6 Essential Rhythms for a Self-Care Plan

6 Essential Rhythms for a Self-Care Plan

It’s the new year. Now what? It’s that time of year that we take on new diets. We set goals. We reflect on the things that made the past year either really good or not-so-good. As you look forward to the next year, the next quarter, the next month, have you considered a self-care plan? Life is an onslaught of busyness. How do you plan to be proactive to put the oxygen mask on yourself first?

When the apostle Paul talks about the spiritual life, he talks about it in terms of fruit: “The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Here’s the thing with growing fruit. It’s hard, long, patient work. For an apple tree to grow from seed to bearing fruit can take six to ten years. And the first signs of fruit aren’t even edible.

If you want to grow things like peace and patience and self control in your life, you have to do the work. Every day. You can’t outsource it. Growing stuff is slow work. It’s never flashy. But we’re made for this.

The Grand Canyon is a spectacular marvel of creation. It didn’t just happen. And it didn’t happen overnight. It became the Grand Canyon, one drip at a time. Likewise, God is at work in us crafting spectacular marvels of creation. We participate in this work by getting ourselves under the drip.

Here are just a few ways to intentionally get under the drip.

Sabbath

“Sabbath is not a break from work; it is a redefinition of how we work, why we work, and how we create freedom through our work.” —Dan Allender

The Sabbath is the climax of God’s creative work. It is the only thing deemed “holy” in the creation story. Sabbath is the fulcrum and center of gravity to the Ten Commandments. As Jesus embodies, the intent of Sabbath is our healing as human beings. Sabbath is the opposite and undoing of chaos in our lives.

Sabbath is counter-cultural in our 24-7 worlds. Human beings are designed for a rhythm of six plus one—six days of working hard, one day of celebrating what all that hard work was for. Our identities are not to be tied to our to-do lists or our job descriptions but rather to the God who made us.

One simple way of starting a Sabbath rhythm is to take a good look at the things that happen during your weeks. What’s one thing you can abstain from for one 24-hour period out of every seven? What’s one thing you thing you enjoy that gets crowded out by the busyness of the week? Make Sabbath different. Stop doing the things you do every other day. Pick up something you don’t normally do.

Spiritual direction

“The task of the spiritual director is to be positioned, like a campfire in the wilderness, welcoming sojourners from all corners of life to stop, relax and yarn for a while. A place where tired bodies and spirits are warmed by the fire and refreshed” —Simon Brown.

Life can be exhausting. The constant demands of work and family and ministry. How do you get “un-tired” from it all? Spiritual direction provides a loving and graceful space to listen together with another to listen to and respond to God’s work in you.

We’re not made to be alone. We’re not made to journey through life to God by ourselves. The spiritual director can help us navigate the dry spells, the “dark nights of the soul.” They can poke and pry with questions that expose and reveal us to ourselves so that we can move forward. They can separate the “normal-weird” from the “weird-weird” in our faith experience.

A simple way to start with a director is to look for one in your area. Reach out. Set up a time to meet over coffee and see where God leads you.

Centering Prayer

“Centering prayer is an opening, a response, a putting aside of al the debris that stands in the way of our being totally present to the present Lord, so that He can be present to us. It is a laying aside of thoughts, so that the heart can attend immediately to Him.” –Basil Pennington

I’m more and more convinced that centering prayer is the spiritual disciple for our age. Silence and solitude are essential if we’re experience any sanity in our jam-packed schedules.

When the prophet Elijah expects to hear from God, he sees he windstorm. He expects to hear God in the storm. But that isn’t God. There’s an earthquake, and Elijah expects to hear God in the earthquake. But again, no God. Then there’s fire, and Elijah thinks God is there. After all, God has appeared in fire before. But no God. And then after all this, there’s a gentle whisper. Finally. In the whisper, Elijah hears God. Where are we making intentional space to hear God’s whispers to us?

One simple step for starting with centering prayer is carving out 20 minutes each day and putting it on the calendar as an uninterruptible appointment. Give up a Netflix show if you have to. This is worth it.

Confession

“In the acts of mutual confession we release the power that heals. Our humanity is no longer denied, but transformed.” –Richard Foster

We are made for community, and we are not made to hold on to the things that make our souls sick. Confessing sin to one another is how we experience healing. We must gives ourselves to God in such a way that we can hear God lovingly say, “Let me show you all the ways you are not like me,” so that we can hear God say, “Let me show you all the ways that you are like me.” That happens in relationship with other people.

One simple way to start a practice of confession is to pray that God would lead you to a relationship or to a group where you can say out loud all the ways you are not like God. Naming our sin and letting it go is the beginning of inner healing.

Common meals

“Eating a meal together can be a place of joy, celebration, and friendship. We can show love for each other and celebrate life.” –Jean Vanier

Food is all over the story of God. So many stories of Jesus involve meal time. Human beings bond when food is shared. Sharing meals together is one more way that we share that we’re normal with one another. When we gather around a table and eat, we shed whatever public personas we subconsciously gravity towards, whether from social media or ministry work.

One simple way to start with a common meal is to pick a day on the calendar and invite a next door neighbor or a stranger from church to join you in your home for dinner. Keep things simple.

Rule of Life

“A rule of life seeks to respond to two questions: Who do I want to be? How do I want to live?” –Ruth Haley Barton

Have any of these resonated with you? Are there a couple that you’re ready to jump into? Write it down. A rule of life is simply writing down a plan for spiritual growth and committing yourself to the process.

A simple way to start a rule of life is to take a single sheet of paper and write one spiritual practice (or as many as you want) as specific as you can. It could look like committing to Sabbath by shutting off your phone from sundown Saturday till sundown Sunday. A rule of life can take many forms. Keep it simple. Share it with someone who can follow up with you and reflect your progress with you over time.

Life is so busy. You know that. So make a plan, and be proactive about it. Take care of yourself because we need you and the gifts you bring.

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Why God's Mission Needs Christmas

Why God’s Mission Needs Christmas

I love the opening scene of the movie White Christmas. Once the credits roll, the first shot is of an idyllic, Norman Rockwell-ian snowy landscape. Could be Vermont. Could be Ohio. The title card tells us it’s Christmas Eve, 1944. As the camera pulls back, we find we’re not in middle America. We’re in the bombed out ruins of a European city as Bing Crosby and Danny Kaye sing and dance for the American troops. When Bing then sings the iconic title song, a song evoking all the nostalgia of that snowy American backdrop, it speaks powerfully to what God’s mission in the world has to do with Christmas.

At Christmas, though we are surrounded by the wreckage of Adam’s world, we sing the songs that remind us of home, the songs that make us nostalgic for Eden. Christmas is much more than a marshmallow world and sleigh rides, extravagant light displays and ugly sweaters. It’s more than family nostalgia and sentimentality. Christmas is God’s most unexpected turn in the story of everything being put back in its right place.

Christmas is for protest against the darkness and evil at work in the world and in our neighborhoods. Christmas is for resistance. Christmas is for immersing ourselves in the awesome mystery of God’s love for the world.

Christmas is subversive. It’s the greatest plot twist in the greatest story ever told. That God would enter the story as a newborn baby is the plot point that sweeps the rug out from under us. Christmas is shock and surprise. J.R.R. Tolkien invented the word “eucatastrophe” to describe the Incarnation. It’s everything the opposite of a catastrophe. It’s a “good catastrophe.” And this is good news. This is gospel.

