Apr 21

Spiritual Formation and Superhero Thinking

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One omnipresent question when it comes to Christian Spiritual Formation is why spiritual practices appear to affect some individuals more than others. A second is why some Christians show such little interest in engaging in spiritual practices at all. The underlying reason for both may

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One omnipresent question when it comes to Christian Spiritual Formation is why spiritual practices appear to affect some individuals more than others. A second is why some Christians show such little interest in engaging in spiritual practices at all. The underlying reason for both may be in the mindset of the individual.

Confession is good for the soul. “The book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. motivated this installment.” Wow, that felt refreshing! Having identified my inspiration, I highly recommend her book. Since opening its front cover (or rather swiping through its pages on Kindle), I have been sharing insights with my sons, students, and colleagues. It is like seeing the spring grass and flowers anew following an atmosphere clearing thunderstorm.

I want to identify the core idea from Dweck’s book for the reader and then suggest how understanding this idea might make a difference for those of us who seek to help others with their own spiritual formation. Dweck labels her two mindsets Fixed and Growth. The key point of Dweck’s work is that a person’s mindset is not permanent; a mindset can be modified and manipulated by oneself and others. To summarize her distinctions between the two, “children with the fixed mindset want to make sure they succeed . . . But for children with the growth mindset, success is about stretching themselves.” (p. 17) To extend her thought into Christian Spiritual Formation, for Christians with a fixed mindset Spiritual Formation is about being like Jesus and for those with the growth mindset it is about becoming like Jesus. Since the first sees talents and abilities as innate, any struggle or setback leads them to stop trying, while for the second each challenge is viewed as an opportunity to grow a bit more like the Master.

“People with the growth mindset know that it takes time for potential to flower.” (p. 28) The inverse is that people with the fixed mindset don’t use the word “potential,” one either has IT or they don’t. As the author herself notes, “Until I discovered the mindsets and how they work, I, too, thought of myself as more talented than others, maybe even more worthy than others because of my endowments.” (p. 29-30) A fixed mindset considers that “effort is for those who don’t have the ability.” (p. 40) In one study with children some were praised for their ability while others were praised for their effort. “Since this was a kind of IQ test, you might say that praising ability lowered the students’ IQs. And that praising their effort raised them.” (p. 73)

A final note of clarification from Dweck: “Perhaps it’s because, as Malcolm Gladwell suggests, people prize natural endowment over earned ability. . . . We like to think of our champions and idols as superheroes who were born different from us. We don’t like to think of them as relatively ordinary people who made themselves extraordinary.” (p. 90)

What does this have to do with Spiritual Formation?

We should recognize first and foremost that a fixed mindset is detrimental to spiritual formation. Because of this reality, it is crucial for CSF directors to be cautious of the language they use in describing formation. We don’t help others if we indirectly reinforce their own fixed mindset. Formation directors must also learn to see a fixed mindset in those they are leading and consciously move them toward a growth mindset in other avenues of their life as well. These conversations can focus on the worlds of the two mindsets. In the world of the fixed mindset, “success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself.” However, in the world of the growth mindset, “it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.” (p. 16) This is where a conversation can begin with other directors you know.

What language do you use? How might you rephrase your language to develop a growth mindset in a mentee?

Second, it is critical for those of us involved in spiritual formation to avoid creating our own superheroes. The spiritually mature have not always been where they are today. We applaud them for their status, adore them for their spirituality, and admire them for their seeming superiority. In so doing we reinforce a fixed mindset in ourselves and remain behind a self-imposed barricade to our own journey. If I have a fixed mindset (which I discovered is a default for me) then I see in others the same qualities. I easily forget the years they spent undergoing transformation. I have learned to recognize that my “spiritually formed” friends have not always been so. Their lives have not been a smooth road protected from difficulty. Some have tragically lost a child; others suffered from unspeakable childhoods. A few have suffered physical illness in their body, while one dear friend was the lone survivor from her family of a car accident. These individuals were formed through time, trials, and trust in a merciful god. The true danger of creating spiritual superheroes is that we relegate them to a solitary life because they can no longer walk among us as regular humans who themselves are in the process of being transformed by God. We risk stunting their spiritual formation

How do you speak about the authors you are reading? Do you impose on them fixed traits? Do you validate yourself by seeing them as having this static spirituality?

A third application of Dweck’s material for spiritual formation may be less obvious. One characteristic frequently identified as the Greek virtue unique to Christianity is humility. I wonder whether the fixed mindset with its concern for maintaining superior positioning based on an innate quality can actually practice humility. It seems that the growth mindset with its better recognition of abilities and areas for improvement may have the upper hand in actually living a life of humility. This might also help explain Paul’s admonition to the Philippians in 2:5 “You should think among yourselves in the same way that Christ Jesus thought!”

