Many sources note that we, as Americans, are increasingly anxious. While this clearly has been the case in prior episodes of history, there is little doubt in my mind that many of us are filled with angst. The reasons are varied. We live with great uncertainty as volatility characterizes many domains of life. Technological, social, scientific, and cultural changes, some positive, others less so, are constant and frequently upending.
With this in mind, it is important to note that even those who were with Jesus faced difficult and anxiety-producing circumstances. Take Mary and Joseph. How they envisioned the future, the likely well-ordered plans they had in mind, their ways of doing things, were suddenly and radically changed. Although the circumstances are vastly different, how many of us have also been confronted with a 180 degree life turn around?
Take the woman with the bleeding disorder. Ill for 12 years, financially devastated, socially ostracized, one day she decides to put it all on the line and literally reach out for Jesus. Now, centuries later, we face something. Solutions are seemingly nowhere to be found. Despair sets in. We go out on a limb and take a chance. We are questioned. We question. Yet we put it all on the line. We are challenged and uncertain.
Take the 12-year-old Jesus. He and his folks travel to Jerusalem for a big deal religious event. When it is over, Mom and Dad and a crowd of other folks head home. Little do they know that Jesus decided to stay behind to do some work on his own spiritual journey. When Mary and Joseph are about a day’s travel time out of Jerusalem they ask, “Where’s Jesus?” Like Waldo, he is nowhere to be found. Three days later they find him in the temple in Jerusalem. They admonish him and tell him they had been filled with worry. Their fear elicits anger.
Similarly, we don’t know how someone we love is doing, emotionally, physically, or psychologically. We don’t know what to do or where to begin. Overwhelming?
These stories and so many others highlight that people who had heard about Jesus, were around Jesus, turned to Jesus, all had moments of tremendous fear, anxiety and consuming stress. And we who have heard about Jesus, turn to Jesus, yet have no opportunity to be around Jesus’ presence in the flesh, have had, have, and will have such moments as well.
These stories of giants of our faith tell me that when we feel as they did, we need to stop questioning ourselves, putting ourselves down, or being critical of ourselves in any way. Their experiences tell me that what they went through is part of what it means to be human and there is nothing wrong with us when we have such experiences.
Their experiences, our experiences, are part of what it means to be alive in our bodies before we are alive in other ways with God after this life. It is part of what it means to have faith. It is a signal that we are on an amazing journey of faith and that, just like God called each of those I described above to trust and let go of fear, God asks us to do the same.
As I have mentioned, is gritting our teeth and trusting God hard? You bet. Absolutely. But it is what we are called to work on day after day. That said, however, there are a variety of things we can do to help us let go of fear. I’d like to mention just a couple of them here.
Our mind goes where we place our attention. What we attend to determines our emotions and reactions. Given this, there is a beautiful passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians.
Paul writes in chapter 4, “6 Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. 7 Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus. 8 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. 9 Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.”
Here Paul invites us, when we are filled with angst and fear, to focus our minds on God by praying to God. Letting God know what is on our mind, what is happening, what we need, and to thank God. Note the components of how Paul suggests we pray.
Secondly, Paul invites us to focus our minds on what is “true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable…that are excellent and worthy of praise.”
If we choose to pay attention to what is ugly, all the divisiveness, all the rancor and anger on television and in discussions around us, violent movies and stories, hatred, and everything that is the opposite of what Paul mentions, the result will be the opposite of peace and release. If however, we make the decision to spend most of our energy on the things Paul suggests, “then the peace of God will be with us,” as Paul writes. What we focus on and the resultant feelings and actions are 100% our decision.
Finally, I invite you to join me in doing something over the days ahead.
Get to a quiet place. Turn off technology. Give yourself some open ended time. Get quiet. Get silent. Listen to the silence for a bit and then pray. I invite you to pray something like the following.
God. Here I am. I am coming to you in this quiet place wanting and needing to hear from you. While I may or may not hear your voice, I ask that you at least help me to sense your thoughts in my thoughts. Here is what is happening that is causing me great worry and stress and fear. I know you already know all this but I just want to share what is happening.
I ask that you help me trust you. I ask that you give me this gift. I ask that you help me let go of fear and worry and anxiety. God, the thing you say more often than anything in scripture is, “Trust me and don’t fear.” Help me to trust you. Help me to let go of fear. Help me to trust and not fear regardless, no matter what, despite what happens or does not happen. Help my trust and letting go of fear be outcome independent. Please help me trust you right now. Please fill me with your peace that passes all understanding. Please help me let it go and let you take over. Give me your peace and trust.