“For hate is strong and mocks the song of peace on earth”

To pay close attention to the birth narratives of Jesus in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we don’t find scenes of a silent night, holy night. There is danger. There is conflict. There is dramatic tension. There is murder. There is escape.

Heavenly messengers appear to a priest, a peasant girl, her fiancé, and finally a whole group of blue-collar shepherds in he middle of the night. A powerful king orders the murder of innocent children. Foreign kings come pledging their allegiance to the child of a carpenter.

But the story is still bigger than that. This is a radical turning point in the cosmic battle between good and evil. This is the story about a God who makes a good and beautiful world. But humanity, his regents on earth, have fouled and corrupted the world. To understand the significance of Jesus, we need to be clear about the problem in the world. We need to know the story, it’s problem and solution.

“He comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found”

Commonly, we boil the story down to this: Humanity is a hopeless bunch of sinners. But lucky for us, Jesus died on the cross for our sins. Now, if we acknowledge that and be nice people, we can go to heaven when we die.

Christmas, according to this story, means that God gives the baby Jesus to humanity to save us from our sins. But there’s another way of telling the story. There’s a better way.

God made the world. But human beings allowed sin and death to enter it, wreaking havoc and poisoning God’s good creation. We need to include the stories of Simeon and Anna in our Christmas Scripture readings. We are told that Simeon “was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel.” Anna “talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.”

These stories bookend with the unnamed disciples walking to Emmaus who encounter the risen, but incognito, Jesus. “We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel,” they tell him. We can feel their crushed dreams.

In our own world today, we see tyrants and bullies, poverty and suffering, injustice and war. Like Simeon and Anna and these two unnamed disciples, we yearn for rescue. Our neighborhoods are desperate for rescue. Every broken place, every wounded place, every grievance, every system of oppression, every inhuman ideology—Christmas means God is doing something about all of it.

“Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Emmanuel”

The whole story, from Genesis to Revelation, is the story about God. God is the central character. Not me. Not you. It’s not about how we get to heaven. The story is about how God gets all of his kids back, how God finds his home among human beings again. God initiates. God seeks us out. God pursues us. God is actively doing something about the problems in the world.

A most revealing statement about God’s character and what he wants comes in his first encounter with Moses: ““I have certainly seen the oppression of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries of distress because of their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them.” This is not only the arc of the plot through the book of Exodus. It’s also the plot of the Christmas story. God see. God hears. God knows. And God comes down.

At the end of Exodus, God takes up residence in the tabernacle, living among his people. Later in Israel’s story, God lives in the temple in Jerusalem. During the Babylonian exile, God promises Ezekiel among the refugees, “I will make my home among them. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

When John begins his gospel, he writes “So the Word became human and made his home among us.” The Greek word for “made his home” is the same word used in the Exodus story for the tabernacle. Matthew includes a quote from the prophet Isaiah that Jesus will be called Immanuel, meaning “God with us.” Not them. Us. It’s personal.

And this is the profound mystery, that God cannot imagine being God without us. Writing in the 4th century, Athanasius says, “He became Himself an object for the sense, so that those who were seeking God in sensible things might apprehend the Father through he works which He, the Word of God, did in the body.” God enters the human story so that human beings can enter God’s story.

“O come let us adore him”

Christmas is about Jesus. It draws us deeper into the mystery of Jesus, the God who became a human being. Christmas draws us to the mind-bending reality of the Incarnation. In the son of Mary is a person fully divine and fully human. Jesus is not like one of the Greek or Roman deities, masquerading as a human on earth. Nor is Jesus simply a really good person whose ethics we should model for ourselves. Jesus is Yahweh of the Old Testament with skin and bone, atoms and molecules, organs and limbs.

On Christmas Eve, I entered a local sanctuary with my family for a communion service. All was dark. A towering figure of Jesus enthroned shone through stained like a window into heaven. It reminded me of the snowy backdrop that opens White Christmas. Christmas reminds us of home, of all that we fight and struggle for. Christmas anchors us in reality despite all images of ruin and decay around us.

In another pop culture staple of the season, Dr. Seuss’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas, we find another profound image. The turning point of the story—the Grinch’s conversion—comes when the citizens of Whoville gather together, despite having so much stolen from them, and they sing. We live in a world where so much has been stolen from us, killed, and destroyed. But still we gather and we sing, because we know that God is up to something big. Amid the darkness, we know Christmas signals to us the renewal of all creation.

The story of Christmas, the story of the Incarnation, is the beginning of the end of Adam’s world. It’s the invasion of holy God into the fallen world. Christmas matters for the mission of God because it displays the extraordinary lengths God is going to bring us all home.

So grab some popcorn and settle in to see what happens next.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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Using the Enneagram with a Practice of Confession

Using the Enneagram with a Practice of Confession

Few things are as therapeutic as the sound as you run your hand through huge plastic bin of Legoes. Each time we visit my parents house, my son was to build stuff from the bins of Legoes there. And we can never find the one particular piece we’re looking for. When we comes to spiritual practice of confession, the naming of sin can be a lot like that. The Enneagram can be a helpful tool in helping us name and expose the sin in our hearts so that we can experience healing and forgiveness.

There are many different forms that a practice of confession can take. It might look like the Ignatian examen. It could look like a band meeting, in the style of the early Methodists. It might be a more formal ritual, such as the Roman Catholic confession. Whatever it looks like, confession is an essential practice for experiencing inner freedom and healing. The deeper we go with God, the more aware we become of sin in ourselves.

But how do you know what to confess? Oftentimes it’s clear to us. We catch ourselves in the moment of weakness. We lost our temper. A sarcastic comment crossed a line from fun banter to biting criticism. We indulged a moment of lust. But there are other times it’s not so clear. In his book The Band Meeting, Scott Kisker writes, “In our band, we use the seven deadly sins (lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride) to remind us of struggles during the week we may not have noted otherwise.”

It’s in this way that the Enneagram proves useful. The Enneagram is a tool for spiritual formation that provides nine different ways that human beings reflect the image of God. Each of the types is also related to one of the classic seven deadly sins (with deceit and fear added to the mix). Each of us is capable of acting out in any possible way that humans do. But knowing our Enneagram type can help us get to the source of why we sin the way we do.


I resonate most with the Five. So, when it comes time for my self-reflection prior to a confessing time, I immediately look for places where I was ungenerous with my time and attention. I consider where I hoarded and overly guarded my social energy. I look for where I may have been unaware of my emotional wake or retreated into my mind when I needed to engage. It’s not unusual that I discover that other ways I act out tend to be symptoms of this deeper issue of greed.

Here are some ways that each Enneagram type can self reflect and get to a deeper source of brokenness so that you can know a deeper healing and freedom in your community.

Type One

Ones are most prone to anger. If you identify with the One, how might you give in to an all-or-nothing attitude, especially in regards to your finances or your health? In what ways may you have set unrealistic expectations for yourself and others, possibly leading to outbursts? Have you let your “inner critic” loose on those around you?

Type Two

Twos are vulnerable to pride. It may take the form of self-flattery, a sense that only they can fix the world. If you identify with the Two, where do you experience feelings of martyrdom? Where have you been an enabler, minimizing the faults or dysfunction of loved ones because “they need you”? Where may you have pursued someone as a close confidante out of your own neediness?

Type Three

Threes are given to deceit. More than other types, they can be prone to wearing a mask for others, minimizing their true selves so that they can advance in others’ eyes. If you resonate with the Three, where have you been desperate for attention or stretched the truth to impress someone? Where are you making sacrifices in relationships for the sake of accomplishments or appearances?

