Since We Have Such Hope…

Some Words About Peace, Faith, Hope, Love

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The Stories We Tell Ourselves

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The stories we tell ourselves are very important. I heard someone say once that the thing that separates humans from animals is that we as humans attach meaning to our experiences. Think about it: an animal encounters stress in the form of a predator and acts on instinct to get away or fight and probably does not give it much thought after that. But think about what we tell ourselves when we encounter lesser threats: “I’m never going to catch up on things,” “life is not turning out the way I planned,” “I’m a failure,” “God is punishing me,” “I can’t handle this,” “life is not worth living.” The list is endless. What we call stress is not the physiological responses we have to threat or difficulty; it is the stories we tell ourselves and the meaning we abstract in difficult circumstances. These are what weigh us down and erode our well-being.

If we avoid telling ourselves these negative stories, we can use our body’s stress reaction to help ratchet up our performance. The anxiety is there to help you pay attention and be able to perform at a high level. If you allow it to do so, you can meet the challenge and then allow yourself to “come back down” when you need to.

Consider some different meanings we can assign to our difficulty: “God trusts me to handle this,” “I must be important enough to encounter this hard thing,” “my life must be worth something,” “this is just another challenge that will soon pass,” “there must be something important to take from this,” “my body is wired to help me meet this challenge,” “pain is the way I grow.” These are not just positive reframes to help us feel better. I think they are actually true.

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Listen For The Sound

2013-09-14 18.53.28If you listen, you can connect with this voice which is underneath all the things that normally fill our senses. It is happening on a different wavelength, a different plane, but you can tune in to it if you have some patience. All the things right in front of us and all the things people are saying tend to distract us from it and sometimes we forget it is there, but our minds and souls are meant to be in a state of resonance with it. Call it the real reality, call it process, call it “what is really going on”, call it the eternal – whatever you want. It is real and it is that which our spiritual practices help us to access. Our spiritual practices are there to help us push back all the distractions and noise and tune in to reality.

I hope you can have great trust in the real reality. All the distractions and the noise can make you very cynical, but the real reality can give you a sense of hope and freedom and even joy. God is speaking to you and to you only. Forget what everybody else says.

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Dark Nights (Plural)

02240250You have heard it talked about that most people go through some kind of “dark night of the soul” at some point in their lives. Well I don’t know about you, but I feel like I go through some kind of depression/darkness almost monthly (if not more often) when I feel depressed and it feels like there was no way to avoid it. I just need to be depressed, something needs to die.

My wife told me last week too that babies go through a fussy period when they are getting ready to move through some developmental something soon. That pretty well sums up my life, too: I get fussy and depressed and grumpy and hard to live with and then, what do you know, the next few days, something has changed. I have changed. I feel like I should have realized this before in a more profound way. It’s just the growth process! That’s what all these dark nights are about. It’s just that sometimes we get stuck in them and call it “Major Depressive Disorder.” One of the ways we can stay unstuck is by figuring out what needs to change, what needs to die.

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Rest Is Coming

IMG_2832It is also true that rest awaits. I believe C.S. Lewis said somewhere that man has the capacity to endure suffering only as long as he has to – that once the suffering has ended, he will have the experience that he could not have possibly endured one minute more. This is the other thing that makes our suffering bearable: we know there is respite when it is finished.  This day will end at some point and you will be able to sleep. This week will end in a weekend. This season of life will eventually pass. Some day, the suffering will abate. At the end of it all, there will be rest with a certain finality.

This is our hope – that this present darkness will someday end and we will be able to lay down all our weapons and rest, suffer no more, lie down in peace and security. And this is the way our lives are structured. Even God took a day off and suggested we do the same regularly. This is one of the things that helps us endure suffering: realizing that some day it will cease. “‘He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain.”

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Freedom In Suffering

IMG_3849 I have long been fascinated by and drawn to stories of people who have suffered greatly and yet live free. That’s why my favorite movie is The Shawshank Redemption. I heard once that Nelson Mandela was able to find a sublime level of peace in his soul while imprisoned. You have probably heard similar stories. I have even wished suffering upon myself at times because in suffering, we learn who we truly are and what really matters in life bubbles to the surface. Weird, right?

We cannot really avoid stress or suffering, though we try and try. It is what you make of the stress that matters. These “new” findings suggest that what you believe about stress is very important. If you believe stress will kill you, then it just might. Instead, it is more true that whatever doesn’t kill you only makes you stronger…if you let it. Then again, maybe dying is not so bad. The stress is there to set you free and to form you. We must learn to trust it.

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Grace For All

Grace is the only real transformative currency. You have probably learned by now that judging, criticizing and shaming people does not really produce great results. It may change people’s behavior, but in the long run, it just produces more and more shame. You shame your kids, then  they feel ashamed and shame their kids. The way out is to find grace for yourself, and you will at that same time find it for others. To some of you, this may seem like cheap grace or “letting people off the hook,” but what else is there? I dare you to try it. Are you holding back on receiving grace for yourself?

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So much of our depression and anxiety occurs because of our constant compulsive behavior. We feel badly and our compulsions crop up to try to help neutralize our pain and help us feel better. It is like our bodies and brains instantly want to heal us, but since these compulsive behaviors have their genesis in our brokenness, they do not help. They only serve to produce more of the feelings we sought to neutralize in the first place and more unwanted behavior is produced. 

Compulsions could be defined as anything that is produced unthinkingly out of our guilt, fear, discomfort or pain. What’s amazing is that you can enact the same behavior and if you do it in thoughtfulness rather than compulsivity, it can be life-giving. The goal of the healing arts is enhancing our thoughtfulness about our pain. The thoughtfulness means we will again become present to the pain, but ignoring pain and relying on our compulsions will not help. The more we can do thoughtfully (and not compulsively), the more we will be able manage anxiety and emotion. The goal is that brokenness will be healed and we will be able to live out of our wholeness.

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