Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First CenturyThe Power of ListeningJoy Together: Spiritual Practices for Your CongregationSabbath Keeping FastingPrayers of the Old TestamentPrayers of the New TestamentSabbathFriendingA Garden of Living Water: Stories of Self-Discovery and Spiritual GrowthA Renewed SpiritualityDeath in Dunedin: A NovelDead Sea: A NovelDeadly Murmurs: A NovelPersonality Type in CongregationsBeating Burnout in CongregationsReaching Out in a Networked WorldEmbracing MidlifeAdvent DevotionalDraw Near: Lenten Devotional by Lynne Baab, illustrated by Dave Baab

Lynne's Blog

My new book on Christian caring: How I came to write it

Thursday July 26 2018

My new book on Christian caring: How I came to write it

In mid January 2017, I was enjoying summer in New Zealand and slowly working through closets and drawers in preparation for our upcoming move back to Seattle in June. I was glad we hadn’t planned much travel for the summer, because I find it overwhelming to sort through possessions, and I was making very slow progress.

My friend Beth Gaede contacted me that January. Beth served as editor for five of my books, and over the course of working on those books, she and I became friends. In 2016, she had taken on the editor role for a series of books on pastoral care that would be published by Fortress Press. In our monthly skype conversations in 2016, she had talked about the various topics the books in the series would cover, such as grief, relationships, and parenting.

In the first half of 2016, I taught a class on pastoral care using a syllabus created by Lydia Fuller Johnson, who I consider to be a genius at pastoral care. Lydia said in her syllabus that if she could have used a subtitle for the course, it would have been “the changing face of pastoral care.” As Beth was formulating the plan for the series of books, and as we talked about it on skype, I chimed in with my opinions based on what I had learned from Lydia’s syllabus and from my own practice of pastoral care in many settings.

On that big day (for me!) in January 2017, Beth asked me if I would write the anchor volume for the series. It would be a general overview of pastoral care, setting the tone for the rest of the books on specific pastoral care situations. This was the first time I had ever been asked to write a book, so I felt honored and very grateful for that affirmation of my writing abilities.

However . . .

We were going to move from New Zealand to the United States in late June. I would be teaching my heaviest load ever between March and June. I had numerous speaking and preaching dates set up for the months before we left. When we got to Seattle, we were planning on doing significant repairs to the house we had bought a couple of years earlier.

The publisher needed the book to be completed by September, and all I could see was VERY busy months between January and September. I didn’t reply to Beth’s email the day I got it, because I really didn’t want to say no, but I knew I needed to do that.

That night, before I feel asleep, I started thinking about how I would structure a book on pastoral care. I would want to devote half of the book to the trends in pastoral care that Lydia had laid out in her syllabus. I could think of seven trends I would want to cover. I would want to devote the second half of the book to skills for pastoral care. I’ve written books about listening, spiritual practices and avoiding burnout. I view those as three significant skills for pastoral care. One additional skill I thought of that night as I was pondering was understanding stress.

I woke up the next morning and wrote down this outline. I made notes about what I would include in each chapter. That day, I still didn’t respond to Beth’s request. Even though I had an outline for the book, I knew I needed to say no to writing it.

That second night as I lay in bed, I began writing an introductory chapter in my head. I could perceive the topics I would cover to introduce the seven trends and the four skills. The next morning I got up and wrote most of the chapter.

Hmmm. By noon on that third day I realized that I was going to write the book. I told Beth yes and dived in. I wrote all but two chapters in January, February and March. In April, I set the book aside to begin marking essays and finalize details for moving. In August, after we had arrived in Seattle, I did a lot of reading for the chapter on stress, and I completed that chapter and the other one I hadn’t written yet. The book got to the publisher by September, and it will be released next week on August 1.

In the next few weeks for my blog posts here, I’ll write about the trends and skills I present in the book. Nurturing Hope: Christian Pastoral Care in the Twenty-First Century will be my eleventh book, not counting my three Bible study guides and my four fiction books. Some of my books were like this one, written in a short period of time, pouring out of me as if God were giving wings to my words. Others of my books took many months, written in two or three mornings a week, balanced with other work.

So many people ask me questions about the publishing and writing process. I thought you would enjoy hearing a little bit about the steps that lie behind my latest book. I am thrilled with the book, proud of the content, and grateful for the opportunity to write it. I feel humbled by the privilege of being called by God to be a writer.

(Next week: trends in pastoral care. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.”)

