My Tools For Overcoming Grief (Part One)

In the weeks since my dad’s death, I have tried to do a spiritual check in on myself and recognized that I am struggling. I am out of balance. I am stretched thin and lack a lot of stamina when it comes to spiritual things. I am barely able to provide emotional awareness to my family and I tend to turn in on myself instead of look outward for much needed companionship and support.

I am grieving, I know, and I am not just being hard on myself or trying to rush the grieving process. But, if there is something that I can do now to keep myself from sinking too far into despair or bitterness, I need to try it. If there is something that would be beneficial to me, even in the midst of a dark time, there is no reason to wait. Despite the hurt and difficulty, God wants to help and desires that I seek out means to allow his grace to come crashing through like a tidal wave.

So, I would like to share with you the tools I have used to help me get through my grief. If you are struggling with anything, perhaps some of these tools might be beneficial to you as well.

The Psalms –

Two Psalms in particular have risen to the surface of my awareness. In one of those times when particular passages get mentioned in multiple venues and contexts, I figured I needed to pay attention to Psalm 30 and Psalm 77. In Psalm 30, there are lines like, “weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning;” and “you turned my wailing into dancing, you removed my sackcloth, and clothed me with joy.”

Psalm 77 begins with…

When I was in distress, I sought the Lord;
    at night I stretched out untiring hands,
    and I would not be comforted.

but later says …

I will consider all your works
    and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”

Eugene Peterson says that all prayer ends in praise. Many Psalms were reminders that I can’t just remain in my sadness and despair. There is a time and will be a time when I need to consider all of the Lord’s work and begin to turn my tears into joy. The Psalms can guide me through that.

Music –

I have always been encouraged, convicted, and inspired by music. I look back on dry periods in my spiritual life and can recognize that there was a consistent lack of music.

For several weeks, I was having to drive three hours back and forth from my home to where my parents live. That gave me many hours to listen to music and to find comfort and peace there. I found myself gravitating towards the texture of the music rather than the content of the lyrics. I needed sounds that were comforting and uplifting in a sad sort of way. I know, a very specific formula. I found it in a collection of 6 songs by Andrew Bird. Many of his songs, and the way he uses instruments, just wash over you and then carry you away to a reflective place. I was in a reflective mood and needed to tap into this side of me.

 

Renovation of the Heart by Dallas Willard –

Throughout this summer, I have been reading this classic by my hero, Dallas Willard. I have read it several times since 2002, the year it came out, but this time was different and it was incredibly comforting and motivational.

dallas-cropped-and-small

If you haven’t read it, Willard describes the vision and the means for having Christ transform all of the parts of the self including our thoughts, emotions, will, and social dimension. With each description and process for transforming a certain part of myself, it was easy for me to evaluate what progress I have made in 15 years. Then you throw in being in the arena of struggle, pain, service, and loss, and it is like a Minor League player stepping up into the big leagues.  There was no denying my progress and also where I needed to improve. I saw areas where God has done some amazing things in my spiritual growth but I also saw some areas where I have neglected to do my part and little growth had risen to the surface. I was comforted and convicted at the same time. That is a great place to be in your spiritual life.

Next time: Three more tools for overcoming grief.

 

Picking Up Hitchhikers on Mother’s Day

Aaron was young, a little bit bigger than I was and wore a cowboy hat and carried a backpack and one suitcase. I had never picked up a hitchhiker before and wasn’t planning on it that day. He was on his way to surprise his mother for Mother’s Day when I met him.

I had stopped to get gas and was just 40 minutes away from seeing my own mother for Mother’s Day.

He had already traveled hundreds of miles from Fort Riley, Kansas and only needed about 70 more miles to go. He wanted to know if he could catch a ride with me for part of the way.

When Aaron approached me, it made some sense for me to give him a ride but what was I getting myself into?

