Sep 08

Heavenly Reverie, Pt. 3 – “Get Your Head in the Game”

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I played basketball in High School.  When I was a senior, our opening game was against a highly ranked team.  I was to play defense against an all-state point guard, and that week in practice my coach was particularly hard on me, trying to get

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I played basketball in High School.  When I was a senior, our opening game was against a highly ranked team.  I was to play defense against an all-state point guard, and that week in practice my coach was particularly hard on me, trying to get me prepared.  If he saw me losing focus even for a second he would blow his whistle and yell, “Smith, get your head in the game!!!”  It was a rough week being yelled at so much, but it did get my attention.  Come game time I was ready.

We played that first game at home, and we had a raucous crowd behind us.  The energy was flowing through the building.  I was trembling through the warm-up time.  Then something happened to me right at the tip-off, something that had never happened to me before, and never happened again.  It was as is if, in an instant, the crowd noise became silent.  I could hear the beating of my heart, and my breathing, and nothing else.  The game seemed to slow down.  I was fully present to the moment, and completely unaware of myself.  I was in what athletes call “the zone.”

Right away I anticipated a pass by my opponent, and jumped in for an interception, raced to the other end and scored.  We were ahead 2-0.  The next trip down the court I was all over my star opponent, and once again stole a pass and went down and scored again.  We were up 4-0.  The other team quit trying to pass to my opponent, and they stalled offensively.  With each trip down the court for us I scored—on six straight possessions.  They only managed one basket.  We were ahead 16-2, only ten minutes into the game, and I had scored all 16 of our points.

During a dead-ball near my bench, I ran over to throw the ball in to one of my teammates.  As I stood on the sideline, one of my teammates on bench swatted me on the rear (athletes do this to one another despite it being inappropriate in normal life) and said, “Smith, you’re playing awesome—keep it up!”  I turned and looked at him, and in that moment I realized something I had forgotten for the past ten minutes:  that I was playing basketball.  The crowd noise suddenly blared, like someone had just cranked up the stereo.  I nervously threw the ball in bounds, and tried to get back to that zone.  To no avail.  For the rest of the game I played terribly.  I never scored again, and made a lot of turnovers.  My star opponent soon caught on fire.  It was a nightmare, until the last few seconds of the game.

In the final seconds, down by a point, my teammate stole a pass and threw the ball to me and I raced down the court for a lay-up, only to be fouled (pretty hard) by my opponent.  With no time remaining on the clock, I was awarded two free-throws.  I made the first, tying the game.  With a chance to win the game, I let the ball fly, only to watch it clank off the back of the rim.  Now tied, we went into overtime.  We lost, by five points, and I never scored again.  I was crushed and felt defeated.  What had happened?

When I was in the “zone” I was in the flow of the moment.  I was completely concentrated on what was in front of me.  I had my “head in the game,” as my coach had barked at me all week.  In the zone, I played with a clear focus.  I played without self-awareness.   It was only later, in the locker room, that I learned I had scored 16 straight points.  I played without fear.   Every time I shot, I never thought of missing.  When my teammate swatted me on the rear, that all ended.  From that moment on I was self-aware (“Smith, you’re playing awesome”).  I played with pressure (“keep it up!”).  I played with fear.  My opponent, whom I had dominated, now intimidated me.  My head was no longer in the game, and I was awful.

I had not thought about that story for at least a decade until one morning in prayer I said to God, “Just tell me this—what is the one thing, the one thing I could do that would strengthen my life as an apprentice of Jesus?”  I heard the Spirit say, “Get your head in the game.”  It was the exact same phrase as my basketball coach, but said in a much more gentle tone.  In that time of prayer I asked the Lord to explain what that means.  God then brought this verse to my mind:  “Set your mind on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:2)

Set your mind.  That is the key.  In that verse, those three words “set your mind,” comes from one Greek word:  phroneo.  It is also translated as “savor” or “be mindful” or “think on.”  Bible scholars say it refers to “the seat of intellectual and spiritual activity.”  The ancient Greeks used the word to describe an inner disposition “oriented to the good and the beautiful.”[i]  One important verse where phroneo is used is in Matt. 16:23.  In that passage, Jesus tells the disciples that he will be killed, but raised again, on the third day.  Peter says, “Never, Lord, will this happen to you!”  And Jesus responds with the famous rebuke:  “Get behind me, Satan, you are an offense to me, because you set your mind (phroneo) not on the things of God, but the things of man.”

