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Loving Yourself in 4 Hard Steps (Part 2 of 2)

By Barry Thomas

In last week’s blog post I began talking about how to love yourself by focusing on the parts of yourself you hide and deny. I presented the first two steps in the process: AWARENESS and ACCEPTANCE. (If you didn’t see it, read last week’s post for an explanation of what I mean). So now I’m going to pick up from where I left off.

How is a person to respond when he becomes aware of a part of himself he has hidden or denied and accepts that that part is truly part of him? After all, that part was hidden for a reason. What do you do when you bring it out in to the light?

The next step in loving yourself is FORGIVENESS. When I think of forgiveness, I imagine forgiveness moving in three directions:

The first direction is forgiveness moving from God to us. If there was enough space in this post, we could walk through the Bible and see how forgiveness is a major theme throughout Scripture. In Exodus 34: 6 and 7, God describes Himself as compassionate, gracious and forgiving. And Hebrews 10:11-18 describes how Jesus’ death was the ultimate sacrifice for our forgiveness.

The second direction of forgiveness is from us to others. In Matthew 6:14, Jesus teaches. “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

The third direction of forgiveness is from us to…ourselves. For many people, this is the most difficult form of forgiveness. It is hard to believe that forgiveness is really free, so we punish ourselves. In his book, Gateways to God, Dmitri Bilgere writes about the “Mercy Exception.” The Mercy Exception is when you believe there is some part of you that is too terrible for God to love; and therefore, is an exception to God’s mercy. Here is what I have learned: we all have them. We all have mercy exceptions and they tend to be the parts or ourselves we don’t like.

So which comes first, being able to receive forgiveness from myself or forgiveness from God? I think it depends on the person, but my observation is that most people have a more difficult time forgiving themselves. The most transformational ministry I have ever been a part of is The Crucible Project ( A key part of this ministry is conducting men’s retreats. I help lead a few of these each year. Recently a pastor named Jim participated in one of these weekends. The very next Sunday after he went on a Crucible Project weekend he shared with his congregation about the forgiveness he was able to receive from himself on the retreat. He explained to the church how he and God were fine. He already received forgiveness from God, but he hadn’t received it from himself. He said, “I decided to let myself off of the mat. I am good enough. I do have what it takes. Does anyone else here need to let yourself off the mat?” Jim had been living with a Mercy Exception. He decided it was a horrible way to live and it was time live differently.

Why is forgiveness needed? When I believe parts of me I don’t like are Mercy Exceptions, I believe a lie from Satan instead of a truth from God. When I believe parts of me I don’t like are Mercy Exceptions, those parts are blocked off to God’s love. When I believe parts of me I don’t like are Mercy Exceptions, I do not become the man God has created me to be.

The final step in loving yourself is… (surprise!)…LOVE. Once I’ve become aware of the parts of myself I don’t like and have accepted that they are truly part of me and have received forgiveness for keeping them hidden, then those parts can be open to be loved.

We, as humans, have a high propensity to adapt, cope and survive. One of the key ways we adapt, cope or survive is by hiding. In his book, Hiding From Love, Dr. John Townsend breaks down the different ways people hide internally and relationally. For most of us, these hiding mechanisms were put in place early on in our lives and most of the time, they were needed for protection. One of the problems is that we typically no longer need these ways of hiding as adults, yet we keep them in our lives because they had served us so well. Often times the hiding that served us so well is the very thing that keeps that part of ourselves from being loved.

For example, I have a friend who lost several loved ones in her life. Her mom, her aunt, her brother, her boyfriend – they all died through tragedy. She learned to hide (to protect herself) by keeping a relational distance to people she really liked. She was afraid they would literally die and she would experience the pain of losing them. This way of hiding may have allowed her to cope when she was younger; however, this hiding was getting in the way of her being able to have a close relationship and find a husband.

So when you bring the part of yourself that you don’t like out into the light, ask yourself this question, “What does that part of me really want?” Look past the behavior and underneath the hiding. What is that part longing for? There is a deep desire that is going unmet. Maybe that part never got the love and support it needed at a younger age.

Can you feel compassion for that part? What if the tables were turned and you saw someone else that needed love and support, how would you treat them? Now turn the tables back around. Can you bring love and support to that part of you in such a way that you can receive it?

Self-Facilitated Exercise

  1. Invite Jesus to join you in this exercise.
  2. Imagine yourself being the part that you don’t like about yourself.
  3. Take on the posture of that part. Now exaggerate that posture.
  4. Step out of that part by taking a couple of steps back as if to observe that part in that posture.
  5. As you observe the posture, look beyond the posture to the heart and ask yourself, “What does that part really want?”
  6. Imagine yourself going to that part to deliver the love and support he or she really needs.
    1. What are the words he or she need to hear?
    2. When you look into his/her heart, what do you see?
    3. Imagine yourself communicating the love and support physically (through a hug, or putting your arm around him or her, or through a simple touch).
  7. Now step back into the part you haven’t liked and imagine that love and support you gave now is pouring into you.
  8. Ask Jesus to reveal to you what He wants you to know about yourself and, in particular, this part of yourself you have kept hidden.

