Workshop Chapter 15: Being Known

“Our wisdom . . . consists almost entirely of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves. But as these are connected together by many ties, it is not easy to determine which of the two precedes and gives birth to the other.”

John Calvin, 1530

Just a few days after my visit to the meadow, during a quiet time with the Lord, Jesus told me: “To know me fully, you must be fully known.” This proclamation was unexpected.  I wasn’t asking, “how can I know you better?” I wasn’t asking anything at all; I was just being still with God.

You might think that I would pay attention all the more, given the unexpectedness of the declaration. I would like to think that about myself, but that was not so. To the contrary, my immediate reaction was: “That can’t be right! Surely Jesus already knows me fully! After all, he is omniscient. By definition, there isn’t anything he doesn’t know. I must be included in his limitless knowledge. If he knows everything, he must know me. How can he then say, ‘I must be fully known?’”

I took my doubts about his statement back to Jesus in prayer. I sensed that he can know me but will not know more of me than I chose to reveal. I doubted that interpretation, mainly because it was not what I would do. I still valued and desired knowledge. I hoarded knowledge, taking pleasure from knowing something others didn’t know; knowledge helped me feel safe and superior. Why would Jesus choose not to know something that he could know?  How and why would that prevent me from knowing him? 


Jesus Can’t Heal Fake 

The linkage between knowing ourselves and knowing God is far from novel; I was “discovering” a well-known truth. Jesus was telling me a truth that has been discovered and known for centuries. John Calvin, in the sixteenth century, taught that unless we truly know ourselves, we cannot truly know God. Even earlier, around 500 CE, Augustine asked, “How can you draw close to God when you are far from your own self?” and prayed, “Grant, Lord, that I may know myself that I may know Thee.” Benner’s The Gift of Knowing Yourself and Scazerro’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality both teach extensively about the dynamics of how we can become detached from and lose our true selves. We construct “false” selves as we try to mold ourselves into the people we think others want or expect or as we try to be who we think we need to be to survive. Over time, the masks we wear become the only thing we see in the mirror. We lose the ability to see our true selves, the unique persons God created us to be. 

In the years since I first heard the Lord say, “To know me fully, you must be fully known,” my appreciation of this truth has grown. God desires that we are healed of the hurts of this world, and that we become able to enter fully into the depth of his love for us. But before we can be healed, we must understand where we are broken. As a friend’s grandma said, “Jesus can’t heal fake.”1


Repair or Restoration?

Why can’t Jesus just heal us, without our active participation, without us knowing our wounded and broken places? It is helpful to look at the relational rift that keeps us distant from God as a torn piece of fabric. In God’s creation, before the fall, man’s life was seamlessly integrated with God.  Man’s fall into sin created a rift between God and us, a tear in the seamless unity present in creation.  God means for our integration into his life and love to be so complete that we are like a single piece of cloth: the threads of his life interwoven with the threads of our lives. They are independent threads, his life and ours, but they are meant to be woven together into a single piece of fabric. Sin has torn and ruptured that fabric. 

God’s goal is not to simply repair the tear, he purposes do restore the fabric. Restoration is different than repair. If we repair a torn piece of cloth, we might simply sew the two halves together, or perhaps we would sew on a patch. But a patch or a seam is not a restoration. The repaired fabric may look better, it may even be usable, but it is not restored—it is not a single, unified piece of cloth. Anyone looking at it could easily spot the repair; it has not been restored to its original state. The Lord’s goal is restoration, putting it back the way it was: our lives woven and intertwined with his.  

No matter how carefully, how detailed a repair we could fashion, it would still not be a restoration. Even if we could, somehow, perhaps with a strong enough magnifier and tiny tweezers, tie each broken thread to its mate, there would still be a visible seam—the line of knots. It would be a repair, not the restoration the Lord desires for us.  

The damage that flows from our sinful rebellion goes deep. In our metaphor of fabric, each thread is itself made up of spun and twisted fibers. When the fabric is torn, each thread is broken each individual fiber of each thread is also torn apart. To truly restore the damage, putting it back to how it was, each strand of fiber must somehow be twisted back together with its other end, on the other side of the tear. As the fibers are spun back together, the threads can be twisted back together, and the fabric restored. No clever job of mending here; not an artful patch, but a restoration of the fabric, woven back together to its original state. That is what the Lord wants for us. We want to be better; he wants us whole. We want to get by; he wants us perfected. We want a patch—usually a quick and easy patch; he wants us restored. Restoration is almost always a long and challenging process; shortcuts are rarely an option. 

Being renewed in our spirits, made new again, not simply mended or repaired, is a theme of the apostle Paul:  

  • “Our inner person is being renewed day by day”2
  • “You are being renewed in the spirit of your minds”3
  • “You have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator”4 
  • “Be transformed by the renewal of your mind”5 

In Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus in John 3, Jesus declares, “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”6 We are not repaired; we are reborn, made new. We are promised new life, not just a cleaned-up version of our current lives (2 Cor 5:17).

We cannot renew the fabric of our souls, but the Lord can—if we let him. We have to be willing participants in the process.  That is where being known comes in: we have to understand where those tears are, with their multitudinous broken threads and torn fibers, but we likely no longer see them and thus cannot seek the only real remedy. The tear causes pain and ache and yearnings in our souls. Not knowing who can restore the fabric, we seek our own remedies. We devise patches, things we can affix to the frayed ends of the tear. We have tied off the loose threads, attaching to them our own remedies—our ideas of what will stop the unraveling and ease our aching souls.  We push others down, hoping it will somehow lift us up and make us feel better.  We strive for the approval of others, expecting that will answer the yearning in our souls.  We medicate ourselves with sex, power, drugs, and alcohol, trying to numb our pain and distract ourselves.  Our patches for our wounded souls are varied but never effective in the long run.  We need to be restored, not patched. 

We cannot un-tear the fabric, but God can—if we allow him to. We must expose the frayed ends of our “side” of the tear. We have covered, tied off, and patched them to protect ourselves from further damage (or so we think) and to ease our pain (or so we hope). We must now trust the Lord enough to re-expose those frayed ends of our lives. We must untie the knots to let go of the attachments. We must expose the pain and insecurities so that God can heal them so that he can restore each broken fiber and each torn thread and re-weave the ruptured fabric. We must untie the knots binding us to things besides Jesus. We have to rip off the patches we have sewn over our hearts, tear off the binding we have put on the ragged edges of our souls. Our goal is to stop the tearing—to soothe a spiritual ache. God’s goal is to restore the rift—to have each one of us reunited with him in his perfection—to restore, not mend, the fabric of our souls. 

