A Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthThe Power of ListeningDeath in Dunedin: A NovelJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeA Renewed SpiritualityFriendingDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

Why “journey” works so well as a metaphor for faith

Thursday November 12 2015

Why “journey” works so well as a metaphor for faith

The Bible is full of journeys – Abraham, the Exodus, the Exile and the return to Jerusalem, Paul’s missionary journeys – but you’ll seldom if ever hear the Bible referring to the life of faith as a journey. We, however, use that metaphor all the time. We say things like, “In my faith journey, God has used so many circumstances to teach me about trust.” We talk about God “walking with us” in hard times. We might say something like, “I’ve come a long way in my faith since my father died.” All of these statements evoke faith as a journey.

“Journey” is such a helpful metaphor, and I want to point out a few reasons why.

1. “Journey” focuses on the process of getting there, not the arrival. Christians are being transformed into Christ’s image “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). This is a process that continues throughout our earthly life. On earth, we never arrive but we continually grow closer to who we were created to be. When we talk about faith as a journey, we are emphasizing progress, not perfection.

2. A journey implies changes, transitions, challenges and adventures. I’m sure my desire for comfort, stability and outward peace isn’t unique to me. When I think of my life in Christ as a journey, I am more open to meeting God in the unexpected. I am less likely to resist change and challenge.

3. Many human journeys involve travel companions. Sometimes our travel companions accompany us on the entire trip, and other times we meet up with a short-term travel companion. In many instances, travel is quite difficult on our own and significantly easier with a companion, someone to open doors when we’re juggling baggage, someone who knows the language to translate a menu in a foreign country or someone to chat with about the scenery. When I think about my life of faith as a journey, I pay attention to the travel companions God has given me.

4. When we travel, we often need to lighten our load. Simplicity is a very helpful practice when travelling, and simplicity is also a very helpful practice when walking with Jesus through life. Maybe I need to jettison my attachment to some of my possessions. Maybe I need to let go of anger and bitterness about someone or something. As I look back over many years of walking with Jesus, I can see how many attitudes and presuppositions God has helped me relinquish.

5. When we travel, we get to experience the wonder of the guest-host shift. When we receive the hospitality of others, we are the guest. But sometimes the guest makes a contribution to the host, shifting the role. Jesus was a master of this. On the first Easter, in Emmaus, Jesus is invited into a home. At the table he breaks the bread and is revealed to be the Host (Luke 24:13-35). In many small ways, guest and host shift back and forth in many settings, and this is one of the gifts of the journey. We all give, and we all receive.

The biggest and most significant journey story in the Bible is Jesus leaving heaven and coming to earth for our sake, to live and die and be raised again so that we can live in him. Jesus asks us to journey with him into family relationships, friendships, work, neighborhoods, and the broken world. Jesus asks us to trust him as he gives us companions and calls us to lighten our loads. The Holy Spirit works in us so we can grow into Jesus’ image on the journey and so can reach journey’s end.

(Watercolor by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email update when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. This post originally appeared on the Godspace blog.)

Do not ride in the car with Lynne . . .

Saturday November 7 2015

Do not ride in the car with Lynne . . .

unless you want to get the occasional lecture . . .

or maybe it was a sermon.

Here’s what happened this past Sunday on the way to church. My husband, Dave, has been studying Jeremiah. Soon after we headed out, he said, “Jeremiah talks so much about idolatry. The Seahawks are playing this afternoon, and so many people will be glued to their big TV screens. I find myself wondering if there isn’t a lot of idolatry going on today, just like in Jeremiah’s time.”

“Wondering?” I burst out. “You find yourself wondering? I don’t wonder about that at all. I know for sure there is a lot of idolatry going on. The challenge is how do we recognize it, receive forgiveness from God for it, and then combat it as much as possible in our daily lives. All of these depend on spiritual practices.”

Then I kept talking. I had three main points, which I’ll outline here. (See, it was like a sermon!)