It is important for you to know that some of the parts of yourself you have labeled as “shameful,” “bad” or “evil” may actually be good, pure and beautiful. They are simply parts that have needed ACCEPTANCE, FORGIVENESS and LOVE.

The Second Greatest Commandment

by Barry Thomas


What is the second greatest commandment?


In Matthew 22, one of the experts of the Law asked Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Right before that in Matthew 21, Jesus was in the Temple courts and had a series of interactions with religious leaders: Pharisees, Sadducees, law experts and Herodians. It is easy for us sit in our armchairs some 2,000 years later and criticize these men. I think we owe a lot to the guys – really. These men kept trying to catch Jesus in a religious trap. In doing so, they asked Jesus some great questions. As a result, we get a lot of Jesus’ teachings where Jesus reveals His mission and His way of thinking. For example, we get questions like, “By what authority do you do these things? Who gave you this authority?” (21:23); “Is it right to pay taxes?” (21:17); and we get teachings like the Parable of the Talents (21:33); The Parable of the Wedding Banquet (22:1) and the teaching that we will be angels in heaven (22:23). We may not have known these things without the religious leaders trying to trap Jesus. Like a chess match, they would make a move and Jesus would make a counter move. Finally they quit trying (23:46).


However, in this chess match we get this great passage of Scripture (Matthew 22:34-40). I think it’s humorous. In verse 34, the Sadducees get stumped. I can just imagine that when they all huddled up to try and figure out their next move, someone got the bright idea: “We’ve been trying to trap Jesus on the miniscule points of the law, let’s try the big picture approach.” They broke the huddle and the spokesperson stepped forward. “OK Jesus, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?”

I’m not sure how the Sadducees expected this question to test Jesus. Maybe they were simply testing Jesus’ knowledge of the Scriptures, but I don’t think so because Jesus’ knowledge of the Scriptures was well known. Perhaps they expected Jesus to pick one of the Mosaic Laws and the law expert would give a rebuttal to whichever law Jesus picked. If Jesus picked “honor your father and mother” the rebuttal would have been “What about keeping the Sabbath?”. There were over 600 Jewish laws with over 1,000 applications of those laws. This expert was probably ready to pick apart Jesus’ answer regardless of what it was.


Which law did Jesus select? The Shemah. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” Jesus gave the one answer that could not be refuted. They were all in agreement for perhaps the only time in Jesus’ ministry. And Jesus continued, “And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”


So what can we learn from this encounter?


First of all, it’s all about love. A spiritual mentor of mine was known for saying this. Not only did she say it, she believed it and she lived it. She was able to show me what it looks like for nothing else to really matter. When she said “it”, she meant everything – relationships, religion, life, creation…everything. It’s NOT about being good, not being bad, Bible knowledge, pleasing God, happiness or obedience. When I began to believe this myself, everything changed. It especially changed my ministry. As a minister on staff at a church, my job was to provide opportunities and create environments for people to experience God’s love. PERIOD! All of the Bible classes, Bible studies, worship, preaching, fellowship, prayer, etc. should lead to experiencing God’s love. If it doesn’t lead to experiencing God’s love, then don’t do it!


Second, love is the greatest. Jesus said this is the greatest commandment. The apostle Paul reinforced Jesus’ teaching. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul writes about showing the most excellent way and then describes the importance of love and ends up declaring that love is even greater than faith and hope (1 Cor. 13:13). Scripture goes on to tell us that love is greater than my circumstances (Romans 8:35, 38-39); love is greater than my fear (1 John 4:18); and love is greater than my sin (Romans 5:8).


Finally, did you notice what the second greatest commandment is? Most people say that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor. They read “as yourself” as the fine print. Here is what I believe to be true: The extent to which I learn to love myself is the extent to which I am capable of loving others. In other words, the more I learn to love myself, the more I am able to truly love others. Therefore, I believe that the second greatest commandment is to love yourself.


As a perfectionist, I don’t like to make mistakes. It’s not the mistake itself that’s the issue. It’s the exposure I feel when I “get caught” – when my mistakes are noticeable to other people. I used to beat myself up when this happened. The self-contempt was malicious: “You are stupid! You should know better than that!” The messages would play in my head and I would want to hide.


Over time I have learned to give myself grace. I have learned to drop the unrealistic expectations I have of myself and love myself for who I am. In doing so, I have learned to be less critical of and more compassionate towards others.



  • Why is loving yourself important?
  • When is loving yourself selfish? Dangerous?
  • What characteristics in other people drive you crazy?
  • What parts of yourself do find difficult to love?
  • What can you do this week to love those parts of you?