Pray using your own words, but give yourself plenty of time in this quiet place. The more you invest in doing this kind of thing, the more trust and peace and release will fill you.
Indeed, these are troubling times but, as followers of Jesus, there is much we can do in response to help us in our journey in faith.
A couple of weeks ago the Aspen School District had a fall break period of a couple of days. My wife Regina, our son Peter, and I headed to Grand Junction as many do to get some stronger sun and warmth as it had been so cold. We decided to spend some time at the Colorado National Monument. If you have not been, go. It is spectacular and a treasure. The plateaus, monoliths, cliffs, and red rock are striking and awe-inspiring.
Regina arranged well ahead of time for us to meet a guide one morning. I was game and not too apprehensive even though the guide we were meeting was a rock climbing guide. Our guide was not sure what to make of me when I told him, after meeting him, that the last time I was on a cliff, helicopters and a dozen or so mountain rescue members got involved. But that was then and this was now I assured him.
When we had hiked for 30 minutes or so up a canyon with backpacks filled with equipment, our guide said, “We are here.” Looking up at the surrounding sandstone cliffs I asked, “Where is here?” “Up,” he said. “Here? You mean there,” pointing toward the sky. “Yes.” Above us was at least 100 feet of a flat wall pictured on the front of the bulletin.
Soon, after we hiked around some more to the other side of that cliff to set up anchor points, we received instructions, and put on harnesses and helmets. Our son Peter went first followed by Regina. They both made it look easy and when they repelled down, it was apparently my turn.
After running the rope through the harness tie in points and attaching the carabiner to the belay loop, terms I still am learning, I was ready to go. I stood at the base of the cliff. I turned around and asked, “Where do I put my hands and feet?” “Really” I said in response to what the guide told me.
Somehow, someway, I made my way 30 feet or so up the cliff when all of a sudden I yelled, “There is no place to put my hands or my feet.” The guide replied, “Yes there is.” I retorted, “But I feel like a hippopotamus ice skating; this is not possible.” “Yes it is,” he said. “Look for tiny places to put just part of one foot and places to pull yourself up with your fingertips.”
Somehow, someway, I continued. About half way up, with cut hands and bloody knees as I was dumb enough to wear shorts, the guide yelled out, “Take a break.” “Where?” I asked. “Where you are; just lean back.” I won’t repeat what I whispered to myself.
Anyway, I did what I was told. I relaxed and leaned back from the cliff securely held by the rope. And as I did so, I looked down to see where I had come from, up to see how far I had to go, and all around to take in the view. I felt very blessed and asked myself, “How many people get to hang off a cliff today, voluntarily?”
After a few minutes, I continued climbing upward, falling now and then, but quickly caught by the rope. Eventually I made my way to the top, exhaled, and took in the glorious view of the canyon and the ants of Regina, Peter, and the guide below. Soon I repelled down planting my feet firmly on the ground. I was met with cheers.
Whether or not you have rock climbed with ropes, I was yet again reminded that day about what trusting God is all about when challenges abound. Hopefully not carrying this metaphor too far, we all have cliffs to go up. They are as varied as there are people, but we all have them. It can seem impossible at times to scale what we need to move through. It can indeed seem that there is no place to put our hands or feet and there is nothing to grab a hold of. We all go through this.
But we have a guide. We have God. And God is completely trustworthy. Even when it seems impossible, our feelings don’t determine what God can and cannot do. Even when it feels that God is nowhere to be found, our feelings, once again, don’t determine God’s presence. We’ve got to trust God. We have got to find those places to put our hands and our feet with God’s guidance.
And whether or not we realize it or accept it, there are people around us as we make our way. People to encourage us. There are always people around even if those we thought we could depend on don’t show up, others will if we reach out. And just as it is important to pause when we are in the middle of a cliff climb to rest, and to see where we have been and what is ahead, the same is true of those passages in which there are mighty challenges.
I’ve been thinking back to some of my cliffs. Parents dying. Friends dying. Illnesses that people I love have to endure. Times of incapacity due to serious injury. Struggling children. People I love whose time is limited. Not knowing what the future held with this and that. The cliffs I’ve been through over the decades as a pastor.