I had seen him get dropped off by someone else as I pulled into the Truck Stop. That told me that he was actually working on getting somewhere and not out for some carjacking spree. Second, he went straight from being dropped off towards me to make the request. I try not be one of those “everything is a sign from God” type people but out of the 12 people getting gas at that time, wasn’t it kind of weird that the Christian guy trying to live the Jesus Way in a very intentional matter is the first person he talked to? Also, I have been around enough homeless types with addiction or mental problems to recognize when someone didn’t quite fit the profile. So, I gave Aaron the response of, “Yeah, but hold on one second.”

lossy-page1-480px-San_Fernando,_California._Hitch-hiking._This_Civilian_Conservation_Corps_boy_is_returning_to_camp_about_thirty_miles..._-_NARA_-_532087.tif

U.S. National Archives

I still needed to pump my gas which gave me more time to think and pray things over. Quickly, I thought, I am by myself, I am a decent person, I have been reading a lot about compassion, and it is Mother’s Day for crying out loud. But most of all, I thought about a Dallas Willard quote that has stuck with me for years:

“The world is a perfectly safe place for us to be.”

Willard’s idea is that Jesus, who is living out of the power of the Kingdom of God, had no reason to be frightened or worried, his Father was in control and that was all that mattered. If that was good enough for Jesus, why can’t it be good enough for me?

I don’t know if Aaron made it home in time for Mother’s Day. When I dropped him off, he still had about 40 miles to go. But, I prayed that he did. I wish I could have seen the surprise on his mother’s face when he showed up.

The whole thing was kind of surreal, like something was happening that involved me but where I didn’t have much say over the matter. I just filled a role I felt like I needed to fill at that particular time. Was I uncomfortable? Yeah. Was I surveying every move he made while in the car? Yes. Did I try to think of scenarios where I could call for help if I needed it? Sure. But it was about as normal a conversation and time as could have been had on a warm Spring day when we were both just trying to get home to see our mothers.

AE Journal: Chief Apprentice

Today, I start my chronicle of the Apprentice Experience, the 18-month training in discipleship that I am embarking on. I spoke more about this last week.

AE was started by James Bryan Smith, a professor of theology, author, speaker, and self described Forrest Gump of American Christianity. His background was not in the church, yet, he was picked out by Spiritual Formation maven Richard Foster to be mentored. He never really ran in Christian celebrity circles yet musician Rich Mullins showed up in one of his classes and ended up living in an attic apartment in Smith’s house. He often says that his sermons and messages are basically the same wherever he goes and that they lack sophistication yet he was told by the brilliant and much revered Dallas Willard that he was the one that should develop a Curriculum for Christlikeness. He also had the privilege to be mentored and taught by giants in the field of ministry and the Christian spiritual life – Henri Nouwen and Brennan Manning.

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Hopefully, what Smith will be most well known for is his Apprentice book series. I have read these through several times and have used them for Bible studies, small groups, and for mentoring college students.

The first book, The Good and Beautiful God, unpacks the character of God by looking at the way that Jesus described and thought about his Father. The second book, The Good and Beautiful Life, focuses on what makes a good life and takes the reader through a study of the Sermon on the Mount. The third book, The Good and Beautiful Community, works on living the Christian life in a social context of work, family, church, and community.

The framework found in this series is the anchor points for the Apprentice Experience and one that I find insightful, profound, and accessible.

I have found that Smith is not concerned with pushing some gimmicky plan or fad insight to make him look clever or sell more books. He simply wants to teach others ways to know the God he knows.

Through the Apprentice Series, he does just that.

Who I Turn To For Inspiration

In memory of Dallas Willard, who died today at the age of 77, I am posting some of my favorite Dallas themed posts. For more on his death and his legacy, see my Storify here.

Dallas Willard is a hero of mine. His book, The Divine Conspiracy, opened up a completely new way of living out the Christian life for me. Before I discovered Willard I was searching for a deeper, more meaningful faith that I didn’t know was possible. Willard introduced me to what discipleship was really all about and showed me that Jesus and his teachings can radically reshape my life if I just give him the opportunity. With very little effort, I am able to memorize quotes from Willard and they have helped in many ways. Below, you will see some of my favorite Willard quotes that just came off the top of my head.

