Seeing Through the Veil of Expectation

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But Naaman was angry and went away, saying, ‘Behold, I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place and cure the leper.‘”

2 Kings 5:11, English Standard Version

It’s been many years since I encountered the story of Naaman. As a celebrated commander of the Syrian army, he enjoyed riches, fame and the favor of his king. However these things could not protect him from leprosy. A diagnosis that would be akin to being told you have a terminal disease.

I don’t know how many options he had, or how many he’d exhausted before an Israelite servant girl offered a ray of hope. There is a prophet in Samaria. “He would cure him of  his leprosy.” So Naaman approached his king, and with the king’s blessing made his way to Israel. To shorten the story a bit, he ended up standing outside the prophet Elisha’s home where he received a message telling him to dip himself seven times in the River Jordan.

It’s here that we pick up. Until yesterday, I’ve always noted Naaman’s pride in this passage. He is a man offended by the blatant disregard for his greatness. The prophet sends a messenger to him instead of meeting him directly. He then directs him to wash in a dirty river. All things Naaman thinks himself too good for. However, I now see something more.

Elisha had violated Naaman’s expectations.

Expectations can be dangerous. Unmet expectations are downright destructive. We fail to live up to our expectations, and it wounds our soul. We fail to meet other’s expectations, and we hurt relationships. We sit under the weight of expectation and anxiety threatens to overwhelm us. And when reality doesn’t match our expectations we get angry and walk away, just as Naaman did.

Naaman walked away from healing because it did not match his expectations.

Let that sink in.

Has it hit you in the gut yet? Does this ring with familiarity? I know it does for me. I wonder how many times I’ve missed out because I could not let go of my expectations to embrace good counsel, training or what might seem a little crazy in the moment. Sadly, even knowing this truth, I am often blinded. Knowing doesn’t make me immune.

It takes humility. We have to accept our limitations. It takes courage. We have to dive into new waters, and they might be different than the ones we’re used to. It takes a community of care. We need people with us who will, like Naaman’s servants, challenge us and help us take the blinders off.

And when humility, courage and community uncover our eyes, I wonder what healing awaits us beyond the veil of our expectations.

“All you have is all you need.”

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A couple weeks ago, an artist friend told me of her plans for October. As she changes the pieces she has on display, she wants to use that space for “an encouraging word to the people who feel stuck or stagnant in life”.

The idea got me excited. I asked if she had works already picked out, or if she was feeling inspired herself. In point of fact, it was both. And one point of inspiration was a saying.

All you have is all you need.”

I’ll say again now what I said then. Those words state a truth I wish I lived more readily. For the rest of the day, and off and on over the past two weeks they have returned to me. At first, my thoughts fixated on the idea of contentment. There is something to be said for trusting that what is in my hands right now really is all I need for right now. I believe that. At least I believe it some of the time. And sometimes I don’t believe it. There are plenty of times I wished I had more money, or more talent, or more time. Times when all of it seems insufficient. I’ve come to recognize this stems from trying to live ahead of myself. I’m living physically in the present, but mentally in the future. As I should expect by now, it goes back to learning how to be present in the right now. And for those who, like me, sometimes feel stuck or stagnant that sense of presence is life giving freedom. Dare to dream. Dare to do what you can with what you have, right now.

All you have is all you need.”

But there has been another facet to these words I’ve held close since the first day. In fact, as I wrestled with how true these words were in the sense of contentment, I found a sudden refuge in two words. “But God”. Suddenly, face to face with God’s promise to call us, keep us and sanctify us, I felt assurance that “All you have is all you need.” How many of us are feeling stuck or stagnant in our relationship with God? There is a life giving freedom available in a different presence, God’s presence. I may be hurt and broken. I may feel lost or overwhelmed by insurmountable odds. I may be caught in a struggle I don’t know how to win. In my faith, I might feel stuck or stagnant.

But God.

God is big enough.

God’s love and power is limitless.

To borrow the words echoing in my ears right now.

There is no chain this love can’t break.”*

To borrow more words from the conversation that started all of this.

Every chain is broken.”

There is freedom to be found right now. There is hope. There is joy. There is life. Remember, “All you have is all you need.”

*Housefires, lyrics from This Love

 

Challenging the Sun

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“I had looked straight at the sun and demanded answers, and I was still standing. And I was not blind.”    – Jedidiah Jenkins, To Shake the Sleeping Self

I spent about four years outside of the local church. For me, such a thing is a direct violation of the rules I’d been raised with. “Do not forsake the assembling” rings in my ears. Interestingly enough, as I return to that passage it is not an imperative. At first I hid behind my job, using my schedule as a convenient excuse for someone tired and worn out by Western culture Christianity. Following that, I had relationships I could point to as my ongoing Christian community. In the end, I despaired of finding what I sought though I had not yet given up. Barring the doubt I’ve come to appreciate as normal for a healthy Christian life, I didn’t doubt my faith. Time spent in my own dark night of the soul years ago assured me of who God is and then who I am to Him.