Cliffs, we all have had them, have them, and will have them. But Jesus’ message, God’s message to each of us is precisely the same. Make the decision to trust the guide and climb. Make the decision to move forward. Make the decision to pause and reflect. Make the decision to emote and share feelings with God. Make the decision to grit your teeth and trust.
And one final thing that is so important. Whenever we are not on a cliff, let us all take the time, make the intentional effort, to reach out in concrete ways to those who are on the ropes. Let us encourage them, applaud each movement they make, love them, grit our teeth and trust God on their behalf, when they are not in a place in which they are able to do so.
Sometimes it is our turn to trust. At others, it is our time to trust on behalf of others. But regardless, a theme that runs throughout the Bible and an invitation from God that runs throughout our lives is clear. Our guide is not going to let us go regardless of what cliff we are on and attempting to climb.
When I was a small boy my dad insisted I make my bed every morning before heading off to school. While I never truly mastered it, he tried to show me how to make a bed according to military standards as he had served in the 1st Army in WWII. Although I don’t remember his exact words, he said something to me like, “How you start your day sets the tone for the entire day.”
I was thinking about this recently as I was working out at Crossfit in Aspen. On the walls of the gym are a variety of inspirational quotes. One in particular that grabbed my attention says, “How you do anything is how you do everything.” When I first saw these words, I realized that this is what my dad was trying to say to me so long ago. His point, in essence, was, “Robert how you make your bed reflects how you will approach whatever comes before you in the coming day.”
Indeed, how we do anything is how we do everything. My dad wanted me to understand that if I was sloppy in making my bed, I likely be sloppy in doing other things. Although I am imperfect in living out this truth, I have come to learn that how I approach the small things in life affects how I do the big things that come across my plate. I wonder if, in part, this was what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Whoever is faithful in very little is faithful also in much.” How we do anything is how we do everything.
As I think about it, I think this truth applies to most things, not only work, but to play, leisure, time off, and even prayer. And I believe this truth actually can help each of us in caring for ourselves. If, for example, I am focused at work and avoid interruptions to that work, shouldn’t the same apply to time off and the space we create for disconnecting. If I am attentive to details when completing a task, could I not pay this same level of attention to things that bring me joy?
Sometimes I am afraid we put more effort into doing the big things we “have” to do than we put into the little ways we care for ourselves, our relationships, and our time with God. Perhaps the phrase, how we do anything is how we do everything, is an invitation not to learn to work harder, but to pay equal attention to all the areas in life that are not task oriented.
This in fact could mean that how well I can relax is how well I will work, how well I play is how well I will get things done, how well I enjoy is how well I will deal with the opposite feelings, and how well I care for myself is how well I will care for others, and there are countless other examples.
I invite you to join me in pondering, “how we do anything is how we do everything,” and prayerfully to discern what God might be saying to us through these words. My hunch is that for some of us, it could be a game changer, even if we struggle with making our beds to military standards.
If you live in Snowmass Village, you are well aware of it. If you reside largely or sometimes in other spots, you may or may not be aware that the last week or so here has been quite snowy. Snowy and very cold. The yellow Aspen leaves seemed to have been caught off guard by the chilly cloudy weather as the leaves went from bright colors immediately to brown and the ground.
It has been said that winter is snow plow season and summer is orange cone season (referring to the road construction that happens during our short warm time of year). But around the Village in the last week or so, something else has happened relatively rapidly. Snow plow companies have lined countless driveways and parking areas with snow plow sticks which mark where the boundaries are between asphalt and dirt, road and curb, trees and plowable areas. I guess some are expecting a snowy winter as some of the sticks I have seen are over 10 feet tall.
Marking these boundaries is important. Most of us have seen what happens when there are no such boundaries, especially when the snow melts. Plantings are trashed, parking lot spaces are dug up, some homeowners are upset, and often there is just a general mess left to clean up. I think the women and men around here who plow do an amazing job and I realize there is no way they can always stay precisely within the markers. But that said, I can only imagine what would happen if there were no boundary sticks or markers.
While snow plow boundaries are helpful where it snows a lot, there are other boundaries that are essential regardless of where we live. This other kind of boundary is all about knowing where one’s life ends and another begins. All about having a clear picture as to what is on my side of the fence and what is on yours.
