming out of seemingly bad things. These all trouble me and make me wonder whether I would ever be able to live like this—or even want to live like this. Who, in their right mind, would deliberately give up all they have or love with no guarantees for the future?


Here are some of the verses or quotes that cause me the most consternation.


*Anyone who holds onto life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you’ll have it forever, real and eternal. John 12:25 Message


*All is gift. Teresa of Avila, 16th century abbess, mystic and saint


*Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want. I Peter 4;1-2 Message


*Those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and the sake of the gospel will save it. Mark 8:35 NRSV


But then, after pondering these challenging verses, I decided to see this new little nugget as God’s way of inviting me to more intimacy and to a deeper truth growing within me. I like this shift but I still can’t quite fathom what it means for me to lose my life or to be reckless in my love for God or to embrace loss lovingly. How do I even taste of this radical call to loss as gain? I cautiously asked God to show me little glimpses of it in my own life. What a dangerous prayer. Use only with caution!


God gently pointed out a few places in which I am getting a small taste of what it means to count loss as gain, to be “reckless” for what I need instead of what I want.


One place I’ve experienced this is cleaning out all the hidden clutter in my condo. I’m sure readers can relate to thisJ It seems deceptively simple until you try it. I now have a list of more than fifteen areas of my condo that need shedding but as soon as I move toward any of them I come up with excuses to keep or cling to my things. I mean things like photos by the hundreds, files of old careers, teaching notes that are no longer relevant, clothes I’ve not worn for a year, rag rugs made by a friend, gifts that I don’t have room for any more. It is just plain hard work to deal with all the memories that come up as I sort through things. And I usually bump into the less attractive reasons I cling to things: guilt, loss of identity, ego, even self-pity.


But on my better days when I have more perspective on the bigger picture, and I get into what I call my flinging mode I can release boxes of unnecessary, even sentimental or worn out items and feel cautiously elated, lighter, less burdened. Something within me is decluttering as I toss. It is like a small symbolic act to actually toss or recycle something. Not easy, because it reminds me of moving towards death (which may be the ultimate reason I don’t want to do it) but still strangely liberating.


The harder area of my life that illustrates this “letting go and losing” concept is in relationships. I am a relational person and take the nurturing of my close relationships seriously. So when a particularly close relationship ended in a surprising and deeply unsettling way this year, I felt a deep loss. In order to be fully present to this break I called upon God to be fully present and God responded by providing me with clarity, vulnerability and honesty within the hurt, anger and sadness. The parting was emotionally and spiritually excruciating. The loss was great. The grief was intense.


It’s difficult for me to see clearly the bigger picture for both of us but I do catch small glimpses of the larger story this break is a part of. And I do trust God to show me some day what the ultimate gain will be from this loss, as hard as it has been to endure.


What I am experiencing is a deeper internal cleaning so that I am available with more energy and presence for something else, perhaps more of the holy to fill the empty space. I feel God gently calling me to more creativity, both in my writing and with my icons. I feel like I have more compassion for myself and for others who lose people they care about.


I also feel as if the process of navigating the loss brought me to a new place within myself, a place of deeper honesty, relative calm, new self-regard and an understanding of the other person—ultimately the capacity, for the first time, to stay present to the searing but cleansing power of pain. None of this would have happened without God’s help. I would have just withdrawn or found a way to blame myself or the other person.


I feel like I’ve found a new part of myself through this loss. I believe I am learning to be a healer, a compassionate truth teller. While I am still very sad, I feel the sadness is creating a cleaner heart in me. I’m reminded of David’s words in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. (v 10). Another verse from that same chapter resonates in me as well, “Behold you desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart. “(v 6).


Oh, to have that wisdom that only God can give… Maybe there is gain in this loss after all. And it occurs to me that maybe my two glimpses of “loss as gain,” of cleaning out my condo and cleaning out my heart are more related than I realized.




ÓJanet O. Hagberg, 2014. All rights reserved.


Reflections on this essay

What comes to mind when you hear the words, “all loss is gain”?


Which of the verses listed trouble you or draw you the most?


How have you experienced loss that resulted in some gain; freedom or new life for you?


How do you embrace God in the difficult or unfathomable realities of your life?


What have you learned about yourself or about God that enables you to trust God in the process of life?


Our Story in God’s Story

The Meaning of Jesus’ Life, Death and Resurrection

Every year I try once again to read a book or discuss with a clergy person or friend the theology of the atonement, which means the meaning of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.

My need for this is to make peace in my heart with the whole story of Jesus. My desire comes down to this: I live in a small and simple world in which I want God to be accessible, understandable (yet ultimately unfathomable), real and touchable. I also want to be challenged to do something significant and heart-felt in response to God’s presence in my life. So I prefer a theology or way of explaining Jesus’ life, death and resurrection that makes sense to my heart and soul, not just to my mind. And I want to live out my beliefs about Jesus in a life giving way.

This year I stumbled on a view of the atonement that has been right under my nose for about twenty years. My clergy friend, Gary Klingsporn, cited it, cogently, in a chapter he wrote for a book we co-authored. I include it as the core of what I’m writing here, along with added features that I have personally experienced in my journey with God. Essentially this view illustrates how we find our story in God’s story. I embrace this view as the one that resonates most at this point in my life and my faith. I will describe it for you in the way I understand it and then name it for you at the end of this essay.