The “things of man” would refer to the kingdom of this world, and its values, such as power, pleasure, self-preservation and wealth.  Jesus is essentially telling Peter, “Get your head in the game, the real game, which is the Kingdom of God, and its values of self-sacrifice, beauty, goodness, truth, and love.”  To “set your mind” of the kingdom of this world is tempting, because we are constantly bombarded with its values.   Everywhere I turn I see it.  Buy more, be more, have more.  Yet seeking the kingdom of this world is fraught with frustration and fear.

Jesus tells us to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his right ways, and you will have everything you need” (Matt. 6:33).  He says this in response to those who spend their life worrying about what they will eat, or drink, or wear.  To get your head in the worldly game is to live in anxiety and despair.  To get your head in the Kingdom of God game is find life and peace.  Paul says the same when he tells the Colossian Christ-followers, “Since you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above.  Set your mind (phroneo) on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:1-2).  Christ-followers are united with Jesus and his new reign, and we are invited—urged even—to get our heads in that game.

That is what I most want right now.  To have the same kind of focus on the Kingdom of God that I had in that basketball game long ago.  To be utterly caught up on this game that is happening all around me, the with-God life to which I have been invited, is my aim and purpose.  To be so in the zone of Kingdom of God that I am completely unaware of anything else, not the least of all, of myself.  And when I get in that zone I pray that no one snaps me out of it.

[i]  Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, vol. 9, p. 222

Photo courtesy of  Chad Cooper – Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.


Dr. James Bryan Smith (M.Div., Yale University Divinity School; DMin Fuller Seminary) is the Executive Director of the Apprentice Institute. Dr. Smith is currently a theology professor at Friends University, in Wichita, Kansas, and an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. He is the author of eight books, most notablyThe Apprentice Series (InterVarsity Press), which continue to shape the work of the Apprentice Institute. Dr. Smith’s other titles include Devotional Classics (with Richard J. Foster), Embracing the Love of God, Room of Marvels, and Hidden in Christ.

Join Dr. Smith and other Christian Formation authors and speakers this October for The Apprentice Gathering 2015 – The Joy of Kingdom Living.  Learn more at www.apprenticegathering.org.

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Aug 24

Simply Trust – Part II

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Last week, I blogged about my experiment with simplicity.  I was very powerful for me to use Jan Johnson’s book, Abundant Simplicity, to de-clutter a particular area of my life that really needed help.  Participants in Community 1 of the Apprentice Experience granted me permission

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Last week, I blogged about my experiment with simplicity.  I was very powerful for me to use Jan Johnson’s book, Abundant Simplicity, to de-clutter a particular area of my life that really needed help.  Participants in Community 1 of the Apprentice Experience granted me permission to share some of their experiences with the entire Apprentice community.

In Part 2 of this blog, I will share their experiments with simplicity.  Perhaps their stories will provide some motivation, inspiration or some insight as to how God is working in their lives as they journey through the Apprentice Experience.

Here are just a few entries:

Participant 1-

“One way I am ‘un-cluttering’ this week is cleaning out my Inbox so that I can see all of them on one page- only keeping the essentials ones that remind me that I need to respond in some way, and unsubscribing from some of the emails I was getting that only distract me (TravelZoo, Groupon, etc).  Life with Jesus is better than any ‘deal’ the internet has to offer!”

