My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast.                        ~ C.S. Lewis

Sometimes I can feel myself teetering on a precipice. I’m drawn to the edge.

I’m not in danger of stepping off and falling into disbelief.

I believe.

That’s solid ground. I’ve believed for a very long time. That can lead to a  different kind of precipice.

It’s the perilous step from the realm of mystery and grace into the free-fall of knowledge and stringency. It’s the allure of a place where I used to live; a land where I could firmly plant my feet and explain the will and actions of the Creator of the Universe.

There are times when I long for the easy comfort of certainty. When I miss well-ordered theology that allowed me to predict God’s moves, determine God’s mind, act as His interpreter.

There are moments when complacency overtakes contemplation. When I’m lulled into worshiping my favorite predictable, explainable, understandable, small god.

There is always an edge. I’m called, again and again, to practice a little iconoclasm; to deconstruct my preconceptions and misconceptions and icons.

He is the great iconoclast. God is the great Mystery.

How TO Help the Hurting

Mental pain is less dramatic than physical pain, but it is more common and also more hard to bear. The frequent attempt to conceal mental pain increases the burden: it is easier to say “My tooth is aching” than to say “My heart is broken”.  ~ C.S. Lewis

Before listening, before doing anything or saying anything to the hurting person, we have the task of keeping our own attitudes in check.

We won’t always understand another person’s struggle. We won’t always agree with their choices. And we certainly aren’t called to be their fixers. If our approach to the hurting person is to fix them, we’re likely to do harm, however well intended. God heals. We’re just here to lighten the load.

A few things to try;

  • Listen – Listen without assumption. Listen like you’ve never heard or experienced anything like this before so that you really hear what’s being said, not what you expect to hear.

*Caveat – Not everyone wants to talk. And even if they do, you may not be the person they choose to share with. There’s a difference between being an attentive listener and going in with a crowbar.

  • Touch – Sometimes a touch on the arm, holding a hand or a hug conveys caring in a way that words can’t.

*Caveat – Some people don’t like to be touched. It’s not up to you to decide that what they need is a good hug. If a person stiffens or pulls away from your touch, honor their physical space without disconnecting emotionally.

  • Pray – If you have a shared faith, you may want to pray out loud with them.

*Caveat – If the individual doesn’t share your belief system, praying can be construed as preaching. Your lips don’t have to move for God to hear your heart.

  • Act – Look for practical ways to lighten the load. Give a gift a certificate for a pizza, do yard work, run an errand etc…

*Caveat – We often say, Please call me if you need anything and almost no one does. If you know there is a need (and the need isn’t always for yet another casserole) assist or enlist another to assist when you can’t. Don’t expect the hurting person to ask. That said, it’s important to be certain that the hurting person is OK with your help. Honor their boundaries.

Above all, remember that it takes immense courage to be vulnerable. When someone trusts you enough to truly let you in, tread softly because you will, without a doubt, be leaving footprints.

How to NOT to Help the Hurting

We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world. ~ C.S. Lewis

We’re often at a loss when it comes to coming along side someone who is hurting. In this post, and the next, I’ll share a few suggestions. Sometimes it’s helpful to look at what comes naturally that doesn’t help before moving on to some ideas that might be more useful. Here’s a partial list of things not to do if we want to encourage a person who’s experiencing emotional or physical pain.

  • Don’t view pain as a teaching moment.

Be sensitive and compassionate in your use of Bible verses and exhortations. We are very hard of hearing when we’re suffering. Leave the megaphone to God.

  • NEVER say: I know how you feel

Of course you don’t. Each person’s pain is unique.

When you’re hurting, I have no idea how you’re feeling no matter how similar I may think our experiences are because I’m not you.

It’s tempting (and often preached) to try to understand how someone else is feeling by walking a mile in their shoes; putting yourself in their place etc… In other words, I should try to understand how you’re feeling by thinking about me. But I’m not you!

While we may have gone through similar situations, every other experience that has led you to this moment has shaped you into who you are and how you experience emotional or physical pain.

In our eagerness to show empathy, we often share our story, inadvertently changing the focus of the conversation from the other person to ourselves.

  • Toss the cliché’s

Time heals all wounds. Time isn’t magical.

What doesn’t kill you makes you strongerBlatantly untrue. What doesn’t kill you will change you but it may or may not make you stronger.

Other’s have it so much worse. Comparing pain is minimizing.

You need to be strong. Why? For whom? What does that even mean?

Take care of yourself. Don’t tell a hurting person what they need to do when they’re already doing all they can to hang on.

Your loved one wouldn’t want you to be sad. Completely irrelevant (and may or may not be true). This moment is about the hurting person, not someone else.

I’m sorry for your loss. This isn’t all bad, but the word loss is problematic and once again, minimizing. Try just I’m so sorry (leaving off the loss). It’s genuine and doesn’t sound like you picked it up on Law and Order. 

In the next post I’ll share a few thoughts on ways to help and encourage someone who is hurting.

What’s Your Tell?

To even get near humility, even for a moment, is like a drink of cold water to a man in a desert.

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call “humble” nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody.

Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.

If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all. ~ C.S. Lewis

Looking for a humble person? Look for their tell.

A tell is a repetitive behavior or mannerism or a part of our demeanor that sends out non-verbal clues about the nature of our thoughts or feelings. A tell reveals something hidden. Poker players specialize in learning to read and mislead with tells.