It takes time. It is hard. It can be painful. The process of re-opening wounds so that they can heal properly is necessary, but that doesn’t make it easy or free of pain. Formation, as this restoration of our damaged souls is sometimes called, is not a once-and-done event. It is a lifetime of learning to see the tears, identify our attempts at patches, and peel those off so that God can heal us. The older the wounding, the more calcified the patch will be.  Wounds that are old and deep have been patched and re-patched many times as we attempt to mend our own pain. Working through all the protective layers is a long, hard, and likely painful process.  Ultimately, we need to do nothing except allow ourselves to be known by God and give him permission to heal us. 

The attachments we have can be hard to identify. They have likely been in place for years. We come to think of them as “us;” they can come to be how we understand ourselves to be. Even when we have identified them, peeling them away can be challenging. They are there for a reason: they are our survival tools. If we tear away our patch, no matter how shabby or ill-fitting it is, surely we will unravel! But that is what we must risk – exposing our real, wounded, and frightened selves to the only one who can put everything right. The thing we cling most tightly to is the one thing we must let go of. 


Fear or Love?

This understanding came much later. Back in that moment, when I heard Jesus tell me that I must be fully known by him, I did not really know what he meant.  My ignorance was a blessing.  It allowed me to move forward in faith and obedience. I asked Holy Spirit to show me what I needed to reveal. What did I need to let God know about me so that I could know him better? I was fully expecting “anger” or “disappointment” but was very surprised when Holy Spirit brought “fear” to my mind instead. Disappointment and anger are just symptoms that come from holding back from God. When I hold back from him, he cannot free me and give me all he desires for me, giving rise to my disappointment and anger. It is fear that holds me back. What was I afraid of?  Mostly it was fear of God not being there or of the whole workshop experience being an extreme case of self-delusion or, worse, a psychotic episode. I had (and have) plenty of other fears as well: fear that I would end up destitute, fear of illness, and fear of old age. In general, I feared that my Pops was not trustworthy and reliable. I didn’t believe that when the chips were down and I really needed him, he would be there. 

My view of God was based more on being good and following “the rules,” not on trusting in his loving-kindness. Nothing illustrates this as well as my reading of Psalm 139: 

O LORD, you have searched me and known me! 
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; 
you discern my thoughts from afar. 
You search out my path and my lying down 
and are acquainted with all my ways. 
Even before a word is on my tongue, 
behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. 
You hem me in, behind and before, 
and lay your hand upon me. 
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; 
it is high; I cannot attain it. 
Where shall I go from your Spirit? 
Or where shall I flee from your presence? 
If I ascend to heaven, you are there! 
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! 
If I take the wings of the morning 
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, 
even there your hand shall lead me, 
and your right hand shall hold me. 
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, 
and the light about me be night,” 
even the darkness is not dark to you; 
the night is bright as the day, 
for darkness is as light with you. 

Psalm 139:1-12, ESV

When I read these words today, I hear David, the Psalmist, delighting in God’s unceasing care for him and complete knowledge of him.  That is now, some six years after the fact. Then, I did not receive this psalm with any gratefulness or pleasure. To me, it was more like God saying, “Don’t you think you can hide from me! I know what you are doing. You can’t get away with anything!” I heard a judgemental God warning me not to step out of line. I read Psalm 139 like a divine version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”:  

He sees you when you’re sleepin’ 
He knows when you’re a wake 
He knows if you’ve been bad or good 
So be good, for goodness sake 
Oh! You better watch out, you better not cry 
Better not pout, I’m telling you why 

Such was the state of my soul then: I was afraid to let God know me, afraid because I didn’t trust his compassion and steadfast love. Mentally and emotionally, I never got to this part of the psalm: 

How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! 
How vast is the sum of them! 
If I would count them, they are more than the sand. 
I awake, and I am still with you.

Psalm 139:17-18 ESV

When I recall the circumstances of my childhood, with parents whose own struggles left them neither reliable nor dependable, it is not surprising that it was hard for me to trust God, to trust that his promises and his love were reliable and for me. But here, as I named and confessed my fears to the Lord, I encountered God’s grace and love. God was not surprised or angered by my confession.7 To the contrary, he was delighted that I could come to grips with my fears and bring them to him. In that moment, as I prayed, repenting of fearfulness and lack of trust, in the Workshop, my Pops took off his heavy leather apron, and he and Jesus embraced me.  

This was a foundational step in my healing. Foundational, but in no way final. Our hiding from God sets up a vicious cycle.  We hide because we are ashamed (see Genesis 3:8-11).  Then, in turn, we are ashamed because we have hidden from God, which can lead us into deeper hiding. Knowing ourselves and allowing God to know us not only breaks that destructive cycle, but it also sets up the opposite:  a virtuous cycle. As we are known, we experience God’s compassionate love and forgiveness.  Knowing his love and forgiveness gives us the confidence and courage to broaden and deepen the self-knowledge that we can share with the Lord.  As I write this, years after these encounters, I am still in those cycles.  Sometimes I slip back into hiding; the defensive habits that we relied on for years are pernicious. But more often, I find myself in the virtuous cycle of learning who I am and understanding that I am loved for who I am, not who I think I am supposed to be. 

Without really knowing it, I was, in effect, back down in the hole, doing the work of clearing the rocks that blocked the flow of life-giving water. Understanding who I really am and bringing that self to Jesus was a remedy for my past habits of shame and hiding. I was “naming” the rocks of fear, doubt, inadequacy, and shame. Each time I “named” a rock and brought it to Jesus, I was slowly but surely letting God’s life flow more freely through me. Experiencing my Pops’ love for me, the real me, was liberating and exhilarating.  But God was about to turn my experience of him up – way up. 


1Never underestimate the wisdom of grandmas.

22 Corinthians 4:16b HCSB, emphasis added.

3Ephesians 4:23b HCSB, emphasis added.

4Colossians 3:9b-10 ESV, emphasis added.

5Romans 12:2b ESV, emphasis added.

6John 3:3b ESV.

