Tag Archives: prayer

when justice won’t help (a lesson i keep re-learning)

i’m on a 3-day silent retreat right now, at a remote cabin in the desert. the swamp cooler is working it’s little heart out, trying to keep the interior of this sweat lodge to a mostly tolerable 85 degrees (it’s 107 outside). i don’t normally blog while on a silent retreat — in fact, until my last trip out here, there was no option, as there’s no cell reception, and there wasn’t wifi. but now, there’s wifi; so — since this post is part of what i’m “working on” today — i’m making an exception and using it.

i experienced one of those speedbumps last week that we all blindly drive over from time to time: an unintentional (i believe) action that hurt. i felt diminished; really, i re-experienced the mostly healed wound of feeling side-lined (interesting that i’m here in the desert, on a trip planned a couple weeks ago, revisiting the place i processed that initial hurt years ago).

that flicking of my old wound took me briefly into a handful of familiar, but usually unhelpful spaces of self-pity, anger, name-calling (at least in my head), and a demand for justice. i wasn’t stating this demand to anyone in particular; it was more of a whiny prayer. sort of a psalmic “don’t you see this?” cry to god.

sunday morning, i sat in church with some of these thoughts swirling in my head. they weren’t incapacitating, by any means, as they have been at times in the past. they were more like a very small number of gnats, stupidly circling each other just at the edge of my peripheral vision. but when i noticed the senior pastor walking on stage after the second worship song (no! he never does that at this point unless he has some impromptu nudge from god — nudges, knowing him as i do, that are highly accurate and not self-centered), i was instantly screaming in my brain: he’s going to say that he senses that someone is struggling with jealousy, and i do not want to be honest about that right here, right now!

i was right that he had something to say. but i was wrong about the content. god wasn’t interested in confronting me, but rather, blindsiding me with grace. once again.

the pastor said, “i have a sense that some of you are thinking right now, ‘i need god, i need peace.'”

what? wait a minute. no, i need justice! and if you’re going to tell me i’m wrong, god, you should be confronting my pettiness, my need for acknowledgement, my desire that you do my bidding.

the pastor continued, “some of you desperately need reconciliation, peace, and freedom.”


and then the kicker, “i was looking at you all singing, and thinking about what a wonderfully eclectic church this is, and i sensed god saying to me, ‘you have no idea how much i love these people.'”

instantly, my pettiness and insecurity, my demand for justice, was zapped by the shrink-ray of god’s love. once again, i was reminded that achieving the justice i think i want and deserve is not my best path to wholeness. i was reminded that the best marko i can be — the one who lives a full and deeply satisfying life — is the one who lets things go, who gives up my rights, who moves proactively in my calling rather than reactively to the missteps of others.

this morning, i read henri nouwen’s 1972 book on prayer, with open hands. he writes:

you still feel bitter because that girl wasn’t grateful for something you gave her; you still feel jealous of the fellow who is better paid than you are, you still want revenge on someone who doesn’t respect you, you are still disappointed that you’ve received no letter, still angry because she didn’t smile when you walked by. you live through it, you live along with it as though it didn’t really bother you… until the moment that you want to pray. then everything returns: the bitterness, the hate, the jealousy, the disappointment and the desire for revenge. but these feelings are not just there, you clutch them in your hands as if they were treasures you didn’t want to part with. you sit rummaging in that old sourness as if you couldn’t do without it, as if in giving it up, you would lose your very self.

… what is possible is to open your hands without fear, so the other can blow your sins away. for perhaps it isn’t clammy coins, but just a light dust which a soft breeze will whirl away, leaving on a grin or a chuckle behind. then you feel a bit of new freedom, and praying becomes a joy, a spontaneous reaction to the world and the people around you.

yes, i think i’d prefer peace and freedom to justice. maybe god’s gifts of peace and freedom are justice after all.

listening to god

i am a lousy listener.

i’ve improved some in recent years, with painful attention to being present. but, my natural inclination is to not listen. not that i intentionally choose to ignore. i just get distracted with other, seemingly more attractive or more pressing or more loud magnets of my focus.

nowhere is this more evident than with god.

i want some insight. i need some wisdom. i long for direction. but my plate is so full and my pace so quick and my distractions so plentiful that i have, i’m confident, power-stepped right past insight and wisdom and direction straight from heaven thousands of times (maybe even thousands of times per day).

and right now, i have a massive, life-altering decision in my lap. it’s a choice between good and good (even great and great); but the unfortunate and necessary reality of choosing between great things is that not choosing one of the great things is a loss. which means, in the end, a choice between great and great becomes a lose/lose proposition. whichever way i go on this, i’ll lose something. i know that sounds pessimistic — i’m a natural optimist, actually; it’s just the reality i’m facing.