We all have tells. Funny, for the longest time, I wanted my tell to be humility but I couldn’t figure out how to send the signal. I thought of humility as something I could attain by landing midway between self-deprecating and self-promoting.

But humility isn’t a self hyphenated state. The humble person doesn’t think of himself as humble. As Lewis says, the humble person will not be thinking about himself at all.

I doubt if a humble person is often told they’re humble. They’re just thought of as someone who who seems to enjoy life so easily; a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him.

I’ve met only a few humble folks in my life. If they’re reading this, they have no idea I’m talking about them. And that is their tell.

Pray Like the Bush is Burning

The prayer preceding all prayers is ‘May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.’… If that can be done, there is no need to go anywhere else. This situation itself is, at every moment, a possible theophany. Here is the holy ground; the Bush is burning now. ~ C.S. Lewis

The old Looney Tunes character, Foghorn Leghorn, famously began, ended and infused his sentences with I say… I say…  It’s funny, but that’s come to my mind recently as I’ve considered a peculiarity in my prayers. It happens more when I’m praying out loud, but it’s sometimes also there in the silent whispers of my heart.

Like Foghorn Leghorn’s repetitive I say… I say… I find myself repeating I pray… I pray…

I’m already praying, just like Foghorn Leghorn was already talking. So essentially I’m talking to God and continually interjecting: I pray for… I pray that…. It’s sounds less like the outpouring of my heart and more like I’m giving a speech. I’m not suggesting that there’s a right or wrong way to pray. I think God’s pleased whenever, however we do it.

But I’m wondering if there’s a more thoughtful way for me to pray. When I say Father, I pray… am I saying I’m asking or I’m begging or I’m pleading or I’m just chatting here? God knows my heart, but as a part of this journey in grace, I want to learn to know it, too.

I grew up in the church. I’m very comfortable with church-speak but I don’t think I’d use it with a burning Bush. I might fall on my face or I might argue like Moses, but I’m pretty sure I’d be the real me, aware of the real Thee in that moment.

It doesn’t take a theophany – a burning bush, a cloud by day and fire by night  – for me to pray the prayer preceding all prayers – May it be the real I who speaks. May it be the real Thou that I speak to.

To better know my own heart, I’m working on tossing out my church-speak and paring my words down to their core. This is holy ground and I’m ready to pray like the Bush is burning!

Time Traveler

How could we endure to live and let time pass as
if we were always crying for one day or one year to come back –
if we did not know that every day in life
fills the whole life with expectation and memory
and that these are that day. ~ C.S. Lewis

I once had a watch that lost 5 minutes a day. That’s not very much time really – only about 30 hours a year. But I had to keep resetting it or I’d lose track of time.

We are time travelers by nature. We talk often of the danger and damage of time travel if the voyage is a negative one. It’s costly to dwell in negative past: living in grief or guilt or resentment – rehashing and replaying what was or wasn’t.

And we warn each other of the perils of the dwelling in the negative future: the land of what if, of dread and worry and fear. We make a concentrated effort to maintain sea walls against those aspects of the past and the future.

I’ve been thinking about other types of time travel that distract from the gifts of the moment. Fine, fond memories that call to me, happy and exciting things yet to come, vie for my attention and my heart.

I can be having a delicious breakfast that I almost don’t taste because I’m off thinking about dinner. I can be looking at a beautiful sight without fully taking it in because I’m anticipating what’s around the next corner.

The past serves both as a reference point and a treasure. When I visit it that way, as a place of lessons learned or in sweet remembrance, it’s of rich value.

Pleasant anticipation of the future is a part of hope. It only becomes problematic when I stake my tent in the past or the future, regardless of the landscape. The trouble with time traveling is that I miss the moment I’m actually living in. It’s like my 5 minute a day watch. I lose time.

If I could add up all the hours spent in dread or anticipation and all the hours spent remembering with pleasure or with grief, I’m certain it would add up to much more than 30 hours a year.

The past and the future are fine places to visit, but poor places to live. Not only does the Father promise sufficient grace for this moment, but it is in this moment that He speaks. If I’m not here, I won’t hear.

Doin’ Alright

The settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun and some ecstasy. It is not hard to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and pose an obstacle to our return to God: a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony, a merry meeting with our friends, a bathe or a football match, have no such tendency. Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home. ~ C.S. Lewis

I just returned from a vacation full of joy and pleasure and merriment. I listened to the haunting song of the humpback whale and was amazed to see puffins riding the waves next to the frolicking sea otters. I hiked in a mystical rain forest and watched a black bear catching salmon for his dinner. I listened to a great Indie/Folk singer strum an old Jo Dee Messina tune:

Been singin’ for my rent and singin’ for my supper
I’m above the below and below the upper
I’m stuck in the middle where money gets tight
But I guess I’m doin’ alright

I sang along (softly):

I’m all, I’m all, I’m alright
It’s a beautiful day not a cloud in sight so I guess I’m doin’ alright
o – oh, o – oh, I’m alright
Got a good old friend here with me tonight and I guess I’m doin’ alright

My heart was happy and I was, indeed, doin alright. Yet, in the midst of good friends and good times and good weather, I found, inside myself, a longing for home. That’s always the way it is with me. In spite of the many pleasant inns, I eventually long for the comfort of my own bed that’s just the right amount of soft, and my pillow that perfectly cradles my head. But beyond that, I long for my true home.

I want more than a vacation or an adrenalin rush or a temporary cure for the common life. I want the settled happiness and security of home. And one sweet day, I’ll have it.