Tag Archives: Christianity

A Word on Writing Progress: Loving and Leaving the Fear Box

So there’s an image I’ve wanted to explore for a while.

(It’s not this one, though I like it…)

 

I call the image “the fear box.” (Not that picture. The mental image I have. Clear on that?)

It’s made of a type of protective, soft material, but very strong. We’re all raised in this sort of cage, and it’s a God-designed, natural, humble place where we recognize our limitations. We all like the feeling of comfort that the thick, restrictive walls give us. The boundaries of the box are so certain and sure and we instinctively know the fear box is good and needed.

For newborns, there’s nowhere safer than the fear box.

As we grow a bit, the boundaries begin to feel like restrictions. Our limitations aren’t as limiting anymore, though we know we still need the box…just maybe not so much or so tight as before. If we’re given help modifying and expanding the box, we’re able to grow and not get in too much trouble.

The many people who promote the benefits of the fear box—its safety, its certainty, its traditional trustworthiness—say you can know that you know the box is for your good.

And it is. You know it. You’ve lived in it your whole life.

But if those box-benefit extollers might also say that people who’ve left their boxes are called “outsiders,” and in a voice that conveys their true feelings, tell you how wrong the outsiders are and how much they need to be made right, you’ll feel a sliver of hesitation. But you’ll agree, of course. The lost need to be found. They need to know the wonderful safety and security you’ve known.

But there’s a love growing in you, a light that can’t be contained. And that sliver of doubt will let some of that light out. And eventually, whether the next day or after several years of fighting with yourself, you know you must leave the fear box.

And what will be more important than any other reassurance as you muster your courage to finally leave, is not how much you need safety and security and traditions, but how love is what’s in you saying no to the fear box. And if you can let that love out now and learn not to restrict it or temper it, it will guide you to your new home.

If love is there, nowhere is unsafe.

***

Another week has passed and very little writing on the novel was completed. The usual work and distractions kept me busy, but again, I could have made time, reserved some for it.

A major hang-up, maybe a main hang-up for me has been imagining the response by well-meaning, lovely church people, people I respect.

Some might say I should respect them less, get irreverent about everything that isn’t God. I don’t disagree. I’ve worked through many barriers and claimed the courage and empowerment to go where I need to and speak what needs words.

But I need to say Christianity isn’t perfect perfectly, winsomely, with the fragrance of Jesus. And this has kept me locked in fear.

Christians hold many things precious—churches, pastors, leaders, teachers and teachings, worship, the Bible, The Church, Jesus, God, Holy Spirit, doctrine, creeds, Christianity itself, and even Christian culture. All the resistance I know I’ll face, constantly reminded by a lifetime of experience, has kept me endlessly revising instead of printing.

It’s fear, obviously. And what works best on fear is not frustration, condemnation, shame, or any of my usual responses. But only love.

“There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”

***

Comfort comes swiftly to the loved.

It rushes in to prove yet again no pain or fear can break trust.

That trust is life itself.

The bigger, stronger, higher love will always help,

wipe the tears, and receive the feelings as precious,

wordless truth from the heart, the love box,

from which flow the springs of life.

Fear and pain don’t change reality, only love does.

Love is what’s true,

the ever-present reality to take all cares and keep them.

Love secures, always, always holds safe.

Come what may.

“Oh, love, never let me go…”

***

Must we be willing to break with the old to allow for the new?

Does progress require a sort of irreverence for tradition?

Life is built on an inherited box of foundations and advances. Respect them all. But also risk disrespect and “rebellion” to build what’s needed now.

Every author before you has felt this fear. Whatever this book will add to life, you’ve got to trust that love goes with you. It strengthens and empowers whoever is willing to receive it.

We can face everything that may come.

We can venture out.

Safe is where love is.

 

Praying you’ll know you’re held safe as you seek the higher purpose,

Mick

 

Why You Can Never Fail

I need a story about failure,” I said to Sheri and the girls as we sat down to a Saturday night dinner of take-out pizza.

IMG_0032

“Surely you can help me think of something,” I added, laughing. “Should be plenty of material.” 

But whether they knew something they didn’t want to share, or couldn’t think of anything, no one had an answer. Apparently, I’d also failed to show my appropriate glee in being a miserable failure.