Participant 2-

“On page 8 of Jan’s book, Abundant Simplicity, she writes, ‘Simplicity is not a discipline itself but a way of being. It is letting go of things others consider normal. It is an “inward reality of single-hearted focus upon God and God’s kingdom, which results in an outward lifestyle of modesty.’

 Simple thus isn’t the goal. I know of people who live frugally and who are about as far from God as one can be. Frugal can be a symptom of faithlessness. Rather simple is a means, when appropriately employed, to enable us to remove the obstacles that keep us from that ‘inward reality of a single-hearted focus upon God.’ I find that when I remove the clutter whether of things and/or the mental clutter that congests my soul’s lungs then I can breathe more deeply of the Spirit and can consequently experience a fuller reality of God’s presence.

 The accumulation of things hasn’t really been so much of a problem for me as I grow older as much as the things that add to the mental clutter of my mind. When that happens then the things start to own me rather than me owning them. The thing that tries to own me the most and does the most to clutter up my mind is the television and in a close second are the social media devices.

 I confessed recently in a sermon to my congregation that I contemplated canceling my cable service. But, after further consideration, I thought that might be a rash decision. The cable television isn’t bad nor the social media devices. They are only harmful when they start to own us and redirect our focus farther from God. So my spiritual discipline for this month is to first become aware of the routines that own me e.g., plopping automatically down in front and the TV and allowing the ‘Sirens’ of the flat screen to draw me into the rocks of spiritual despair. Secondly, once I recognize the harmful routines, I will turn to listen to the Spirit’s call and allow God to own me so that my soul can breathe more deeply of God’s goodness. In my confession to my congregation, I promised to keep them update on my progress. I think there might be some others in my congregation practicing this spiritual discipline of abstinence as Jan calls it.”

Participant 3-

“Abstinence has been with ease as I have matured.  I have found I do not buy ‘things’ as when I was younger. Yes I lack the desire but God has given me much more to replace than having those things.  My taste in food has gotten simpler, fresher, colorful with less of it.  However, If you ask me to give up chocolate or wine then I will find a struggle and an obvious discipline for me to venture.  Living on a ranch can lend to a collection of nuts and bolts ‘just in case’ you need one.  My eyes appreciate simple lines and cleanliness.  It takes some work to keep a landscape free of clutter in your home or outside.   As I walk along a creek near our house I have the choice to see all the deadfall that needs cleaning up or how nature runs its course with decay.  There was a great horn owl on a dead tree along on drive just last night.  I stopped the car so we could watch as the bird took off in a swoosh.  My husband said ‘That is why I want to leave the dead tree there.’  Jim Smith said in our last gathering that some people actually prefer manmade beauty perhaps more than even nature.  I agreed for a while.  Nature does not always have the cleanest lines but the whole picture cannot be replicated.  The chaos and the simple lie side by side.  I can see the beauty in the chaos while watching the center of a storm.  I can see beauty in decay while watching the birds in dead trees.  It is an ongoing process to keep the clutter down and oh how sweet it is when I am finally there, in glimpses.”

Participant 4-

“One thing that stood out in chapter 2 was that one can LEARN to be content. That is a very encouraging thing.  I don’t have to just wait for contentment to wash over me or do without it.  It’s not a disposition that, if I’m not born with it, I’m out of luck.  If it is something that can be learned, then it is within my reach. All kinds of things can be learned.  In a psychology class, I heard about a study in which rats became more creative after researchers reinforced them when they tried novel behaviors.  They said the rats learned creativity.  I also heard that the secret to being patient was to find something else to do in the meantime, and voila, I learned patience.  I think learning contentment is similar.  Focusing on what I do have instead of what I don’t, focusing on what really matters instead of what is here today and gone tomorrow.  As with all learning, the more I practice the more it becomes an automatic habit.”