Does the unrealistic self-identity associated with a fixed mindset hinder the development of humility? How do you understand humility to be developed?

Finally, I must recognize the real danger a fixed mindset presents to spiritual development. Dweck notes, “In the end, many people with the fixed mindset understand that their cloak of specialness was really a suit of armor they built to feel safe, strong, and worthy. While it may have protected them early on, later it constricted their growth, sent them into self-defeating battles, and cut them off from satisfying, mutual relationships.” (p. 232) Armor we have worn for decades is not easily removed. Quick and easy is not the way of Jesus. Faithfulness over the long haul reflects the narrow pathway of discipleship.

Do you see yourself as being transformed by God as you journey with God through this life or as having already arrived? Is your mindset one of growth or is it fixed?

 

Mindset The New Psychology of Success Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., Ballantine Books, 2006


 

harstine

An educator since 1984, Stan Harstine is convinced that his career consists of “teaching students to think.” He has engaged in this career since 2002 at Friends University using biblical studies as his medium. His greatest accomplishment for 2014 was having 3 sons graduated from college, gainfully employed and not living at home.

 

 


 

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Apr 07

Where are You?

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My husband Fred had been ill for several weeks.  By the time he was finally hospitalized, a lung infection had spread to his kidneys and to his brain.  After about two hours in the emergency room, he became non-responsive.  We talked to him, called his name, and asked

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My husband Fred had been ill for several weeks.  By the time he was finally hospitalized, a lung infection had spread to his kidneys and to his brain.  After about two hours in the emergency room, he became non-responsive.  We talked to him, called his name, and asked him questions, but he didn’t answer. His eyes followed us at some points, but there were no words, no responses when he was asked to move his arm or turn over.  He was there, but he wasn’t there.

Early in the morning a day later, I walked into his room and stood near him, calling his name. Finally he opened his eyes. A minute later they came alive and then filled with tears.  “Thank you!  Thank you! Thank you!” he repeated as the tears rolled down his face.

“Why?” I asked.  “I didn’t do anything.”  Then, thinking he meant that he was grateful to be feeling better, I said, “The doctors and the nurses were the ones who helped you.”

He shook his head, “No, I mean thank you for being you.  I’ve been in a very dark place. You are the first person I recognize!”  And then the questions came. “Where am I? Why am I here? Why are they doing all this stuff to me?” After about an hour, as more clarity came, he sheepishly said, “I didn’t know anybody so I asked for a phone, but I didn’t know anyone to call.”  We both laughed and he went on. “The only way I figured out who I am was by seeing you.

A few days later I heard a sermon on Genesis 3 and listened again to God’s poignant call to Adam, “Where are you?” When Fred was non-responsive, we were all calling him, essentially asking him, “Fred, where are you?” It occurred to me that my sense of loss when the Fred I knew and loved was “missing” must be something similar to God’s reaction when Adam was hiding from him.  Where was this creature he knew and loved?

Since then I have thought a lot about this parable of the lost Fred.  I thought about how often we go “missing” from God, so far gone that we don’t hear his repeated calls.  I thought about how far on “the dark side” we travel as we walk farther and farther from God’s voice.  I was jolted by the fact that we, like Fred, concoct useless plans to try to fill in what’s missing when God’s missing.  And how true it is that we cannot know who we are unless we know who God is.   And how grateful we are when we finally hear God’s voice and realize that God has been there all the time!

MULLING IT OVER:  Can you think of a time when you wandered away from God?  How did you find your way back?  Is God wondering where you are now?   When we spend a lot of time with someone, we learn to know their voice.  How can you learn to know God’s voice better?


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 atwww.livingasapprentices.com.

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Feb 27

A WORLD OF BOTH/AND

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railroad tracks

Most of us want a world of either/or. But in the real world we live with brokenness and healing, grief and hope, fear and faith.  We cannot live in the world of either/or.  It doesn’t exist. Sometimes I find texts in Scripture that just stick with

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railroad tracks

Most of us want a world of either/or.

But in the real world we live with brokenness and healing, grief and hope, fear and faith.  We cannot live in the world of either/or.  It doesn’t exist.

Sometimes I find texts in Scripture that just stick with me. They usually aren’t the well-traveled passages, and they are seldom used as tattoos or on people’s vanity plates.  One such passage comes from the less-travelled book of Ezra.  It is a book that has a bewitching (can I say that about Scripture?) effect on me.

In Ezra, a foreign king (Cyrus of Persia) has commissioned and funded the Southern Kingdom – called Judah most often – to return from Babylon to Jerusalem and rebuild what was taken from them. The city. The temple. The covenant dream.

