Category Archives: Wisdom

Between Your Head and Your Heart

Sandhill Crane on nest ground view vignette 4-30-16 Swaner Preserve Park City UTI posted this photo today on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, taken last weekend at a wildlife preserve in Park City, Utah. This picture of a nesting sandhill crane, so perfectly camouflaged by its bullrush surroundings in the marsh, almost didn’t happen. Except for one thing: before hitting the trail with camera in hand, I stopped by the visitor’s center. The very helpful young student at reception responded to my inquiries about the birds in the area and asked me if I planned to go to the tower observation deck on the third floor.

You don’t know what you don’t know, and I didn’t even know that there was an observation deck on the third floor – another good reason to ask questions and listen. She proceeded to tell me that there existed a pair of nesting sandhill cranes in the marsh that most people never see, because they don’t know they are there. She handed me a handy enlarged photo of the marsh – a bird’s eye view taken from the observation deck – with a big red X marking the spot where the sandhill crane nest sat.

The photos of the cranes are something I will treasure and share with others. And something I would have completely missed because of their marvelous camouflage had I not taken a moment to stop and ask a question, and then followed the student’s directions. The 90 minutes I spent there were moments when I sensed the glory of God and his marvelous creation. All the more amazing because I discovered this place right next to a huge shopping complex designed to provide for the masses of people who visit the area to ski, enjoy the former Winter Olympic sites in the area (2002), or attend the Sundance Film Festival. We had eaten lunch there the day before and I had no idea the nature preserve with sandhill cranes and more than 50 other species of birds I would spot the next day was just a few yards away.

I read something today that I think touches on the fringe of where many people are in our culture who are spiritual seekers. Like me, they don’t know what they don’t know. They don’t know that God is near, and that he may be speaking to them through the wonders of life and His creation. For them, I pray that the truth of Hebrews 11:6 will become reality to them: “Any person who comes to God must believe that he exists, and he rewards those who diligently seek him.”

That is where faith begins – often with a feeling in the heart that you cannot argue with. It just is there, evoking a sense of wonder and awe, touching the depths of a soul you intellectually aren’t sure you possess. Between the heart and the head. Only about 18 inches, but within that space grow the seeds of faith God plants along the way, creating a hedge to bridge the gap between faith and reason.

Even those who describe themselves as atheists (as this author did at one point in his life, although if you read on you will discover he was raised in a conservative Baptist home), eventually find themselves torn by the dilemma between what their intellect says and what their heart tells them. Whether to follow the wanderings and wonderings of their heart leading them to worship God, despite what their head tells them.

This article takes some wading through to discover the gems by the author, a man battling with cancer, also a Yale professor, who states: “I believe that the question of faith—which is ultimately separable from the question of “religion”—is the single most important question that any person asks in and of her life, and that every life is an answer to this question, whether she has addressed it consciously or not.” And this piece was published in “The American Scholar” of all places:

The American Scholar: I Will Love You in the Summertime – Christian Wiman
Between the rupture of life and the rapture of language lies a world of awe and witness
THEAMERICANSCHOLAR.ORG

 

Dealing With Life’s Most Persistent Question – Part 4

Sunset Snoqualmie River looking west from Meadowbrook Way SE BridgeJesus is the master teacher. He often taught by asking questions, and sometimes answered a question with a question. So what was Jesus teaching us when he asked the ultimate question of suffering?

Jesus’ final words on the cross reflect the over-arching question of the human race, “My God, My God, Why hast thou forsaken me?” If Jesus could ask God such a persistent question, I think we can honestly do so as well.

The answer may not be what we expect—but silence is an answer. Silence does not mean God is hard of hearing. It often does mean that we are not prepared to listen, or hear the real answer. Or it means that we will understand later.

Someone said, “Life must be understood backwards; but it must be lived forward.” So we search for answers and keep moving forward. Often, the understanding does come later as we gain more clarity to the sequence of events. As the picture becomes clearer, the meaning of our pain, suffering, or questions becomes evident. Or not–either way we must learn to wait and trust and learn.

In the 13th chapter of John, Jesus is in the process of washing the disciples feet. Peter does not understand why Jesus would do such an undignified and servile task. He asks, “Lord are you going to wash my feet?”

We can be sure Jesus was not just doing this because he didn’t like the disciples’ dirty, stinky feet and wanted them cleaned up. There was a deeper reason, and the Bible tells us the sequence of events, even details like the timing of the last supper, a basin of water, and a towel.

