Month: December 2018

Simplicity and the Spiritual Center

spiritual essaysThere’s a famous quote by G. K. Chesterton that says, “There are two ways to get enough: one is to continue to accumulate more and more. The other is to desire less.” His words carry a great deal of wisdom for our culture. If we’re to grow spiritually, we must grow in simplicity. To grow in simplicity means more than keeping things uncomplicated, rather it’s a spiritual disposition allowing us to see things more clearly in the complications of life.

As a therapist and spiritual director, I often encounter people focusing on the peripheral areas of life instead of the core values and ideas that allow us to live as Christians. In a wonderful book called “Freedom of Simplicity” Richard Foster demonstrates how a Christian can embrace a life of simplicity. One of the practices he proposes is living from what he calls “The Divine Center.” Living from the Divine Center is simply making God the very heart of all we do. It requires conscious effort and intentional execution in our daily routines. Foster describes it like this:

I hope you understand what I mean when I speak of living out of the Center. I am of course referring to God, but I do not mean God in an abstract theoretical sense, nor even God in the sense of One to be feared and revered. Nor do I mean God only in the sense of One to be loved and obeyed… I thought that serving God was another duty to be added onto an already busy schedule. But slowly I came to see that God desired to be not on the outskirts, but at the heart of my experience. Gardening was no longer an experience outside of my relationship with God – I discovered God in the gardening. Swimming was no longer just good exercise – it became an opportunity for communion with God. God in Christ had become the center.

By making God the center of our lives we know very quickly when we’re focusing on the complications of life rather than the simple heart of our existence. Service to God is not just an added duty we perform in our ministry rather it’s a permeating disposition in everything we do. When we live from the Divine Center we recognize when we’re doing too much or too little. We recognize when we’re filling our lives with too many possessions and activities instead of allowing the tasks we have at hand and the things we possess to be encounters with the divine. We know when our lives are expressing Christian simplicity when they’re filled with Shalom, that unique word for peace. The word Shalom is not as simple to translate as we think. Shalom means more than peace. The Hebrew word often is translated to mean completeness, wholeness, health, peace, welfare, safety soundness, tranquility, prosperity, perfectness, fullness, rest, harmony, the absence of agitation or discord.

The question to ask yourself is how often you live from the Divine Center rather than being pulled and pushed by what the rest of the world tells you is important? If you want to live simply the first thing you need to do is embrace Christ and make him the center of all you do and have. Possess Christ before anything else and you’ll have everything. Be intentional and ask yourself before engaging in any activity or purchase any item this simple question, “How does this allow me to live more fully for God?” If your answer gives you a sense of Shalom as described above then it’s probably a spiritually healthy thing to embrace. If not, it’s probably best to remain with Christ as you are and continue to enjoy the Grace he pours into your life with what you have and do. To possess Christ is to possess the fount of life and there is nothing more a person requires than this treasure.

If you liked this short essay and would like to read more you can purchase my book here.

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The Tough Choice of Forgiveness

9781532605680It was a warm June night and like most Wednesday nights at numerous churches across the country people were gathering for prayer and Bible study. For years, this gathering was uneventful but on this night a white man named Dylann Roof entered the church and sat quietly pondering his next move. He was welcomed by those in attendance and even claimed because of their kindness he was reconsidering his violent intentions. Unfortunately, the evening didn’t end in peace, Dylann pulled out his gun and killed nine people including the pastor Clementa Pinckney. Dylann killed without discrimination in regards to gender or age, he was only interested in killing people because they were black. His disdain for African Americans and feelings of hatred motivated him to pull the trigger on his weapon again and again. Among the dead were Sharonda Coleman-Singleton a 45-year-old mother of three and a high school track coach. Cynthia Hurd age 54, a librarian at the public library for 31 years. Tywanza Sanders, a young 26-year-old graduate of Allen University in Columbia. Tywanza died trying to save his 87-year-old aunt Susie Jackson who was also killed that evening. He told Dylann to shoot him and leave his aunt alone but reports say Dylann said it didn’t matter he was going to kill everyone anyway. After he killed Tywanza he eventually shot Susie Jackson. Tywanza was the youngest victim to die that night and his aunt the oldest. This story is beyond tragic and unfortunately not the only of its kind. Think of the many lives lost at the hands of so many terrorist attacks around the world. As I write these very sentences I’m reminded just yesterday, November 13th 2015, terrorists killed and held hostage numerous people in Paris France. Stories of genocide in countries across the globe, murders in local communities, and abuse and neglect in families are not short in supply. The question is, if any of these events happened to you or someone you love could you forgive the perpetrators? The answer has to be yes. Why does it have to be yes? Because if it’s no, then we’re trapped in a cycle of hatred and self-defeat giving the demons in hell something to celebrate. They rejoice with every act of vengeance and self-loathing that terror and violence inflict on the survivors of trauma. If we can’t forgive people, we’re forever held captive by the traumatic experiences they’ve inflicted upon us.

The most moving words of forgiveness I’ve ever read came from the families of the victims killed that night at Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The Washington Post published an article on June 19th by Elahe Izadi called “The Powerful Words of Forgiveness Delivered to Dylann Roof by Victims’ Relatives” which captured the exemplary Christian spirit of forgiveness this community incarnationally represented to Charleston and the world. Here are some of the things these hurting wounded people had to say to the man who killed those they loved simply because of the color of their skin:

“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with welcome arms. You have killed some of the most beautiful people that I know. Every fiber in my body hurts and I’ll, I’ll never be the same. Tywanza Sanders was my son. But Tywanza Sanders was my hero. Tywanza was my hero. … May God have mercy on you.” – Felicia Sanders, mother of Tywanza Sanders

“I forgive you. You took something very precious away from me. I will never get to talk to her ever again. I will never be able to hold her again, but I forgive you, and have mercy on your soul. … You hurt me. You hurt a lot of people. If God forgives you, I forgive you.” – Nadine Collier, daughter of victim Ethel Lance

“Although my grandfather and the other victims died at the hands of hate, this is proof, everyone’s plea for your soul, is proof that they lived in love and their legacies will live in love. So hate won’t win. And I just want to thank the court for making sure that hate doesn’t win.” – Wanda Simmons, Granddaughter of victim Daniel Simmons.

If you’re like me you hear these words and say to yourself, “I’m not sure I could be that forgiving.” I understand. Forgiving someone appears to be a monumental task when someone killed a person you love through a senseless act of violence. But believe me, you can forgive people who do these terrible things. The surviving relatives of these victims aren’t superhuman, they’re superheroes of forgiveness. These are men and women just like you and me. That’s comforting and scary at the same time. It’s comforting because it means you and I can choose to be forgiving people. It’s scary because it means just like these ordinary people we might find ourselves needing to forgive someone who acted in the same way as Dylann Roof. The important lesson to learn from these brave families is we can be forgiving because forgiveness is a choice. Like love, forgiveness is more about choices than feelings. When we choose to forgive someone, we must learn to behave and think in a particular way that impacts how we feel about the situation. Thinking, feeling, and behaving are intimately connected. I know many of you reading this are saying, “Just choosing to forgive someone doesn’t make me feel like I forgave them. Because I don’t feel like I’ve forgiven them I must not be a forgiving person.” Yet, this first choice to forgive is indeed an important step in the process. The choice to forgive and then acting in a forgiving way leads to feelings that come with being a forgiving person.

Is there a way to reach that heroic place where we can forgive those who have deeply hurt us in so many ways?  I believe there is and in the next few posts, I hope to share that with you.  If you want to read the whole book I wrote on this subject yourself you can find it here.