“I once got an F in Old Testament in college,” Sheri offered. “Or maybe it was a D. It felt like an F.”

“Oh yeah,” I said. “Old Testament was crazy hard.” 

“I once got a B in science,” Ellie added. “Mrs. Sutton’s class in fifth grade. I totally deserved it, but I was devastated.”

“Really?” I hadn’t realized. “Did you mention it and I just forgot?”

“I don’t know.” Her hand paused on her pizza. “I only ever got A’s, until that.”

We’ve lived together every day of her life, but how little I really know about her. Is this my failure to ask about her days? Or maybe to truly listen? It could be she just failed to tell me about it. But even so, maybe she believed I’d fail to offer comfort. “It’s fine,” I could hear myself saying. “A ‘B’ is still pretty good….” 

Whatever the case, I had my answer. My parenting is often so incredibly inadequate. And the fact that my daughters and wife wouldn’t say so directly may only be more proof. 

164819_494124054563_777394563_5801658_7068250_nAnd I’m not just being ungracious to myself here. If I were to open the floodgates and start sharing all the ways I fail constantly–to be who I truly am, the more selfless and giving me–wouldn’t I truly connect more?

Isn’t that what relating really means—to relate your truest stories of your inadequate self that could help someone else relate?

It looks like a giant opportunity stretching out before me, a big, bold solution to several fundamental struggles I have. I always want to accomplish a lot and have big impact, but no matter how much I get done, I end up feeling like a failure, a “dad by default,” a distracted, disorganized, disappointment of a dud. It might take me a few lifetimes to replace this bad habit with a good one, to wake every day and remember that whether I can do everything I feel called to that day or not, sharing my authentic self is the real goal. 

I’ve needed to remember this, to look beyond what I do or don’t accomplish, to the awareness of how I’m doing at noticing, being, and sharing me. 

Because here’s what I know: the big things we want to do aren’t the point. Family and friends are the real point of life. And we can’t help wanting to do more and be more than we are. But to do that, we need to start getting some better mileage out of our failures.

IMG_0616Isn’t this the vulnerability Brene Brown and others have talked so much about? We all want to do such big things and have such great impact, but why aren’t we more honest about our shortcomings? Why don’t we shed our inhibitions and share what we’re bad at, where we struggle, and even our discomfort over appearing inept?

Of course, because of judgment. We’ve been wounded and we took those voices in and let them chastise us relentlessly. And that shaming formed us, formed our self-image to a large extent.

On top of that, as Christians we hear “die to self,” and “the heart is wicked above all else,” and “put aside selfish desires.” And we can struggle for years trying to believe all the Bible memorization and church attendance and prayers and journaling should help.

And why can’t we “Just. Get. Over. It. Already?!”

Everyone else is more resilient than we are, more determined to press on, more spiritual. We’re just failures. And we’re right to be ashamed.

We take all of this in and dwell on it to no end. It’s right and good to care what others think and we never realize this entire foundation is made of sand. 

We could let it all crumble and rebuild on rock. This inner torment could be discarded and we’d be free.

We’ve hidden our feelings and true personalities from this bully God, the one who’s so disappointed in us he can hardly bear to hold on and offer us this supposed “free grace and forgiveness.”

He’s only doing it because he has to. 

We all believe this in our deepest hearts. How could we ever accept that we’re failures? Our deepest fear broadcast and spread far and wide? Come to full life on the big screen for everyone to see?

Are you kidding me?

No one needs to know the pain and suffering we’ve endured. We’re so tired of feeling like failures all the time….

IMG_0763To let that all go and embrace our inadequacy we’d have to accept our deepest fear: our shame. Sharing our stories of failure could be our greatest opportunity to connect, but to do that we’d have to accept and come to believe it’s important to be vulnerable.

And that can seem downright impossible.

I was Ellie’s age when I realized my worst accusers were inside of me. I didn’t want others to see I was afraid of failing, so I held back and tried to stay hidden. Insecurity became my foundation.

But failure isn’t what we think it is. Failure doesn’t kill you. And sharing your failure with others makes them feel better. And that makes you feel better. In fact, when you fail and share it, it can be success. Failure connects us because we’re all inadequate. And we all feel shame about it. But real connection is what we really want deep down, so we have to stop protecting ourselves and yes, “die to self.”