God came into the world for love’s sake

First, God chose to come into the world out of love for us. He loved us so much, he wanted to show us that he could identify with our lives and our work. God wanted a closer relationship with us and one way to be close to us was to be one of us and live amongst us. Jesus was born to be God’s unconditional gift of love to the world. God’s utmost desire for us is to live in intimacy with him and in him.


Jesus lived out God’s love in the world

Jesus lived fully in God’s love and through God’s Spirit. Jesus healed people, called them to make significant changes, embraced all the outsiders and marginalized folks, taught the crowds with stories and simple questions (“do you want to be healed?”), took on the religious establishment and hypocrites, and mentored his close followers (both men and women). He did all of this by going off regularly into the hills or mountains to pray and to be refilled by God. Perhaps he needed to remember the divine long song that he heard at his baptism, “You are my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” He was anchored in his beloved. He knew that he was God’s human face of unvarnished love.

God entered into our suffering

God, through Jesus, entered fully into our humanity by living and suffering and dying on the Cross. So we know that God can enter all of our suffering and darkness and be present to us intimately in any of our pain. Why is suffering God’s entry point? I’d like to think that we just naturally want to be closer to God, but my experience as a spiritual director has shown me that we are drawn closer to God primarily by pain, which most of us try to avoid. That pain may result from illness, death, lack of meaning or purpose, abuse, addiction, divorce or any number of other things.

No matter the source of our pain or suffering, all of it is forever held in the heart of God. In fact, God tells us that he comes and makes his home in us. He is within us, waiting for us to come and lay our burdens down. Scripture says God stores all of our tears in a bottle and keeps a poignant ledger of all of our pain. God’s story is really our story, since there is nothing we have suffered that he hasn’t already experienced. In this way, God is a God of love and a presence in our pain.

God rose and transformed suffering and death

But the Cross, and our suffering, are not the end of the story nor the last word. Jesus rose from the dead and once again became present to his followers, promising them that he would leave his Spirit with them so they would never be alone. Meaning arose directly from his suffering. His story lived on in a new way. So, we, too, are called to rise from our suffering to see the light of a new day. Jesus always goes before us, as the angels told the women at the empty tomb.

Jesus does not leave us alone either. He offers us his Spirit, which is as close as our breath. In fact we could say that we live and breathe Jesus’ Spirit, he is that close to us. His Spirit gives us clarity, courage and compassion to live out our lives in life-changing ways.

What does this mean for us? There is a gift in our suffering

So if we see our story in God’s story, how does it interpret our suffering? If we attend to the deeper meaning of our suffering and embrace it with the help of a loving God and a healing process, we experience a transformation. We can see the deeper purpose, the larger call, the healing presence within the suffering, even if we are never fully cured or the memories still linger. Even Jesus used his scars to show whom he was and that he had healed. And those of us who cause suffering, by inflicting pain on ourselves and/or others are urgently called to admit our actions and take responsibility for them so we can be healed and restored as well. We can’t undo what we have done but we can make amends.

We can all move beyond our pain to a new way of life, a healed and restored life. We know, even in our pain, the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding. God attends to the details of our lives in loving, healing and often humorous ways and our intimacy with God grows—perhaps more in times of suffering than any other time.


The price of intimacy and healing

The closer we get to God, the more of his holy intimacy we experience. And with that intimacy we pay a price, a price that confirms our covenant with and surrender to our loving God, just as Jesus and his followers did in the risks they took and the way they lived out their lives. Jesus’ intimacy with and surrender to God brought him to a Roman Cross. How? His life of love was too radical for some. His unwillingness to be an earthly king provoked others. His life-giving stance flew in the face of authorities on all sides. His miracles prompted a larger and larger following, culminating with Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, propelling the Sanhedrin, the leading Jewish authority, to position him to be the scapegoat so the rest of the Jewish nation would be saved from the wrath of the Romans.

When we experience intimacy with God and his love, we begin to look at ourselves in the new light of this unconditional love and we are called to release all that is not of God. Our price of this intimacy will be unique to us and may require releasing, letting go, making peace, and facing places of pain or estrangement from God in our lives, but it will also be life giving. We may not see how life giving it is while it is happening because we live in the little picture and God operates in both the little and big pictures!

God may call us to release things that will surprise us as he reveals what it means to go deeper. We may be called to change our work. We may release friends who are toxic; even family members. We may be asked to leave the comforts of home. We may be asked to tell the whole truth of our lives and make amends. We may be called to address our sin, which is, in my experience, anything that gets in the way of deeper intimacy with God. This would include, of course, the seven deadly sins plus two; lust, pride (which some say is the root of all the others), sloth, anger, self-deception, envy, greed, fear and gluttony…or anything over which we harbor resentment, revenge, shame or guilt. In short, we may need to “die” to ourselves in order to live more fully in God!