in order to listen, i have to shut out the distractions of:

    writing deadlines
    event planning
    coaching cohort launching
    website development
    planning my talks for saturday’s parent summit
    planning my talk for the college ministry sunday night
    booking that flight
    reviewing those 3 book proposals
    sending out 2 invoices
    google reader
    and so, so many others things calling to me.

so i’m in the desert (actually, i left yesterday — wednesday — and set this post to go live today while i’m already out there). it’s a literal desert, by the way. not a figurative or metaphorical desert. i’m in the same cabin i’ve gone to many time previous, to seek god and listen and be silent. i’m fasting for two days (something i don’t practice often enough), unplugging, listening, journalling, praying, and generally shutting up.

it’s the worst time imaginable to leave my desk and go to the desert; which means it’s the most important time possible.

reflections from the desert about nywc and the 1 year anniversary of leaving ys

It’s Tuesday, October 12, 2010, as I write. 8:15am. I woke up this morning in Canebrake Canyon, in the desert east of San Diego. I’m back at the desert home I have retreated to a few times in the past for days of silence. But this is the first time I’ve been here in a year.

The last time I was here, in November of 2009, I spent 6 days here, silent other than my cries to God. I gave a full day each to being present to five emotions: anger, hurt, sadness, fear, and joy. I allowed myself to feel that emotion to the fullest extent, then journaled and prayed and meditated and stomped around. And I healed. Really, while I’m sure some of this is my personality make-up, I am still – a year later – a bit surprised by how quickly I was lifted out of the overwhelming anxiety of what happened and fear of what was to come, how quickly God pointed me in a new direction, how quickly my heart healed.

There are still some wounds in there, I’m sure. I really don’t think I’ve stuffed them or buried them; I just think they’re the natural sensitive places left over from injury (very much like the sensitivity of the scar on my thumb that’s been there since 11th grade, in 1979). This residual sensitivity was made very clear to me a week and a half ago at the National Youth Workers Convention.

The week before the NYWC, I started to feel something I hadn’t felt in a very long time: anxiety. In fact, I was more interested in the foreignness of the feeling than I was in the feeling itself.

I lived with high anxiety (thanks, Mel Brooks) for my last two year at YS. It was constant. It ruined my sleep, lowered my productivity, and pushed my faith into numbness. My soul was a zombie soul.

So when I felt that anxiety again, for the first time since I left this canyon a year ago, it was more intriguing and encouraging than it was debilitating. I was intrigued by the realization that I hadn’t felt anxiety in 2011, even once. And I was encouraged that my life these days is so full of wonderful things and that none of them cause me anxiety (concern and stress from time to time, sure; but not full-on anxiety).

All that said, things were really uncomfortable for me the first day at the NYWC. Even driving into the parking lot of the convention center was awkward. And as I walked from my car to the room where I would check in as a speaker – passing lots of attendees and a handful of people I know – I was seriously battling the impulse to give in to emotional freeze (the gateway to zombie soul). I was twitchy, and distracted. I called an old friend by the wrong name. And I was totally living into that classic middle school reality of the imaginary audience: I felt like everyone was glancing my way and wondering (at best) how I was doing or (at worst) how I had the balls to be there after I had (my absurd projection of their thoughts) screwed this company up so deeply.

Eventually, I stood in the back of the opening “Big Room”, finding a little relational mooring point first with Christina, my Middle School Pastor, and later, with one of my closest friends and former co-worker. They helped normalize the whole thing for me, completely understanding how weird it was for me.

After 30 minutes, though, I realized I had a greater desire to go home and see my wife (between her trip to start grad school, and my trip to start my second YMCP cohort, I’d literally seen her for 15 minutes total in the past 14 days). So I went home. On my way home, I made the decision to give myself permission to lay low for the weekend – to engage or be scarce to whatever level I wanted, without guilt or shoulds. And, over the weekend, things really did shift for me. Engaging youth workers during my seminars was certainly key to this – sensing that I was ‘in the zone’ and had a place at the event.

But I also noticed the residual sensitivity of the anger/hurt/sadness/fear stuff of late 2009. I had a wonderful talk with Mark Matlock about this that was very healing for our friendship; and other similar talks. And I realized there are probably a few more of these talks that would be wise to pursue.