“Discipleship is becoming the person that Jesus would be if he were I.”

“Grace is God’s action in my life to accomplish what I cannot accomplish on my own.”

“Faith cannot grow on hype.”

“Ruthlessly remove hurry from your life.”

“Hope is anticipation of good not yet seen.”

“Faith is confidence based on reality.”

“God will let anyone into heaven who can stand it.”

“Grace is not opposed to effort it is opposed to earning.”

“It is not the sinner who uses up a lot of grace but the saint. A saint burns grace like a 747 on take off.”

“Jesus is the most intelligent man who ever lived.”

“The life we wanted is possible if will rearrange our life around the plans and practices of Jesus Christ.”

“Reality is what we learn when we find out that we are wrong.”

“Peace is the absence of will.”

If you are interested in reading more from Dallas Willard, I would suggest starting with Renovation of the Heart and then move to the Divine Conspiracy. There is also a good daily devotional with portions of Willard’s works in bite size form.

photo: intervarsity.org

Spiritual Mentors: Dallas Willard

Dallas Willard giving a Ministry in Contempora...

Dallas Willard giving a Ministry in Contemporary Culture Seminar at the George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Oregon in 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In memory of Dallas Willard, who died today at the age of 77, I am posting some of my favorite Dallas themed posts. For more on his death and his legacy, see my Storify here.

This week, I am profiling people who have had the most influence on my Christian spiritual life. Today’s profile is of a thinker who made me fall in love with Jesus.

Dallas Willard

His Influence: As a young evangelical pastor, Dallas Willard was troubled by how much he had to “grind it out” to get visitors to the church and get them to come to salvation. He felt that much of his efforts were a form of manipulation and didn’t reflect what he thought he remembered from Jesus’ ministry. He began to study the Gospels more closely and discovered that people were incredibly drawn to Jesus. Willard began to ask himself, “What was it about Jesus that drew so much attention and what was it that made others want to be close to him and follow him?” Willard saw Jesus as gentle, relaxed, purposeful, unhurried, loving, compassionate, and understanding. Willard began to wonder if Jesus knew something about what made up the good life and how to live in the Kingdom of God? These questions led Willard to pursue graduate degrees in philosophy  and he would eventually become an accomplished professor at the University of Southern California. For thoughtful Christians and pastors, he would be known as the author of books such as The Spirit of the Disciplines, Renovation of the Heart, and his master tome, The Divine Conspiracy.

What I have learned from Willard. Around ten years ago, God broke me down in order for him to become the center of my life and for me to no longer rely on my own strength. I began frantically looking for writers and preachers who could guide me into the next phase of my spiritual life. I wasn’t interested in superficial religiosity and greeting card theology. I needed something meaty and hearty that would demand something of me and challenge me to pursue Christ at all costs. I picked up The Divine Conspiracy and discovered the power of the Sermon on the Mount and that led to grand passages that I barely paid attention to in the past such as the 10 Commandments, Fruits of the Spirit, Colossians 3, and 1 Corinthians 13. But most of all, Willard taught me about the nature of Jesus and what it means to follow him. The concept of the Kingdom of God was foreign to me before but Willard showed me that this was Jesus’ major theme in all of his preaching and teaching. From Renovation of the Heart, I learned what makes up the human spiritual self and how each part can be changed into Christlikeness. Willard, for all of his intellect and philosophical skill, is also very practical and is very thoughtful in finding ways to phrase things in a way that anyone can understand and remember it. Thus, I can quote Dallas Willard in my sleep: love – to will the good of another, peace – the absence of will, faith – confidence based on reality, hope – anticipation of good not yet seen, discipleship – learning to live the kind of life that Jesus would live if he were I.

If I had not discovered Willard, my spiritual life would have been earnest but lacking intention and focus. I would not have discovered my mission in life, which is to become more like Christ in order to spread the work of his kingdom. I would not have started these ministry efforts to help ordinary Christians find growth in their spiritual life. I am eternally indebted to Willard and his writings.