7Almost without exception, we think that God, who we acknowledge knows everything, will be surprised but some bit of news about ourselves we have been withholding from him.  What are you hiding from God?  He already knows it, so you might as well ‘fess up. 

Workshop Chapter 14: A Place of Rest

The Lord unexpectedly breaks into my thoughts to leads me to a providential and timely place of rest, refreshment, and refilling.

The Lord is my shepherd;
I have all that I need.
He lets me rest in green meadows;
he leads me beside peaceful streams.
He renews my strength.

Psalm 23:1-3(a) New Living Translation

My experience of Pops’ Workshop, the way it unfolded in my life, was varied and often surprising. I would enter into prayer seeking an encounter in the Workshop. Sometimes those efforts were fruitful, but many times they were not. Other times I would simply be still, seeking the presence of the Lord in contemplative prayer, and would find myself unexpectedly in the Workshop. Then, there were times like this one, when I would not even be consciously praying, and the Workshop would suddenly break in on my thoughts. When and how I engaged with Pops in his Workshop was clearly all in his hands. God knew what I needed or was about to need and graciously guided the timing and nature of my “visits” according to his timing and plan. The stairs at the back of the Workshop are a prime example of this.


Down the Stairs

The stairs were in the center of the back wall, between where I first encountered Jesus and the hole. They led down and long seemed inviting to me. Whenever I asked the Lord about them, wanting to know where they led, all I heard was, essentially, “Don’t worry about it.” Why would there be some feature of the workshop that seemed to have no purpose?

Looking back, I am certain that my interest in the stairs was mainly a way to avoid the rocks and muck that were down in the hole. I had a good idea that something would have to be done about the mess down in the hole, and I guessed that I wouldn’t very much enjoy it. So, I focused my attention on the stairs, which, while going down, still seemed much more inviting than going back down in the dark, dank, nasty hole and dealing with all that inner work that the hole was pointing me toward.

Given that I used thinking about the stairs to avoid the mess down in the hole, I was surprised one Sunday when, while driving to church—not praying, not really thinking about anything at all, just driving to church—I was suddenly shown where the stairs led. They are an exit, a way down to a back door out of the Workshop to a tranquil, bucolic mountain meadow. The door at the bottom of the stairs opened out to an unpaved path that curved off gently to the right, arcing through a stand of aspen. The trail was not long, but by the time it emptied into the meadow, the workshop was completely obscured behind the trees.

The meadow itself was not very large, no more than five or six acres. It was surrounded by aspen; look in any direction and you would see the aspen with their leaves gently quivering. Beyond the aspen, conifers marched up the side of the mountain.

The footpath that brought me to the meadow continued, sloping gently down to a running brook, crystal clear. I don’t know if it was the same stream I was shown earlier, the place to receive healing from the wounds of the black snakes, but it certainly could be. Tall green grass filled the meadow, sharing space with clusters of white, yellow, and purple flowers. The sun was warm, but I was not hot; the breeze was refreshing. It seemed to be a place of perpetual springtime. It was the kind of place that made you want to kick off your shoes, lay back in the grass, and have a nap while you are warmed by the sun and sung to by the rustling grasses, the stream, and the birds.

Despite the delightful nature of the meadow, it puzzled me a bit. Clearly, it was behind the workshop, but why the stairs? Why not just go out the front door and walk around to the back to get to the meadow; the workshop was not that big! But I learned that this was not possible. In a way that doesn’t make any sense in the natural world, there is no way around the workshop. The only way to get to the meadow is to go through the workshop. Whatever the meadow was for, it was intimately tied to the workshop and what happened there.

As I lingered in the meadow[1], I slowly understood its purpose. The meadow was a place that I would need for rest: a place to be still in the presence of God and recharge. Of course, it came at just the right time. The timing was right regarding where I was in my spiritual journey. It came just as I was encountering the rocks and muck that were fouling the life-giving water, water that should have been flowing and available in the Workshop. Understanding that I was responsible for the sorry state of affairs had left me feeling discouraged and overwhelmed. I knew I would have to clean up the mess, but I was still learning to stop making the mess. I had no idea how to clean up the debris and muck that I had accumulated over the last fifty years. Yet here I was, trying to avoid the hard work that I knew was coming – the work of cleaning up the mess. In his compassion, the Lord provides both the means to rest and recover and a promise that those means would always be available. I could go down the stairs, and out into the meadow anytime I needed to. I soon learned that I would often need the refreshment of the meadow.


Hard Work at the “Wall”

In Chapter 2, I introduced the “Wall,” as described by authors Hagberg and Guelich. They identify six stages in spiritual development or growth. In the first three stages, we are largely focused outwardly, defining ourselves by what we believe, who we follow, and what we do. Stages four, five, and six describe a shift that has us looking inward. That shift culminates in an inner spiritual and psychological transformation. Here again is their description of the Wall, which we run into as we begin to turn inward:

Our wrestling with the Wall plays a vital role in the process of our spiritual healing. The Wall represents the place where another layer of transformation occurs and a renewed life of faith begins . . . [it] represents our will meeting God’s will face to face. We decide anew whether we are willing to surrender and let God direct our lives.[2]

The Wall is where we toil and struggle to come to grips with who we are and who God is.

The process of meeting the Wall requires going through the Wall, not underneath it, over it, around it, or blasting it. We must go through it brick by brick, feeling and healing each element of our wills as we surrender to God’s will. Our ego and will are transformed and made new. They are not transcended or risen above. We do not learn to get rid of them but to submit them. Along with spiritual healing comes psychological healing. We believe these transformations occur simultaneously at the Wall. We move toward wholeness and holiness. We do not get rid of ego or will. We release them. We let them be turned inside out so that unconditional love can emerge.[3]

The journey through the wall is usually very long and very difficult. If I were to make it through the Wall, I would need the meadow, a place to rest and be refreshed. I know this only in hindsight. I had never heard of the Wall and wouldn’t read The Critical Journey until a year after I first came to the meadow. I didn’t know what I was in the middle of nor what was coming, but God knew and graciously provided for my need before I was even aware of it.


Burnout

The timing of the appearance of the meadow would turn out to be providential, but it was also timed to coincide with events in the natural world. My experience of the meadow unfolded in a matter of a few minutes as I drove to church on a Sunday morning. At church that day, I learned the sad news about Dan, the pastor of a church thousands of miles from my home in Arizona.[4] I had prayed with and for Dan. He encouraged me in my Christian walk, and I had ministered in his church. I greatly admired Dan and counted him as a friend.