The two tribes of the tiny Kingdom come back to the city, and they lay the foundation for the Temple. This is a big step – the temple is where God lives with His people. In exile, to a first temple Jew, God became homeless.

And then…my favorite weird passage:

And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping, because the people made so much noise. And the sound was heard far away. (3:11-13, NIV)

Grieving and joy, melded together into one great cry. The grieving of what was and has now passed, the celebrating of what is new and yet to come.

Not either/or. It’s both/and.

The older priests and Levites saw Solomon’s original temple. Beauty. Tradition. Goodness. They smelled the smells and walked the stones of the original article. Then it was lost. Grief.

The others hadn’t seen it. They didn’t know it. Maybe they were a generation removed, maybe they weren’t as close as the priests or Levites. All they knew was that the foundation had been laid and it was full speed ahead. Joy.

This is our life in the grit of our incarnation, our “already but not yet” situation where we are seeing God in simple ways and grieving the places where we are blinded by reality and grieving for losses and pains beyond comprehension.

This is how it must be. It can’t be either/or. It must be both/and.

To have the future, sometimes we grieve the past. The joy of a new marriage bears the grief of the failures and foibles of the first. The joy of a new job bears the grief of the “farewell conversations” to those we have worked alongside and have grown to love.

To even have prayers answered, often we must grieve something and leave it behind to have the joy of what we’re designed for and desire to move towards.

The place of greatest spiritual health, the place where we are formed into Christlikeness is where we stand in the middle of the grief and the joy. To die, to weep, to cry out but also to celebrate, imbibe, and share hope of the future. We grow in that tension. We grow through that tension. This is the tension of Jesus. This is our tension. Both/and.

Today, think on these two questions:

  1. What is God calling you to grieve today? Something good you must leave behind? Something long strapped to your shoulders that needs to be released?
  2. What is God calling you to rejoice in today? A promise, a possibility, a simple treasure of the everyday that shows you that God is not far but instead is near?

When you find yourself living in a place where you are holding these two opposing strands at the same time, do not be surprised if you get an unfiltered and unedited view of the great goodness of the God who brings exiles back home, who rebuilds temples, and who is audience to BOTH our grieving AND our joy.

God is a God of both/and. Not either/or. That is His Kingdom.

 


 

Casey TygrettCasey Tygrett is a the spiritual formation pastor at Parkview Christian Church (Illinois) as well as a professor, spiritual director, and blogger at caseytygrett.com

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Nov 12

Which Path To Take?

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railroad tracks

Two hours of silence. That was the assignment at the Apprentice Experience last week. Two hours with no one to talk to. No phone to check social media. No books to read. No TV to veg out in front of. Just some good old fashioned

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railroad tracks

Two hours of silence. That was the assignment at the Apprentice Experience last week.

Two hours with no one to talk to. No phone to check social media. No books to read. No TV to veg out in front of.

Just some good old fashioned silence.

Jan Johnson gave some great instruction to begin our time, the most memorable of which was: “Don’t try to do anything holy, that will ruin it.”

So, I set out with the other participants and tried to find space on the retreat property to spend my time.

I didn’t know where I was going, no destination in mind (I hadn’t been on the grounds before).

So, I just walked, and walked. First along a pond, then I stumbled upon a sign “Nature trail this way.”

That didn’t sound too holy, so I followed the sign.

I just kept walking. One foot in front of the other.

Slow.

Measured.

Steps.

I had two hours to fill (with nothing) after all.

I did match a breath prayer to my steps (Show me your path; use me), which felt a little holy, but I justified it because it slowed down my pace.

Anyway, back to the trail. It was a winding path, first through a grass pasture. There were multiple forks in the path. With little thought as to where I’d end up (there wasn’t a map), I simply turned one direction or the other.

Groundbreaking, right?

Just making minor decisions. But I’m an indecisive person, ask my wife. I’ll spend twenty minutes in the toothpaste aisle reading all the different attributes of competing brands, just to make the “best” decision.

But on that day, I just walked.

Through out my time, I enjoyed some diverse settings. Different sections of the path were covered with a variety of berries and flowers. Tall trees here, simple grass there. A dried up pond.

And probably some things I missed, because I chose not to go down one path or the other.

As I reflected back on the time, I realized how freeing it was just to follow along that path. And how little I refuse to follow on this big path of life with God. Instead of just looking at the next choice or decision as what it is, a choice or decision, I make it into a life or death situation.

I’m more like Augustine, just before his conversion.

Augustine looked back at his life of pleasure and self-gratification, and you know what? He didn’t want to leave it. Not quite yet. The decision seemed to much. To pursue this whole life with God thing would force him to leave that other life behind. To choose one fork over another.