Type Four

Fours display a propensity to envy. The grass is greener on the other side, especially when it comes to happiness. If you relate to the Four, where are places you feel emotionally overwhelmed, possibly to the point of irresponsibility? Where may you be succumbing to shame and a fear of rejection? Where does your misery reach out for company?

Type Five

Fives are given to greed, being over vigilant with emotional and social boundaries. As mentioned above, if you relate to the Five, are there ways that you avoid social contact? Are there places you valued information more than a person? Are there relationships where you’ve withdrawn without notice?

Type Six

Sixes struggle particularly with fear. They crave safety and security and worry it could all disappear at a moment’s notice. If you see yourself in the Six, where do you exaggerate your anxieties? Where might you be settling in an uncomfortable situation because you can’t imagine any other way? Are there places you doubt yourself or are openly defiant of an authority figure?

Type Seven

Sevens are vulnerable to gluttony. There’s never enough of the good things of life. If you resonate with the Seven, where have you been given to excess, disregarding reasonable limits? Where may you be avoiding commitments, jumping from one activity or project to another with finishing? Where may you be reckless in pursuing excitement?

Type Eight

Eights are given to lust, an intensity for everything in life. If you connect with the Eight, are there places others have experienced you as a bully? Have you pushed or challenged in a relationship to the point of damage? Are there places you fantasize about retaliation or revenge?

Type Nine

Nines struggle with sloth. Unchecked, they can fade into the background in social situations. If you relate to the Nine, where do you tend to “zone out”? Are you given to numbing addictions, whether food or Netflix? Where do you seem to give in to others’ expectations, almost by default?

In one of the oldest stories in Scripture, there’s a curious comment about sin. Before Cain decides to murder his brother, God tells him, “Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” Learning about our sin isn’t for the sake of wallowing in shame and guilt about it. Neither is it for the sake of justifying and normalizing it.

The image in this story is like a creature lurking in the shadows. We can’t master it and subdue if we don’t bring it out of the shadows. We find healing as we bring our sin into the light. The deeper we journey into the heart of God, the greater our awareness of our own sin and brokenness.

God desires us to be whole. Confession is one spiritual practice that can lead us to this wholeness and the holiness God desires for us. And while our native culture or theological tradition may provide us a narrow vocabulary for sin, the Enneagram can provide a helpful tool for naming our broken places so we can experience healing.

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If you like this, be sure to subscribe to the newsletter. I write stuff there that doesn’t show up on the blog. You’ll get a weekly Bible reading plan, as well as some other resources I find that have got me thinking each week.

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Why Advent Matters for God’s Mission

Last month in my neighborhood, a couple died in a house fire, due in part, to negligent landlords. Last year, our community saw a record number of homicides, and is on pace break that record again this year. A year ago, a family in the neighborhood lost their son in a police shooting. If the season of Advent does not speak into this real life, then all the candles and greens are a waste of our time.

Advent is a journey of four weeks—four weeks of waiting and anticipating and hoping that shape us. They remind us that God came into the world at a hopeless moment in the story of Jesus. They remind us that God continues to meet us in our hopeless moments. They remind us that one day God will bring an end to every hopeless moment forever.

We celebrate Advent because this is God’s great rescue plan, and, as bad as the news around us gets, God is coming.

God is up to something in the world around us, in our neighborhoods. We’ll miss it if we’re not paying attention.

The darkest night of year is coming. But so is God.

Advent is for hope in desperate places

Given the 24-hour news cycle, cynicism and despair are so tempting. Has God given up on us? Did God really make promises to the ancients? Is God a bit naive about how dark the darkness is? Maybe are we too optimistic about what God can actually do about it? Is it all just a made up story? Because the world can be a really terrible place.

In Advent we pull all of our doubts from all the corners they’ve been hiding in over the past year. We drag them out of the shadows of our inner lives. We hang words on them. We speak them out loud. We bring them to the empty manger, brimful of trust that God is coming in the most unexpected and extraordinary way.

Whatever you carry during the holiday season, whatever your community carries—be it tear-stained grief, lonely depression, deflating disappointment, fiery frustration, paralyzing anxiety, soul-crushing sadness—there’s space for it in Advent. There’s no need to hide it. God can handle it. God sees. God knows. God has promised to do something about it.

God’s mission is bringing hope in desperate places.

Advent is for peace in violent places.

Six hundred years before Jesus there was a prophet who proclaimed the word of the Lord. Maybe he screamed. Maybe he shouted. Maybe he lamented:

How long, O Lord, must I call for help?
But you do not listen!
“Violence is everywhere!” I cry,
but you do not come to save.
Must I forever see these evil deeds?
Why must I watch all this misery?
Wherever I look,
I see destruction and violence.
I am surrounded by people
who love to argue and fight.
The law has become paralyzed,
and there is no justice in the courts.
The wicked far outnumber the righteous,
so that justice has become perverted.

These are ancient words, but they feel like they could have come in response to this morning’s newspaper. The world is broken. The world has been broken.

It’s easy for us to miss just how violent the world of the Old Testament was, and just how vulnerable regular people and women and kids were in this world. When we open the pages of 1 Samuel, we find a world mired in darkness and violence. The book of Judges ends on a tremendously hopeless note. The nation is in disarray. The religious institution is corrupt and ineffective.

In this world, a barren woman prays out to God in anguish. The priest assumes she’s drunk. God hears her. God responds to her. She celebrates. And with her son Samuel, God puts in motion events that lead Israel from its chaos to the golden age of David. This song she sings becomes the lens through which we read the stories of 1 and 2 Samuel.

God’s mission is bringing peace in violent places.

Advent is for love in hateful places.

As Luke tells the story, as the New Testament begins, the situation is not that unlike the days of Hannah and Samuel. The nation is in disarray. The religious institution is corrupt and ineffective. But there are people like Zechariah and Elizabeth, Simeon and Anna, Joseph and Mary, who cry out to God.

Can you imagine being there? Has God given up on us? Did all those stories about Abraham and Moses and David really happen? Is God really competent to do something about the Roman legions, the oppressive oxymoron pax romana–”the peace of Rome”?

Read the songs of Hannah and Mary side by side. Some think Luke is making an explicit connection between the songs of these incredible women. They both defiantly shout into the darkness that God’s love is coming to make everything right.

Likewise, Zechariah—whose story with barren Elizabeth here parallels Abraham and Sarah—gives voice to the love of God infiltrating the messed up world. The two songs in the opening chapter of Luke tell us everything that’s going to happen throughout this Gospel and also Acts. They function like little teaser trailers. The morning sun melting the darkness. The proud brought low and the humble exalted. God reversing the trajectory of human history. In Advent, include the song of Zechariah among your morning prayers and the song of Mary among your evening prayers.

God’s mission is bringing love in hateful places.

Advent is for joy in the anxious places.

Embracing the seasons of Advent and Christmas, living into and being shaped by the story, reminds us that we live in the messy middle of the beginning of the end. The birth of the baby in the manger is the beginning of the end of Adam’s world.

Advent is for anticipating the second coming of Jesus. As he came before, he’s coming again. He entered a desolate, hopeless world and healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, forgive sins, raised the dead, pronounced judgment on the oppressors and the corrupt. Imagine what happens when he enters our broken and weary world?

I like performing weddings because I get to say, “This is how the world ends.” As Christians tell the story, the story ends not in barren wastelands but rather with nervous butterflies, reckless celebration, unhinged laughter, beautiful tears, and all the excessive joy that comes with a wedding.