What Dallas Willard can teach you: “The greatest issue facing the world today, with all its heartbreaking needs, is whether those who, by profession or culture, are identified as ‘Christians’ will become disciples – students, apprentices, practitioners – of Jesus Christ, steadily learning from him how to live the life of the Kingdom of the Heavens into every corner of human existence.”

Willard recommendations: If you want to experience Dallas Willard for yourself, check out these recommendations.

The Divine Conspiracy – This book will set the foundation for the need for discipleship and how life with Jesus is the only way to live.

Renovation of the Heart – Once you have the foundation, you will need a guide to become more Christlike. This book shows how each part of ourselves can be transformed into Christlikeness.

The Revolution


Dallas Willard once said there are no human solutions to human problems. The blame game that is so widespread

Jesus from the Deesis Mosaic

Jesus from the Deesis Mosaic (Photo credit: jakebouma)

post-Sandy Hook leaves me hollow. We all want to do something but what we really want is someone else to do something – thus the cry for gun control laws.

In the Revolution of Character, Dallas Willard and Don Simpson, state, “His {Jesus} continuing objective is to eventually bring all of human life under the direction of his wisdom, goodness, and power…The revolution of Jesus is first and always a revolution of the human heart. His revolution does not proceed through the means of social institutions and laws…” instead “his is a revolution of character, which proceeds by changing people from the inside through ongoing personal relationship with God and one another.”Changed hearts relenting under the Lordship of Jesus are the answer to our world’s biggest problems. Jesus started a revolution that begins in the heart. But the thing is, once this revolution has moved from the hearts of individuals to an outward loving expression, institutions and social structures will also be changed.

Christians need to stop being a part of the relentless wave of reactions to a world in crisis and instead be a part of the Revolution that Jesus started and that continues to this day. It is not about doing but being and then the doing will take care of itself.

Committing Murder In Your Heart

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that

Anger Controlls Him

Anger Controlls Him (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Jesus is addressing the heart of an individual. The heart is the extreme focus of Jesus. He spends the better part of the Sermon on the Mount addressing this. Jesus knew that avoiding murder is largely a physical issue but avoiding anger is a spiritual one.

Jesus always emphasizes the spiritual over the physical. I may never reach a point of wanting to murder someone but that doesn’t mean that anger doesn’t have a hold on me. That doesn’t mean that the contempt I have for another person isn’t tearing myself and that person apart. Dallas Willard says, “Anything that can be done with anger can be done better without it.”

There are some Christians that think that it is their Christian duty to be angry people against those that are hostile towards them. Nothing could be further from the truth. Encountering those who are against us in a loving and respectful way instead of a belligerent and rageful way is to follow the example of Jesus. To do otherwise is to follow the ways of the world and to work against Jesus’ teaching on the destructiveness of anger.

 

 

23 Things – Week 9: Sabbath

Week 9: Sabbath

20. Read this interview with Pastor and author of The Message, Eugene Peterson.

21. Sabbath accomplishes many things but the most beneficial is what it teaches us about time. See below:

1. Cultivates trust in God – Dallas Willard elaborates on this point, “When we come to the place where we can joyously “do no work” (Leviticus 23:3), it will be because God is so exalted in our mind and body that we trust him with our life and our world, and we can take our hands off them.”

2. Reshapes our week – So much of our time is shaped by our responsibilities at work and at home while other parts of our time are shaped by the technologies that we are so attached to. By receiving the Sabbath and its time of rest and worship our entire week can be shaped in a sacred direction rather than a worldly direction. We still have our responsibilities but these duties no longer carry the weight that we had previously assigned to them.

3. Eliminates Hurry – Even if the Sabbath is the only day of the week that we intentionally attempt to rest and not extend ourselves we learn to appreciate what an existence might be like minus hurry and urgency. We can learn that the world can carry on just fine without our input and activity. One hurry free day demonstrates to us that a hurry free existence is possible.