Dr. Henry Cloud has written a book, I believe, everyone should read and embrace. The book is entitled “Boundaries” and within it boundaries are defined as “what is me and what is not me.” Boundaries help us take responsibility for those things that are “on my side of the fence” and to let go of those things for which we are not responsible.
When we have clear boundaries we are more resilient in life, get a lot more done, are more effective in those areas for which we are accountable, and live with a greater capacity to be helpful to others. When we don’t have clear boundaries, we end up exhausted, living in a cycle of never being able to do enough, we displace responsibility for our own lives onto others, we experience guilt and low self-esteem, and we can end up feeling like a driveway that has been plowed over.
As we move into the winter months, I invite you to join me in envisioning snow plow markers. To then envision your own life and what your boundaries are. Do you have them and know what they are? Are there some areas in which you need greater boundaries? Are there other areas in which you need to reinforce the boundaries that are already present?
Without a doubt, God calls us to live with boundaries. And yes, God calls us to cross our boundaries when another person is in a place of being incapable of caring for themselves, by implementing a new set of boundaries that will enable us to care in a loving way that keeps us whole.
I invite you, once again, to join me in exploring our personal boundaries and where we may need some work putting them in place for any winter season of life ahead.
Life’s simple pleasures. I have several apps on my phone that are space related. One lets me know when certain planets or stars will be visible along with various meteor showers. Another alerts me to significant events happening in space. While yet another sends me a text when the International Space Station (ISS) is overhead.
The ISS is truly an amazing project. In my view, it is nothing but positive. A variety of nations partnered in getting it built and continue to work together on missions across political ideologies. Well over 200 folks from different countries have been on board conducting invaluable research.
The other night I received an alert that the ISS would be brightly visible for nearly 7 minutes. At the right time, I headed outside, looked skyward, and sure enough, the ISS moved in a straight line directly above me. The space station goes around the earth every 90 minutes or so at a speed of roughly 18,000 mph. As I watched the ISS, which is roughly the size of a football field on earth, comments from astronauts over the years who have been in space and looked back toward the earth flooded my mind.
Neil Armstrong once said, “It suddenly struck me that that tiny pea, pretty and blue, was the Earth. I put up my thumb and shut one eye, and my thumb blotted out the planet Earth. I didn’t feel like a giant, I felt very small.” And Roger Chaffee stated, “the world itself looks cleaner and so much more beautiful. Maybe we can make it that way – the way God intended it to be – by giving everybody a new perspective from out in space.
The philosopher Frank White came up with a phrase that describes what happens to people when they see the earth and other objects from space. That term, “The Overview Effect.” White defines this effect as “‘a cognitive shift in awareness’ linked to ‘the experience of seeing firsthand the reality that the Earth is in space.’”
With this in mind, as I gazed skyward for a few short moments the other evening, I thought not only of the perspectives that astronauts have had while looking at the Earth from afar, but I wondered what God must think about the Earth he created.
I imagined God feels joy for all that is right and wonderful on this tiny blue dot as there is much to celebrate and for which to be thankful. But I also believe God must feel deep despair that humankind has yet to learn to live in peace. Has yet to embrace the beauty of the earth and the precious nature of every human life. Has yet to live together in unity along with deep humility and reverence toward our Creator. Has yet to live in the way in which God intends for us to live.
If only we as human beings could gain a “space” perspective of ourselves. Perhaps, in part, this is why God came to live among us, to give us at least a glimpse of how things should be on this small object in the universe. What Jesus’ life and teachings offer us, if we pay attention, is as dramatic and perspective altering as what astronauts experience in space. Jesus certainly gave us a glimpse of how things should be. And the good news is that day by day, we each can make a decision to share the glimpse Jesus gave us with others.
We all have perspectives, ways of viewing things, and habits of how we approach the vicissitudes of living. Once in a while, as the ISS moves across the sky, perhaps we each would do well to remember that there is more than one way to see things and that every one of us could use a “space” perspective now and then. When we do so, it is then we might just see things from God’s eyes.
This last Sunday I began a two part series on the Lord’s Prayer. This Sunday I will wrap up and summarize what was covered this last week. There is a word, I believe, that applies to the prayer. That word, radical. The word radical likely raises all kinds of images for us, whether positive or negative. But the word is a great word when it comes to our walk with Jesus.