That morning, not twenty minutes after my trip down the stairs, out the back door and to the meadow, I learned that Dan, burned out, had resigned his pastorate. He was burned out; he had not availed himself of rest and now had nothing left to give. The Lord was letting me know that there is rest in him, even in the midst of hard work. Dan’s story was a bitter reminder and a timely reminder of the need to take that rest.

All Christians are called to lives of service; we each have ministry assignments. It makes no practical difference whether we are professional clergy or serve as laypeople. It doesn’t matter if we are appointed to leadership positions in a local body or serve in another way; we each have a ministry call and a role to play. As we grow and mature, we often press more and more into our ministry. If we are not careful, we can easily empty ourselves.

Bernard of Clairvaux, a 12th-century abbot, invites us to think about streams and reservoirs:

The man who is wise, therefore, will see his life as more like a reservoir than a canal. The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives; the reservoir retains the water till it is filled, then discharges the overflow without loss to itself… Today there are many in the Church who act like canals, the reservoirs are far too rare. So urgent is the charity of those through whom the streams of heavenly doctrine flow to us, that they want to pour it forth before they have been filled; they are more ready to speak than to listen, impatient to teach what they have not grasped, and full of presumption to govern others while they know not how to govern themselves

Bernard of Clairvaux

That metaphor applies to our time with God. If our relationship with our Lord is not full, we are likely not in a good position to help others be filled. We can find ourselves “out of gas” when we need it most.

The same is true as we press on with the hard work of spiritual formation and transformation. God has already done the work of saving us; none of us could ever save ourselves. But that truth does not minimize the toll that spiritual transformation can take on us. Digging up and facing old injuries done to us and, even worse, facing the injuries we have inflicted on others is emotionally exhausting.

We are on a journey. The fact that God propels us on our way does not obviate the trip’s difficulty. There will still be treks through dry and dusty wastelands. We will still find ourselves climbing impossibly steep mountains and suffering biting cold. We cannot go it alone. We can and should draw strength from others with whom we can share our journey: a pastor, a spiritual director, or trusted friends who are mature in their faith.

Those sustaining relationships are necessary, but they are not sufficient. To survive, we must hide ourselves in God: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory” (Col 3:2-4, NRSV). We must turn to Christ, who knows and cares for us at the soul-level. He is “one of us” and showed us the pattern of getting away to rest in God. See, for example, Mark 1:35, 1:45, 3:13, 6:30-32, and 14:32-36. We must submit ourselves to his rest. We must find our meadows where we can be renewed and sustained for the journey.

For me, the only way to the meadow is through the workshop. There are no shortcuts to the peace and refreshment of being in the presence of God. I was learning that the only way to really experience the peace of knowing God was through some hard work. The meadow comes after the knowledge of the work that needs to be done, in my case, the hard work of cleaning up the rocks and muck to restore the flow of water below the workshop.


[1]To say I lingered in the meadow is confusing, even to me. The entire vision could not have lasted more than a few moments. I was driving, after all. Nonetheless, I experienced the passage of significant time in the meadow.

[2]Janet O. Hagberg and Robert A. Guelich, The Critical Journey: Stages in the Life of Faith, (Salem, WI: Sheffield Publishing Company, 1989), p. 114, Kindle edition.

[3]Ibid., p. 119.

[4]“Dan” is a pseudonym. The person and the experience are real.

Workshop Chapter 13: Missing Pieces

My time below the workshop brings back memories of a mystical encounter a year earlier where Jesus helped me begin the process of re-integrating my missing pieces.

When we deny our pain, losses, and feelings year after year, we become less and less human. We transform slowly into empty shells with smiley faces painted on them.

Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

My time down the hole and under Pops’ Workshop were times of learning, healing, and growth. My understanding of it continues to deepen.  One of the surprising learnings was that God had started this process long before I ever encountered him in his workshop.

As we grow up, we learn many lessons about ourselves and how we fit into and can navigate the world we live in. We hope the environment is safe and stable and that the lessons we learn will help us develop into balanced, integrated people. Sadly, many children find themselves in less emotionally and socially healthy environments. In those cases, we learn lessons that, while helpful or even necessary in that time and place, do not serve us well in our adult lives. Among the unhealthy lessons I learned growing up was that emotions were bad, especially negative emotions. I came to mistrust my own emotions because they were often proved false; at least, that was what I learned. I might have been happy and proud of an achievement at school, only to be told that I should think too much of myself or to be reminded of some unrelated mistake or failure. My happiness was “wrong.” A child cannot reason that their pride or happiness really is an appropriate emotion when the opposite is being demonstrated.


Learning to hide

Negative emotions were particularly bad, I learned. In a household such as the one I grew up in, where alcoholism and codependence ruled, I learned the lesson that appearance was the most important thing. No matter what was going on at home, no matter how you felt, you must show the outside world that all was well. Do not show distress or unhappiness, even if that is how you feel. I learned it was best to put on a mask of normalcy for the world as well as for my family members. If I was angry, hurt, frightened, or anxious, it was best not to let it show; don’t do or say anything that might disturb a fragile equilibrium. As I grew, that lesson grew from don’t show your emotions to don’t have your emotions. The best way to not show your emotions was to simply not have them. Of course, we cannot really stop ourselves from having emotions. But we are remarkably resilient and creative creatures. We can build high and strong walls inside ourselves to bury our emotions deep within; with enough practice, we can effectively deny, even to ourselves, that we even have the emotions at all.

When I did see others in my family demonstrating negative emotions, it was usually in a very unhealthy way. They, too, had tried to tamp down what they felt until it came bursting out of them, usually as a major blow-up over a very minor occurrence. As I grew, I could see that cycle repeating itself in me: I would deny, suppress, and attempt to bury emotions, only to see them burst out of me in a toxic spew. As a young husband and father, those eruptions were damaging to the relationships with those I cared the most about. Not knowing any better, I thought the emotions were the problem. I had no conception that emotions simply are; it is our attempts to deny them that is the problem. I continued to bury those emotions ever deeper.

I denied an important part of who I am, an important part of what it means to be made in God’s image. I was burying a part of myself – a part that needed to be recovered, repaired, and integrated into the whole.


What is in the box?