1. Many spiritual practices help us recognize our own idolatries. I wrote last week about letting fear, ego and ambition drive the bus, and I wrote about practices that can help us figure out who is driving our bus and how to switch drivers. I recommended what I call “the basics of the Christian life”: weekly communal worship, fellowship, Bible reading, prayer. I also recommended journaling, prayer partners, spiritual direction and silence. In the car on Sunday, I gave Dave a brief synopsis of my post last week.

2. Then I talked about forgiveness. Often the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. We so often have compassion on others, but not on ourselves. God’s tender, forgiving love for us is so great that the psalmist can write:

For as the heavens are high above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far he removes our transgressions from us (Psalm 103:11-12).

If God’s love for us is as big as the skies, then shouldn’t we be able to accept that love, coupled with forgiveness?

I like the language of “do” for my besetting sins. “I’ve been doing overeating lately.” Not, “I’m an overeater” or “I struggle with overeating.” I’m not defined by my sins. Yes, I do counterproductive and stupid and even evil things sometimes, but God forgives me, and I start afresh. “Do” language helps me see myself as someone who screws up from time to time and as someone who receives forgiveness from God and then tries to live a holy and obedient life with joy. I am not a compulsive overeater; I just do it sometimes.

My typical idolatry is not the big screen TV with the Seahawks game on it. Mine relates to food and the self-loathing that I sometimes do after I overeat. But even self-loathing, something I do from time to time, does not define me. It’s just a slip into idolatry that God can forgive, and that I can learn to forgive as well.

3. If idolatry is rampant, then shouldn’t we be paying a lot of attention to other people’s idolatry? Should we be thinking and talking about where we see other people failing?

Jesus is pretty clear that our primary business is facing into our own sin:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:1-3).

So that was my lecture/sermon in the car on Sunday morning. Idolatry is rampant but forgivable through God’s love and Jesus’ grace and the Holy Spirit’s power. Our spiritual practices shape us so we can more easily see our habitual forms of sin and receive forgiveness. Our language – “doing” sin rather than being irredeemably sinful – helps us live as God’s new and beloved creatures. And our primary job is to focus on our own sin, receive forgiveness and live a new life in Christ, rather than criticizing others for spending too much time in front of a big screen TV.

(If you’d like to receive an email update when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. Photo credit: an article in the Daily Telegraph about a police officer who got in trouble for tweeting this photo. For those of you who know Dave, he’s NOT bald! And he doesn’t look as old as the man in the cartoon! But after we got to church, I found myself wishing that something or someone had covered my mouth.)

When fear, ego and ambition drive the bus

Friday October 30 2015

When fear, ego and ambition drive the bus

Way back when the world was young, I thought the actor Don Johnson was cute. So when I saw an interview with him in Parade Magazine last month, I read it. He talked about his latest film project and his daughter for most of the interview, but at the end the interviewer asked if there is anything in his earlier life he would like to change. Here’s his answer:

I wish I had become a little more aware of how full of fear, ego and ambition I was, and how I let a lot of that drive the bus.

I won’t detail all the ways that fear, ego and ambition can harm us when they drive the bus. I’m going to assume that you, like me, are trying to grow in letting other characteristics drive the bus. Those other, more healthy, bus drivers might include compassion for others and for ourselves, humility and peace. Perhaps the most significant bus driver should be God’s love.

How do we change bus drivers? I’d like to make a few suggestions for practices that encourage that change.

1. The basics of the Christian life: weekly communal worship, fellowship, Bible reading, prayer. The weekly discipline of attending church should remind us we are not God and Someone Else is. This is a key starting point that helps us change bus drivers. Fellowship with other Christians, studying the Bible alone and with others, and praying in many forms are essential ground-level habits that over time change our perspective and the foundation of our lives.

2. Journaling. So many people have told me that they are most honest with themselves when they journal. They say that journaling helps them face up to those moments when fear, ego and ambition are playing too big a role in motivations and behaviors. Many people have told me they like to write their prayers in their journal. Writing out prayers slows them down, they say, enough to pray longer and more deeply. And as I said in #1, prayer is essential in changing the perspective and foundation of our heart in part because it focuses on attention on God, rather than on the things that drive us.

