Raw Reflections from the Journey

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Invited to Intimacy

During his time on earth, Jesus offended a lot of people. Why? The reasons varied, but the responses were similar. Those that became offended either turned away from relationship with Him, or they attacked Him. Eventually a mob called for his death...and all this about a perfect, sinless man.

John 6:66 is one of the saddest verses in the Bible to me, "From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him." How do you think it felt to Jesus to be abandoned by some in whom he'd invested time and given His love? Remember, he was fully human. How does it feel to you when someone you love or someone you've served turns away from you?

Scripture doesn't say it, but is is fair to infer that Jesus grieved as He watched former followers walk away. After all, he wept when informed of Lazarus's death.

But then the following verses in John (6:67,68) provide some consolation for the abandonment. Some remained faithful, "You do not want to leave too, do you?" Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."

Jesus still invites everyone to intimacy, but it isn't the romanticized Hollywood version of closeness that smacks of conflict-free infatuation; relationships in which there are no offenses, no hurt feelings, no broken promises or unmet expectations. No, the kind of intimacy to which Jesus invites us to is the kind where long-suffering is the rule, where truth is spoken in love, where mercy, grace and forgiveness lubricate, repair and ultimately sustain relationships that were about to be permanently fractured.

As 2010 begins, Jill and I embark on our 25th year of marriage with a new organization in addition to Grace and Truth; Great Relationships, Inc. is a not for profit dedicated to inspiring and equipping as many people as possible as well as possible for a GREAT RELATIONSHIP with God and each other (especially marriages and families). And as we focus on facilitating Great Relationships for others, we will endeavor to nurture our own marriage, family, extended family and friendships.

Will 2010 be without disappointments, hurts, frustrations, offenses? No, but invitations to intimacy will never be without these because openness about our honest thoughts, feelings and desires in relationship are bound to conflict with those of others. Misunderstandings will occur, angry words will be impulsively spoken, and immature responses will fuel the fires of brokenness. BUT, the great hope in all of this is in a man who was quite familiar with relational abandonment and disappointment; Jesus.

What did Christ do in response to the departure of many disciples? Did He change his method of operation by refusing to speak truth in love? "I can't do that any more. The other disciples might leave me and there where will I be?" No. He continued as a man full of grace and truth to invite and accept invitations to intimacy, and as difficulties occurred he modeled reconciliation.

Is relational restoration modeled any better than between Jesus and Peter? Betrayed in his hour of need by the impetuous fisherman, Jesus opened himself to further hurt and disappointment by looking on and speaking to his previously bold, now embarrassed and humbled follower...the same man who boldly stated the words above, "To whom shall we go?"

As the New Year begins, I'm sure of two things:

1. That the risk of intimacy, real risky and potentially life-giving intimacy in relationships is worth it.
2. There will be relational rejection and disappointment that I'll be able to do little about.

Some people don't want closeness. They hold you at arm's length, not wanting you to get close enough to see and feel their struggles and shame. That's what I've heard from the Lord this week; that sometimes what seems to be relational abandonment is really about fear, shame and embarrassment. So, my question is, how to be full of grace and truth in Christ-like balance such that I can have a clear conscience that any relational brokenness of which I am a part isn't due to my sin? Well, that's a tall order and probably impossible, but humility gets close to the answer, I think.

Just today Jill and I exhorted two partners in marriage to search themselves before the Lord and to ask His enlightenment regarding the portion of problem they bring to the relationship. It's easy to point fingers and to register complaints, but maturity in relationships seems to require the humility to examine oneself and to make the changes indicated when problems are discovered.

Here's a toast to more authentic and satisfying intimacy for you in 2010! I hope you will risk openness and honesty with others in a way that invites a similar response, and that some of your invitations and efforts are reciprocated by efforts of others to hear, hold and appreciate what's in your heart!

God bless, Jeff

Friday, December 11, 2009

Licking Wounds or Living Like a Warrior?

I have a friend who trains Special Forces soldiers. His specialty is preparing them psychologically for fierce battle against overwhelming odds. One of the first things he does is to pour a gallon of cherry syrup at their feet. He says that the color and consistency of the fluid is similar to blood. The objective is to show the soldiers how much blood they can lose and still be able to fight. In other words, wounded warriors can still war on... "Since their job is to accomplish important missions, it is essential that they understand that even if they become severely wounded that they can still fight and make a contribution."