Participant 5-

“I have been a blacksmith in the past. I love it, the smell of the coal smoke, the way the steel glows in the heat of the fire, the way it moves when I hit it with a hammer.  Literally hundreds of fantastic memories of working in front of men and boys at Royal Rangers camps.  However, I have not had my forge lit in 5 or 6 years. I owned a 281lb anvil, a 150lb vise, a huge 24 by 26 tray forge and dozens of hammers, tongs and tools.  As God was changing my life and preparing me for ministry, one thing that He was really working on was my attachment to stuff.  Even without the physical stuff the memories were still with me.  So…I simplified, I kept a small forge and anvil to play with when I come back to that hobby.  I sold or gave away most of my big tools and grinders.  And you know what?  Life is simpler!”

As you can see, people in the Apprentice Experience have been grappling with the concept of simplicity and have experienced some major revelations.  It will be interesting to witness the ways they experience God in the midst of all of this as we prepare for our next gathering.

Experiments with Simplicity

I’d like to encourage you to experiment with simplicity this week.  Perhaps you can try one or all of these:

  1. Talk to someone who lives simply. Ask them what they’ve learned through simplicity.
  1. Ask someone you trust to suggest what “weights” you need to lay aside. Don’t answer that person immediately.  Think about what he or she said.
  1. Journal about this question: “What do you want?” First write down what you think you want.  Then, ask God to help you search yourself as you look at things such as your calendar and spending records.  Also, consider your thought energy – What do you spend a lot of time thinking about?

John Carroll oversees the Apprentice Experience, a two-year certification experience in Christian Spiritual Formation for clergy and laity.  With a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary, John brings a unique blend of experience (11 years in corporate recruiting, 4 years in the local church) to the Apprentice Institute.  He is happily married to his wife, Amber, and together they have two children, Aidan and Amelia. In his free time, John enjoys reading, watching football and spending time with family and friends.

For more information about the Apprentice Experience, contact John at john.carroll@apprenticeinstitute.org.

 

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Aug 11

Simply Trust

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tree sprout

Many of you connected to the Apprentice Institute know that I oversee the adult learning program, Apprentice Experience.  It has been an incredible opportunity for me. Not only do I get to work with a fantastic team of deep, Christian people, but I have the

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tree sprout

Many of you connected to the Apprentice Institute know that I oversee the adult learning program, Apprentice Experience.  It has been an incredible opportunity for me. Not only do I get to work with a fantastic team of deep, Christian people, but I have the honor of leading people from all over the world in this 18-month journey in discipleship.  Our pilot group – Community 1 – is made up of twenty-five people.  They are pastors, church staff, para church workers and lay leaders.

As we prepare for our third Gathering in October, we are reading Jan Johnson’s book, Abundant SimplicitySimplicity is about intentionally choosing the engaging, relational life we were meant to live.  These choices allow God’s power to move through us and bless others as we have space to do good.  Suffice to say, it has been making an indelible mark on our hearts and minds.  Each week, we read two chapters, then attempt an experiment with simplicity.

One of the recent experiments asked us to talk with someone we know who lives simply.  I gave some thought to this and decided I was going to talk to a friend from Florida who recently simplified her wardrobe by doing a “clothing capsule.”  The concept is essentially a minimalist approach to clothing.  The idea is nothing new.  It actually dates back to the 70’s, but is making a comeback.  The basic idea is to build a wardrobe with a few high-quality, timeless pieces that mix and match.  You store seasonal clothing and only keep what you wear in your closet.  Each season, you switch to a new capsule, though some pieces will overlap.  The wardrobe is also intended to be built with ethical clothing.

For those of you who don’t know me, I’m a bit of a “clothes horse.” (Hey – everyone’s got their own vices, right?)  I decided to attempt the clothing capsule after much prayer and thought.  I took everything out of my closet and went through it all.  I hung up what I wear regularly, including shoes.  Then I went through what was left.  I either gave away of donated the rest.  I purged my closet again, only this time, it was really hard.  I picked a couple different items and said goodbye to the rest.  Versatility was the key to what I ended up keeping.