But, a voice called to Augustine, “Why do you try to stand in your own strength and fail? Cast yourself upon God and have nor fear. He will not shrink away and let you fall.” (Confessions, quoted in Devotional Classics, Foster and Smith, 58)

Whatever the next decision I make today or this week, it isn’t the end of the story. Sure, I may never know what might have been along the other path, but it’s not the end of the road. After all, we follow a God who brings life out of death.

So, I’m trying to walk slower and with measured steps, allowing the decisions to follow to come more easily. It’s more art than science. More joyful than stressful.

I don’t know where I’ll end up, but I do know I don’t walk alone.

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Oct 29

Spiritual Jealousy

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We often read passages such as Hebrews 11, the Hall of Faith, and wish we could be like those heroes. We might even look at other Christian VIP’s, authors, speakers, and the like and think to ourselves, “Man, they have it figured out.  Why can’t

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We often read passages such as Hebrews 11, the Hall of Faith, and wish we could be like those heroes.

We might even look at other Christian VIP’s, authors, speakers, and the like and think to ourselves, “Man, they have it figured out.  Why can’t I be like them?”

Anyone on a faith walk or journey has these moments of spiritual jealousy.  And, on the one hand, maybe it’s a good thing.  After all, if we are that concerned with being spiritual and being an exemplar of faith, then maybe it’s good that we struggle with it.  Of course, it is obviously dangerous.  Such jealousy is hardly representative of a loving God.

Paul says in Philippians to work out your own salvation in fear and trembling.  This often scares people as if Paul is really trying to frighten them and their relationship with God.  But, that is not an appropriate reading of the passage.  Rather, Paul means you have to work at your relationship with God.  And, in that, be in awe of who He really is.

Faith is not a destination.  It is a journey.  And, everyone is on the same journey.  In fact, the trembling signifies that we might get scared once in a while.  We may have moments of doubt and weakness.  And, that is okay.  But, we are to have faith.

The Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard wrote of the knight of resignation who looks admirable and may be compared to a Stoic in the face of adversity.  How we admire those who can look unshakable during times of great trial and distress (perhaps at the loss of a job, death of loved one).  But, being Stoic is merely being detached from the world.  Where is the commitment, though?  Where is the faith?

Abraham, virtually the father of faith, should have been frightened to some extent when asked to give up his son, Isaac.  But, as he had worked on his relationship with God, he was considered righteous and faithful.  Isaac was not taken from him but given back, restored to Abraham.

As a man of faith or, as Kierkegaard refers to him, a knight of faith, Abraham should have worried while being obedient.  How could God ask for such a sacrifice?  In our world, that sacrifice would be considered murder.  Indeed, in the time of Abraham, it would have been considered murder as well.

The Knight of Faith, however, knows that anything and everything could be taken from him at a moment’s notice and, perhaps, at the command of God Himself.  But, the Knight of Faith is certain that all will be restored to him by God.  There is no detachment or doubt but utter faith and reliance upon God.

There is a lesson here about our walk with Christ.  Our faith may be irrational at times to trust in something that makes no sense in our everyday world.  In fact, some of God’s requests and plans seem so contradictory that it almost appears that God has no consideration of good and evil.  And, maybe He doesn’t.  And, maybe that’s the challenge.

How can God forgive all if even He has a rating system?  How can He ask us to forgive all and welcome all to the table if we rate and rank others?  It must have been frightening to watch Jesus welcome the prostitutes (how can she do that?), the tax collectors (how can he live with himself?), and make promises to a thief on a cross.  How much more disturbing to forgive those who nailed Him to the cross as a guiltless, sinless man?

As Christians, we should not just know this forgiveness but practice this forgiveness.  Our faith should at once tell us and exemplify the fact that we have lost everything and it has been restored by Christ’s death on the cross.  Could you ever repay such a debt?  Do you know how much God has given back to you?

In Christ’s parable from Matthew 18, the master who forgave the debt was forgiving, by today’s standards, billions of dollars.  Do you have billions of dollars to repay?  I don’t.

We have erred easily into the billions and God has written it off and said you must do the same.  Our showing of forgiveness is our demonstration of our gratitude to God and, in some sense, it shows that we have not forgotten, that we are forgiven and that we have faith.  

So, here is our salvation.  Our faith walk is one of fear and trembling.  We should be in awe, in fear of the judgment not rendered.  We should tremble, but not falter for He is with us.

Remember our heroes of the faith.  They stand out to us as giants because of what they faced often without sin or guilt before God.  We should be thankful, not jealous, that God has not asked us to tremble as much. But, if He does, remember there is faith, there is salvation, there is Jesus welcoming us no matter what.

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