The deepest truth in our “death” and surrender is this: In this process we find our place of restoration. God restores us to who we were always called to be when we were first created and brought into the world, to live out our “sealed orders,” as the great healer, Agnes Sanford so aptly describes. We were created in God’s own image. Now we are able to reclaim that image and bring our restored selves fully to the world. But God invites us even one step further…

God calls us to be healers in the world

As we heal from our pain, and weigh the call of intimacy with God, we will be invited to reach out into the world in miraculous ways, to pay forward what we’ve experienced as a result of our healing and intimacy with God. Many times our call is to work in the very areas of our own healing, to share our newfound strength with the world. Jesus lived out his intimacy with God through showing radical love to the people he encountered, no matter what the consequences. He taught his followers by the way he lived. And his followers lived out their lives differently as a result. So we can live our lives differently. What it really means to live a Christ-like life is to let God be as instrumental in our lives as Christ invited God to be in his life. It may be different for all of us but it is equally transforming. We are truly restored, and indescribable joy flows through our lives.

And what happens when we are living out our lives in total surrender to God’s amazing grace is that we experience God’s eternal presence right here on earth, God’s kingdom among us. And then death, for us, is a deeper and richer reunion with God, who adores us, and with those who have gone before us (the clouds of witnesses) who are beckoning us “home” to join the heavenly hosts. And so the final word is never death. The final word is LOVE.

If we could only know how wide and deep and broad God’s love is…and that nothing can separate us from this unconditional love. Here is a poem I wrote about how I experience that love, my intimacy with God. This poetic form is called a French Pantoum.


I am God’s Now

I am God’s now

My desire, to know my Beloved

Intimacy comes with a price

My life has been restored

My desire, to know my Beloved

No other love compares

My life has been restored

Eternity comes into view

No other love compares

Intimacy comes with a price

Eternity comes into view

I am God’s now

This theology is called Narrative Theology, finding our stories in God’s story and seeing that God is lovingly involved in all the details of our lives. Thanks to Gary for writing about this view in our book, Who Are You, God?, in the chapter called “What can we expect from God?” I am also grateful to Bob Guelich, my co-author of the Critical Journey, for naming what it really means to be Christ-like.

ÓJanet O. Hagberg, 2015. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay:

How do you resonate with this way of thinking of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection?

When have you experienced God suffering with you or being present to your pain or suffering?
When have you experienced a new meaning, purpose or a call from an experience of pain, disappointment, betrayal or suffering, whether of your own doing or at someone else’s hands?

What does it mean to you to let God be as involved in your life as Jesus invited God to be? How does that feel to you?

What would keep you from moving closer to God or letting God move closer to you?

Beatitudes: Matthew 5:3-11

Five versions: NRSV, The Message, Aramaic, C. Paintner, F. Buechner


Blessed are you when people revile you.

Verse 11-12:

Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. NRSV


Count yourself blessed every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit you. What it means it that the truth is too close for comfort and they are uncomfortable. You can even be glad when that happens—give a cheer even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble. The Message


Renewal when you are reproached and driven away by the clamor of evil on all sides, for my sake…Then do everything extreme, including letting your ego disappear, for this is the secret of claiming your expanded home in the universe. For so they shamed those before you: All who are enraptured, saying inspired things—who produce on the outside what the spirit has given them within. Aramaic


What are the quiet voices within you that have been persecuted? How have you shut out the wisdom of these smaller selves? How might you begin to make room for them to emerge? …Remember the cloud of witnesses who stand beside you supporting you in this journey. See if any of them have faces you recognize. Christine Paintner


Jesus says that his listeners are blessed when they are worked over and cursed out on his account…It is not his hard times to come but theirs he is concerned with, speaking out of his own meekness and mercy, the purity of his own heart. Frederick Buechner


Reflections on this Beatitude:

Which version speaks to you most?

How does it relate to your life now?

What would your own beatitude be, if you would write one?

How is God a beatitude (a blessing) for you?

Beatitudes: Matthew 5:3-11

Blessed Are Those who Mourn


Verse 4:

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (NRSV)


You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you. (The Message)


Blessed are those in emotional turmoil; they shall be united inside by love. (Aramaic)


Grief tells us that we loved deeply and that we are passionate. We are often unaware of the grief that we carry, that has been pushed aside in the rush of life or in the judgment that we should be done with its work. In reality, grief is slow. It rises and falls like a tide. Where in your heart do you experience a grief that lingers, that is calling for some attention? Notice the thoughts and feelings that respond, and be present to this experience. (The Artist’s Rule, Christine Paintner)



Reflections on this beatitude

Which of the four versions do you resonate with the most? Why?

Where are you feeling grief in your life; relationships, work, pets, loss of a vision?

How do you feel God guiding you through this grief process whether old or new grief?

How can grief be a blessing?

Hello Friends,

This week is a big week in my studio. I have an icon exhibit, The Red Sea Band, opening at Easter Lutheran Church in Eagan, MN. It’s at 4200 Pilot Knob Road and Diffley Road. It will run from next Sunday, June 29th through Labor Day. If you want to hear the powerful stories of the Red Sea Women’s Band take a trip out to visit. I am attending the 10:00 service there next Sunday if anyone wants to join me. Today, I am including Bathsheba, one of the band leaders in this post. She’s playing the blues on her jazz saxophone. And she has blues to play!