Part of having a capsule is not having all of your clothes in front of you, which can be overwhelming.  For example, my fall/winter wardrobe went in the spare bedroom’s closet, which included coats, sweaters, and long sleeve shirts.

The last step in my transition to simplicity was to stop shopping.  Which isn’t really hard for me since I hate to shop.  But when you get rid of 75% of your clothes, it’s easy to stroll into a store and pick up some new items.  Shopping should only occur when preparing to fill in the gaps for the next season’s capsule.  My summer wardrobe has exactly 40 items.

For me, this process was extremely spiritual.  While I was in seminary, my wife and I did not make very much money.  We were in a season of minimalistic living.  We hung on to what we accumulated in our previous lives because resources were limited.  This process of simplifying my wardrobe revealed something incredibly insightful.  I learned that, over the years, I hung on to clothes out of a lack of trust…with God.  I didn’t trust that I’d have clothes to wear, so I kept them – even though I didn’t wear a lot of it.  By purging my closet, it was an exercise in simplicity and trust.  The experience was very powerful!

Through this process, I also have spent a great deal of time reflecting on the wise words of Jesus, from Matthew 6 (v. 25-34)

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32 For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.  34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

I posted my experiment with simplicity in the online classroom for the Apprentice Experience.  Shortly afterwards, others from Community 1 began posting their experiments.  It was staggering to read how they are living in abundant simplicity.  I asked their permission to share some of their experiences with the entire Apprentice community.  Next week, I’ll post Part 2 of this blog so you can read their stories.


John Carroll oversees the Apprentice Experience, a two-year certification experience in Christian Spiritual Formation for clergy and laity.  With a Bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and a Master of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary, John brings a unique blend of experience (11 years in corporate recruiting, 4 years in the local church) to the Apprentice Institute.  He is happily married to his wife, Amber, and together they have two children, Aidan and Amelia. In his free time, John enjoys reading, watching football and spending time with family and friends.

For more information about the Apprentice Experience, contact John at john.carroll@apprenticeinstitute.org.

 

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Jun 10

Becoming a Wounded Healer – Part 2

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When I was about 10 years old, I was playing with a group of neighborhood kids one summer afternoon when Billy did something I didn’t really appreciate.  I have no memory of his sin against me, but I surely do remember my sin against him. I

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When I was about 10 years old, I was playing with a group of neighborhood kids one summer afternoon when Billy did something I didn’t really appreciate.  I have no memory of his sin against me, but I surely do remember my sin against him. I whipped a heavy rope at him which left a large red welt on his cheek. He ran home in tears. Somehow my mother learned of the incident and angrily called me home. She met me on the front steps and said that I couldn’t come in the house until I apologized to Billy.

I said that I couldn’t apologize because I wasn’t sorry; he deserved it! Of course that made her even angrier. She went inside and locked the door. Now, my mother and I had many battles of will before then (and many after), so she should have anticipated what would happen. I stayed on the front porch until dark (about 4 hours), until she finally let me in. I never did apologize.

Forgiveness was not part of my lifestyle as a child. Actually it was not part of my family’s life style.  And, I am chagrined to admit, it has only been in the last half of my life that I have really begun to understand and practice the discipline of forgiveness.

Richard Rohr says, “God fully forgives us, but the ‘karma’ of our mistakes remains, and we must still go back and repair the bonds that we have broken.  Otherwise others will not be able to forgive us, will remain stuck, and we will both remain a wounded world. . . . Our family, friends and enemies are not as kind or patient as God.  They need a clear accounting to be free and go ahead with their lives.” (Adapted from Eucharist as Touchstone, CD, MP3 download). This was surely true for Billy and me; we never did play together or even speak to each other again.