Regardless, this was my looking straight into the sun to demand answers. I had been told that departing from the church was a sure path to apostasy, but the church as I knew it was falling short. That church, no matter how it struggled with the deeps of theology, couldn’t get out of the shallows. So, tired, I took a break. I rested and focused on my health. That choice changed my life. It marked an awakening and provided the healing I needed to return to the local church transformed. And “I was not blind.” My faith held firm. My God was still with me.

I have come to value the power inherent in asking questions. I’ve said it over and over again at this point. If your god isn’t big enough to handle your questions, then that god isn’t big enough to be God. The pursuit of truth can lead to nothing other than truth. Fear keeps us from truth. Fear that to look at the sun will inevitably blind us. Fear that questioning God will bring judgment. If you haven’t heard this before, then please listen now.

God welcomes your doubt. God welcomes your questions. God loves you and He’s bigger than all of it. God loves you and He’s patient beyond our expectations. Try Him and see. Do you wonder about what scripture says? Go ahead and ask your questions! Torn up by the sorrow and darkness in our world? Challenge Him. Give Him the chance to speak. God is not afraid. God is not vindictive. He is loving. He is kind. He is gentle. He is with us, and He’s certainly big enough for the journey.

Seeing Past the Grail

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I left off last post with a quote from The Wisdom of the Enneagram on fulfillment. I would like to begin today’s thought with the words that prefaced that quote. It reads, “The key thing for Sevens to understand about themselves is that as long as they are directly pursuing happiness and satisfaction, they will never attain them.

It seems almost proverbial. An idea befitting a quote from Eastern mysticism, or some story out of myth where the hero finds his desire only when he abandons his quest. Sometimes it is a matter of timing. Other times, he discovers that his goal pales in comparison to the treasure found along the way. No matter the reason, it requires something more than blind adherence to the quest. I wonder how many treasures I’ve walked past with blinders on.

This truth for sevens is deeper than my current understanding, and I have no desire to try unpacking it here. What I would like to do is share experience I feel has gifted me a glimpse into its secrets.

In short, I set out on my own quest. I knew my Holy Grail of the moment. In anxious turmoil I plotted and schemed to acquire the object of my desire. My frustration only grew as I was thwarted at every turn. For me, most of this futile exercise happens in the arena of my mind. Sometimes I get to put my plans into practice. Most times I do not. Either way, the trials on my journey left me tired, flustered and empty handed.

Until I let go. In a sudden insight, I chose to focus on the one thing I could control. Me. I could seek to become the best me that I can be and leave the rest to God or chance.

You know what comes next, right? A miracle. Those things I had struggled so painstakingly for appeared unbidden and unexpected. And, most awe inspiring and terrifying of all, appeared effortlessly. Such that I had no idea what to make of it. The only thing I could do was say thank you to the only One I believe could orchestrate such a thing.

Later, as I sat writing these words, I thought back to the previous post’s quote. “Fulfillment is not the result of “getting”…” Yet here I am, equating happiness and satisfaction with “getting”. And to be honest, there was great satisfaction and happiness in receiving my grail. So, I wondered, how does it work? A thought came to me. What if my grail, these gifts, were destined? What if they waited in the same place along the road no matter how I came to it? If that were true, then the only difference to be found was in the quality of the getting there. Had my mind been free from trying to manipulate forces outside of my control, what would I have seen and experienced along the way? It is a significant question, especially if my grail was indeed a divine appointment of sorts.

Now, I don’t mean to say we shouldn’t have desires and goals. They set the path we travel along. But I think that we are free to enjoy the fullness of the journey, to experience satisfaction, happiness and fulfillment, only when we let go of the need to control. I’d love to control the narrative. I’d love to control the tempo and the rhythm so that everything falls into place just as I foresee it. But I can’t. And if, in realizing that, I relinquish control I can be freed from the internal battles with frustrated plans and unmet expectations. The battles that rob me of the joy of the journey. And let’s be honest, there is far more journey than there is getting.

The Nomad in You

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“Real living is worth waking up for.”

These were my words in a recent conversation. It began with a book, To Shake the Sleeping Self by Jedidiah Jenkins. They arose as a friend and I commented on a shared belief that there is a contrast between living and survival, between “surviving and thriving” to borrow her words.

She responded, “That’s the nomad in you.”

The word struck me viscerally, and I grabbed hold of it. “Nomad.” I said it aloud and began turning it slowly around in my mind as I sought to ferret out its significance. It’s first promise bore into me with a single word – adventure. And considering the conversation, adventure and nomad seemed fitting companions.