And the second gift I am giving to the world this week is a bite-sized book on kindle, called Where is God in Illness? It’s only $2.95 and gives hope and a healing message to those who suffer from illnesses and those who love them. Go to and type in my name (Janet Hagberg) to see this book. The cover depicts a strong tree growing in a barren place. This is the second bite-sized book in my four part series. Another one is due next month, Where is God in Divorce?


Bathsheba on Jazz Saxophone

Bathsheba on Jazz Saxophone


Bathsheba on Jazz Saxophone

Bathsheba was secure in her marriage to Uriah, one of King David’s loyal military leaders. But David saw her from his balcony bathing privately and wanted her for himself so he had her husband deliberately killed in battle. The child he had with Bathsheba died as a result of his actions but Bathsheba eventually birthed Solomon. When the time came to select a new king she got a commitment from David to anoint Solomon and he became one of the wisest kings ever to rule Israel.

Bathsheba is honored in scripture as mother of Solomon and as one of only five women in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1.


Read more of her story in 2 Samuel 11-12, 1 Chronicles 3:4b-5, 1Kings 1:1-48, Song of Solomon 3:11, and Matthew 1.


Bathsheba endured many difficult things in her life and she told me that music was a way she expressed her pain. She chose to play the blues on her saxophone in the Red Sea Band.


How do you respond to Bathsheba’s story and her icon image?

When have you suffered as a result of someone having control over you?

How did you reclaim your own voice?





Estrangement: Journey to Wholeness


Most people have experienced estrangement of one kind or another. Estrangements can occur abruptly, like a big fight that ends a relationship (family feuds for example). While other estrangements happen to us, like a job loss we felt was unfair. And some estrangements we initiate ourselves, like choosing conscious boundaries with a dangerous person. Whatever the reason, estrangements may linger in our psyches and some part of us longs for pardon, forgiveness or reconciliation. In our heart of hearts we also, for the most part, put the responsibility for the estrangement on someone else, finding it hard to name our role in it.


With all that baggage we bring to estrangement, it is hard to see a way out, a healing journey or even an oasis in the middle of the stress. And if we invite God into the mess at all, it’s usually to take our side or make things right. Or we are deep in our own remorse, shame, anger or hurt. What a tough spot.


To add insult to injury, many of us build this scenario: we think that if we just try hard to fix the situation, it will work out to our benefit (and secretly, we will be vindicated). Oh what a heavy load we carry. So we try to be nice, to reach out, to do what the person wants, or to show the other person what they could do to change. We usually get strange and hurtful kickbacks from this effort, or we find ourselves in between people, which is even more exhausting. Our motives may be well-meaning, such as avoiding pain, being a good Christian, wanting to look good or innocent, or wanting everything to be easier. Whatever our motives, we usually get sick and tired after we’ve tried to do all we can to solve the estrangement. And the beat goes on 😉


It’s so hard to have compassion for ourselves, but that is just what we need: kindness, honesty and utmost compassion. But how do we find that in the middle of such strife?


Let’s start with an understanding of how we got to that place of unrest and stress in our estrangements. It happened largely because of our “efforting.” Here is a model that shows this “efforting” and its side effects.



The model has concentric circles with feelings on the outside, actions next, outcomes or results next, then God in the middle. We move from the outside to the inside in this model, starting with our feelings of anger, hurt or shame. Our natural inclination is to try whatever actions we can to relieve, change or fix the situation. The results are often messy or get us more mired in the pain. By the time we get to the middle of the circle to God, we are usually hurt, exhausted and without much hope.




Let’s stop at this juncture of exhaustion. I’d like to suggest a real oasis, a place to pause right in the middle of this chaos and pain: an oasis where we can breathe and reconsider our options. Perhaps this can be the beginning of our self-compassion and love.


First we need to listen to our inner selves and bring God more attentively into this process. Put your hand on your heart. Quiet yourself. Sit in a comfortable position. Make your space as soothing as possible. Then breathe in and out slowly for a minute and clear your mind of things that clamor for your attention. Listen to your heart and ask God to be present in your situation.


When you have quieted, read over this French pantoum poem several times. First just hear it. Then listen for a word or phrase that speaks to you. As you read it again, let that word or phrase take you on a journey. Where does it connect to your life, to your estrangement? Ask God to show you how this word or phrase speaks truth to you. Write about this or draw a symbol of it for yourself.


I Long to Be Free


I long to be free loving Lord

My hurt and anger cling

Can I own-forgive-release

I claim the comfort of pain


My hurt and anger cling

My heart cries out to you

I claim the comfort of pain

I let you heal my soul


My heart cries out to you

Can I own-forgive-release

I let you heal my soul

I long to be free loving Lord


You may want to stay with this poem for quite some time, taking your pain and unanswered questions with you back to the poem, to see which words and phrases speak to you over time. Ask God to show you the path to freedom. Keep asking. Then watch what happens in your heart and in your life.


Now for the next steps in the healing journey: I would like to suggest that you use a similar circle model as before but this time start in the middle with God. You probably need support to do this: a spiritual director, counselor, pastor, coach or healthy friends. Start with God, bringing it all to God and listening to your heart, so you hear what the personal healing call is for you on this reconciliation journey. It is all about compassion, first from God and then from you to yourself and finally, in whatever form, to the other person or situation.