Rohr continues:  “Nothing just goes away in the spiritual world; all must be reconciled and accounted for. All healers are wounded healers, as Henri Nouwen said so well. There is no other kind. In fact, you are often most gifted to heal others precisely where you yourselves were wounded, or wounded others . . . . You learn to salve the wounds of others by knowing and remembering how much it hurts to hurt” (Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, p. 69). 

So all healers are wounded, but not all those who are wounded are healers. Healing is something God orchestrates, but we must join the orchestra. Emotional healing does not happen by osmosis, it is an intentional step forward. It requires a shift in thinking and a willingness to forgive. If Christians want to remain stuck in their woundedness, they will harm rather than help others.

My own journey with forgiveness began when a counselor told me that I had to forgive my mother for our life-long bitter and unloving relationship or my anger would destroy me.  I did not want to forgive my mother. But I learned that my wants and feelings had nothing to do with forgiving. One day I sat on my bed and berated God. “If you want me to forgive her, you’ll have to do it.” Little did I understand how theologically correct my ultimatum was. I had to be willing, but God had to do the work. My process of becoming a wounded healer, instead of a wounded daughter, was beginning.

My relationship with my mother did not change. It was toxic; I needed to stay away. But gradually my anger dribbled away. Many years later, my mother struggled with several health issues. My sister was the only one of five siblings who lived near enough to help. After a few years of being totally responsible for mother’s care, she was physically and emotionally exhausted. God nudged me, and I knew I was being called to go home and help. God worked out all the details of the move – a job transfer, a way to handle housing, the change of heart my husband had about moving. And so we moved.

I helped where I could.  And gradually as mother slid away into dementia I learned to leave the past behind and act in a loving way. And then, one day, I was with my mother in her living room as I had been hundreds of times before, listening to her complaints as I had hundreds of time before. She asked me a question, and I turned to look at her.  And suddenly I saw a lonely and fearful elderly woman, small, bent over, and suffering immense emotional pain – as she had for dozens of years. I felt forgiveness and love. What started in my bedroom twenty years earlier was completed in her living room.

The process of becoming a wounded healer is described in this beautiful passage as interpreted by Eugene Peterson in The Message:

But now take another look. I’m going to give this city a thorough renovation,

working a true healing inside and out. I’m going to show them life whole, life

brimming with blessings. I’ll restore everything that was lost to Judah and Jeru-

salem. I’ll build everything back as good as new. I’ll scrub them clean from the

dirt they’ve done against me. I’ll forgive everything they’ve done wrong, forgive

all their  rebellions. And Jerusalem will be a center of joy and praise and glory

for all the countries on earth. They’ll get reports on all the good I’m doing for

her. They’ll be in awe of the blessings I am pouring on her (Jeremiah 33:5-7).

If we let him, God will renovate our hearts, working a true healing. We will be blessed, restored, scrubbed clean, and forgiven for our wrongs and rebellions.  Our lives will be centers of joy and praise and glory for all around us. People will be in awe of what God is doing in us.  We will become  wounded healers.

MULLING IT OVER:  Do know a “wounded healer?”  What does that person bring to your life?  Do you know a wounded person who is still drowning in the hurt and pain?  What do they bring to your life? Are you are a wounded healer? Or are you one of the hurt people who hurt people?  Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see who you really are.

 


Karen Bables is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Holland, Michigan.  Recently retired from work as a Director of Spiritual Formation, she now spends her time writing. She blogs at www.livingasapprentices.com.

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May 12

Growing Requires Daring to Look at Who We Really Are

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“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” Psalm 139 1-4; 23-24 (NRSV) I have been an enabler (now recovering) most of my life: I looked

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“Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”

Psalm 139 1-4; 23-24 (NRSV)

I have been an enabler (now recovering) most of my life: I looked for and attracted needy people and proceeded to try to “fix them.”  I felt responsible for other people’s feelings, thoughts, actions, needs, and well-being. I was happiest when I was busily attempting to bring calm to chaotic situations.  I did this even in the face of logic which clearly demonstrated that this behavior was foolhardy and even dangerous and in spite of the objections of my family and friends. Those actions had severe consequences which still affect my life. And all the while I was convinced that this lifestyle was what God was calling me to do.