Peter’s question was a plea for understanding mixed with a bit of embarrassment and indignity that Jesus would do such a thing. This scenario remains a good reminder for us when we question God’s dealings in our lives, wonder if He cares, and ponder the big “Why?”

Jesus responded to Peter’s question with this very important principle – one that we would all do well to remember:  Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” (John 13:7 NIV)

Now. Do not understand. Later. Will understand. This sequence applies to learning about almost everything. Foreign concepts at first seem incomprehensible to us. Later they make perfect sense once we understand. Good teachers know there are no “dumb” questions, especially at first. And Jesus is the best teacher.

Jesus did not scold Peter, and he did not embarrass him. He also did not fully explain or answer all of Peter’s persistent questions. But Jesus did establish this principle that applies in so many situations of our lives:  Life can be understood backwards, but must be lived forward.”  In other words, our perplexing questions about today may well give way to understanding later when more of the picture is revealed to us.

Until later becomes now, we have to keep believing and exercise our faith when we do not see or understand, and wonder, “why?” After all, that is what faith consists of, “The substance of things hoped for, and the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Dealing With Life’s Most Persistent Question – Part 2

Snoqualmie Trail along Snoqualmie River Mt Si Background 3-20-15For most of us, the quest for answers continues long after the storm has passed. And that lingering, most persistent question consistently nags at your heart and soul. At a time when your troubled soul pines for consistency and order, you instead experience a chaos of emotions and the only consistent thing seems to be a flashback to traumatic events accompanied by the search for a cause: “Why?”

Long after you have organized the pertinent details (the who, what, where, when, and how) into a tidy corner of your mind, you just cannot seem to find an adequate compartment to fit the enormous tension contained in that tiny three-lettered word, “Why?”

  • Why did this happen?
  • Why did this happen to me?
  • Why didn’t God prevent it?
  • Why couldn’t I have seen it coming?
  • Why was I so careless?
  • Why didn’t someone warn me?
  • Why can’t I get over this?

Don’t get me wrong. Why is an important question. Maybe life’s most important question when asked in the context of, “Why am I here?” Defining the answer to that question helps provide purpose in life–an essential ingredient for a fulfilling existence. And as Simon Sinek reminds us in his best-selling business book, Start With Why, if you don’t know why you won’t know how, and may not fully understand what, either.  This truth pertains to individuals as well as businesses and organizations.

Why explores the reasons behind what we do. Why searches for intent and motivation. But why can also indicate a quest for placing blame or shame. And that is frequently the application when it comes to dealing with the grief of disappointment, catastrophe, or loss. We want a reasonable explanation for the chaos in our hearts and lives. We want to know who is responsible, to resolve our own angst. Once that is settled, we are on the path toward acceptance. This is where we can place the answer to “Why?” in its proper compartment and move on, and eventually the sharp edges of that memory will no longer cause the same kind of prickly pain we initially experienced.

So, what are the persistent questions you are dealing with in your life? How are you dealing with them? Why are you still stuck? Who can you confide in? What are you afraid of? What will it take for you to move on? What is God asking you to do?  And above all, remember this:  YOU WILL GET BETTER. THINGS WILL CHANGE. We’ll explore this further in the next post.

On the Verge: Finding Your Tipping Point – Part 3 “Perspective”

Clock magnifying glass Face value. That has to do with perspective. At first glance, all we see is what is visible at the moment, and from that particular point of view. We may assume or make a value judgment from that perspective, concluding that what we just observed tells the whole story—all there is to it. That can be a big mistake. In fact it can be a blind spot to us, because if we took the time to discover a different point of view, it might make all the difference.

I have more than a hundred old clocks, all more than a century old, and of all shapes and sizes. All have mechanical movements of some kind. Some are weight driven, some are spring driven. Some use a pendulum, and some use a balance wheel to maintain momentum. The mechanics are different in each, but the dynamic part is similar – they keep the clockworks moving.

What is the purpose in all this mumbo jumbo about clocks?  Regardless of how they operate, all clocks have the same major purpose:  to tell the accurate time of day. When you look at the face of the clock, you expect to see the correct time. Clocks line the tops of the bookshelves in my office. I seldom keep them all running—they are just for decoration and display. So they all register a different time of day. I often tell people when they look at the clocks and ask which clocksone is telling the correct time, “They are all correct, twice a day!”