22. Read these guidelines for practicing the Sabbath:

1. Sabbath can be practiced on any day of the week. Sunday is a natural choice because it is the day that we commonly worship and despite recent developments in our culture, it is often a day that includes the fewest responsibilities. If Sunday does not work for you, choose any day that provides you with the most freedom.

2. Start small. Remember that we are not subscribed to the philosophy of more. Try spending two hours after Sunday lunch in quiet reflection, in rest, or recreation. As God enables you over time, try to extend the Sabbath to the entire day.

3. Include your family. Spend your Sabbath with family playing games, cooking meals at home, or outdoor activities.

4. Protect The Sabbath. The first thing that will happen when you decide to receive the Sabbath is that something will occur forcing you to make a choice between your commitment to Sabbath keeping and something else. Though we want to avoid turning this practice into a legalism, we do want to demonstrate conviction regarding the Sabbath. For example, I attempt to complete Weekend errands, housework, and yard work on Saturday in order to free up Sundays for Sabbath keeping.

23. Using the comments, summarize your thoughts on 23 Things.

This is week nine of 23 Things. See previous posts here and here for the first 17 things and an introduction to 23 Things. If you want to be eligible to win a free book, post a comment under each week’s session. Those who complete all 23 Things will be placed in a drawing for a free book.

23 Things – Week 8: Worship

Week 8: Worship

18. Watch John Ortberg and Dallas Willard discuss worship. Watch from the 6:00 mark to the 13:00 mark

19. How often do we prepare for worship? One thing we can do is expect to meet God during worship. Next, we can pray for the worship leaders, that they may feel God’s presence and can speak and lead effectively. Third, focus on singing the songs directly to God and listening to God in scripture and preaching. Commit yourself to worship with your heart this week.*

This is week eight of 23 Things. See previous posts here and here for the first 17 things and an introduction to 23 Things. If you want to be eligible to win a free book, post a comment under each week’s session. Those who complete all 23 Things will be placed in a drawing for a free book.

*The idea for this week’s exercise came from the book, A Year With God, by Richard Foster and Julia Roller.

23 Things – Week 6: Service

Week 6: Service

13. Read Philippians 2:3-11. What is one way that you could humble yourself today in a tangible way?

14. Make a list of ways that your church is reaching out to its community? Are there areas in the community that are not being reached?

15. Read this excerpt from a commencement address by Dallas Willard:

Remember to live sacrificially.

On January 20, 1961, John F. Kennedy was inaugurated as the thirty-fifth president of the United States. During his inaugural address, this, the youngest man ever elected president said that “the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans.” In this context, President Kennedy issued the following challenge: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”

This simple statement, delivered with great fervor, drew forth an amazing current of sacrificial giving from people. This is built into our hearts. We know it’s right. And as Christians we’re the ones who really know what it means and how it can be done.

Don’t strive to advance yourself. Let God advance you. This is a deep psychological and sociological truth as well as a profound theological teaching. If you try to save your life, you’ll lose it. Give it away. God will give it back to you. Don’t make it your aim to get what you want. Serve others. Remember, God gives grace to the humble. He calls us to submit ourselves to the mighty hand of God that, when the time is right, He will lift us up.

I need to add that it’s not safe to be a servant unless you know who you are and unless you stand before God. On the night of His betrayal, just before He shared the Passover with His disciples, …

Jesus knew that the Father had given everything into His hands, that He had come from God, and that He was going back to God. So He got up from supper, laid aside His robe, took a towel, and tied it around Himself. Next, He poured water into a basin and began to wash His disciples’ feet and to dry them with the towel tied around Him (Jn 13:3-5).

Because Jesus knew who He was, because He was secure in His relationship with His Father, He was able to do the work of the most menial slave.

Remember who you are. Keep God before you. Then serve sacrificially. When you serve others, you’re really serving God. Because you are serving God, you give the best of service to other human beings.

This is week six of 23 Things. See previous posts here and here for the first nine things and an introduction to 23 Things. If you want to be eligible to win a free book, post a comment under each week’s session. Those who complete all 23 Things will be placed in a drawing for a free book.