God is at center where we start, owning our own issues and forgiving ourselves. Then we move outward, to outcomes—actions—feelings, in that order.




The reconciliation journey consists basically of three steps: own, forgive, release. They may sound overly simple, but they are, in reality, difficult and complex. Remember, with God in the middle of the circle, which is where we now start, we have much more likelihood of finding peace.


Owning is perhaps the most crucial part and the first step of the healing process. It is important to take compassion into this phase of truth telling. In this phase, we own our part of the estrangement without taking on too much shame or guilt. This opens our hearts to new insights and truths that we may find painful. Most of us have a lot of baggage to unload. It may be hard to feel our anger at the other person, to give up our feelings of superiority or rightness, to find our newfound voice, to name our own complicity, to stand up to intimidation, to own our codependence, to release what the other person has that we want, or to let go of hurtful memories. After we own our part, we take a deep spiritual step with God, one that is necessary in order to heal our wounds.


Forgiving ourselves is the second step. This is the key, to heal and forgive ourselves before we try to resolve our estrangements with others. It is hard, but whatever it is, it is not too big or too hard for God. This forgiveness happens in the center of the circle where we commune with God. It may take years to be kind to ourselves and to forgive, knowing that we didn’t know enough or weren’t aware of what we needed to do or felt we didn’t deserve respect or love. Usually we don’t even realize that we need to forgive ourselves. So growth is available all along this journey. Once we forgive ourselves, we are in a much better position to forgive the other person or situation. And that is what ultimately heals us: forgiving someone whether they know it or not. But that is usually an inside job.


Releasing the other is the last step. This happens as you move from the center of this model outward. But you are now focused on God and on your own healing so the next steps take on new and different possibilities. You can now ask, what outcomes are healthy and which are idealistic, vindicating or revengeful? What actions will be life-giving, safe and freeing? And as you choose healthier and more lovingly detached outcomes, you see that your feelings are quite different as a result.


When you use the model this way, you can look more honestly at the outcomes or actions that would be healthy for you. If you are dealing with a person with severe mental illness, an abusive person, someone who brings back strong memories from the past, or an organization that has blacklisted you, it may not be safe to expect any reconciliation. Then the finest, most healing thing happens only within you, the healing and forgiveness that only God can provide.


Sometimes praying for that person from afar is the only healthy option. In other cases you may write a letter to make amends, meet with the person and a third party, or meet with them yourself. For some, a heartfelt word or touch at a deathbed is a healing gesture. There are many options. But in order to have the best option for the situation, we may have to release our expectations of complete reconciliation. But, paradoxically, once you use this model with God at the center, the options open further than you may have imagined.


The results, actions and feelings may surprise you. You may find peace, humor, new perspectives, sadness, calm, love, patience, grief, loving detachment, compassion, caring, loss, self-care, etc. And the best outcomes may include having clear and comfortable boundaries, being content to send love with no contact, or having partial or full reconciliation. Whatever the outcome, you are in God’s hands all the way and you will heal.


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

Poem, I Long to Be Free by Janet Hagberg


Reflections on this essay:

What estrangements do you currently carry?

How have you tried to fix them?
What has happened as a result?

Where is God in this process with you?

How have you owned your own part of the estrangement?
What new options do you see for your situation with God at the center?



This outline and model were developed as part of a workshop I did with Tamie Koehler. Kudos to her for adapting this circle model.








This model did not transfer to the blog so you need to imagine three concentric circles with feelings on the outside of the widest circle, then actions in the next circle, then results and lastly, God in the small circle in the middle. If you would like a copy of these circles email me at


  1. Outside the circle, write the FEELINGS you have been experiencing in the estrangement.


  1. First circle moving inward, write the ACTIONS you have been taking to deal with the estrangement.


  1. Second circle moving inward, write the RESULTS you have been experiencing from your feelings and actions.


  1. Center circle write your connection with God in this estrangement.




This circle did not transfer either so you need to imagine the same set of circles except that the middle circle is much larger than before. God is in this inner circle, then as you move outward, results, actions and feelings reside in the outer circles.




  1. Center circle write your connection/process with GOD as the main focus in healing and reconciliation.


  1. Second circle moving outward, write the RESULTS you are experiencing in the reconciliation process.


  1. Third circle moving outward, write the ACTIONS you have been taking when God and healing are the focus of the reconciliation.



  1. Outside the circle, write the FEELINGS you are experiencing.




Threatened with Resurrection

(Although I wrote this several years ago, it remains my favorite Easter message so I publish it each year. I hope it resonates with you as well. Happy Easter.)


I awoke early Easter Sunday morning expecting to feel joy and relief after a difficult Lent in which I was called to finally heal my divorce issues and be internally free. That healing has been a graced conclusion to a multi-year process of letting go of fear, resentment and vindication. In this healing I began to see my ex-husband as a gift in my life. I was letting go of my old hurts and entering into a whole new phase of my life; a life of love.