Looking back, I can see that this need to reintegrate parts of myself that I had set aside was not entirely new. A year earlier, I was at the Alliance of Renewal Churches (ARC) Gathering in San Diego, California. ARC gatherings are jamb-packed with ways to connect with ARC leaders, church members, and other friends of the ARC and to connect with the Lord. There are powerful, spirit-filled times of worship, inspiring and challenging messages and workshops, times set aside for prophetic ministry and healing prayer, and times to just soak in prayer and connect one-on-one with Jesus.

The gathering began on a Friday evening with worship. As that service started, I sensed that something was happening in the spiritual realm. It felt a bit like watching storm clouds gather and feeling the temperature drop and winds pick up. It was not a feeling of dread, but I did have the sense that something big or important, or powerful was coming.

As I prayed during worship that first night of the gathering, I had a vision of an old, dusty, wooden crate. It seemed to be in a dark and lonely dead-end alley. The box was unremarkable and unmarked; it looked like a shipping crate: not at all elegant or refined. It was a cube, about three or four feet long on each side. It looked like it was sealed up and put in that lonesome place long ago and was now forgotten, sitting in the dark, gathering dust. In my spirit, I knew that the box contained a great treasure. It was forgotten but also very important.

If you have conjured up the scene from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, where the crate containing the Ark of the Covenant is stored away in a massive warehouse, put it out of your head. This box was in a remote, hard-to-find place, all by itself. It was not something you would casually come across, and even if you did, you would likely not give it a second look.

This vision of the box came to me several times. It was always in a dark, forgotten place. I first thought of it as an alley, but it could just as well have been a dark corner of some long-forgotten dungeon or deep cellar. Sometimes I saw rats scurrying around the box, making the location seem more ominous and the box less appealing.

I went to the Lord several times, asking, “What is in the box?” When he was silent, I became agitated. I knew that whatever was in the box was very valuable and very important. I came to believe that somehow “joy” was in the box. This made no sense to me. I persisted in questioning the Lord until he said, gently but firmly, “Wait and see.” To be honest, I interpreted this to mean that I was being given a piece of a revelation and that someone else would supply the rest, that this was a corporate word that I was only a part of. I was entirely wrong. During prophetic ministry that evening no other piece dropped into place. Whatever I was waiting for was not yet here.

The vision of the box stuck with me through the night and into the next day. During worship on Saturday morning, I was again praying, seeking to discern what Jesus was trying to show me through an old, forgotten, wooden crate. Slowly the box’s meaning was revealed to me. I came to understand that an important part of me was in the box. It was a part of me that I had hidden away long ago, hidden from all, even Jesus, or so I thought. Whatever it was, it was hidden so long ago and so well I didn’t know what it was, how to find it, or why I had hidden it away in the first place. I didn’t even know that a part of me was missing! Whatever it was, I had hidden it well from myself. As you might imagine, this was distressing. The valuable and important thing in the box, the thing that was somehow “joy,” the thing hidden away and forgotten, was a part of me, a part I had been without for so long that I had forgotten it even existed.

Continuing in prayer, I asked Jesus if he could take me to the box. I saw Jesus walking hand-in-hand with me through dark and twisting passages. The me I saw in this vision was me as a five-year-old boy. As we approached the box, I (the five-year-old me) felt a little trepidation. Something valuable was in the box, but it was also something I had hidden away. This five-year-old me knew why it had been hidden in the first place. I longed to regain whatever was in the box, but I at the same time, I feared it. I had hidden it away, presumably for a good reason. Could it be safe to take it back now?

In my ambivalence, I feebly and hesitantly tried, with a half-hearted, token effort, to open the box and it remained closed to me. Wondering if it really would be safe to open it, I again asked Jesus, “What is in the box?” This time he answered; the answer came not in words, but as an impression.

It is maddeningly difficult to try to put into words what Jesus wordlessly conveyed. The Lord often speaks plainly, even conversationally. Other times he speaks in images or pictures.  And then there are times like this where he didn’t really speak, yet somehow, knowledge or information is conveyed. The lack of words or images didn’t lessen the impact of his revelation, but since what was impressed on me was wordless, I find it difficult to put it into words. The nearest I can come is to say that the contents of the box enabled or activated or completed three things: power, love, and joy. I had already discerned that Joy was a key aspect of the mysterious box’s contents, but the notion of Power caught my attention. I protested to Jesus that I didn’t want more power, that I was already too powerful. Only I was not too powerful. Power, like wealth and intelligence, is morally neutral. Having power or money or intelligence is neither good nor bad. It is what we do with what we are given that determines its moral value. I could use power for good or for ill. I knew that I had been an abuser of power;[1] I had used it to control and manipulate. What I meant, when I said that I was too powerful,  was that I did not trust myself to be responsible with power.

Jesus gently shook his head; he seemed a little sad. Not disappointed or impatient, just sad that this was so hard for me and sad for what I had lost for so long. He explained that I am afraid of power because I do not love. It is love, not power or joy that is the key. Love, Jesus showed me, will unleash and free both power and joy in me — if I can take back the hidden and forgotten part of me. What was hidden away was a thing that allowed me to truly love, to love completely and selflessly. Being able to love would allow me to employ what power I have responsibly, in love.[2] In spite of my fixation on power and my past misuse of it, it was clear to me that Jesus’ emphasis was on joy. He wanted me to have my joy back, and that required what was in the box.


Missing pieces

Through all of this, I became more comfortable with the possibility of taking back that which I had hidden away so many years before. I asked Jesus to open the box. As if to emphasize his humanity, Jesus did not just will the box open, as I know he could. Instead, he produced a hammer and a pry bar and started pulling off boards. As gaps appeared between the slats that made up the box, I could see brilliant, pure white light streaming out. The light was all the more dazzling due to the surrounding darkness. When the box was opened, I could see that the source of the light was a round object about the size of a volleyball. My first thought was that this “ball” was glowing, but understates it. The ball was the light or, perhaps, was made of light. It seemed bright as the sun but pure, brilliant white. I marveled to see it.