3. Prayer partners in pairs or groups. I’ve been in women’s prayer groups for 25 years. My first women’s prayer group is still going (with some changes in members), and when I’m in Seattle I attend as faithfully as I can because the level of honesty and support there is remarkable. Honesty coupled with support is powerful in helping us change the orientation of our heart.

4. Spiritual direction. Here I’m referring to the formal relationship with a spiritual director, with whom you meet regularly, usually once a month. A spiritual director is tasked with helping us see God’s hand and God’s presence in our lives. In other words, he or she helps us pay attention. And where we direct our attention plays a big role in who drives our bus.

5. Silence. In The Cultivated Life, Susan Phillips writes about a man who told her that showering turns his heart toward God. When he showers, he can’t work and he can’t be interrupted, so he prays. Many people engage in a structured spiritual practice involving silence, such as contemplative prayer, centering prayer or mindfulness meditation. Others find moments when they can’t work and can’t be interrupted, perhaps in the car, while walking, before sleeping at night or first thing in the morning. Or showering! Silence, with no work and no interruptions, can make space for us to pray honestly about the inner and outer forces in our lives.

What or who drives your bus? What helps you move away from letting fear, ego and ambition drive the bus? What do you wish could be your bus driver? God’s love? Something else? What helps you change drivers? 

(If you'd like to receive an email alert when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

Drawing near to God by noticing patterns

Friday October 23 2015

Drawing near to God by noticing patterns

The human brain loves to find patterns even when none exist. This explains the popularity of conspiracy theories, some of which must be false. (Only some of them? See, I can’t say, “all of which are false”! I love patterns and categories as much as the next person!)

We can use the human love of patterns to nurture our prayer life and to help us observe the pattern of our spiritual growth. Here are three ideas:

1. “Word for the year.” Some people advocate picking a word in January that you want to have as the theme for your year. My experience is that words pick me, not the other way around. In 2012 and 2013, the word I kept coming back to was “receptivity.” It was so helpful in understanding that God was calling me to pay attention to where the Holy Spirit was guiding me and to where God was already working in my life, rather than always trying to direct things myself or to see what’s missing in my life. I wrote sections in two of my books, Joy Together and The Power of Listening, about receptivity.

In 2014, the word “joy” was forced on me by the Caring Bridge posts of a wonderful (and joyous) man, Steve Hayner. His posts while he was dealing with terminal cancer were the single biggest source of spiritual growth for me in 2014. Those posts have been turned into a book, Joy in the Journey, which I highly recommend.

Suggestion: Look back at last year, or an earlier year, and ponder whether there’s a word that captures what God was doing in your life. Take that word and pray about it, sing about it, journal about it, draw it and talk about it with friends.

2. Daily, weekly, monthly or yearly highlights. What was the best thing that happened yesterday? Last week? Last month? Last year? “Every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17). We miss so much because we don’t take the time to look and remember. My favorite Jewish Sabbath prayer goes like this: “Days pass, years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles.”

Suggestion: Use the human propensity to find patterns to help you see the pattern of God’s blessing in your life. Then turn those highlights into prayers of thanks.

3. Theme for the decade. I can see very clearly the major life lesson God was teaching me in my 50s: you cannot change another person. You can speak your own truth, you can say how another person’s behavior affects you, and you can encourage others to change. But you cannot change them. I can’t believe I was in my 50s before I learned this. I would have been a much better mother if I had learned it earlier. This big life lesson has helped me pray and speak differently in so many relationships, and I am a happier (more joyous!) person because of it.

Because I can see so clearly my biggest life lesson from my 50s, I’ve been thinking perhaps I can identify a major life lesson from each decade of life.

Suggestion: look at your life in decades or in five-year blocks and see if you can identify a major life lesson in some of them. Take that life lesson and pray about it, sing about it, journal about it, draw it and talk about it with friends.

The human propensity to see patterns can help us see the patterns of gifts and growth in our lives, which can help us pray and act in new ways. Let your brain’s love of patterns serve your growth in faith. “For you, Lord, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy” (Psalm 92:4).