Two articles on listening, one of the key skills in Christian caring:
          Listening past the noise
          Letting go of agendas so we can listen to God and others

Friendship skills of asking, giving, and thanking: A biblical example and some questions for reflection

Thursday July 19 2018

Friendship skills of asking, giving, and thanking: A biblical example and some questions for reflection

The story of Jeremiah and Baruch illustrates the relationship between asking and intimacy. Jeremiah, that passionate and beleaguered prophet in the Bible, got lots of help from a man named Baruch. Jeremiah 32 describes an incident where God told Jeremiah to buy a field as an act of hope for the future of Israel. Jeremiah asked Baruch to take the deed for the field and bury it in a glass jar so it would be safe for the future, and Baruch obeyed Jeremiah’s request.

Jeremiah 36 records another vivid drama. God instructed Jeremiah to write down the words God has given him, so Jeremiah again solicited help from Baruch. Jeremiah dictated God’s words to Baruch, and Baruch wrote them on a scroll. Jeremiah had been banned from the temple, so Jeremiah asked Baruch to take the scroll to the temple and read it out.

Ultimately the news about this scroll came to the king, who chopped the scroll into pieces and burned it in his coal fire, a dramatic portrayal of someone who passionately wanted to avoid hearing and obeying God. The king then set out to arrest Baruch and Jeremiah.

“But the Lord hid them” (Jer 36:26), so they were safe. Then the Lord instructed Jeremiah to write down all the words of prophesy again, so once again Baruch recorded Jeremiah’s words on a scroll.

Baruch is often called Jeremiah’s secretary, and indeed he filled that role. But he did more. He entered into Jeremiah’s call from God and helped him in more ways that simply writing down his words. He travelled with Jeremiah (Jer 43:43:1-4) and shared Jeremiah’s emotions (Jer 45:1-5).

Jeremiah is one of my favorite books of the Bible, and I like to ponder the fact that we probably owe its existence to Baruch’s willingness to write it down. Twice. Baruch’s loyalty illustrates the kind of friendship that can exist between people who are willing to serve God and do as they are asked, even if the roles they have been given are very different.

Jeremiah asked for Baruch’s help numerous times. Their friendship also illustrates the kind of partnership that develops when someone is willing to ask for help and someone else is willing to give it.

This is the last post in this series on the role of asking, giving and thanking in friendship. Here are some questions for reflection:

1. In what situations or with which friends do you find it difficult to ask for help or companionship? In which situations or with which friends do you find it easier to ask for help or companionship?

2. Ponder the obstacles you experience in asking for help from friends. Are they rooted in models of relationships from your family of origin or other childhood influences? Are they rooted in pride in self-sufficiency or shame in having needs? In what ways would you like to respond to these obstacles or pray about them?

3. In what ways do you like to give to your friends? Time? Gifts? Words? Helpful actions? Explore the reasons why you like to give in that way.

4. Do you find it easy or hard to thank people? Have you experienced someone else’s thanks as a step closer in intimacy with them? Why or why not?

5. This week, ask two or three of your friends, colleagues or acquaintances how they would define “friend” or “friendship.” Watch particularly for any components of their definition that relate to asking, giving and thanking.

6. Spend some time praying about your patterns of asking, giving, receiving and thanking. Ask God for insight to understand why you do what you do, and ask God for help to grow in these areas.

Previous posts in this series:

     The friendship skills of asking, giving and thanking
     Giving, asking, noticing and thanking
     We belong together
     Obstacles to thankfulness

(Next week: first post in a new series on Christian care. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. To learn about what the book covers, look here. I have several boxes of the book and I am hoping to sell them at low cost to people to use in groups. Every chapter ends with discussion questions, and numerous groups have used the book and told me it generated great discussion.

Here are prices for the United States, including postage:
     5 copies - $25
     10 copies - $40
     15 copies - $55
     20 copies - $70
Contact me at my email LMBaab[at]aol.com if you’d like to order books, or if you’d like to get prices for New Zealand, which are sadly much higher because overseas postage is so much.

Friendship skills: Obstacles to thankfulness

Thursday July 12 2018

Friendship skills: Obstacles to thankfulness

I’ve been writing the past two weeks about the importance of asking, giving and thanking in friendships. Why don’t we do those actions more often?

Perhaps we are slow to thank people because we really don’t want to admit that we need others. We don’t want to admit that kind of weakness. Perhaps we don’t express thanks because we are so caught up in the stresses of our lives that we forget to take the time for that note or word of thanks. Perhaps we are so caught up in our own lives that we forget to notice what other people have done for us. We can’t thank people for something we haven’t taken the time to notice.

Perhaps the consumer culture has influenced us in deep and profound ways, encouraging us to focus our attention on what we don’t have, rather than noticing what we do have. The sea of advertisements that washes over us encourages us to believe that we need something more. The consumer culture tells us that what we have is not enough. If we are experiencing abundance, if we are feeling happy with life, then we’ll quit shopping. Buy, buy, buy. Whatever you have is inadequate, you need more.