All at once, the ball of light flew out of the box and started bouncing around the alley. Five-year-old me was squealing with delight, clapping my hands with joy, jumping and chasing after the ball of light, trying to catch it. Whatever fear or anxiety I had harbored about this still-mysterious object, it had vanished. I was delighted to see “it” again. I could not catch it, but that fact did not seem to disturb me at all. I was deliriously happy to be chasing it around the alley. After a bit, Jesus reached out his hand and caught the ball. He handed it to me. The tone of the scene changed, from child-like delight to solemnity and gravitas. Joy was there, but we paused as if to let me catch my breath, and I remembered that Jesus had brought me there for an important purpose. This was not about fun and games.

What happened next is harder to understand and harder to describe. Somehow, I took the ball of light into myself. At first, I saw myself swallowing the light whole, but my rational mind, the present-day me watching the scene, rejected the idea as impossible since the ball was much too large. Instead, I saw my younger self hold the ball against his chest and press it bodily inside. As I hugged it to my chest, it was absorbed or melted into me.[3]

As that scene ended, I was deeply impacted. This vision was unlike anything I had experienced before.[4] I was at a loss to figure out what I was supposed to do with it. I had somehow, in some way, regained or was regaining a long-buried, long-lost part of myself. Now what? Luckily, I was at a church conference! I knew a lot of trusted, spirit-filled, wise people to help me sort through this. Surely this vision came at this time so that those trusted guides could shepherd me through my confusion and uncertainty. Unfortunately, they were, to a man, all busy! One was willing and able to help me, but at the last minute had something else he had to do. I was angry that no one had time for me. I felt devalued. I was fearful of delving into this vision and unpacking it alone, and yet, here at the church conference, the place crawling with pastors, no one was available to help me.


Learning to trust

Looking back, I think God had a plan and was at work in denying me aid. One of my flaws is a lack of trust. I tend not to trust myself or my own judgments. I seek outside experts to validate my ideas, impressions, and beliefs. I am convinced that here the Lord was helping me learn to trust myself and, more importantly, to trust him and put myself in his hands without reservation. I was about to discover how sweet the fruit of trusting him can be. With no one available to help me work through the vision, weighty and gnawing on my consciousness, I was left with only one person to talk with: Jesus.

I relied again on my experience with Immanuel prayer, a prayer discipline that helps us learn to see and hear Jesus, both in the here and now and in our memories. Every ARC gathering has a quiet place set aside for prayer. I went there to see what Jesus would say to me about the vision and what five-year-old me had to do with the box and the light ball.[5]

I spent nearly an hour and a half alone with Jesus, praying and journaling. I began, as is usual in Immanuel prayer, by asking Jesus if he wanted to bring up any particular memories. I innocently thought that I was waiting for a yes/no answer or perhaps for a menu of possible memories to choose from. Instead of being able to pick and choose, I suddenly found myself in a very painful memory that I had not thought of in years.

I remembered an episode from my childhood when I was likely about the same age as the version of me I had seen in the vision. My sister, four years older than me, my mother, and I were in the kitchen of my childhood home. I was about the same age as I saw myself in the box vision. My mother was very angry with my sister. I was standing next to my sister, likely enjoying the fact that she was in trouble and I was not.  My mother, in a fit of anger, swung her arm to slap my sister.[6] She missed and instead caught me hard across the face. I remembered the stinging pain and awful feeling of injustice. I remembered my mother catching me up in her arms and tearfully apologizing as I wailed in pain and outrage. I remember not wanting her embrace. I wanted to get away, far away. I wanted to hide myself away. I am not sure that it had ever occurred to me before, but it was now clear to me that was likely drunk.

As the feelings brought up by that memory subsided, I asked Jesus where he was when that was happening. He showed me that he had been standing behind me, weeping in anticipation of what was going to happen. He was embracing me even as my mother was. He was saying that he was very sorry, so very sorry that had to happen to me. Rather than bringing me comfort, his sorrow ignited anger and outrage in me. Sorry! What good does sorry do a wounded little boy? Why not do so something, I demanded to know! If he was so sorry, why did he let it happen in the first place? Why did he let me be born into a family wracked with alcoholism? What kind of God is he anyway? If he loved me, why didn’t he protect me?

Had I been more reflective, I might have expected Jesus to meet my anger with his own self-righteous power and anger. After all, that is how I typically reacted to my children: overwhelm their emotions with my own. Instead, he was calm and patient, allowing me to feel what I felt, not telling me I was wrong or foolish to feel that way. He explained that for me to be who I am supposed to be, I needed to be born to the parents I had. Each of us is unique and has a unique destiny. For me to be who I am supposed to be, I needed to be born of those two particular parents. It was not the Father’s will that I suffer my parent’s dysfunction. I am becoming who I am supposed to be by overcoming my parent’s shortfalls, not because of them.

That answer was partly satisfying but seemed to beg the question: If I had to be born of those parents, why didn’t God “fix” them before I was born? Surely that was within his power! The answer came with patience and compassion. The Lord reminded me about free will. Each of us is free to embrace or reject the pursuit of the God who made us and loves us, whose self-giving passion is to restore us so that we can enter into an eternal love relationship with him. For many years I rejected God and had only lately turned to him. Jesus had pursued and called to my parents, as he does everyone, throughout their lives, but they would not come to him. He longed for them, not just for my sake but for their own. He longed for their renewal and restoration, for them to be free to be who they were meant to be. They, too, had kingdom destinies.  Sadly, they were never able to embrace them.

This memory and the ensuing conversation with the Lord were an emotional roller coaster. I once again experienced outrage, hurt, pain, and confusion. But I also experienced love and consolation. I was learning experientially that it was safe to bring all my “stuff” to God, even my anger with him.  He was teaching me the way to stop chucking rocks down the hole and stopping up the flow of his love.

I paused in my prayer to write what I was experiencing in my journal. Writing down the experience brought fresh waves of emotion. As I wrote about the pain and brokenness, I felt Jesus standing behind me, gently rubbing my shoulders as if to encourage me. He bent down and kissed the top of my head. I was undone. I knew that Jesus loved me; after all, he loves everyone, so he must love me. I had seen him many times and talked to him and heard him reply. Yet his physical touch, especially a simple kiss, blew me away. The very Son of God, co-eternal with Father and the Holy Spirit, he who sits in all power at the right hand of the Father, came to me physically and tangibly to comfort me and show me his personal, tender love. As waves of emotion washed over me, I could feel my resistance, born of my lack of trust, start to break down and melt away.