Our culture tells a joyless end of the story. This is not the way Scripture portrays the end of Adam’s world. The images scattered throughout the New Testament are pictures of an extravagant wedding and a wild party. Perhaps this is why John, the author of Revelation, in the Gospel that bears his name portrays Jesus’ first miracle making sure a wedding party doesn’t stop. The end of bad news is good news.

The word “apocalypse” literally means “revealing.” Advent, our on-ramp to Christmas, starts training our eyes to see and our ears to hear where God might be hiding in plain sight in front of us. In Advent, God is revealed to us in the most unexpected and surprising ways. This is the story we get to tell around our dinner tables, on our front porches, along our sidewalks, and in our coffee shops.

God’s mission is bringing joy in anxious places.

We need the hope, peace, love, and joy of Advent because the world around us is full of despair, violence, hate, and anxiety. We need Advent because the world needs Advent.

In this season, there’s a better story at work than ugly sweaters, twinkle lights, wish lists, marshmallow worlds, and shelved elves. The anguished cry of every human heart is getting answered. Everything that is deep goodness will be put back in its right place.

God is coming, as promised, to finally put everything right.

O Lord, come back to us! How long will you delay? Take pity on your servants! (Psalm 90:13).

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A Beginner's Guide to the Christian Calendar

A Beginner’s Guide to the Christian Calendar

How we measure time has a way of shaping our souls. The way we count and anticipate days, weeks, months forms our human-being-ness. The Christian calendar provides one means of training us in the story of Jesus. The calendar is a tool for discipleship.

“To have any hope of resisting the worst elements of Western consumer culture, we Christians will need an arsenal of rituals to keep us alert to the story of the world that really matters,” writes Craig Bartholomew. This is what makes the calendar such a compelling tool. It offers an alternative way of telling an alternative story shaping us to be alternative citizens in the world.

A calendar shapes your identity, whether you’re aware of it or not. If you count the days till Spring Break, graduation, and summer vacation, you’re likely a student. If you celebrate Opening Day, the Super Bowl, and March Madness, you live a sports story. If you buy turkey and cranberries in November, fireworks in July, and don’t work on a day called “Labor Day,” then you’re a citizen of the United States.

Measuring time matters. Behavioral economist Richard Thaler writes, “First, never underestimate the power of inertia. Second, that power can be harnessed.” We can mindfully count time as a tool for spiritual formation. In the Scriptures, the opening creation account in Genesis records how God calls time holy. In Israel’s desert wanderings, God establishes three annual holidays. These were more than single-day holidays. They were multi-day festivals. These served as three points on the calendar that shaped the identity of the nation, reminding them of God’s commitment to them.

As the early church developed after the resurrection of Jesus, these holy seasons were infused with new meaning centering on the work God had done through Jesus. Christmas, centering on the doctrine of the Incarnation, and Easter, centering on the Resurrection, anchor the seasons of the calendar.

Advent

Advent marks the beginning of the calendar. It begins on the fourth Sunday leading up to Christmas. In Advent, the Church remembers that in the darkest days of Israel’s history, God entered human history in the person of Jesus. And in Advent, the Church anticipates that even in our current dark days, God has promised to return and finally put everything right. Isaiah, John the Baptist, and Mary are voices from the Bible we listen to in Advent.

While the world around us, soaked in consumerism, starts announcing its version of Christmas in mid-October, the Church waits. It sits in eager anticipation, hanging on the hope—though it seems so absurd to a watching world—that God is going to make everything right in the world. The darkness around us is real, but we get ready, knowing that the light is coming.

Christmas

Christmas season begins on December 25 and then lasts for twelve days (hence the song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas”). At Christmas, we celebrate the Incarnation, the idea the Almighty God entered time and space in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. As the gospel of John puts it, “The word became human and made his home among us.” All the powers of darkness melt away at the presence of Jesus. “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.

We often read the stories in Luke 2:1–20 during Christmas. If we’re not careful, we can fall into a lazy familiarity with them. But these are shocking, earth-shattering words. I imagine the words of the angels sounded something like this to the shepherds.

We interrupt this existence of suffering, restlessness, and death to bring you the news that the all-powerful God of the universe has infiltrated time and space on a solo reconnaissance mission of humankind in the form of a helpless, powerless baby. All of our hopes for a better tomorrow are now born in this manger. This is the season the tide turns. The promise to Eve, to Abraham, to Moses, to David will be fulfilled. The longing of all creation will be satisfied. Death will indeed be broken. The dragon is conquered. Hope is here.

Epiphany

Epiphany concludes the Christmas season. It is celebrated twelve days after Christmas on January 6. It commemorates the story of the three wise men who visit the young Jesus. Again, our familiarity with the story in Matthew 2:1–12 often blinds us to the deep significance of it.

Epiphany services are often marked by candlelight, symbolizing Jesus as the light of world, piercing the darkness of the winter around us (at least those of us in the northern hemisphere). Epiphany extends the grand hospitality of God that salvation is for the entire world. Isaiah 60:1–3 foreshadows the worship of the three wise men and reminds us that the story of Jesus is also for every “outsider” we can imagine.

Lent

Lent begins the cycle of seasons focusing us on the death and resurrection of Jesus. Ash Wednesday begins Lent, 40 days prior to Easter, and Lent marks a 40-day journey to the cross. It corresponds to the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted. It offers us time to self-reflect on the unexamined sin in our own lives and in the world around us. The season is marked by repentance and fasting or abstaining from certain activities or foods. It’s like weeding the garden.

I want to know Christ… I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death,” writes Paul. This is Lent. Previously in Philippians, Paul records the descent of God in Jesus as a man, a man who dies, a man who dies in the most humiliating way possible on a cross. This is a journey of humility that we walk with Jesus, and we identify Simon the Cyrene who carries the cross of Jesus.  Texts associated with Lent include Joel 2:1–2, 12–17; Psalm 103; 2 Corinthians 5:20–6:10; and Matthew 6:1–6, 16–21. Lent culminates in Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday.

Easter

At Easter, we party. At Easter, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. While the fast of Lent lasts 40 days, the feast of Easter lasts for 50 days. At Easter, we celebrate that Jesus is risen, that Death is a toothless foe, that life beats Death. It is so much more than a one-day event. Paul continues the thought in Philippians 3, “I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!

With the resurrection, we remember God’s ultimate victory over Sin and Death. The risen Jesus is making everything new. Everything is joy. If it doesn’t get you jumping out of your seat, the back of your neck tingling out of excitement, you’re not doing it quite right.

N.T. Wright says, “We should meet regularly for Easter parties. We should drink champagne at breakfast. We should renew baptismal vows with splashing water all over the place. And we should sing and dance and blow trumpets and put out banners in the streets. And we should invite the homeless people to parties and we should go around town doing random acts of generosity and celebration. We should be doing things which would make our sober and serious neighbors say, ‘What is the meaning of this outrageous party?

Pentecost

Pentecost occurs 50 days after Easter. At Pentecost we remember the beginning of the Church with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:1–13. This is God’s next great movement in the story. With Pentecost, the Church is God’s answer to “Now what?” after the resurrection.

For the Jewish people, Pentecost was the Feast of Tabernacles, one of the three holidays, and it commemorated the giving of the Law at Sinai 50 days after God’s victory at the Red Sea. Like that moment, that formed the nation, Pentecost forms the Church as the people of God bearing witness to God’s story in the world, for the whole world.