In this sea of advertising, noticing the great gifts God has given us requires intentionality and effort. In the same way, paying attention to what our friends have given us requires a shift of focus away from what we lack. Thankfulness is rooted in noticing what we have been given.

Paul gives the Colossians some general instructions for how to live as Christians:

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Col 3:15-17).

Thankfulness and gratitude are mentioned three times in those three verses. Gratitude toward God is stressed, but gratitude towards others is implied. Thankfulness enables us to live more fully in peace because thankfulness admits that we need God and we need others, which is the honest truth. The pride of self-sufficiency reduces peace because it is fundamentally dishonest about who we are as human beings. Thankfulness for the caring actions of the people around us affirms that we were created to live in relationship.

Thankfulness shapes us because we take the time to notice the way people are contributing to our lives. As I wrote last week, thankfulness builds bridges because giver and thanskgiver acknowledge their dependence on each other.

Friends ask each other for help and companionship. Friends thank each other for all the ways the friendship nourishes them. Asking, giving, receiving and thanking create bonds between people that say, “We belong together.”

Here are two definitions of friendship given to me in interviews for my book on friendship. See if you can identify the role of asking, giving and thanking that makes possible the things described in these definitions:

“Our real friends are the people we have spent time with, shared experiences with, told our secrets to, exchanged ideas with, supported through difficult times or allowed to support us.”
—Hope, an office manager in her forties

 “Friendship is a commitment to a relationship with another person that involves being intentional about working on the best possible communication with each other and understanding how to serve each other.”
—Emma, a project manager in her fifties

(Next week: Baruch and Jeremiah. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. To learn about what the book covers, look here. I have several boxes of the book and I am hoping to sell them at low cost to people to use in groups. Every chapter ends with discussion questions, and numerous groups have used the book and told me it generated great discussion.

Here are prices for the United States, including postage:
     5 copies - $25
     10 copies - $40
     15 copies - $55
     20 copies - $70
Contact me at my email LMBaab[at]aol.com if you’d like to order books, or if you’d like to get prices for New Zealand, which are sadly much higher because overseas postage is so much.

The friendship skills of asking, giving and thanking: We belong together

Friday July 6 2018

The friendship skills of asking, giving and thanking: We belong together

Giving and thanking shape friendships. When we ask for help, we are giving our friend a gift, the opportunity to give a gift back to us. And when we thank our friend for that gift, we acknowledge we depend on our friend. We need our friend, and we honestly admit that need. And this binds us together.

Brother David Stendl-Rast – who I quoted in last week’s post on giving, asking, noticing and thanking – believes that the person “who says ‘thank you’ to another really says, ‘we belong together.’ Giver and thanksgiver belong together.”[1] When we ask for help, we create a situation in which we affirm that we belong together with the person we are asking for help. When we thank that person, we are continuing to affirm that we are connected.

I have found that asking for small favors is a great way to nurture a fledgling friendship. After we moved to New Zealand in 2007, I have found myself asking all sorts of small questions, “Can you help me understand how the city council works here?” “Can you tell me which restaurants you like?” “Where do you buy gardening tools?” Later, when I acted on the answers to those questions, I felt grateful to the people who gave me the information, and I tried to remember to thank them.

Even though Dave and I had lived many years in Seattle, when we returned to Seattle in 2017, the same process repeated itself. This time it required quite a bit of humility to ask questions about a city which we expected to feel familiar, but of course many things had changed in the decade we were away. We had to ask for help many times, and we have tried to use those instances as opportunities to affirm that we belong together with old and new friends.

Question asking in online settings builds intimacy in the same small way. “Does anyone know a motel near the Los Angeles airport?” Later, thanking the person who provided the name of a motel affirms the connection between giver and receiver.

In New Zealand, I was thousands of miles from my closest friends, but I continued to ask for their help. Using email, I asked for advice, prayer support and sometimes practical help with something I couldn’t do from a distance. And then I thanked them.

The significance of thankfulness in friendship cannot be overestimated. Perhaps gushing expressions of thanks can be overdone, but noticing the many ways the people around us contribute to our lives, and trying to thank them appropriately, is a key friendship skill.

I have watched my mother write hundreds, perhaps thousands, of thank-you notes. She adheres to an old standard of etiquette. Every time she has meal at another person’s house, every time she attends a party, and every time she receives a gift of any kind, she writes a thank you note.

I don’t write anywhere near as many thank-you notes as she does, but I make a concerted effort to notice all the ways the people around me are helping me, and I try to thank them. A personal word of thanks in a conversation, a thank you by email or other online means, and sometimes a thank-you note.

Friends help us in so many ways, even when we haven’t asked for help.