(Photo credit: John Mawurndjul, “Mardayin Ceremony 2000,” Gallery New South Wales. I love Australian Aboriginal art, and I’m sure it’s because I love the patterns. If you'd like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under "subscribe" in the right hand column.)

Good listening is not enough to make a good conversation

Sunday October 18 2015

Good listening is not enough to make a good conversation

After four years of focusing a lot of my pondering and writing on good listening skills, I was quite struck by these biting words from broadcast journalist Barbara Walters in her 1970 book, How to Talk to Practically Anyone About Practically Anything:  

I happen to disagree with the well-entrenched theory that the art of conversation is merely the art of being a good listener. Such advice invites people to be cynical with one another and full of fake; when a conversation becomes a monologue, poked along with tiny cattle-prod questions, it isn’t a conversation any more. It is a strained, manipulative game, tiring and perhaps even lonely. Maybe the person doing the talking enjoys himself at the time, but I suspect he’ll have uncomfortable afterthoughts about it; certainly his audience has had a cheerless time.

A conversation, even a brief one, should have all the best features of any functioning human relationships, and that means genuine interest on both sides, opportunity and respect for both to express themselves, and some dashes of tact and perception. Conversation can be such pleasure that it is criminal to exchange comments so stale that neither really listens.

She does acknowledge that sometimes all we can do is listen:

There are painful, tedious people in abundance and some of them must be suffered kindly, maybe even until they run down and have nothing more to say. . . .  Furthermore, warm, sustaining relationships become especially important during those periods when we are our least lovable. People bursting with good will and abundance of mental health are charming company; their need for ego-boosting, however, is minimal. People sinking into self-pity and depression are dreary, but they can’t get out of it by themselves. So every now and then, just sit there and listen, listen, listen. You’re paying your membership dues in the human race. . . .

When you’re with someone who has had a recent loss, and who wants to talk of nothing else, you’re going to have to compose yourself for patient, sympathetic listening. Life isn’t easy; every conversation can’t be a joy. And in later years, he’ll remember gratefully that you listened when he needed you most.

All grief is not for the dead. People show the same symptoms of grief — lassitude, preoccupation with one topic, a general grayness — when they have been through mutilating surgery, or when a marriage or a love affair ends before they were ready, or when they’ve just moved from a place where they lived long and happily, or when their self-esteem has been punctured by the loss of a job or failure to be chosen for an expected honor.

Be tender; let them tell you how rotten they feel, and what a lousy world this is. Don’t argue and try to point out that they have no problems. Sometimes as with teenagers just sympathetically saying, “I know, I know,” helps.

Walters evidently would agree with me that having excellent listening skills in your communication tool box is a great idea if you want to show love to people around you, especially when they are suffering from loss. I wonder if sometimes I focus more on listening and less on conversation because I assume that most people are grieving something most of the time, and my job is to help them talk that through. Therefore I default into drawing people out and listening carefully rather than trying to assure my conversations are truly conversations, as she describes in the first two paragraphs I quoted. 

I’d love to hear comments from readers of this post: How do you know when to stop drawing others out by mostly listening and instead engage in back-and-forth conversation? And what do you think are the components of a good conversation? What can we do to nurture good conversations?

(If you’d like to receive an email whenever I post on this blog, sing up under “subscribe” in the right hand column. I am grateful for two posts on the blog “Brain Pickings” that drew my attention to Barbara Walters’s book and to these particularly quotations, here and here).

 

Here's a complete list of all the posts on listening on my blog. Maybe one of these posts will interest you:

An amusing story of hearing God’s guidance
Listening to creation as a part of environmental stewardship

John Perkins listened 
good listeners are detectives, not tennis players

a game that nurtures good listening
receptivity and listening
humility and listening
humility and listening part 2
listening wisely to people’s stories
my journey as a listener
why do we listen?
letting go of agendas as we listen
hearing God’s voice
an amusing story of why listening matters
“holy curiosity" as a way to think about effective listening
the role of listening in nurturing Christian discipleship
listening and hospitality

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