So I awoke expecting joy and instead I awoke with the title of an achingly inspiring poem in my heart. It is Julia Esquivel’s magnificent poem, “They Threatened Us With Resurrection.” Julia is an exiled poet, writing about people in Guatemala who disappeared in the political unrest there but who inspired others to move beyond the losses. I have had that poem and the idea of being threatened with resurrection at the back of my mind ever since I read about it in one of Parker Palmer’s books. But to awaken with this idea of being threatened with resurrection on Easter Sunday was more than coincidence. Something was going on in my inner world that needed tending.


In my prayer time I realized that I had a vague sense of uneasiness in letting go of my pain, which I had been doing gradually for several years. God had been so faithful to me in staying with me during this healing process and I was so grateful. As a result I developed a deeper level of intimacy with God, learned to trust God with my life, and was now living into a season of grace. This journey was my source of transformation; in it God brought me to my knees and then taught me how to stand up again with a heart of forgiveness.


I began to wonder if I was really afraid to move into this resurrection time because I might lose my intimacy with God if I was not in pain. I knew it was not healthy to wallow in pain or stay in an unhealed place, but how would I navigate this resurrection dilemma? Would I need to come up with more pain in order to be close to God or could I trust God for intimacy beyond pain? It did feel a bit threatening.


My spiritual director helped me by listening and then asking me if there were times I felt close to God when I was not in pain. I went inside and got quiet. Of course, there were times of intimacy with God when I wasn’t hurting. But I had lost track of them in this threatened place. I began remembering times I feel close to God when I was not in pain; my tears of deep emotion when I hear about people who sacrifice for others, when I am overcome by beauty, when I am honored to be with people in their times of transformation, when I am writing, when I pray, when I listen to a Tchaikovsky symphony. I felt a sense of relief spreading over me, relief that I do feel intimacy with God in times of calm or joy. That thought led me to a truth that God has been giving me recently in my prayer time but which I had also forgotten in my threatened state.


The truth from God is that joy emerges from pain that is well attended. When we do our inner work, joy is one of the outcomes. When we face into our fears God faces into them with us. When we forgive others for things that never should have happened we are free from the burdens of resentment and anger. When we disentangle from being enslaved by our chronic pain we heal. We let go of the heavy burdens so joy has room to grow.


Another deep truth emerged as I was pondering how joy emerges from pain. This one came from the Fra. Giovanni. “Our joys too; be not content with them as joys. They too, conceal diviner gifts.” This intriguing quote led me to ponder how a consideration of joy might usher in a whole life of resurrection.


I wanted a life of resurrection joy, not the happiness that comes and goes at a moment’s notice. I can feel happy when my athletic team wins or I can feel hopeless when I hear of another tragedy, but how can I feel joy in the midst of everything. I wanted to feel joy somewhere deeper and not have it disappear just because I was having a bad day. Joy, I think lives in a deeper place within us and has a permanent address. It is a life stance, a signature on the soul, a way of seeing God in all things. It emerges from transformation, from pain well attended. It leads to interior freedom and it comes from a life not threatened by its own resurrection.


For me the diviner gift of joy is what emerges in our lives when we drink sacred water from deeper wells and pass that water along to others. As we courageously live out our calling from God joy emerges and spreads. People feel calmer while in our presence even if they are in pain. They long for that calm themselves and it gives them hope. Sometimes we find ourselves gently laughing even in painful times and it casts a softer light on the circumstances, like a balm for the wound. Joy is apparent in people’s eyes and on their faces, even in their physical stance. It can’t be hidden or bluffed. Living it out with gratitude is a diviner gift.


During the time I was writing this essay I was teaching a class in which I had the opportunity to read a poem that helped to tell a painful but healed part of my divorce story, the very story that started me on this essay. In the hearing of my poem and story, one woman in class not only identified with me but felt a call to go deeper into her own healing as a result. Even though I knew it would be painful for her, I felt a deep joy knowing that she would be finding a different part of herself as a result. I could also feel the joy growing in her. She even glowed as she told her story to our small group. And she contacted a friend who she thought might also benefit from her experience. The diviner gifts of joy…When I see this amazing healing grace, how can I be threatened by resurrection?


Joy emerges from pain well attended…


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

The quote of Fra. Giovinni is from Prayers for Healing, edited by Maggie Oman, selection for April 20th.


Reflections on this essay

How have you been threatened with resurrection in your life?


What could you do to grow into that resurrection stance in life?


What stimulates joy for you?

How do you distinguish between happiness and joy?


How have you experienced joy as a diviner gift, seeing it pay forward?




In this series of blogs about God’s consuming love, I will show where it appears in our lives, sometimes in dark and lonely places. This Edwina Gateley poem captures, elegantly, the exact moment of God’s appearance.

I fell into the abyss,

hurtled down

from once firm ground,

watched the brilliant colors

of my life

fade and merge

like a dying mist,

heard the vibrant laughter

of friends gathered

dissolve into

distant echoes,

and felt the slipping away

of secure familiar places.

I fell into the abyss,

knowing nothing now,

holding nothing now.

And as I lay desolate,

God, fiery love,

greeted me

in the void,



Edwina Gateley, from A Mystical Heart

Reflections on this poem:

What is your abyss?