Ordinary Time

Ordinary Time, in some traditions “Kingdomtide,” is the months between Pentecost and Advent. Far from “boring time” or “nothing happens here time,” Ordinary Time propels the church into mission. Because God has acted in the Incarnation (Advent/Christmas/Epiphany), and because God has acted in the Resurrection (Lent/Easter/Pentecost), now the Church gets to participate with God in the world. This is Christians’ choose-your-own-adventure season.

Again, Thaler writes, “People have a strong tendency to go along with the status quo or default option.” We can choose the status quo, but the status quo is already shaping us toward a story that does not include Jesus. Or we can give ourselves to the rhythm of the Christian calendar and annually be reminded of the God who turns darkness to light and death to life.

To go deeper, be sure to check out:
Ancient-Future Time: Forming Spirituality through the Christian Year by Robert Webber

~~~~~

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A Theology for Something More than Time Management

A Theology for Something More than Time Management

“We have all the time in the world.”

Whoa. Stop right there. Back it up. Say that one more time. Just what are you talking about?

This is an actual conversation a friend and I had a few weeks back. I was in midst of an onslaught of urgent tasks that was keeping me running from one thing to the next to the next. I constantly felt two, three, four steps behind. She said that, and something dropped in me. It got me thinking that there has to be something better than time management as it so often gets talked about.

Throughout my work life, I’ve experimented with a wide variety of planners and schedules and journals. I’ve done GTD. I’ve done bullet journaling. Still, no matter how much I plan or write things out on paper, nothing quite gets me free from that compulsion if I could just be a little more disciplined, if I just knew a little more, I could master the to-do list. Maybe I’ve been going about it all wrong.

The Creation of Time

In the beginning, God made stuff. But not only stuff. God also made time. The climax of the creation story in Genesis 1 is not humanity, though humanity is made in very image of the Almighty. No, the story reaches its highest point with Sabbath.

Abraham Heschel writes:

“It is, indeed, a unique occasion at which the disctinuished word qadosh is used for the first time: in the book of Genesis at the end of the story of creation. How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: ‘And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy.’ There is no reference in the record of creation to any object in space that would be endowed with the quality of holiness.”

The sun and stars, fish and birds and animals—they’re all good. Humanity is very good. Time is holy.

Sabbath is not a what but a when. Sabbath represents time in its right place.

Our brokenness with Time

But sin and death have twisted and corrupted God’s good, very good, and holy world. One popular way of talking about the Fall includes four spheres of broken relationships. Our relationship with God is broken. Our relationships with one another are broken. Our relationship with ourselves is broken. Our relationship with creation is broken.

But what about time? Notice the many ways we talk about time. There’s never enough time. A race against time. Beat the clock. Tyranny of the urgent. Solutions to time management and productivity are big business.

Time is something we manage. We parse our schedules into detailed sections. We divide it. We assign it. We parcel it out. We spend it, like it’s a commodity. We attempt to beat it into submission. We try to domesticate it as if it were a wild animal. Being busy is a status symbol.

What if we have it all wrong? What if, instead of a beast to be trained, time is a friend?

What if there’s a fifth broken relationship, our relationship with time?

Jesus and Time

The gospels tell a story about Jesus and a frantic father who needs Jesus to heal his sick daughter. She’s dying. Jesus agrees to go with him. A crowd joins in along the way. Jesus’ reputation attracted spectators.

A desperate, sick woman works her way through the crowd and stretches out to touch Jesus. And Jesus recognizes that something significant has just happened in that moment. He stops. He asks the disciples who touched him. They cop some attitude at such an absurd question. But Jesus persists.

“But he kept on looking around to see who had done it.”

Meanwhile, there’s a frantic father freaking out about his daughter. When I enter the story as this father, I’m turning from worried to angry. How could you, Jesus? How could you be so distracted? Don’t you care?

Jesus is so nonchalant in this story. Like he has all the time in the world. And maybe that’s the point. Death is ultimate clock we all face. Death is the name for our broken relationship with time. It’s not supposed to be this way. And that’s what Jesus models to the disciples, to the crowd, to the worried father. Jesus isn’t concerned about not having enough time.

Piecing together a theology of time

God made time. God calls time holy. God likes time.

In Egypt, the Israelite slaves measured their value in productivity within time. Sound familiar? At Mt. Sinai, when God provides the Ten Commandments, in essence the manual for Humanity 2.0, Sabbath is the bullseye right in the middle. The commandment is to make it holy. There’s that word again. Human worth and value is not in productivity—the way of Egypt and Pharaoh. Human worth and value is in being with God. A right ordering of time matters.

God cares how we talk about time. So how do go forward, cultivating practices that make us more friendly with time?

1) We are creatures made in time. We have 24 hours every day. Seven days in a week. Three hundred sixty-five days each year. Swim with the current. Don’t fight it. Extend grace to yourself. You’re not made to do everything. You are a finite creature. A poem is beautiful because of it’s parameters. Learn to be content within the boundaries of time.

2) Embrace margin. Fight for time, not against it. Say no to the “empty calories” in your schedule. Slow down. Ruthlessly eliminate the unnecessary.

3) Explore the Daily Office. We can’t escape time. We are not made to master time. We are made to submit to its rhythms. The Daily Office is one way of entering and submitting to a rhythm of prayer that embraces time. The Daily Office uses time to consistently draw us back to God, to name God in our lives, and to be filled to the brim with gratitude rather than anxiety.

God is never in a hurry. Ever. God is never busy. Busyness is simply not necessary for God. So why should it be for us?

Again, Heschel: “The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information, but to face sacred moments… We must not forget that it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to things.”

Be a friend to time.

We have all the time in the world.

~~~~~

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A Beginner's Guide to a Band Meeting

A Beginner’s Guide to a Band Meeting

It’s been five years ago this month that my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. She had an inoperable tumor the size of a softball in her chest. Five years of prayer and experimental medication and chemotherapy, and to meet her today, you’d never know she had cancer. But if she hadn’t gone to the doctor about a nagging cough and just wouldn’t go away, she wouldn’t be with us today. One of the very necessary spiritual practices available to us is the band meeting.

There is evil stuff at work in every one of us. It hides in the darkest corners of our hearts. In spiritual formation, we call this the “false self.” In the New Testament, Paul calls it “the sinful nature” (in Greek, sarx). It’s that piece of us that’s gone haywire, the inherent code that’s been corrupted, the infection in our souls.

When it goes unnamed it festers and sabotages our lives. We go through our lives with a nagging cough, all the while, there’s a fatal tumor in our chest. It seems that everyday in the news another celebrity is having the ugliness of their private lives exposed as insidious. But it’s not a celebrity problem. It’s a human problem. It happens in church, too. We all know Christian leaders who have fallen from grace.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Roman Catholic church has a mechanism for confession. For Protestants, though, the place of confession is less clear. In our protest against clergy authority, we lost our means of confessing sin. The band meeting is a way of recapturing that practice of grace and forgiveness and healing from habits that often sabotage our lives.

What is a “band meeting”?

“Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed” (James 5:16).

The genius of the Wesley brothers—John and Charles—was not in their theological innovation. Rather, it was in the way they organized the people in their movement, which came to be called Methodism. Research has shown that the rise and fall of the Methodist movement is directly related to role of the band meeting in the movement.

To be part of a Methodist society required membership within something called the “class meeting.” But if one desired to pursue an even deeper experience of God’s holiness, they could join a band meeting. Bands were groups of 3–5 individuals of the same gender and marital status who met weekly to confess their sins to one another, so that they might grow deeper with God.

