What is Satisfaction?

            A few years ago, I discovered how much I love a good breakfast sandwich - a bagel with egg, sausage and cheese. I would occasionally go out and get this at breakfast with friends – but not often. One day I decided to make my own breakfast sandwich and discovered it was just as good! Before I knew what I was doing I was eating it about once a week. I liked it so much that I eventually started eating it several days a week. There were two problems with this development. One – it was about twice as many calories as I really needed for breakfast. Two – I found myself trying to improve the ingredients – or increasing the volume - to feel the same level of satisfaction. Food that used to be satisfying for breakfast, a simple yogurt or cereal, lost their interest for me.

            This is a trivial example – but enlightening in what is reveals. Even the most beautiful creature or object, the most delicious food or pleasure, the most spectacular view or vista can become normalized over prolonged exposure. We see this happening in the successful, rich or famous – often struggling with an ever-increasing need for power, experiences or affirmation. In my own life I have struggled with the extremes in experiencing life. At times I pull back and do not feel I have the permission to enjoy the pleasures of life. At other times, once I find something is enjoyable, I may overindulge to the point of excess. So, for the past year I have been exploring the very nature of what it means to be satisfied and content in Christ.

            Spiritually, we know we are called to pursue the purposes of God in our lives – striving to love God and others in ever more meaningful ways. We pursue excellence or the improvement of our characters as we remain open to the transformation of our souls in Christ. This spiritual formation journey requires an everyday practice and pace and we need real motivation to keep moving forward. However, I have discovered that in this journey there is an almost paradoxical experience as we are also invited to accept the present reality. I have found my soul more fully awake as I find simple joy in being alive and renewed in each moment. I find myself engaging life more whole-heartedly as I let go of the vain striving for bigger, better and more. I have begun to delight in the goldfinch that comes every day to my birdfeeder. I am beginning to experience a profound gratefulness in the experience of each person in my life – my family, friends and clients. Spiritually I have been deeply grounded in the peace and joy that emerge as I immerse myself in the miracle and privilege of belonging to our good, gracious, just and loving Heavenly Father.

            I have personally found living satisfied to be a difficult place to discover and remain. It is a destination in our journey that we must each uncover for ourselves. All I can do is invite you to believe that satisfaction, even if it is at times fleeting, is possible as we intentionally rest in God and remain open to his gracious ministry to our souls. I still feel the pull of my dissatisfaction and notice the havoc it can wreak in my life. However, I am delighted that God is worth pursuing and that even in the mundane things in life – perhaps especially in the mundane things – we can find the abundant joy that Jesus promises as we ever more fully abide in His love.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” John 15:9-11

“Does God Like Me?”

            God is love! But does he like me?

            When I was a very young boy I remember feeling very attached to my older brother. I wanted him to like me - wanted to be with him and play with him. What I can remember so clearly is the longing. I wanted it SO BAD. I would do anything to get his attention. But, eventually, unrequited, we give up and conclude that there must be something wrong with us that makes people reject us.

             If we are in touch with what is true in our souls, we may discover that we still feel this way. Maybe about God, maybe about others. The longing may be gone or it might still be barely flickering in our souls. In our life experiences we might conclude that we are loved – that others will go out of the way to care for us, listen to us and even enjoy us. But so many of us are left uncertain of how others really feel about us. My wife teases me sometimes because my enjoyment of foods can change dramatically. Last month I was LOVING mushrooms – but this month I can’t stand them. I wonder if sometimes this is how we experience ourselves or how we think others feel about us.

            Why would God like me? Why does my mother, brother, friend or spouse actually like me? Are they pretending? Do they sometimes like me and sometimes not so much? I remember when I was a kid – probably in late elementary – my best friend told me that we were only friends because I had a tire swing. I think we are sometimes tempted to believe that God only loves us because he has to love us – he only loves us so we can glorify him with righteous living. That’s the job description. But, because we are sinful, he actually detests us and is holding his nose while he forgives us. This might not be our official theology, but this is what is true in our actual thinking and feeling.

            So, does God really like me?

           I would start simply with asserting that when God created us – he declared not only that he made us in his image, but he declared us to be very good! Therefore – the baseline is that he loves and delights in who we are. This abstract theology, however, is difficult to feel more practically in our souls. So, I invite you to name those characteristics of yourself (not the things you do, but the way you naturally live) – like accepting, perservering, giving, inspiring, passionate, insightful, faithful, joyful and just. There are many more words that can be used – but reflect on this – ask a friend or spouse – “what do you enjoy about me?” This itself can open up connection and intimacy. It is not so much that God likes us because we are living into these things as named – but he delights in us because in these things we reflect the good and beautiful of himself that he has placed in us when we were created.

            I know… for some of you this might feel a bit touchy feely. Well, it is. We need to know and feel that we are loved – and perhaps as importantly – liked! If we cannot know deep down that we are loved and liked – we will probably struggle to love and like others with the same passion and delight that God loves and likes us. Jesus taught us to love God and others as ourselves. An invitation to accept God’s love and delight in us is also an essential part of our journey to live fully into the way God is inviting us to love others. Perhaps the question that is behind this title question is – “do I like myself?” It is God’s invitation to like the person he has created you to be. Rest in the deep satisfaction that the God of the universe delights in you and you can by faith receive and experience that every day in Christ.

           

Freedom NOT Fear

I am deeply saddened by how many Christians are stuck in a paralyzing fear of God. I see this a lot. This is not the awestruck reverence of a powerful and loving God., but the distorted fear of God as the cruel parent who punishes carelessly and in a fit of rage – saying destructive and demeaning things to their children. My heart breaks for those suffering with distorted guilt because they interpret every trial, struggle or failure as a result of God punishing them for not being enough or doing enough. 

Read More

Silence & Solitude

Silence:
Ruth Haley Barton, in her book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, states that “In silence we create space for God’s activity rather than filling every moment with our own,”

The benefits are:
1.    We learn to hear and notice what we are thinking and feeling
2.    We learn to confront our addictions to entertainment or stimulation or work and discover who we are without them
3.    We are confronted with our compulsions and how much we are distracted
4.    We have an opportunity to learn to listen more fully to God in Scripture and to the Holy Spirit through His work in our souls… in order to solidify our sense of self in the presence of God and be more fully prepared to bring that presence to others
Silence in the presence of Christ becomes a gift we offer others as we fully listen to them.

Solitude:
Richard J. Foster, in his collection, Spiritual Classics, describes the powerful impact of solitude in helping us discern how we struggle relationally. “Solitude, you see, gives us the space to look carefully and prayerfully at all the hair-trigger responses we have for doing and saying exactly the opposite of how Jesus taught us to live.”

The benefits are:
1.    We remove any need to interact with others that might keep us from noticing ourselves
2.    We remove any obsessive orientation towards meeting the expectations of others or needing the affirmation of others
3.    We practice relinquishing the burdens of others to God and learn to notice our relationships with fresh eyes
In Solitude with God we relinquish our loneliness so as to offer ourselves freely to others.