To go beyond the face value, you have to take a second glance. Beyond the face, there may reside a complex system of machinery. This is true not only for clocks, but for people, and organizations, and families, and neighbors, and even cultures. To rightly understand anything requires closer examination beyond a casual glance and quick summation.

When a clock stops keeping accurate time, the problem seldom lies within the face. Something deeper is causing the problem, and requires more careful inspection. It may be something as difficult to detect as a speck of dust in the wrong place or as obvious as a broken spring. It may be the result of an overzealous owner drowning the works with a well-intentioned baptism of WD-40 that has gummed up the works. Whatever the cause, the clock is stopped and as Newton reminds us, an object at rest tends to stay at rest. Until some outside force repairs the problem, the clock will not start ticking again on its own.

What is keeping you from getting off the verge and moving ahead? Have you just accepted at face value your own analysis? Self-examination is generally a good thing, as is self-awareness. But self-diagnosis is often a tricky business, and may lead to disastrous conclusions. Some things are better done with assistance to help us see ourselves as others do, and examine our blind spots. While you might attempt to brush your hair without a mirror, shaving without one could result in some nasty nicks on your face. It may be time to get a second opinion, to let someone else take a closer look.

Whether you choose collaboration, consultation, counseling or coaching, soliciting another opinion can help you gain perspective, and get you off the verge. How difficult is it to admit and say, “I am stuck”? What is keeping you from doing so? Whatever it is, your answer to the previous question may be the one thing keeping you from moving forward or the catalyst for your healing.

James instructs us, “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.” (James 5:16 NLT) If confession of sin is a key to healing, perhaps confession of our other failures or frustrations may do the same by providing a different point of view as we open up and become vulnerable to another person. Their perspective could be just the thing to get you off the verge and start ticking away into your preferred future.

What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say

What to Say When You Don't Know What To SaySilence is golden, and there is a time to be quiet. But at other times knowing the right thing to say at the right time is even better. The writer of Proverbs says, “Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket.” (Proverbs 25:11, New Living Translation) There have been times in my life when the kind words of a friend (or even a stranger) bolstered my sinking spirits as I grasped them like a drowning man clinging to a life preserver.

Having spent most of my life as a pastor, walking beside people through some of the toughest moments of their lives, I felt the tension between the need for silence and the need to say something spiritual or intelligent (when I did not feel either) during a crucial moment. Even at the risk of sounding clichéd, a word sincerely spoken can make a difference. So, for what it’s worth, here are some simple words I’ve collected over the years; phrases to sincerely say when you don’t know what to say.

  • “May I pray for you right now?”
  • “I am here for you, my friend.”
  • “I have complete confidence in you.”
  • “I am your biggest fan!”
  • “What can I do to help?”
  • “You do that really well.”
  • “How are you, really?”
  • “What you said helped me.”
  • “Where would you rather be right now, and what would it take to get there?”
  •  “What is stopping you from. . ..”
  • “It is amazing the way you. . ..”
  • “I was wrong.”
  • “I am so sorry.”
  • “I’m cheering you on.”
  • “I appreciate the way you. . ..”
  • “Tell me about your:  day, job, kids, etc.”
  • “Please forgive me.”
  • “I still love you.”
  • “God is big enough to. . ..”
  • “I am really proud of the way you. . ..”
  • “You’re really growing.”
  • “Could you come to:  dinner, dessert, coffee?”
  • “I missed you.”
  • “I’m so happy for you.”
  • “I prayed for you today.”
  • “That must have been very difficult for you.”
  • “I’ll be glad to!”
  • “You have a way of making people feel special.  Thanks.”
  • “What is one thing I could do to help relieve some of your stress?”
  • “I’m not sure I would be doing as well as you are.  How are you making it?”
  • “I admire the way you. . ..”
  • “Is there something I can pray with you about?”
  • “You are really making a lot of progress!”
  • “I’ll give you a call tomorrow to see how you are doing. Is that OK?”
  • “I treasure the moments we get to spend together.”
  • “Thinking about you always puts a smile on my face.”

I am sure you can think of your own favorites to create a silver basket full of golden apples for a friend in need. Sometimes words are not necessary, like when a hug or a shared tear do a far better job of conveying how much you care. But there is nothing wrong with being prepared for those times when you struggle to know what to say when you don’t know what to say.