 

Step 1: Pray

If you don’t have a space to regularly confess your sin, begin by asking God. This is something God wants for you. Prayerfully consider those in your life. Who shares your eagerness to love God and neighbor? Who else is looking to be emotionally and spiritually healthy? Who do you trust and who trusts you?

The journey begins with prayer. Don’t rush into this. It’s not for the faint of heart. Confidentiality must always be maintained. You’re working to cultivate a safe environment of loving trust. Very few of us have ever experienced such a non-judgmental community. It’s a gift we can share with one another. But it only happens as a gift from God.

Step 2: Meet

Once you have 3–5 people and you’re on the same page about your expectations. Some months back I was at a conference where three guys invited me to join their band. We all live in different states but every Tuesday at 2:15 we meet for an hour over Google Hangout. There’s a couple minutes of small talk about the week, and then we dive into the questions.

There’s no limit to the ways you can meet. It can be in a home. It can be in a meeting space at church. It can be a restaurant or a park. It can even be over the phone or by video chat. The point is having a consistent time and place to meet.

Kicker and Watson write:
“To be part of a band meant being willing to shuck pretense before a brother or sister in Christ. It meant acting as a priest one to another, acting in love toward someone whose sin you know. It meant allowing someone, who knows your sin, to act in love toward you. It was training in Christlike compassion and humility, in holiness.”

Step 3: Ask the questions

These are the questions:

1. What known sins have you committed since our last meeting?

2. What temptations have you met with?

3. How were you delivered?

4. What have you thought, said, or done of which you doubt whether it be sin or not?

5. Have you nothing you desire to keep secret?

Step 4: Name your false self

Your false self does not want to be named. It will slide and slither in the shadows as long as it can. Many of us have a low, what I’ll call, “spiritual intelligence.” We just don’t know how to name sin. I’ve been in small accountability groups with guys where the ability to name sin began and ended with lust. All the while, pride and gluttony ran rampant in our lives.

One starting place is with what the medieval church called “the seven deadly sins”—anger, pride, deceit, envy, avarice, lust, and sloth. The Enneagram can be a particularly helpful tool in community to name those things that prey on your weaknesses and insecurities. Your false self wants to be justified and normalized.

What we do in private matters in public. Jesus says, “For all that is secret will eventually be brought into the open, and everything that is concealed will be brought to light and made known to all.” Our false self will get named. We get a choice. Either we get to expose it. Or others will, to our humbling and humiliation.

Step 5: Extend forgiveness

Grace is powerful. “In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven” are some of the most powerful words in the English language. In the group I meet with, we close with words of affirmation, encouragement, and forgiveness to one another. It’s not in the original questions, but we’ve found it to be a beneficial piece. We’d probably do a group hug, but Google Hangout hasn’t yet made that a feature.

We all need to hear that we are loved. That even with our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, we are not abandoned. It’s risky being known. When some one opens up about their darkest secrets, it’s crucial to acknowledge that risk and respond with care. Resist the urge to fix. No one in the room needs to wear the Superman cape. That’s God’s role. This is what it is to bear one anothers’ burdens.

You don’t have to be a Methodist to have a band meeting. It’s not some proprietary method. Sin and grace are universal experiences. Shame has a way of corroding our souls. We’re not made to hide things in secret. God did not make us that way. A loving community, if we can receive it, keeps us from justifying our favorite sins, whatever they may be.

We all need to know where to go when we feel sick. If we feel sick to our stomach, and we don’t know where the restroom is, we wind up throwing up in places we really wish we didn’t. The band meeting gives us a healthy place to put the things that make our souls sick.

If you want to know more, you need to pick up The Band Meeting: Rediscovering Relational Discipleship in Transformation Community by Kevin Watson and Scott Kisker.

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6 Novels to Shape Your Soul

6 Novels to Shape Your Soul

Tell me a story. Tell me a good story. If you have an idea to change the world, wrap it up in the best story you can put together. This is reason I find the reading of fiction and novels to be so necessary for ministry leaders of all kinds.

Tell an enthralling story, and you change a person.

Eugene Peterson writes:
The Holy Scriptures are story-shaped. Reality is story-shaped. ‘I had always,’ wrote G.K. Chesterton in accounting for his Christian belief, ‘felt life first as a story, and if there is a story, there is a storyteller.’ We enter this story, following the story-making, storytelling Jesus, and spend the rest of our lives exploring he amazing and exquisite details, the words and sentences that go into the making of the story of our creation, salvation, and life of blessing. It is a story chock full of invisibles and intricate with connections. Imagination is required.”

Novels teach us imagination. I live in a community still scarred by the largest race massacre in my country’s history. I’ve read a lot about the event. But recently I picked up a novel that puts the reader right in the middle of the events, and I was gripped in a wholly different way. Fiction, whether books or movies, punches you in the emotions in a way factual statements never can.

In seminary, I read all kinds of theology, biblical scholarship, practical ministry how-to’s. But precious little fiction. If we want to learn the shape of the story of the Scriptures—its many characters, setting, movement of plot, themes—we do well to sit with as many good stories as we can. As I’ve continued to read, I’ve learned to always keep a novel as a part of my current stack of books.

Not just any novel will do, though. I’m not suggesting that a leader seek out what’s marketed to Christian sub-culture. One should seek out novelists who tell the truth about what it means to be human while taking the Christian story seriously. Writers like Walker Percy, Flanner O’Connor, Marilynne Robinson, Madeleine L’Engle, and Wendell Berry can lead us deeper into the life of God every bit as much as Eugene Peterson, Henri Nouwen, or Thomas Merton do.

Here are six of my favorite novels that, particularly, have deepened my life with God.

Silence by Shusaku Endo

“Christ did not die for the good and beautiful. It is easy enough to die for the good and beautiful; the hard thing is to die for the miserable and corrupt.”

When I first read Silence, it made me think of a cross between the movies The Mission and Apocalypse Now. It’s the story of two Portuguese Jesuit priests, Rodrigues and Guarpo, in 1639, who, upon hearing news that their mentor Ferreira has committed apostasy, journey to Japan to investigate the truth.

The authorities in Japan have driven the church underground. Rodrigues and Guarpo are captured and imprisoned where they witness believers forced to recant or be tortured. It’s a gripping story about faith and leadership, hope in the midst of suffering and cruelty. It’s not an easy read, but it raises the question of God’s presence in the middle of suffering. This book completely changed my take on the New Testament character of Judas. It was made into a film by Martin Scorsese in 2016.

The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene

“When you visualized a man or a woman carefully, you could always begin to feel pity . . . that was a quality God’s image carried with it . . . when you saw the lines at the corners of the eyes, the shape of the mouth, how the hair grew, it was impossible to hate. Hate was just a failure of imagination.”

The Power and the Glory shares many common threads with Silence. It follows a Catholic priest, flawed in his own right, in an environment hostile to the church. The setting is Mexico in the 1930’s. The unnamed priest—known only as the “whiskey priest” to the reader—is hunted by the also unnamed lieutenant, who despises the church.

The Whiskey Priest goes town to town, ministering to people as best he can, carrying a heavy sense of penitence with him everywhere he goes. This is a story about grace in the presence of all the frailties and weaknesses of humanity.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

“There is no justice in love, no proportion in it, and there need not be, because in any specific instance it is only a glimpse or parable of an embracing, incomprehensible reality. It makes no sense at all because it is the eternal breaking in on the temporal. So how could it subordinate itself to cause or consequence?”