  • “Thanks for listening to me ramble on about my job the other day. It was helpful to get it out.”
  • “Thanks for the lunch we had last week. I enjoyed the conversation.”
  • “Thanks for giving me a lift to the meeting on Thursday. It was great not to have to drive.”
  • “Thanks for photocopying that article you thought I would enjoy. I appreciate that you remembered me.”
  • “Thanks for your email. I loved hearing from you.”

Thanking connects the giver and the thanksgiver. Thanking shapes relationships because it affirms that we value the link between us. Thanking affirms to the giver that their action matters to us. I figure if I thank people for something, they’re more likely to do it again because they know I value it. Thankfulness is positive reinforcement for things I appreciate receiving from my friends.

(Next week: Obstacles to thankfulness in friendships. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. To learn about what the book covers, look here. I have several boxes of the book and I am hoping to sell them at low cost to people to use in groups. Every chapter ends with discussion questions, and numerous groups have used the book and told me it generated great discussion.

Here are prices for the United States, including postage:
     5 copies - $25
     10 copies - $40
     15 copies - $55
     20 copies - $70
Contact me at my email LMBaab[at]aol.com if you’d like to order books, or if you’d like to get prices for New Zealand, which are sadly much higher because overseas postage is so much.

[1] David Stendl-Rast, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 17.

Friendship skills: Giving, asking, noticing and thanking

Thursday June 28 2018

Friendship skills: Giving, asking, noticing and thanking

Giving in friendship can involve providing help in a variety of ways. Giving includes presents. In the broadest sense, all acts of kindness in friendship are gifts: listening carefully, sending a card or message expressing sympathy, or accepting that a friend is experiencing extraordinary challenges at work and won’t be able to spend time together for a while. Acts of initiative can also be viewed as gifts of friendship: reaching out to someone who is new in town or new on the job, or sharing a vulnerable feeling with a friend to indicate they can do the same with you. Offering forgiveness after being hurt may be one of the biggest gifts a friend can give.

Misunderstandings in friendship can arise when two people give gifts to each other in different ways. One of them buys presents and the other one tries to give the gift of practical help or a listening ear. A discussion of languages of love can be illuminating.

I have observed that people who have a rich circle of friends have learned the friendship skills of asking for help and giving a variety of gifts. They have also learned the significance of thanking the people who help them or give to them in any way. My understanding of the significance of asking for help in friendship has been influenced by my own growth in thankfulness.

For more than 15 years I have been giving special focus to thankfulness in my prayers. That focus has forced me to pay more attention to the good gifts God has given me in daily life. Noticing what God is giving me has spilled over to noticing what people are giving me. Noticing, and then expressing thanks, are great intimacy builders, both with God and with friends.

David Stendl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, wrote a book on thankfulness in prayer that lays out the way that giving and thanking build intimacy. In Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer, he writes:

Why is it so difficult to acknowledge a gift as a gift? Here is the reason. When I admit that something is a gift, I admit my dependence on the giver. This may not sound that difficult, but there is something within us that bristles at the idea of dependence. . . . When I acknowledge a gift received, I acknowledge a bond that binds me to the giver. [1]

When we ask for help in any form, we are asking for someone to give us something. We’re asking for a gift. Asking for a gift implies that we are depending on the giver, that we are dependent people. Thanking the person for the gift reinforces that dependence. When we thank the giver for that gift, we acknowledge the bond between us. Bonds between people are a form of dependence, and acknowledging our need for those kinds of bonds requires that we relinquish some of our pride in our own self-sufficiency.

I mentioned Daniel’s mother last week, who didn’t tell her family about a serious illness. She couldn’t face the idea that she might be dependent on another person, therefore she couldn’t ask for help. She missed out on the bond that forms between people when they give gifts to each other and express gratitude to each other.

Stendl-Rast believes that this bond that develops between giver and thanksgiver helps us understand the significance of gratitude in prayer. I have discovered his word to be true as I have grown in willingness to engage in prayers of thankfulness. Prayers of thankfulness acknowledge our dependence on God. Taking the time to notice all the ways God has blessed us and cared for us nurtures our relationship with God, because with each prayer of thankfulness we acknowledge that we need God.

(Next week: We belong together. Illustration by Dave Baab. If you’d like to receive an email when I post on this blog, sign up under “subscribe” in the right hand column.)

This post is excerpted from my book, Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World. To learn about what the book covers, look here. I have several boxes of the book and I am hoping to sell them at low cost to people to use in groups. Every chapter ends with discussion questions, and numerous groups have used the book and told me it generated great discussion.

Here are prices for the United States, including postage:
     5 copies - $25
     10 copies - $40
     15 copies - $55
     20 copies - $70
Contact me at my email LMBaab[at]aol.com if you’d like to order books, or if you’d like to get prices for New Zealand, which are sadly much higher because overseas postage is so much.

[1] David Stendl-Rast, Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer (New York: Paulist Press, 1984), 15-16.

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