As is usual for me, the counterargument followed on its heels. Courtesy of my growing understanding of Enneagram sevens, a picture of a nomad caught up in the journey but unengaged. Someone who roams about, but is always looking for the next thing without being present in the moment. A fulfillment of the gluttony of sevens. I’ve lived this life before, and it is purely survival.

A nomad’s life does not necessarily mean adventure, despite the romantic draw of wanderlust and the road. It’s a tension I acknowledge and accept.  Just as I accept that there is indeed a nomad in me. There is a part of me that longs for the road, for new experiences and for adventure. But I want to be awake for it. I want to be present. I want to thrive.

So, to borrow Jedidiah’s title, I am seeking “to shake the sleeping self”. To awaken to who I am, to grow in unity with my God and to learn to be present. Part of that is accepting the nomad in me. The one who, not too many years ago, nearly spent every penny in his bank account to buy a one way ticket to somewhere new. For no more reason than the feel of the wind on my face and the call of the road.

I’m not sure where I am headed, but I’m getting more and more excited to see where the path takes me. Filled with a bit of wanderlust, hope and born on the wind, today is a grand day for an adventure.

 

Nothing Wasted

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A few days ago, struck by a sudden boldness, I picked up the guitar again. I’ve been thinking about learning a song for weeks, but taken no action. Finally, guitar in hand, I pulled up the tab and started picking at the strings. In far less time than I anticipated, the song began to come together. Now, after a few hours of practice I have already exceeded my expectations and am playing and singing. Not performance worthy as of yet, but campfire worthy? Yes.

The last few days have been a joy as everything came together. In part because it happened far faster than I ever believed it would. More so, I think, because I realized all the effort I’ve put into the guitar over the years has not been wasted.

It’s difficult at times to look back on my life in a world that promotes the mindset that we are what we do and find I am nowhere near where I hoped I would be. As I mentioned before, I’ve picked up and put down my stories and my songs off and on for years. Never abandoning them. Never fully embracing them. Also not seeing the fruit of labor won only in finishing the work.

But I realize I am seeing fruit. The work of years has not not been wasted. The talent and skill is accumulating, if slowly. That realization is a healing balm and an encouragement to press on.

May that also encourage you. Whatever it is you’re chasing. Keep going. It may take a little while to see, but all labor eventually bears fruit. Nothing is wasted.

Facing the Monster under the Bed

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Over the past few weeks I’ve been delving deeper into the Enneagram and what it means to be a 7. The process has been challenging, but also life affirming.

When it comes to 7s, we don’t like pain. We don’t like unpleasant emotions, and we do whatever we can to avoid them. Most of the time by distracting ourselves. As Ian Morgan Cron puts it, “a compulsive need to devour positive experiences, stimulating ideas and fine material things in order to fend off suffering , hurtful memories and a feeling of chronic deprivation.”

So, uh, yeah… that’s me.

The trouble being a life of pain avoidance is a life of perpetual, self-inflicted darkness. I’d rather move on to something else or think about the future than deal with the pain that’s right here, right now.

Retreat. Deal with it later. Maybe.

In a way, it’s my own little monster under the bed. Do you remember yours? The idea that something waited just over the side terrified me as a child. I still remember a day I dared to look and found a red, tribal mask staring back at me. I don’t know if something was really there or if I stared at a monster of my own making, but it’s the only time I remember truly being frozen in fear.

But in order to live, I believe we must learn to look. While it scared me terribly, I had found the face of my monster. And considering the present discourse, I find the face of my monster fitting. A mask, just like the ones I’ve created to protect myself. The masks that make up my false self. I created them to protect me, but maybe they are the true monster. So I steel myself, and look over the edge of the bed.

Why?

Because the first step is awareness. By awareness I don’t mean just knowing something is out there. We all have that sense of danger that tells us something lingers in the shadows. I mean finding the face of our monsters. Until I know the face of my monster, I can’t recognize it. Until I know the mask it wears, I can’t engage it.

It’s here that the battle begins. Firstly, a battle with self. When the monster shows its face, I have a choice to make. Retreat or engage. The greater battle begins on those occasions when I choose to engage. I choose to face my monster, look it in the eyes and try to see what lies beyond it. To see the source of my pain and fears. One may again ask the question, why?

By getting to the source of my pain and fears, I can hold it, handle it, look at it from different angles and come to understand it. And maybe in knowing it, it becomes a little less scary. I can then examine my responses. I don’t always freeze in the face of my monsters. Sometimes I run. Sometimes I fight. Often at the expense of people around me. Until I see, I strike out blindly. Once I begin learning to see, I can make better choices. Not saying I always will, but I can. And that’s not only better for me, but also for the people I care about.