One definition I found defines radical as “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something.” With this definition in mind, I would hope we find both our relationship with Jesus and the Lord’s Prayer radical. The more seriously we take both, the more we will find the fundamental nature of who we are dramatically affected.
Speaking of radical, in the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus says, “Your Kingdom come.” It is here the prayer begins to get truly radical and upending, especially if we pay attention to what we are really praying and asking for. To get into this, we need a definition of God’s Kingdom.
God’s Kingdom is a place and time when everything is as it should be. It is where and when love, wonder, kindness, compassion, humility, joy, service, selflessness and justice prevail. It is when there is no illness or heartache. It is where relationships are characterized by mercy and forgiveness. Simply put, the Kingdom of God is where and when everything is as God wants it to be.
In essence when we are praying for God’s Kingdom to come, we are praying for heaven on earth. Think of everything that is right in the world. Such things reflect something of what God’s Kingdom looks like. Think of everything that is wrong. That sheds light on the gap between where we are and how God wants things to be.
Several writers have noted, including John Ortberg, that when we pray for God’s Kingdom, we are saying we are ready to be fully committed followers of Jesus and all that entails. That we are asking God’s Kingdom to infuse and replace our own kingdoms. That we are willing to give up our way of doing things for God’s.
Such things have compelled me to ask myself questions as, “What are my kingdoms in my own life? Where do I put myself in the place of being king? What might God say about my kingdoms and how I rule things in comparison to how God would want things done?”
I have also asked myself, “To what degree when I pray ‘your Kingdom come’ do I really mean it? Do I really want God’s Kingdom to arrive knowing the many changes I’d have to make to live into God’s Kingdom? Am I willing to upend things to align my own kingdoms with God’s?”
Or, as Paul writes in a letter from one version of the Bible, “Are we willing to fit every thought, emotion and impulse into a life shaped by Christ?” Is this humanly impossible, yes. But it is what we are asking for and striving for when we say, “Your Kingdom come.” And the writer NT Wright states, when we pray for God’s Kingdom, “we must of course be prepared to live this way.”
The point of all of this is not to make us feel inadequate, less than, guilty and bad. Rather the point is to highlight the radical nature of what we are asking God to do in our lives, which is to bring God’s Kingdom into our lives, to accept the resultant changes God seeks to make, and to embrace a life characterized and infused by God’s love. I believe when it is all said and done, when we pray, “Thy Kingdom Come,” while we may discover we must let go of many things, in the end, we will find the amazing life God has in mind for each of us.
Four short words. Four extraordinary words. Spoken together, these four words when referring to God’s will, are likely the most potent, upending, life altering, radical, and transforming utterances that can enter our consciousness and cross our lips, especially when said with intent and commitment.
During Jesus’ well known Sermon on the Mount, Jesus simply said, “Pray then in this way.” What followed were the words we now refer to as the Lord’s Prayer. This coming week I begin a two part series on this prayer, a prayer many know well that is often committed to memory. That said, the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer, at least in my own faith journey, whose power and profound life altering meaning I have not always embraced or acted upon.
Take, for example, the phrase “Your will be done.” On any given day I know I don’t always consult God before making decisions or acting upon information. I sometimes try and run my own life as if my life is ultimately self-directed and for my benefit. Frank Sinatra’s song, “My Way,” contains lyrics that are not foreign to my life experience.
While I am a fan of Frank Sinatra’s music, the lyrics in this song wonderfully express how so many of us go awry in life. In “My Way” Frank sings, “I’ve lived a life that’s full. I’ve traveled each and every highway. But more, much more that this, I did it my way.”
I understand the nostalgic wonder of this tune. I embrace and encourage individual competency, being able to function independently, and doing things well, but if taken to heart, these lyrics express what has often been amiss in my life and walk with Jesus. “My way” at its core does not reflect what it means to be a follower of Jesus.
That said, I believe that when we pray the words to God, “Your will be done,” we open up new horizons in life, new meaning, and a far deeper sense of purpose, along with higher degrees of faithfulness. If and when we pray to God “Your will be done,” if we mean it, if we are patient, if we create space, if we let go of presumptions and preconceptions, God’s will often becomes clear. I also continue to discover, not infrequently, that God’s will counters what we might have done or said in response to something without consulting God.