So, here I am in the desert. It’s about a month and a half away from the anniversary of when I came out here last. But today is only a week away from the one-year anniversary of my lay off. Make no mistake: I hope I have learned a great lesson about how not to treat an employee who needs to (for whatever reason) be let go. But my collection of descriptors, as I look back on this past year and take stock of my current reality are: gratefulness, peace (geez, I really didn’t think that would be possible), growing confidence, greater spiritual intimacy, and emotional health. And… the zombie soul is no more. In its place is a fully alive, warm-to-the-touch, responsive, tender soul. There’s surely still some fragility there. But I’ll take a fragile living soul over a tough dead one any day.

two more haiti videos: suffering and hope

as our haiti team videographer, ian robertson, passed along two more videos from our trip, i was struck by how they captured the suffering/hope dynamic i’ve written about here so many times since the trip. they only take a few minutes to watch, so i’d encourage you to catch a more visual glimpse of this suffering resulting in hope reality than i can paint with words.



i keep hearing from youth workers and other church leaders who are putting together trips to go. and that has me stoked. i’ve become firmly convinced, in the last decade or so, that our best missional living occurs when we find where god is already moving, and join up with that movement (rather than trying to create our own). one way you can do that is by checking out options with adventures in missions, here.

quaker clearness committee

a few years ago, i was describing, to my spiritual director, the process used by the group of guys i meet with once a year for support and accountability. she mentioned that it sounded a little bit like a quaker clearness committee. i was intrigued by that (new to me) idea, and blogged about it here.

last week, i got to participate in a clearness committee, and it was a great process. a friend of mine had contacted me asking about getting a group together to help him with some discernment around a life decision he’s trying to make (and is feeling rather “stuck” on, in terms of deciding). he’d heard on a podcast how shane hipps had used a clearness committee as part of his decision process to move to michigan and join the staff of mars hill bible church. i knew my wife, a spiritual director, would be more familiar with the process than me; she suggested my friend needed a facilitator — someone who explained the process, held the boundaries, and hosted the space. at my friend’s request, jeannie (my wife) agreed to play that facilitator role. i think the facilitator role, btw, was only important since none of us were familiar with the clearness committee process. if the participants had all done this before, i think it would be quite easy to self-regulate the process without a facilitator.

this process was fairly simple, really, and is based on the idea that the holy spirit is in each of us (both the person with the question, and the other participants). but it’s not as much about “advice giving” (which often crosses into our own junk and mere opinions), as it is about asking open-ended questions to bring the convener into a space where he or she can more clearly hear what the spirit is saying.

the “rules” are straightforward (as i understand them):

1. the whole group enters into a time of prayerful silence, becoming aware of god’s presence.

2. the convener takes a period of time (10 – 20 minutes?) to describe the question, as well as his or her current thinking about it.

3. then, after some silence, the group asks open ended questions. the whole experience is considered an act of prayer, and there needs to be an open-handedness, expectancy, listening-prayer vibe to it. we were encouraged to not be afraid of silence — instead, to allow spaces of silence for reflection and listening. in fact, after our time was over, the guy who called it said he would have appreciate more silence and space between the questions, as he often didn’t feel like he had permission to reflect. the questions are meant to be “discerning” questions — so we asked things like “what emotions do you experience when you think of making X choice?”, or “what’s your fear about X choice?” this question asking portion is the major part of the clearness committee, and it’s essential that it NOT spill into advice giving. advice giving is not a part of the clearness committee process. it’s also important to give plenty of time for this, knowing that some of the best questions won’t be the ones that come to mind initially. “plenty of time” means at least 2 hours for this portion of the process alone.

4. after a pre-determined boundary of time (it can’t just be that the 2nd section ends when there are no more questions, or the group will naturally think they’ve reached the end when they first run out of questions — but patiently waiting for more brings really good stuff), the group has an opportunity to share observations. again, this is not an advice giving time. the observations are more along the lines of “i noticed that you seemed to have a good deal of energy when you talked about X,” or “it felt like you might be trying to talk yourself out of X choice.” the convener has an opportunity to respond to each of these observations, if he or she chooses.

5. i don’t know if this is technically part of the clearness committee process, but our group ended with a time of prayer – but our prayers were focused on blessing our friend.

after we were done, we all reminded each other not to slip right into advice giving mode. it would be very easy, as soon as the 3 hour process concluded to think, “great, now that’s done, i can tell him what i really think he should do.” but that would be a violation of the process. our guideline was, if he wants to bring the subject up with any of us in the days and weeks to come, that’s his prerogative; but it’s not our place to bring it up with him (and certainly not to tell him what we think he should do).

anyhow. it wasn’t like the process ended with my friend knowing exactly what he should do. his situation is very complex, and doesn’t have anything remotely close to an easy or obvious answer. but i do think the process took him a few steps forward on identifying questions he should be prayerfully wrestling with, and on listening to the spirit (and not only his fears).

here’s an excellent overview, written by parker palmer: The Clearness Committee: A Communal Approach To Discernment (this content is available as a downloadable pdf on a bunch of other sites, including here, and here).

obama’s wailing wall prayer

whatever your politics, whatever your skepticism, whatever your inclination might be to see this as a marketing ploy, it’s difficult to not be moved by this prayer that obama stuck on the wailing wall in jerusalem:

“Lord – Protect my family and me. Forgive me my sins, and help me guard against pride and despair. Give me the wisdom to do what is right and just. And make me an instrument of your will.”