In all, I think the gift of facing down my monsters can be summed up in a single word.

Freedom.

Freedom from fear. Freedom from the protective habits that hurt myself and others. And freedom to become more of me, the real me.

Different but Good

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Prior to taking this seat before my computer, I spent some time with my parents. It began with my usual role as the family’s IT guru. On the way out, I stopped to let them know I would be busy with a church event Saturday morning. Saturday is a time we generally spend together as family.

To shorten the tale, it led to my father asking about the church I have been going to. A place I know will not meet his approval as a place “rightly dividing the word of truth”. The whole idea of getting deeper into that conversation made me uncomfortable. I love my dad dearly. I also find that when he holds to something he holds to it completely and without deviation. It makes it difficult to converse sometimes, and with my personality I try to find paths to harmony rather than pushing back.

It is this trait that pinned me in. He asked a question, one he said would tell you if the pastor of a church “rightly divided” the Scripture. Before answering it, he changed his mind and turned the question on me. I turned inward and sought the answer I thought best fit what I knew of his beliefs and what I’ve studied myself. Needless to say, though a reasonable answer, my best guess missed the mark and he quickly jumped in to educate me.

So I listened.

Recently, I’ve listened a lot more. As I said, it can be difficult with my dad. He can come on very strong, but for a reason I respect. He truly believes everything he is telling you, and he’s spent a considerable amount of time studying to come to those close held beliefs. I would love it if he were a little more open, but I don’t worry about it much these days. I learn a lot from him, and he loves his family, his friends and his God. I trust him, even if I don’t always agree. He’s very different than me, but his life still points me to God.

“God did not make this person as I would have made him. He did not give him to me as a brother for me to dominate and control, but in order that I might find above him the Creator.

Now the other person, in the freedom with which he was created, becomes the occasion of joy, whereas before he was only a nuisance and an affliction….

I can never know beforehand how God’s image should appear in others. That image always manifests a completely new and unique form that comes solely from God’s free and sovereign creation.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Rest

It’s Labor Day!

The U.S. government describes Labor day as constituting “a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” So it makes sense to take a take a day to rest from our labor.

And yet I’m working. It’s brought to mind a conversation from this past weekend. While discussing Enneagram and how it’s helped me, my friend noted I used the word productive a lot. And she is right. I had noted something similar earlier that day in my journal.

I’ve not been happy with where I am in life for years. As a seven, I’ve flitted between my dreams like a moth following the light from room to room. It is not an effective way to accomplish anything. As a result of my discontent, I made a commitment to focus on one thing. Of course, life is a bit more complex than that and I’m working on several projects toward that end. I also feel like I’m behind which prompts me to irritation when I feel like I’ve wasted time.

So what did I do?

I decided to trade activity for activity. Anything that is not pushing me towards my goal must not only go, but be replaced by goal oriented labor – work on the house, writing, cleaning, study. It seemed wise, but I have learned it is unsustainable.

For one, those non goal oriented things are far easier to do. They don’t require much mental or physical energy. Some of them are in fact restful. In addition, I am reminded that creatively the well dries up when you draw unceasingly from it. Artists need time to fill the well, and that requires time to just be. Observe the world. Process. Meditate. Learn and experience new things. Rest.

So, while I had not originally planned to do so, I’m going to rest today instead of trying to pack in another day filled with labor.

Let’s all do some things today to fill the well!

Dying to Make it Interesting

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“The future is in this kind of death because options leave you forever hovering and lingering and its only in death to all the other options that anything interesting actually happens.”

-Rob Bell

I heard this quote while listening to an interview. Rob Bell’s epiphany followed an article by Gordon Gano, the lead singer of the Violent Femmes. I managed to track down a blog with the reprinted text of that article if you’d like to check it out. In it, he referred to a desire not to “limit availability”. In other words, we want to keep our options open.

I’ve spent many years keeping my options open. I surfed the channels of possibility while running on a treadmill, changing channels every time I got bored or uncomfortable but never going anywhere. Between fear of missing out and grass is greener syndrome, I spent many years cycling through opportunities without every settling in. To use Rob Bell’s words, I was “forever hovering and lingering”. When you’re on a treadmill the scenery never changes.

Now, I refuse to say it has been without value. I’m deeply thankful for the vast and varied experiences life has given me. At the same time, I’ve achieved a moniker I never aspired to – jack of all trades, master of none. That lifestyle has its benefits, but like every coin it has another side. While the ride’s been fun, I’ve failed to achieve my most closely held dreams and goals.

So here I am.

Awakening.

More aware.

I see my enemy, and he is me. He’s the reason I am here, committing myself to a single goal despite the temptation to jump ship. I write to step off the treadmill and onto a path because its “only in death to all other options that anything interesting actually happens.”

And I’d like things to get interesting.