Barry Thomas Bio


God’s calling on Barry’s life is two-fold: to develop Godly leaders and to help people grow spiritually. He currently works as a Senior Operations Engineer for Concho Oil and Gas in Midland, Texas. He spent a 13-year career in full-time ministry working at churches in Oklahoma City, Chicago and Midland. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Petroleum Engineering from Colorado School of Mines and a Master of Divinity degree from Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the director of Transformation Ministries and is President of the Board of Directors for The Crucible Project (


He has been married to his beautiful wife, Lori since 1989. They have two fabulous kids: Caleb and Hannah, who are both students at Colorado School of Mines. He enjoys spending time with his family and playing sports including basketball, softball, golf and rugby.








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…

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?

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

leadership and personal power

Interpersonal relations

moral value

creativity and challenge


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 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.

This poem  arrived a while back when I was spending time with Mary and Martha’s story about receiving Jesus as their guest.  I needed the reminder today.  I also found it in Isaiah 55: “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.”  Come.  Listen.  Live.

There is a time for busy
and doing.
But now is not that time.
Can you hear what
God has to say?
Can you hear
your heart’s reply?
Learn to recognize
the voice
that whispers
the way forward.
Know the love
that guards your soul.
The deep love holding you.
When it is time,
get up.
Attend to the tasks
that come with living.
But keep listening.
Carry that whisper,
carry that love
within you
until you can sit again.
© J.L. Sanborn, 2015.  All Rights Reserved.
Hi.  I’m Jessica and I am so thankful to take part in Janet’s blogging adventures.  I am the mother of 3 little-ish people and wife to a great guy.  I met Janet almost 2 years ago and am so thankful for that life-changing, life-giving encounter.  I used to do lawyer things, and now I get to play queen with my daughter when I’m not transporting my kids to school. I share some of my musings about faith and becoming at 


Beatitudes: Matthew 5:3-11

Blessed Are The Pure in Heart


Verse 8:

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (NRSV)


You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. (The Message)


Aligned with the One are those whose lives radiate from a core of love; they shall see God everywhere. (Aramaic)


To be pure in heart means to live in congruity between your inner life and your outer life; it means to live from an awareness of the Sacred Source who is pulsing in your own heart and in the world around you, moment by moment. Where in your life do you have a longing for integrity and for seeing God more clearly in each moment? (Christine Paintner, The Artist’s Rule)


Who does Jesus choose to commend? Not the totally pure but the “pure in heart,” to use Jesus’ phrase, the ones who may be as shop-worn and clay-footed as the next one but have somehow kept some inner freshness and innocence intact. (Frederick Buechner, Whistling in the Dark)



Reflections on this beatitude

Which of the five versions appeals to you now in your life?

When has your life radiated from a place of love and you noticed?

How has it felt for you to have your inner life and outer life be congruent?

How do you show a longing for more of God?

How do you keep an inner freshness, despite all of life’s challenges?

What is your prayer for yourself and others around this beatitude?



Richard Rohr talks about this fire of God’s consuming love in this post:

Thomas Merton stated that the True Self should not be thought of as anything different than life itself—not just one’s little life, but also the Big Life. I’m not going to call the True Self life, nor being, because the deepest nature of this life and this being is love. Love is what you were made for, and love is who you are. When you live outside of love, you do not live within your true being. You do not live your true life, and you do not live with any high degree of consciousness. The Song of Songs states that love is stronger than death. “The flash of love is a flash of fire/A flame of Yahweh himself” (8:6). It’s a little experience of the one Big Flame, and we’re just a little tiny spark of this universal reality that is life itself, consciousness itself, being itself, love itself, God itself.

Let me define this one love as best I can.Love is known when we recognize our self in the other. We are then no longer other, and that’s the ecstasy of love. Then we’re all in this thing called life together. We have to start with little others—our partner, friend, lover, child, parent, dog or cat—to be ready for the great leap into the Great Other. This is a whole mirroring process, and God does it best of all by mirroring us perfectly and with total acceptance. In fact, that is what God alone can do.

Paul says it so well: “I shall know even as I am known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). In other words, you need to let yourself be known nakedly by God, no pretense, no dressing up. You are who you are who you are! No trying to make yourself something other than who you really are. All God can love is who you really are, because that’s the only you that really exists. All the rest is just in your head.

Reflections on this quote.

How do you live out the love you were created for?

How do you live out the love of God, the Big Flame?

Who in your life mirrors you for you?

What do you need to do to be totally yourself before God?


For the next several weeks I will be sending images and quotes and verses about the all consuming love of God. God’s love for us and desire for us to come closer starts with that little spark that he ignited in our souls when we were born. More about that later.

My hope for you this whole holiday season is that you will allow snippets of time to take in the pervasive love of God–in a traffic jam, while sipping coffee, hugging a friend in crisis, longing for a lost love, gazing at the beauty of the season, feeling the hush of anticipation that your own rebirth is imminent. I invite you to welcome the nativity right here in your life.

I will start off with an icon I made of a person (me!) being consumed by the fire of God’s love. Take it in. Feel the warmth. Lean in. Calm down. Open your heart.


Consumed by God's Love

Consumed by God’s Love

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?

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