As a Clinical Counselor I know that any person that is put under unrelenting duress for a long enough period of time will evince psychological distress such as anxiety, depression, etc. While thresholds for stress vary, if one could orchestrate a series of disappointing, discouraging, and disillusioning occurrences for even the most optimistic person, the stress would eventually surpass their threshold for resiliency. I've seen it hundreds of times clinically, but until the past five years I hadn't experienced it myself.

The fact that I'm writing about this says something. I think I'm coming out of it. And, as crazy as it sounds, I'm glad I've gone through it.

How can one every really know what it is to suffer until they've suffered? This doesn't mean that non-sufferers or "not-yet" sufferers can't empathize with folks that are really going through something; it's just that those that have been there have a different look in their eye, a sober, realistic, "I'm sorry, I wish I could make it better, I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy" type of look and attitude.

When the three D's (disappointments, discouragements, and disillusionments) pile on, it is common for a person to develop a negative view of themselves, others and the world. Granted, there are probably legitimate negative facets of all three, but for the person who is struggling with situational depression (the psychological and emotional response to a critical mass of the three D's)the negativity about self, others and the world is disproportionate. That's when self-preservation kicks in. A person is likely to turn inward and become self-absorbed in a way that perpetuates the depressive state. Not only that, but they're likely to begin living a prescription for depression.

When you query the details of daily life for a person that is staggering under the weight of three D's, you'll likely find that they have begun to live a prescription for depression. They are apt to forsake activities that were once highly pleasurable (e.g., hobbies and recreation, friendships, even sex), healthy habits (sleep, diet, exercise) and that they are essentially aimless and unfocused regarding goals for the future. Of course, the severity of dysfunction is on a continuum and varies with many factors, but you get the point; such persons are more apt to live a prescription that sustains depression rather than life as an energetic, disciplined and focused Kingdom warrior.

Personally, I identify with John Eldredge's depiction of a Kingdom warrior; a man made in the image of Jesus the Lion of Judah who lives for a battle to fight, an adventure to live and a beauty to rescue. And, I function best when I live a recipe for spiritual, physical, and mental prowess. This is where cross-training comes in.

Recently I've been hungry for adventure on my bike. During the first snowfall of the season in DC I was on my bike for a 25 mile jaunt. The wind was whipping and the mix of sleet and snow was pelting my face. My legs were burning from the cold, and I was very, very happy...fully alive, on the rivets of my physical capabilities with heart racing, adrenaline coursing through my body, and worship music ringing in my ears extolling the Creator of all that I was seeing and inhaling deeply into my God-hungry soul. Five miles from home I begged God to give me the strength an ability to make it home and to stave off hypothermia. This was an epic adventure and a manufactured battle to fight against the elements and psychological limits of endurance and exhaustion. And Eldredge's third element was present, too...a beauty to rescue. My thoughts went something like this...

Jesus fought his way to the cross. He was not a whimpering victim who begged for His life to be spared, but rather a willing Savior who was determined to fulfill His part of the plan to redeem humankind to God; one for all, once for all. He was a tough man, sinewy, rugged, and with callouses on his feet and hands from a physically demanding life that he engaged joyfully and successfully. AND, what one man can do, another can do. What He did I can do by His life in me. So, pedal on. Grunt, grind, strain, strive and move forward. Get home, pick up the pace, give it all you got. The life of the triumphant one is in me. I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.

I have a choice, and so do you. When we are overcome and overwhelmed with the D's we can lick our wounds, and become self-absorbed, complacent and undisciplined, or we can live a prescription that builds our capabilities as Kingdom warriors. And lest you think that physical discipline and training is enough, consider Paul's exhortation to Timothy (I Timothy 4:8) For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come. The Kingdom warrior must not only practice physical discipline, but also spiritual disciplines of Bible reading, fasting, prayer, solitude, etc. Physical training makes it easier for me to say yes to other disciplines because I habitually do the things that my body doesn't want to and my mind says it may not be able to do.

Given our times, how should we live? Are you living a life worthy of the calling you have received? Are you habitually offering your body as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing unto the Lord? Are you soaking in His Word and in His presence by letting your mind fly to Him vs. preoccupation with pleasure and acquisition? Where are you on the continuum between self-absorbed wound licking and living life as a Kingdom warrior? What it God calling you to do or to forsake as you contemplate what I've written?

My prayer for me and for you is that we would walk in His footsteps today, just one step at at time.

I John 2:6, Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.