With my increasing trust and sense of safety, I asked Jesus about the box. He showed me that it was related to the memory he had taken me back to. He helped me understand that I had hidden my love and trust away to try to prevent people from hurting me again. I didn’t completely build the box then, but I started it. I added to it and hid it further and further away over time until it was completely lost to me. This defensive action of a wounded child was effective (if not wise).

Now, this missing part of me needed to be reintegrated. I also asked about the ball of light, wanting to know what it was. Jesus couldn’t give me a label I would understand. He said it is a part of me that lets me trust and love. I asked how I could get it back. His reply was essentially “time”; it would take time for me to heal, to learn to trust, and to love again. The impression I had of me taking the light into myself was true, but not instantaneous or immediate. I would need to keep going back to him to see that God is good, loves me, and is trustworthy. The reintegration of me would take time.

I don’t know what prompted me, but I wanted to see the box again. I again saw the dark, withdrawn hiding place. Where the box had been, there was now just a pile of splintered wood. The box had been completely taken apart, and the boards were broken to bits; there was no chance of rebuilding or reusing that box. I may not have reintegrated the ability to love and trust yet, but if I want to hide parts of myself away again, I am going to have to build a new box and find a new hiding place for it.

I was feeling so loved and so secure during this time I wanted to prolong it. I knew I was receiving an extraordinary grace and did not want to miss anything. I asked Jesus if there was anything else I should know. He told me he wants me to be happy, to enjoy the life and the blessings he has given me. He wants me to serve him with joy and confidence. Joy and confidence were largely foreign to me, but I was starting to believe that they could bloom in me yet, even in my later years. With this assurance, the awesome, transformative encounter with the risen Christ drew to an end. As I now know, it wasn’t the last time he would come to me in a vision; it was just the start.

Writing this now, I am reminded of one more important lesson I drew from this time: Jesus is so hard after me that he calls up and restores to me things that I didn’t even know were missing, things I had put away so securely, so long ago that I had forgotten about them. I no longer think that marks me as unique or special. I believe it is what he wants for each of us: to restore what is lost and broken, to restore us, to restore you.

The reintegration of the fragmented parts of ourselves is foundational for our spiritual health and wholeness. David Benner sums up this truth:

Christian spirituality involves acknowledging all our part-selves, exposing them to God’s love and letting him weave them into the new person he is making. To do this, we must be willing to welcome these ignored parts as full members of the family of self, giving them space at the family table and slowly allowing them to be softened and healed by love and integrated into the whole person we are becoming.[7]

I was in the habit of making some very bad choices. Rather than accept me for who I am, bringing my true self to Jesus, who stands near the hole in the floor of Pops’ Workshop, I often chose to hide myself and not be “real” with Jesus. Hiding some parts of myself out of shame and others due to fear, and others were hidden away so long ago that the hiding places were lost to me. Slowly I was becoming aware that I needed to stop throwing the “rubbish” down the hole. I should instead bring everything to Jesus: rocks, muck, and all.

Even with that slowly-dawning awareness, there was still the problem of the mess already down the hole: the things stopping up and fouling the stream of living water. Jesus told me that the rocks are removed and the muck is cleaned up by repentance. True repentance, true surrender—allowing the Lord to have all of me, not just the parts I think he’d like to see. That is much easier said than done. In my then fifty-five years, I had become adept and hiding myself and my emotions. (At least most of the time, when in public. In private settings, I’m afraid that, like a lot of us, the things I tried to hold in often leaked out. That leakage usually hits those we love and feel safest around.) I would have to learn how to stop hiding, to start bringing my true self to Jesus. That, I understood, would prevent any further fouling of the water. An even harder task remained: how could I clean the mess that was down in the hole?


[1]This is not to say that I didn’t also abuse wealth and intelligence. In my brokenness, I abused those as well. I also don’t want to imply that I no longer misuse power, wealth, and intelligence.  Now I do so much less frequently, and I am usually painfully aware of it.

[2]I would hear the same message from my spiritual director at my very first spiritual direction session nearly a year later: “Why not try tempering boldness with love?”

[3]I have learned that when the Lord wants to show you something, he will find a way for it to make sense to your mind, despite our insistence that it “make sense.”

[4]But I can now recognize it as an introduction to how the Lord would be engaging with me in Pops’ workshop.

[5]Emmanuel prayer is usually facilitated by a trained and experienced minister who can responsibly aid and support you as you process what are sometimes deeply painful memories. I do not suggest that you follow my example of attempting Immanuel prayer on your own.

[6]To my knowledge, this was the only instance of physical violence in my childhood.

[7] Benner, David G.. The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery (The Spiritual Journey) (p. 51). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

Workshop Chapter 12: Down a Hole

Exploring a mysterious area under Pops’ Workshop, I begin to understand how neglecting the state of my soul has left much that needs to be addressed.

Anyone who drinks the water I give will never thirst—not ever. The water I give will be an artesian spring within, gushing fountains of endless life.

John 4:14 (MSG)

I don’t know when I first became aware of the hole, but there was definitely a large hole in the floor of the workshop. Shortly after the vision of venomous snakes, this hole in the floor was commanding my attention. It was in the back corner of the workshop, close to Holy Spirit. It was a round opening about three or four feet across. It looked suspiciously like an open manhole. I wondered about what might be at the bottom of the hole but resisted thoughts of exploring it. The hole was dark and mysterious. Thinking about what might be down the hole put me on edge. The nearby stairs leading down to a closed door at the back of the workshop seemed much more inviting and safer.

Once again, my spiritual director gave me a much-needed nudge. He noted that the hole certainly seemed important and that I would likely explore it at some point. Despite my director seeing what I was blind to, I resisted the hole for a week or two; when I finally did go down, I understood why I had resisted it. Down in the hole, I was brought face to face with much that I had hidden away, sometimes for decades, not wanting to face. But it would also be a place for healing that I didn’t even know I needed, healing for things I didn’t know were broken.

After much procrastination, during a time of prayer, I stopped resisting.[1] Down I went. The bottom of the hole was dark, dank, and covered with slimy muck. With the passage of a few moments spent wondering about where I was and why I was there, I discerned that the hole was meant to be the opening to a well, a place where someone in the workshop could let down a bucket to draw water from what was supposed to be a running stream of life-giving water. But the stream was littered and clogged with rocks, many of them large and jagged. A thick muck covered everything.