Give up our shields and trade them for true resilience.

We forget that if we couldn’t be embarrassed, couldn’t be shamed, couldn’t be knocked off our high horse because we’re already vulnerable down on the ground,  we wouldn’t need to self-protect.

Upholding appearances is what prevents us from feeling good and successful in our lives, not failing to accomplish the big things we have planned. But our hyper-driven, happiness-worshiping culture keeps us distracted with supposed “free,” guiltless, nutrition-less, connection-substitutes to consume today—we’re “amusing ourselves to death” in binge-watching and window-shopping. The theaters have been full and the churches empty for a long time now.

All our apps and video games and prepackaged foods full of wish-fulfillment fantasies won’t free us. The endless parade of addictive modern fripperies will only make us more inadequate.

We’ve forgotten what healthy connectedness requires. We aren’t the center of the universe. And we need to struggle if we’re to learn anything at all.

I looked at my girls eating happily and said, “Embracing failure can ironically become a new place to succeed.” I tried to explain, but I knew I’d probably fail to convey the full idea.

But it didn’t matter anymore. I could try again. Failure was all I needed to get what I really wanted.

Want to stop being afraid of feeling like a failure? Want to escape the demands of your over-scheduled, under-nourished life? Want freedom? 

Accept your inadequacy and remember who is sovereign. Your failure is not the end of the story–it’s the beginning.

And every experience of failure is a connection story waiting to be shared.

No we don’t have to be achievers or successful or hold these perfect images together. We just have to give up that substitute happiness and our addiction to the numbing, feel-good drug, face the truth, and see that we’re all vulnerable. And we’re all failures. And that’s a very good thing.

We all want to connect and escape shame. And we all have failure stories. Sharing them is how we will succeed.

Do you know someone who could use this freedom? Will you share it with them? And in the process, you’ll remind yourself: this is how we succeed, by sharing our honest stories and connecting. 

And when you do, you may find that you can never fail because every failure is another way to succeed.

For the higher purpose,

Mick

O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go

O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go,” George Matheson, Scotland 1882.

Of this hymn, Matheson says, “My hymn was com­posed…when I was 40 years of age. I was alone in the manse at that time. It was the night of my sister’s mar­ri­age, and the rest of the fam­i­ly were stay­ing over­night in Glas­gow. Some­thing hap­pened to me, which was known only to my­self, and which caused me the most se­vere men­tal suf­fer­ing. The hymn was the fruit of that suf­fer­ing. It was the quick­est bit of work I ever did in my life. I had the im­press­ion of hav­ing it dic­tat­ed to me by some in­ward voice ra­ther than of work­ing it out my­self. I am quite sure that the whole work was com­plet­ed in five min­utes, and equal­ly sure that it ne­ver re­ceived at my hands any re­touch­ing or cor­rect­ion. I have no na­tur­al gift of rhy­thm. All the other vers­es I have ever writ­ten are man­u­fact­ured ar­ti­cles; this came like a day­spring from on high.”

Born with poor vi­sion, George Ma­the­son’s eye­sight grad­ual­ly wors­ened un­til he was al­most to­tal­ly blind. How­ev­er, he was aca­dem­ic­al­ly gift­ed, and his sis­ters learned La­tin, Greek, and He­brew to help him stu­dy. He grad­u­at­ed from the Un­i­ver­si­ty of Edin­burgh (MA 1862), then be­came a min­is­ter in the Church of Scot­land. He pa­stored in the re­sort town of In­ne­lan for 18 years; due to his abil­i­ty to mem­o­rize serm­ons and en­tire sec­tions of the Bi­ble, lis­ten­ers were of­ten un­a­ware he was blind. In 1886, Matheson be­came pas­tor of St. Ber­nard’s Church in Edin­burgh, where he served 13 years. He spent the re­main­ing years of his life in lit­er­ary ef­forts.

His hymns include:

Lord, Thou Hast All My Frailty Made

Make Me a Captive, Lord

and O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go

O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go

O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O light that followest all my way,
I yield my flickering torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.

taken from cyberhymnal.org

Is longing enough?