Gilead is the account of a rural pastor John Ames, written as a memoir to his son, explaining the lives of his own grandfather and father. John hopes to communicate vocation to his son through the exploits of the generations to which he is connected.

Robinson captures the slow and patient work of a small town preacher, the deep satisfactions, wonder, and loneliness. There is sorrow in broken and lost relationships. There is hope, redemption, and contentment in the most unexpected places. Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2005.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

“The world is so full and abundant it is like a pregnant woman carrying a child in one arm and leading another by the hand. Every puddle in the lane is ringed with sipping butterflied that fly up in flutter when you walk past in the late morning on your way to get the mail.”

Berry’s work includes fiction, poetry, and essays. All of it centers on what it means to be human in a world constantly at odds with what makes humans human. And like the fiction of J.R.R. Tolkien, all of Berry’s fiction builds one single world, that of Port William, Kentucky. Each of his novels or short story collections follows a different character through Port William over multiple generations.

Twice widowed, Hannah, now in the seventies, remembers all those that meant the most to her, the men she loved and the children she raised. As most of the Port William collection, this is a story about what it means to be part of a community over time, what it means to belong others.

All Hallow’s Eve by Charles Williams

“Why isn’t one taught how to be loved? Why isn’t one taught anything?”

Williams belonged to a writers group called The Inklings made famous by its more recognized members Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. While you might find this fantastical intersection of the natural world and the supernatural world familiar to the work of Lewis or even the fiction of G.K. Chesterton, Williams has a unique voice all his own.

The story follows two women who have recently died as they come to grips with the afterlife. In the world of the living, there’s a magician with nefarious plans. It’s a story with a thick theology of life and death and everything in between, of evil magic and divine love. It’s like Lincoln in the Bardo but takes seriously a Christian view about death and the communion of saints.

Perelandra by C.S. Lewis

“Inner silence is for our race a difficult achievement. There is a chattering part of the mind which continues, until it is corrected, to chatter on even in the holiest places.”

Perelandra is the second book in his space trilogy series, though you don’t necessarily need to have read Out of the Silent Planet first. Imagine traveling to a different planet, finding Adam and Eve, and witnessing the temptation scene of Genesis 3. This is the set up for Perelandra.

Ransom (the protagonist of the space trilogy) journeys from Earth to the planet Perelandra (in the story, the native name for Venus). There he encounters a pair of perfect, angelic beings as well as the human Weston (the antagonist from the first story). Weston appears possessed and bent on destroying this world.

If you’ve read and like Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, you’ll likely enjoy this as well. It covers similar themes of the nature of temptation and the nature of humanity.

There’s a popular manta, “Readers are leaders, and leaders are readers.” Whatever your field may be, make fiction a regular part of your spiritual practices. Use it to grow and deepen your imagination.