I am working on incorporating a new phrase in my life. That phrase, “God, what will serve me the most, so that I can serve you the best.” In other words, “God, what is it I need to do, listen to, receive, reject, decline, embrace, be receptive to, or take on that will help me align my will with your will so that I may serve you more fully. What will serve me in order to serve you. What is your will for me so that I may act upon your will with regard to whatever it is that is before me right now.”
Again, the words “God, your will be done” are not only profound but life altering. None of what I am writing about is easy or can be done with either consistency or perfection. This is what is means to be human beings, human beings that desperately need God.
None of what I am writing about is meant to be a criticism of any of us. Rather, I believe, God invites us to work day in and day out on turning to God’s will, because in the end, the more we do so, the more we will not only discover the life God has in mind for each of us, but also the limitless, boundless and overwhelming love of God.
So my prayer is that we can journey together seeking God’s will not only in our individual lives, but in the life of Snowmass Chapel. Such a journey is such an extraordinary blessing.
If I had to guess, I’d say the vast majority of people who live in this valley love taking a walk in forested areas. We are incredibly blessed to have countless numbers of trails to choose from. Some are extremely challenging and difficult, due to elevation gain and loss and/or distance, while others are far simpler requiring comparatively little effort.
Perhaps the dynamic nature of forest trails account, in part, for the vast appeal. Light, temperature, smells, trail consistency, and sounds all vary from step to step and every forest trail is unique.
We just returned from a short trip to visit one of our daughters who is away at college in the south. Her university is surrounded by thousands of acres of trees and trails. One morning, we ventured out for a stroll on one of the trails. As we made our way along, we began to notice that a number of trees had burls of various shapes and sizes. Some of the burls were high up in the trees, while others were quite low to the ground.
As I understand it, folks don’t completely know why burls form to begin with, but lots of people believe burls happen due to some source of stress to a tree, such as insects, fungus, bacteria, or environmental issues. Others think genetic factors play a role, but whatever the reason, some burls are spectacular and are sought after by artisans. While burls do not affect the life of a tree, sadly sometimes thieves looking for some dollars, cut burls out of trees. If left alone, however, burls can grow quite large.
On our recent walk, I began thinking about burls, how the wood within them can be so stunning, and how in fact they are not really detrimental to a tree’s overall health. In fact it is the stress to the tree that shapes burls into objects of beauty to begin with. Isn’t it intriguing that imperfections in the trunks of trees are in part what makes them so astonishing and valued by those paying attention. It is their imperfections that make them unique, interesting, and full of character.
In reflecting upon trees and burls, I have to wonder what it might be like if we viewed our own imperfections or those of others in the same way? That is, is it not our imperfections that makes each of us unique, of value, and interesting? Paul, from one version of the Bible writes, “Each one of us is an original.” And I would add, we are beautifully original precisely because of who we are due to our strengths, weaknesses, and yes, imperfections.
In nature I find most things to be perfectly imperfect. I pray that one day, we as human beings, will learn to view each other with the same lens. Doing so would not only create more loving hearts, but far more humility, something I believe is desperately needed in this era.
When my husband, Tim, and I were engaged, the couple who led our marriage prep classes reassured all the new couples that while partners argue over everything from how to hang the toilet paper roll to who gets the TV remote, there are really only a few major areas couples fight over to the point of causing stress in their relationship: Parenting, Money, Religion and Sex. Oh. Is that all? For goodness sakes, people. WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
Basically what our sweet pre-marriage counselors were saying is: at some point you’re gonna need help. Can I get an amen?
People seek help from therapists, counselors, pastors and well-meaning friends with armchair degrees for all kinds of reasons. Stress at work, parenting and family issues, marriage trouble, depression, mental health issues, job change, loneliness, divorce, grief. The list is pretty endless, so don’t you dare think you have something that no one has ever heard of. Still, there is a stigma attached to seeking professional help.
I taught parenting classes for years and I was always disheartened to hear people explain that they were embarrassed to sign up for the class because it made them look like a bad parent. No – you know what makes you look like a bad parent? Being a bad parent! Meanwhile, the people who sign up for parenting classes are busy having healthier relationships, more cooperative kids, and more fun!
So let’s talk about that little thing called “stigma.” It means “something that takes away from one’s character or reputation. A mark indicating something is not right.” Ok. So maybe you’re afraid counseling would take away from your reputation or people would see that something is not right. Fair enough. Wrong. But fair; I see where you’re going.