How does it feel to you?

How did/does God meet you there?

What shimmers in your life now?

Jesus Walked on By

Picture this scene. Jesus has just fed a multitude of people with a few loaves of bread and a few fish. The disciples are pretty overwhelmed by this and do not yet fully understand Jesus. And Jesus, as is customary for him, needs some time alone to pray. So he sends the disciples into a boat to cross over the Sea of Galilee and plans to join them later. Jesus stays to disburse the crowd and then goes up into the mountains to pray.

By now it is nighttime and the disciples head off by sea to Bethsaida. A strong wind comes up which rocks the boat. They make very little headway and the wind begins to seriously toss them around. They are tired and scared because they are fishermen and know the dangers of storms at sea.

Jesus sees all of this from the spot he has chosen for prayer, and he has compassion on his disciples. He loves them and he does not want to lose these brave followers. So, what does he do; he walks on the water out to where their little boat is threshing about.

In the most famous version of this story, (Matthew 14) the disciples all get terrified but Jesus calms them, letting them know that the mysterious figure walking on the water is their master. Peter is so moved, he gets out of the boat to come to Jesus—and as long as he keeps his eyes on Jesus, he is fine. But Peter looks down at the swirling waves and immediately begins to sink. Jesus, of course, rescues him and challenges the disciples’ lack of faith. At the end of the story they all believe in him.

But there is another version of this story that we usually don’t hear. This version is in Mark 6. In this version Jesus also walks on the water. But the next line in Mark really catches my attention. Jesus meant to walk on by. That’s right. He walks right past them. What in the world does that mean? What immediately comes to mind for me have been times I have felt rocked around by life, in a sinking boat, about to drown. When I called for help, or pleaded for assistance, for rescue or for safe passage, it felt like Jesus walked on by, hardly even noticing me. Doesn’t he hear me? Doesn’t he care? Where is he?

One time I remember most vividly. I had been working quite hard on the healing of my family issues of alcohol abuse and codependence, and simultaneously I had been working with my husband on our marriage. We had been at it, in therapy and spiritual direction, for six years. It just didn’t seem to me that all that work was making a difference.

One night I awoke in the wee hours feeling enormous sadness, fear and anger. I began talking to God about all of my feelings. My internal boat was rocking recklessly and I felt desperate. I called to God. Where are you? Why are you ignoring me? Why are you not answering me after all my faithful work? Why, God? Why?

To my surprise, I heard a small voice that seemed to be within me yet separate from me, answer me with these words: “Do you not see this time, too, as sacred? I took this in, this seemingly impossible statement and responded to God. “No, actually I don’t. I’m sorry but that sounds like theological double-talk and I don’t get it. I need more.” It felt like God was not hearing my story or was not feeling my pain. God was walking on by. I waited to see if there would be any response. And I worried that my anger may have offended God.

But there was that gentle voice again. “My dear, for what I am preparing you for in the world, you need more than six years of courage. You need prolonged courage.” I took these stunning words into my soul. They rang true. I didn’t like the truth of these words but I knew instinctively that I did need more courage. This internal resonance helped me trust God and know that God would help me through this crisis.

In the Biblical story, when the disciples see Jesus walking on by they scream, thinking it is a ghost. Jesus hears them, comforts them and invites them to release their fear. When he enters the boat, the wind dies down and they are stunned. It is one more miraculous event in their amazing journey with their master.

After my calls to God in the night and God’s profound message to me about prolonged courage, I calmed down too. Within the next several years I knew more fully why God was giving me courage at a deeper level. I needed to face several angry leaders in an initiative I was part of, leaders who were quite intent on disabling the organization I was seeking to build. I found out that my experience and willingness to face the issues in my marriage was a step in finding the courage to stand firm on this national stage. I now had prolonged courage, accompanied by compassion and a non-confrontational way of leading. I had been transformed so I could be a wiser leader.

Even now, when I come to a difficult leadership crossroad, I think back to that turning point when God spoke so compassionately and prophetically to me in the middle of the night. Truth. Hard to hear. Prolonged courage. God had not walked on by. God was in my boat. And still is…

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


Reflections on this essay:

When have you felt as if Jesus just walked on by you in your pain?

How did it affect you and how did it eventually work out?

When have you been in chaos and called out to God?

What kind of a response did you receive?

How does God speak to you; images, internal words, ideas, intuitions, other people?

When have you been invited by God to have courage to face something in your life?

Essential Sadness, Essential Joy

I remember a phrase from my twenties that went something like “Into every life some rain will fall.” There was also a song lyric that included the phrase “Many a tear has to fall, but it’s all in the game.” While I don’t like dwelling on tears and rain, I’ve also come to believe that they are essential to becoming healed and whole.


Our Essential Sadness

In fact I’ve thought about this a lot lately because I’ve encountered or maybe just named what I think is the essential sadness of my life. What I mean by that is that each of us has a fact of our life or a string of events or a personal characteristic that has caused us prolonged grief even if we are not conscious of it. I use the word essential in two ways. One way of using it means that sadness is necessary to be there and necessary for us to feel it in order to be whole, and the other is that it is essential or part of the core of who we are.