When it comes to novels and faith, that’s far from a comprehensive list. What about you? What are some novels that have deepened your experience of faith and grace?

~~~~~

If you like this, be sure to subscribe to the newsletter. I write stuff there that doesn’t show up on the blog. You’ll get a weekly Bible reading plan, as well as some other resources I find that have got me thinking each week.

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4 Questions for Discerning Your Enneagram Type

4 Questions for Discerning Your Enneagram Type

The Enneagram is an age-old tool for spiritual transformation based on nine personality archetypes. It can cut to the quick of all our mental and emotional vices. It unmasks us. It’s so much deeper than a personality quiz or evaluation. The Enneagram digs deep, peeling back layers as we grow in our own self awareness, shining light on pieces of ourselves that lay hidden to us.

Popular culture has long played with the idea that we have a “good self” and a “bad self.” Whether it’s stories like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde or Fight Club, we’re enthralled with the idea that we contain within us competing voices. Peter Jackson’s  adaption of The Two Towers portrays a powerful scene depicting the inner conflict of Gollum/Smeagol.

In spiritual formation, we call this the “true self” and the “false self.” This concept of true self/false self is crucial in rightly understanding the Enneagram and applying it to our lives. The Enneagram helps us wake up to our “false self” that can often be our default operating system, pulling the strings in the background of our consciousness.

When I teach the Enneagram, whether in groups or individually, it’s not an uncommon experience for someone who’s learning this for the first time to struggle in identifying with a single type. They relate to two, three, even four different ones and they can’t decide. There are numerous online tests you could take. Sometimes that’s helpful. Sometimes not. Your discernment with the Enneagram deserves more than a 5-minute online quiz.

So how do you figure out what you’re type is? Here are four questions you can use to slowly start discerning what your type might be. Sit with these. There’s no hurry. Be patient with the journey.

What’s your inner strategy for getting your needs met?

In other words, what’s your operating system running in the background of all your mental chatter to get what you want? Do you make demands to get what you want? Do you attempt to earn something to get what you want? Do you withdraw to get what you want?

Perhaps you make demands. You’re direct and assertive. You go after what you want. The false self of these types wants to go big or go home. This can be the experience of the Three, Seven, or Eight.

Perhaps you strive to earn. You’re looking for the right thing to do, what’s responsible and expected. You know the rules and work to figure our how to function within them. This can come across as people pleasing. The One, Two, and Six are marked by these characteristics.

Perhaps you withdraw and disengage. You have an “inner world” you can retreat to where you feel secure. You may feel more at home in the fantasy world in your head than the real world around you. You may walk into a room and hover around the fringes, more comfortable watching than participating. This can be the experience of the Four, Five, and Nine.

Where is your intelligence center?

In other words, from where do you make your biggest decisions? Do you use your head, analyzing and thinking things through? Do you use your heart, engaging your emotions and considering how others’ feeling will be impacted? Do you use your physical body, your gut or instinct, you just know that you know that you know?

Thinking types see the world through their heads. They think their feelings. They live in the land of ideas and are sponges for knowledge. Decision-making is a chess match of pros and cons. They’re also particularly tripped up by fear. This is the experience of the Five, Six, or Seven.

Feeling types see the world through their hearts. They wear their hearts on their sleeves. They’re often intensely relational. They thrive on connections with people. They’re natural in social situations. They also uniquely struggle with shame. If this sounds like you, you could be a Two, Three, or Four.

Intuitive types see the world through their physical bodies. All their physical senses are engaged. They make decisions instinctually. They can be impulsive. They are particularly tripped up by anger. These characterize the Eight, Nine, and One.

How do you respond to disappointment and loss?

In other words, what’s your coping mechanism when you don’t get what you want? How do you deal with conflict and difficulty? What’s your defense mechanism when you find you’re not in control?

You may try to spin a positive outlook. You turn lemons into lemonade. Put on a good face and make the most of it. Perhaps you focus on cultivating a positive self image. This describes a Two. Perhaps you focus on reframing it as positive experiences. This describes a Seven. Perhaps you focus on striving to see a positive environment. This describes a Nine.

You may put aside your feelings and be objective about the situation. You detach and disengage. You try to think your way out of it. There’s a logical explanation for this. Perhaps you strive for organization and correctness. This may characterize a One. Perhaps you respond with what’s practical and efficient.This may characterize a Three. Perhaps you respond by trying to be an expert with insightful information. This may characterize a Five.

You may respond reactively with your emotions. You may need others to mirror your emotions. You want your concern to be shared. Perhaps you just want to be understood and seen. This looks like a Four. Perhaps you want independence and, at the same time, need someone to depend on. This looks like a Six. Perhaps you keep your guard up and crave self-reliance. This looks like an Eight.

How do you listen to the wisdom of others?

Maybe this is less of a question and more of an exhortation to don’t try this alone. Do this journey in the company of a mature and experienced Christian, your pastor, a mentor, a spiritual director. How would they answer the above questions about you? How would your spouse or partner?

A very wise friend once told me, “Facing one’s dark side alone without a guide is like trying to give birth alone. You could do it, but seriously you’ll get better results doing it with a host.

As Gollum might say, your false self is a tricksy thing. It doesn’t want to be found. It doesn’t want to be exposed. It will lie to you. It won’t go quietly or without a fight. You need a community on your side.

My kids are blissfully unaware of danger. It’s one of my jobs as a parent to teach them proper respect of dangerous things, like cars on our street. One piece of their growing up is growing in understanding of what’s dangerous in the world and why. Our false self is dangerous to us. It stunts our growth and sabotages our relationships. So ask for help.

These aren’t definitive questions. They’re meant to be a kind of preliminary sorting mechanism to help you find a starting place for your journey of self-discovery and growth with God.

A couple last disclaimers:
You are not your type. You are not a One. You are not a Four. You are not an Eight. You are a human being made in God’s image. You’re a human being characterized by the tendencies of a One, or of a Four, or of an Eight. The Enneagram types are more adjective than noun. They describe you. They don’t define you.

Don’t weaponize the Enneagram. This is for you. This is your journey. This is your work. Not everybody is ready to go tackling their shadow false self. And it’s not your job to do it for them or to shove them into it.

This is just the beginning. It’s not enough to simply know your type. Now there’s work to be done letting go of your false self and becoming all that God has made you to be.

Many of the ideas here have been inspired by reading The Wisdom of the Enneagram: The Complete Guide to Psychological and Spiritual Growth for the Nine Personality Types by Don Richard Riso and Russ Hudson. My favorite primer for beginning with the Enneagram—especially for the way she unpacks the false self/true self in relation to it—is Self to Lose, Self to Find by Marilyn Vancil.

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How to figure out your vocation

How to Figure Out Your Vocation

Who are you? What are you doing here? These are two of biggest questions we tackle in life. That first question is one of identity. The second is all about vocation.

How do you know what you were put on this earth to do? Your vocation may include your job, but it is not your job. It’s bigger. Your job might be the means for funding your vocation. Your vocation is not your major. It’s not your resume. You don’t clock in and out of it. There’s no vacation from it. Your vocation is what you do. You are your vocation on your days off and in your free time.

When I spent some time with a job transition ministry, I listened to a guy encourage the group to put the words “so that…” on their resume. This stuck with me as a reminder that I’m not my work experience or my education. All those are means to an end. We’re often tempted to confuse our job with our identity or our vocation. But jobs come and go. Frequently. But not our identity. Not our vocation.

Being a doctor isn’t a vocation. Bringing healing to peoples’ lives is. Being a financial advisor isn’t a vocation. Helping people lead lives of freedom is. Being a pastor isn’t a vocation. Helping people discern the presence of God in their lives is.

What is all your work for in the end? What is that college education for? It has to be more than a paycheck. In this way, vocation is related to Sabbath because in Sabbath we live into the purpose of our work. In Sabbath we lay down that which gives us a paycheck and participate in that for which God has made us.

If you don’t know your vocation, how do you figure it out?

Ask God about your vocation

As you practice spiritual disciplines like centering prayer or fasting or silence and solitude, ask God about your vocation. Make it part of your dialogue with God. In addition, ask those who know you well and that you trust—your pastor, your spiritual director, wise peers and thoughtful family. God often speaks to us through the wisdom of faithful believers around us.

Your vocation goes far deeper than the contemporary platitude “Be yourself.” If being “true to yourself” is your highest goal, what happens, then, when you discover your darkest shadows, your self-destructive tendencies, your narcissism? As followers of Jesus, we learn to lay down our “false selves,” our “flesh” as Paul frequently calls it.

Paul says, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” And Jesus says, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it.”

Seeking our vocation isn’t about self-fulfillment or self-enlightenment as if we are individuals existing in a vacuum. If it is God who made us and the world, there is wisdom in going to the source and simply asking. Before stubbornly staking a claim in what you want, listen. Listen patiently.

Consider your vocation in terms of what you love

What do you want to be when you grow up? J.M. Barrie, creator of Peter Pan the boy never wanted to grow up, writes, “Nothing is really work unless you’d rather be doing something else.”

Your vocation isn’t something God wants for you that you just have to endure, as if it were like eating vegetables or running for exercise. Your vocation is where you get lost in the flow.

Some people love spreadsheets. Some love animals. Others love making music or creating stories. Still others love helping people. What do you love? What do you spend your time daydreaming about? What do you get lost in doing? What are the things that people wish you’d stop talking about because you get so excited?

I remember seeing the band Wilco in concert. Watching Jeff Tweedy, Nels Cline, and Glenn Kotche getting so lost in their music reminded me of the popular saying of Irenaus: “The glory of God is man fully alive.”

Consider your vocation in terms of what you’re good at

You are a human being made in the image of God. There are things you know how to do like nobody else. You have a voice that no one in the world has. You have a unique perspective of the world that no one else has. And the world needs you and what you’re good at.

So what are you good at? Are you uniquely gifted making people feel listened to? Are you good at creating systems? Are you skilled at public speaking and presentations?

You may very well experience some painful rejections as you learn what you’re good at by learning through experience what you’re not good at. There may be callings you passionately desire, but you just don’t fit. It can sting learning lay down those desires. Pruning promotes growth in plants, and we’re the same way. It’s not unusual to find that a painful “no” leads you one step closer to the most satisfying “yes.”

Consider your vocation in terms of the unique challenges of your time and place

Why are you here in this place right now? If God could have made you in any time, in any culture, in any place on earth, why this one? The story Esther in the Old Testament includes the oft repeated line, “Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?” In the context, Esther is being challenged by her cousin to stand up against the powers that threaten to destroy her people. There is a purpose that you are right here right now.

Today in North America, we live in a time and place in which money is a necessary part of our reality. It costs money to eat, to feed our families, to a pay for a house or apartment. When was the last time you went an entire day without spending money? Acquiring money is a necessary part of our lives. Unfortunately, many of us endlessly confuse acquiring money for our vocation. But falling into this trap is one of many ways we find ourselves stripped of our humanity.

Fortunately, when we know how to solve someone’s problem effectively and efficiently, they are more than happy to give us money for our time and skill. In the best of worlds, this is what a job is.

So whose problems do you know how to solve?

Maybe your community needs passionate mentors for children. Maybe they need websites built. Maybe they need stories told or financial management. Or perhaps you’re able to apply your passions and skills to larger issues like community health, climate change, or political leadership.

You are a human being made in the image of God. And so, first and foremost, your vocation involves reflecting the bold creativity of the God who thought heaven and earth (and you) were a good idea. It’s only in embracing this calling that we find a satisfaction with our place in the great and wonderful universe.

Parker Palmer writes, “Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be.”

If you’d like to meet with a spiritual director to begin discerning your vocation, send me a note.

If you want to dig deeper:
Palmer’s book Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation is indispensable reading on the subject of calling. Two books on the topic of how work and career relate to vocation I recommend are Jeff Goins’ The Art of Work: A Proven Path to Discovering What You Were Meant to Do and Jon Acuff’s Do Over: Make Today the First Day of Your New Career.

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If you like this, be sure to subscribe to the newsletter. I write stuff there that doesn’t show up on the blog. You’ll get a weekly Bible reading plan, as well as some other resources I find that have got me thinking each week.

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