Deep breath.

Dear friends.

I’m taking a break. I’m not sure for how long.

I’ve got too many things happening right now to be able to reflect well enough here.

101_1225.JPGNancy’s mom is pretty sick. Nancy’s been there a lot during the past five months. We’re guessing that there isn’t much time left. Her dad is doing well for an 89-year-old with his own health struggles.

My mom’s living with Alzheimer’s. She still knows us. She just doesn’t know when and where very well.

I’m teaching a college class for the first time in twenty years. Online.

I’m getting ready for an overseas trip in March. It involves some preparation now. (If you want to know more, write to me. I’ll tell you off blog.)

I’ve started too many writing and mentoring projects that are going unfinished.

If I were talking to someone else, I would say “What can you take a break from, just to catch your breath?” And the answer is that I need to take a break from a daily deadline. And not setting a return date helps me have that break.

Paul Merrill has a great post for this Friday. And then I’ll be back sometime.

Thank you for your encouragement and prayer and presence.

With deep affection,

Jon

Learning to take counsel.

More on developing practical skills for hearing God better:

Yet I am always with you;
    you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will take me into glory.

Psalm 73:23-24

If we cannot take counsel in any part of our lives, it will be hard to take counsel from God.  And that’s part of what hearing God involves. We ask questions about what we should do. We want direction. We say that we wish God would just tell us what to do.

So let’s find out how good we are at taking counsel. Here’s an exercise to try this weekend.

I should explain that I separate counsel from counseling. The latter focuses on a process, often requires training, and uses a framework for helping. Counsel focuses on the words, ideas, content that one person offers to another for guidance.

  1. Find a wise person. This is a simple part of the exercise. Find someone you know and that knows you whose opinions you and other people trust. And it should be someone who won’t scold you for being stupid when you ask a serious question. Instead, this wise person should be able to be encouraging and offer clear counsel.
  2. Now that you have identified your wise person, ask them if they will help you find wisdom in a specific situation.
  3. And then pick a question to ask them. It should be a question that involves action. “Should I do this or that? Do I need to respond to this need? Is there a problem in this situation that requires me to do something?” This is not a “What should I do with my life” moment. After all, this is an exercise to practice taking counsel. And starting small is wise.
  4. Ask the question, have the conversation, and then come back next week for some reflection questions.

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Why I write.

writeBecky tagged me. She talked about why she writes and then included me in a list of three people she was challenging to answer the same question.  I’ve talked about it a little before (writing for you and me), but I want to think about it again.

I write because I can’t concentrate very well early in the morning. When I’m sitting in my chair and I am trying to chat with God, I lose focus, I wander. So I will often write my questions, or my part of the conversation, or a list of names.

I write because I want to see what I think. There is, for me, a discovery process in writing. It is a thinking discipline, a conversation with my heart and brain and fingers. I often don’t know what I think until I start to write.

I write because I can’t talk to you face to face. I have a responsibility, I believe, to be about teaching. In fact, while running this week I came up with a new answer to the question, “What is your job?”  My amazing job is to equip the amazing people who are doing the amazing stuff that God built them for. It’s from Ephesians. Sort of.  But if my job is equipping, that includes teaching, which includes, for me, writing.

I write because my passion is to help people emotionally understand the truth of God’s work. For me, the best way I can move understanding from head to heart is with story, with image, with moving inside the Biblical text. And I do that best with writing.

I write because I can’t think fast enough to talk. 

I write because I must.

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I’m asking three other people to consider answering as well.

Rich Dixon

Johanna Fenton

Jill Burton Carr (who writes, really writes, on Instagram.)

 

Learn to quiet our hearts.

More on developing practical skills for hearing God better:

Psalm 131 is what we call “self-talk”. It is what we say to ourselves as we remind ourselves of what is important. And it is up to us to learn to quiet our hearts.

O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.

I cannot come up with answers to all of the problems in the world. Not simple answers. When I read everything that people send my way, I cannot comprehend the size of the issues, nor can I sort through the avalanche of confident spitefulness. Not that I haven’t pursued it in the past. I have whimpered with the inconsolable voice of an infant for the attention of you and everyone else. I have joined in the arguments, offered solutions which seem clear to me, if only everyone were like me.

But I am learning to tell myself to stop. To act more like a child weaned from the craving for her mother as a dispenser of nutrition, content to cuddle. I am willing to stop trying to understand everything and to simply wait in the close presence of my father.

And as I walk around, I carry my soul quiet within me.

So here is the exercise.

Pick up a paper, watch a news program, read your Facebook stream. And at the first statement of arrogance, as the words begin to form on your tongue, the spitefulness at the person’s ignorance begins to bubble through your brain, turn the television off. Close the browser. Lay done the paper. And tell your soul to rest.

It seems impossible, doesn’t it. It seems easier to not turn on the news at all.

Perhaps that is the answer. Avoiding conflict at all costs is one way to not face turmoil. But I’m not sure that it teaches us to quiet our hearts.

In fact, I am pretty sure that people who don’t consume any media can still be cranky and indulge in wanting to run the world. After all, when these words were written, there was no internet.