Now try this on for size: if you wear corrective lenses the chances are good you might have been diagnosed with stigmatism. Stigmatism (or astigmatism as it’s also known) has to do with the way an oddly shaped eye refracts light. (I have oddly shaped eyeballs. Just sayin’.) The stigma in your eyes causes things to look out of whack until you correct it with the help of a professional.
And of course there is the stigma of a flower — that delicate, oh-so fragile part of the flower that stands at attention in the center of the petals whose SOLE FUNCTION is to be a RECEPTIVE landing zone for everything that comes its way in order to increase its efficiency in helping to produce other flowers.
Then there’s stigmata, which – you guessed it – also comes from the same root – and refers to – are you ready for this? — the UNEXPLAINED bodily scars of some CHRISTIANS which mimic the scars of Jesus caused by his crucifixion. Think St. Francis, St. Bernadette, and Padre Pio.
The Apostle Paul ended his entire letter to the Galatians with this: “I bear on my body the marks (stigmata) of Jesus.” In Paul’s day, a mark or a brand might have been used for identification of an animal or slave. But Paul’s scars weren’t completely unexplained; he bore those scars because of his work in spreading the gospel of Jesus. Why? BECAUSE PAUL WAS ALL-IN. And he often paid the price for his relentless pursuit of Jesus by being jailed, scourged and beaten, not to mention shipwrecked a time or two.
So the next time you think, “Oh, I can’t possibly let people know I’m in therapy, it has such a stigma — what will they think of me?” Rest assured, we will think: there goes an incredible human being who is receptive to seeing life in a new way, and who bears the scars of having lived life all-in.
After all – what else is there?
P.S. If you think this blog is a shameless promotion of the upcoming marriage retreat at Snowmass Chapel, you may be right. If you think we’re promoting our upcoming workshop on teen mental health, you might also be right. And if you think we are promoting our Stephen Ministry & Caring Connection which offers peer to peer support for people who are hurting – YOU ARE 100 percent SPOT ON. “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Gal. 6:2. No stigma. No shame. Just the marks of life, my friends. At some point, we’re all gonna need a little help.
Without a doubt, the attack on New York City was a watershed moment. I shared with our children that the US was different pre 9/11. It is likely all of us remember where we were when the events of that day eighteen years ago hit our consciousness.
We were living in Concord, New Hampshire. At the time I was serving as Assistant Rector at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Early that September morning, I learned that one of our parishioners named Jim, living at home, but under hospice care, was nearing the end of his life. I quickly headed to his home where his wife greeted me at the door. They lived in a simple trailer filled with love and mementos from a long life together.
After catching up with them both, Jim asked for communion, which I had brought with me. When a few prayers were said, I took a wafer out of a travel communion box. I held the wafer in my hand and looked into Jim’s tear filled eyes. I said, “Jim, this is the body of Christ for you.” As I said the words, “the body of Christ for you,” I saw the television in the background. At that exact moment, the first tower collapsed. We were speechless.
While lots happened in the ensuing days, including being asked by the Governor of New Hampshire to set up interfaith worship services, what has remained with me the most was the memory of the juxtaposition of the wafer being placed in Jim’s hand at the moment the first tower fell.
Although it is difficult for me to come up with words to describe that experience, I know that our suffering is met with God’s suffering and that our suffering is not distant from God, but rather lies within the center of God’s heart.
Whether it is the unspeakable horror of that September day and the years of torment that followed for so many or our own suffering in our lives now, suffering is perhaps when we are closest to God and God is closest to each one of us. We may or may not be able to articulate that intimacy with God during such times, but my prayer is that in ways that supersede understanding we may take great comfort, solace and strength from this truth. Jesus’ pain on the cross joins our pain on the crosses we bear each day.
The good news is that the cross and suffering does not have the last word to who we are, but rather a restored and renewed life, as it was and remains for Jesus and all who have gone before us, including all who perished 18 years ago today.
While eternal life is ahead for each of us, in the meantime it is helpful and reassuring to know there is no place where God is not, even when we are in the darkest of places. David, of Israel, understood this when he wrote the following words. I invite us all to pray and meditate upon his words as they are a salve to our post 9/11 broken hearts.
1 You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. 2 You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. 3 You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. 4 Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. 5 You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain. 7 Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. 9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, 10 even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” 12 even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.