For example, I think there are a lot of people who, because of something that has happened to their kids, think they were not good parents. This thought lingers and saddens or even haunts them. Others have an essential sadness around persistent addictions that have gone unchecked. Many people feel as if they never found the job that allowed them to use their best gifts or even show their competence. Some people feel as if they have never really mattered to one special person because they are somehow flawed. Still others experience loss after loss after loss and wonder why this seems to be their lot in life. A long and primary relationship with illness is the essential sadness for some. Whatever it is, it carries strong emotional baggage even if we are not fully conscious of it.


My essential sadness is that I feel that the four most important men in my life, the ones that really mattered, didn’t love me because I was unlovable and unworthy. Even though there were complicating factors like two of them having drinking problems and thus having a difficult time loving, I still felt that I was somehow at fault. Sounds harsh but underneath it feels true. I have come to feel secure in God’s love and in the love of my dear friends, especially my close male friends, but there is still this lingering sadness in my heart.


What is miraculous about our essential sadness is that it can ease or even become a gift to us if we are open to the healing process and invite God into the pain. We can even see surprising and unexpected openings for healing. Some examples: you are at a wedding and an older relative says, in passing, that your kids turned out really well, just like you; you get an unexpected award for your volunteer service and realize that you have always loved volunteer work more than your paid work; you find a photo with an inscription on the back that changes a perception of someone else or of yourself; a family member tells you causally that you were really there for them when it mattered most; someone commends you for your courage in facing something and says you are their role model. If you attend to these off-hand comments and take them in, they can shift your story line and help to transform your essential sadness.


My story line shifted recently when I found a 35-year-old letter in a garbage bag filled with papers I was planning to shred. How it got there is beyond my recollection but there it was, a letter from my first husband the year that we were getting divorced. I don’t ever remember reading this letter at the time, although I’m sure I did. But what I noticed this time through was that it was clear that he still loved me but that our marriage was ending for other reasons. After 35 years of carrying around the idea that I was unlovable something shifted deep inside me and I felt a small opening for some healing of that essential sadness.


God intervened and spoke to me in this healing process helping me face my sense of unworthiness. God said that I don’t have to be or feel worthy of his love, I just need to be willing to receive God’s and other people’s love. And, as usually happens to me when God is involved, I just happen to be working on a set of icons of Biblical women, many of whom have very difficult, even treacherous relationships with men who deem them unworthy. So my story mixes nicely with their stories. Miraculously all of these women’s stories were somehow redeemed and they became prime stories in the Bible. You may remember a few of them; Bathsheba, Sarah, Rahab, Tamar, Naomi, Hannah.


John O’Donahue writes in his book, Beauty, about how our flaws can become beautiful. We can live into that breathtaking place within us where we can see the gift of not having it all together. He says, “In the shadowlands of pain and despair we find slow, dark beauty. The primeval conversation between darkness and beauty is not audible to the human ear and the threshold where they engage each other is not visible to the eye. Yet at the deepest core they seem to be at work with each other…Where woundedness can be refined into beauty a wonderful transfiguration takes place. For instance, compassion is one of the most beautiful presences a person can bring to the world and most compassion is born from one’s own woundedness.”


Our Essential Joy

There is another story that runs through each of our lives, that of our essential joy. Each person has a different experience of joy but for each of us it is like a thread that we can usually trace as far back as we can remember. For some people it is a quality they exhibit, for others it is relationships with other people. For some it is the ability to take risks or solve problems, for others it is creativity. Remembering what it is and noticing it can make a big difference in our lives.


I know a person whose sense of humor has been a consistent source of pain relief and balance. It is natural and not contrived—and brings him a calmer perspective on most situations. Another person told me that she has an uncanny way of finding mothers and mentors to teach her, love her, and watch out for her. One man has stayed close to nature all his life using it as his life-line, his God-place, his restoration. Another woman makes a nest of every place she has ever lived, no matter how small or bare or unstable. Having a nest makes coming home seem more delectable.


As I traced back in my life to find my essential joy or life-line, it has been two-fold (and frequently these two were combined); writing and my relationship with God. I have not always experienced smooth sailing with either of these two but the journey, even with the struggles, has been my essential joy.  I grappled with very difficult theological and emotional questions in my twenties and thirties, made large career changes in my forties, and had consistent social justice challenges and marriage issues along the way. Not only was God present but God invited me to take my experiences one step further. As a result, most of my published writing emerged out of my questions and struggles and pondering.


Now I am hearing God ask me to let his love permeate me deeply even in this place of feeling unlovable. And I hear God asking me to mold my essential sadness with my essential joy and bring it to the world in artful ways; in icons and essays and books. It’s hard to even imagine that these two could merge together in such beautiful ways. And to think that this all got started when I found a 35-year-old letter in a garbage bag filled with scrap papers. It just reeks of God.


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


Reflections on this essay

What do you think is your essential sadness?

How has it affected the way you think about yourself?

What is the beauty in your flaw?

What has happened to start the healing process for you?

What is your essential joy?

How has it affected the way you think about yourself?

How have the two melded together to give you more depth or wisdom or hope?

Subscribe for Email Updates