Is longing enough? You don’t often believe so. And maybe too unbelieving, too afraid to admit, you strive to feel something you don’t, something real again of this living water, and a love for his life.

bowl

Something that may not have happened exactly, though you do remember and it persists. Its truth seems to have expanded the bowl, beyond your rim and left you with unanswerable questions: Does he truly live in me? And does he know what he’s doing? And do I?

So you fight to return to this first love, the love you don’t exactly remember. And what happened back there and was it real love? And more than just a feeling? Or less than that, an immature hope of feeling something?

But no matter, you want to want to. Though you wonder if that is enough.

And you get yourself up to wake yourself up and wonder if anything’s changed. If all of this is all faith is, a longing for love, and wondering if it is really enough? This creating a world of all that remains, of what must exist if it didn’t, and are all of us merely wishing to escape our bowl and say it’s real this collective dream we’ve only imagined? And are we real and will we be this way eternally?

I admit: I sometimes wonder with you.

I sometimes think maybe we’re all waiting for the one soul who can bring himself to say it, the one hopeless enough to see without fear, beyond the flesh-varnished bowls:

“Behold! The kingdom of heaven is within!”

But some days he doesn’t show, and I want to say to you to just keep peering in. Persist in the illusion and forget cleaning the outside of the bowl.

You are beautiful just as you are.

Hope is blind but it’s the only thing that washes our eyes. This life is only real when you preach it to yourself loud while straining to hear his whisperings in your unstopped ears:

This is the way. Walk in it.

Stay and listen to your steps crunching on the road and live in it. Seek, knock, ask. Turn, fall, kneel. And be still in those truths, all your bowl can contain.

For those are yours and all you have here. They are the real.

And those faint and dying lies are only snaking suspicions of an insufficient longing.

 

———————-for further exploration: On Beauty

Seeing Beauty, Part 3

I’m finally feeling like myself today after a full 10 days of the worst flu symptoms I’ve ever experienced—6 days of 102 temperature, complete fatigue, and every nasty thing that comes with it. We all caught it but finally have been smuggled through back to the land of the living. Charlotte never really got it and we realized she probably has natural immunity from her tendency to eat more of what comes from her nose than any other kind of food. Apologies to any other OCD types; it’s generally enough to make my wife gag just thinking about it.

 

But I promised some reflections on story and structure and I’ve been thinking about it from my drug-addled haze…

 

We long for story to help explain our lives’ meaning. Stories help us define our experience, validate it and give us comparisons, like juxtaposing contrasting colors. Personalities can clash and reveal countless mysteries to ponder. We thrill in those alternations between confusion and discovery. And this is beauty.

 

There’s a hint here of the deeper order at work beneath the workings. We didn’t invent stories, just like we didn’t invent language or words or the ability to understand them. We’ve developed them, adapted and changed and manipulated them, but just like we didn’t create the materials we use to create with, we didn’t create the words. The great order did. The deeper order. Even when we don’t see the structure, it’s there always at work underneath.

 

And the deep romance in this is what we’re ultimately after. How unthinkable it is that God would do all this, create all this, for what reason? We’re not told, and it’s they kind of mystery that’s needed for the romance to thrive. The greater the mystery, the greater the thrill when the answer is revealed. Just like the greater the dissimilarity between the players, the greater the thrill when peace is finally reconciled. This is the story going on and when redemption finds its way to the unlikeliest of characters, we shake our heads and remember how amazing it all is and how little we really know of it. How small we really are. And how grateful must we be….

 

To see this and explore its supernatural reality through the evidence we have—nature and metaphors and the Bible and prayer—this is the fuel for the journey. Is seeing it something we can choose? Of course, and it starts with as simple an act as recognizing that it’s there for us to choose to see. And it does become easier with practice. When life is hard, sometimes it’s harder to recognize, harder to pry our eyes open. We can never assume it’s truly easy.

 

But that’s why I want to make it as easy as possible to find for others and to share my amazement. To remind myself and whoever else wants it that just beyond this ordinary, familiar 3D world (the one they’re so excited about recreating for us through technology these days) is a far more interesting one with more unbelievable wonders than you could ever dream up.

 

And it’s there I want to be deeply exploring, constantly waking myself up to the beauty, order, and romance behind everything we see, feel, smell, hear, taste, and experience.

 

These are the clues. What’s really behind them?