This behavior controlled my life because I was unable to step outside myself and observe my own behavior. Until a counselor helped me to look at myself and discern the motivation of my actions and reactions, I saw no need to change, although my life was falling apart all around me.

What I am describing here is a lack of consciousness.   Consciousness is “me seeing me seeing” (Richard Rohr, Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, p. 85).  Consciousness is the awareness that empowers me to:

  • step outside myself
  • discern my behavior
  • choose to change my behavior or go ahead with that behavior

The opposite of consciousness is acting out of instinct or from thoughts and experiences of which we are unaware.  An example of this “unconscious” behavior would be sudden anger or violence that makes us think, “Where in the world did that come from?” or crippling fear that we cannot explain.

When my enabling controlled me, I could/would not see that I was choosing to be manipulated.  I could/would not understand or see that I was taking actions that hurt me as well as the person I was trying to fix.  When I took a young man just released from jail to my home to stay because his parents wouldn’t let him return to their home, I couldn’t see that his parents may have had good reason to keep him away. Being “unconscious” kept me in denial of the dangers of my own behavior.

As I began my spiritual formation journey years later, I discovered that God used that counselor to help me understand and change my behavior, but that the Holy Spirit was the power behind my transformation from someone interested only in codependent relationships to someone who could form and enjoy healthy relationships.  My perception is that consciousness is the conduit the Holy Spirit uses to speak into our lives.  If we are willing to practice stepping out- side of ourselves, the Holy Spirit can guide, comfort, teach, remind, and empower us, as Scripture teaches he will (John 14).

“Consciousness” is an awareness we can learn and practice.  A counselor who was in one of the classes I teach told the group that looking back on our past to see how our parents or grandparents may have influenced our lives is one way of learning to step outside ourselves and become observers. Learning about “false narratives” also gives us a framework to observe and assess our own perceptions of the world.

The spiritual discipline of “detachment” is also a way that we can learn to develop consciousness. Ignatius of Loyola talks about “making use of those things that help bring us closer to God and leaving aside those things that don’t” (In First Principal and Foundation quoted by Margaret Silf in her book Inner Compass).  Silf uses the image of God as a midwife to help us picture what detachment means:

For all of us, our first experience of the pain and promise of detachment was the hour we left our mother’s womb and, screaming with shock,  entered human life on earth.  In the seemingly brutal act of cutting the umbilical cord, which separated us from the prenatal food supply, we were in fact set free to live our own lives.

So it began, and so it continues in the ongoing call to let go of what is not (or is no longer) leading us closer to God, and to choose instead those ways that for us personally lead us closer to him and to the fulfillment of his dream for us.  (Inner Compass, p. 108)

Richard Rohr says that “for properly detached persons . . . . deeper consciousness comes rather naturally.  They discover their own soul – which is their deepest self – and yet have access to a Larger Knowing beyond themselves.”  He goes on to say that when Jesus speaks of “giving us the Spirit,” he is saying he is “sharing his consciousness with us. One whose soul is thus awakened actually has ‘the mind of Christ’ (I Cor. 2 10-16)  (Breathing Under Water, p. 86-87).

Mulling it Over – Take on the discipline of praying this prayer every day.  “Lord, give me a growing spirit of detachment from anything that separates me from you” (Richard Foster).  Pay attention to the effect it has on your willingness to look at yourself from outside yourself.


Karen Bables is a wife, mother, and grandmother living in Holland, Michigan.  Recently retired from work as a Director of Spiritual Formation, she now spends her time writing.  She blogs at www.livingasapprentices.com.

Posted in A Good and Beautiful Life, Blog, Narrative, Soul Training, Spiritural Growth | Tags: / / / / / / / / /

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