Before sharing what I have discerned and learned about this mysterious hole, the rocks, the slime, and the stream, I want to be clear in my narrative. My telling of my time down the whole may lead you to believe that I quickly and smoothly understood the significance of the hole in the workshop floor, but what the Lord wanted me to know about this place unfolded over a period of many days, with much prayer and much listening. As I pressed into this new, unexpected aspect of my Pops’ Workshop, understanding came slowly.

Even so, my understanding of it remains incomplete and evolving. Its meaning does not fundamentally change, but as I have continued to heal, learn, and grow, my understanding of this part of my time in Pops’ Workshop has matured. Like a painter adding a bit of detail to a landscape or a chef adjusting the seasoning in a dish, the Lord continues refining and sharpening my understanding of this pivotal experience in my Pops’ Workshop. Knowing that I didn’t fully understand The Hole stymied my writing for a long time; I wanted to understand it well enough to tell of it.[2] I am not sure that condition has been met! What follows is necessarily a snapshot in time; it is how I understand it today. I am confident that I will understand it better tomorrow.


Water and Rocks

As I sat with the experience of being down the hole, I learned that the large rocks had stopped the flow of water at its source. What little water did trickle out was fouled by the muck. I initially thought of the now blocked water as “healing,” but that is only a property of the water, not its substance. Light and heat are properties of fire, but neither of them defines it; they are not its substance.  In the same way, the healing is in the water but is not the water. The water’s substance is God’s Love: the very thing Jesus told me was needed to be able to perfect something.  God’s love should have been bubbling up from the floor but was blocked.

Water is a powerful and pervasive symbol in Christianity. We are brought into the newness of life through the waters of baptism. The gospels are rich with the symbolism of water. Jesus’ public ministry was launched when he was baptized in the Jordan River (an event chronicled in all four gospels). In John 4, Jesus tells the Samaritan woman at the well that the water he provides is “living water.” Later, Jesus declared to the crowds that came to hear him: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:35–38 ESV)

This living water of God’s love was what was supposed to be flowing in that subterranean stream. It was barely a trickle. Certainly not a river of living water. The rocks were stopping the stream at its source – blocking the flow of God’s love.

I have come to understand that underground, interior space as an image or representation of my interior state, my soul, if you will. God’s love should have been flowing through me and out of me in a torrent. Instead, I had just a trickle, and what love did flow was polluted. It was not a complete surprise to learn that I was the reason his love wasn’t coursing through me.


Attending to Our Interior Life

Attending to our interior life is foundational to our formational journey toward Christ-likeness. Yet many of us focus on our exteriors, on what we say and how we behave. We think if we look good, say the right things, and do the right things, then we are maturing as Christians. In the end, this amounts to us trying to fix ourselves. We believe that we are saved through Christ’s sacrifice but think our sanctification rests on our own shoulders.

Consider Galatians 5:22-23: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. (HSCB)” Many of us, myself included, can read this as our checklist of things we should do: be loving and joyful, feel peaceful, be patient, kind, good, and so on. Most of us can muster up the strength to do some of these things some of the time. But no matter how we try, if we are trying in our own strength, we will eventually fail, and in our failure, we become discouraged and even resentful that we are somehow supposed to achieve something that is beyond us.

We have it backward. Supppose I told you that the fruit of an apple tree is a bounty of delicious apples and your tree has only a few small and wormy apples. If we approach this problem the way we approach our interior lives we would rush off to Whole Foods to get the best apples we could find and tie them on to our tree and declare it an excellent apple tree. That sounds absurd, but it is essentially what we do when we think of the fruit of the spirit as something we need to do. We try to address the symptoms, not the disease.


Hiding is Never a Good Plan

Down in that mucky hole, Jesus showed me that the rocks came from me. When I sprouted fruit that wasn’t what a “good Christian” should be; rather than address the problems causing the bad fruit, I would just chuck it all down in the hole, pretending I wasn’t angry, quarrelsome, impatient, selfish, and so on.

This was especially toxic when I was angry, doubting, impatient, or discouraged with the Lord. I didn’t go to him with my true feelings. Instead, I pretended that I didn’t feel what I felt. I stuffed those feelings down the hole, and with the feelings went the parts of me that needed mending, out of sight and out of mind.

Let me give you an example. Back in chapter one, I was talking about my sense of dissatisfaction. Dissatisfaction is too soft a word. I was angry – very angry. I felt that I was being cheated. I was doing everything I could do to walk out my faith, but I wasn’t experiencing the joy-filled new life promised by scripture. Dissatisfied? I wanted to yell at God: “Where the hell is my new life? You talk a good show, you promise a sweet reward, well, where is it? Why aren’t you holding up your end of the deal? I am worn out trying to please you – trying to do what you want me to do. I am tired of waiting for you to come through! Where is all this peace and joy I am supposed to have?” I wanted to yell and kick and scream.

That was what my heart wanted to do. However, I am a person generally ruled by my head – I live in my head (it is usually a very nice place). I let my head rule my heart. It would be wrong to be angry with God. Just who did I suppose I was? My head reasoned that if someone is wrong here, it must be me, certainly not the Lord God Almighty, ruler of heaven and earth! He is God; I am merely a creature. If I am angry, frustrated, or impatient, surely the fault must be with me.

So, I hid the real me. I hid the pain and brokeness from God and from myself. I didn’t tell him of my frustration and anger with him. In that way, I neutered my relationship with God. I came to him only with the parts of me, the emotional states I thought were “okay” to bring. He didn’t get all of me. Instead, what I didn’t bring to him, I stuffed down the hole — the rocks that clogged the stream.

By keeping my disappointments, anger, and other “negative” emotions from Jesus, I was cheating us out of a full relationship. It is indicative of a lack of trust. I created an inauthentic relationship. I brought a false, or a best, partial version of myself to Jesus. Any relationship, whether between God and us or just between each other, must be based on honesty to thrive. Relationships based on anything besides honesty and authenticity can be neither vibrant nor healthy. The inauthentic relationship I offered Jesus made it all but impossible for his love to flow in ways that I could access it.

In the language of the Workshop, the water that should be available to be drawn up through the hole was not flowing. It was stopped up at its source. Let me be clear. The problem was not my anger and frustration or any of a host of “bad” emotions I felt. God already knew how I felt and had I told him he would have been neither shocked nor surprised that I felt that way. The problem was with me trying to pretend to be other than I was. The problem was me trying to hide myself, or parts of myself, from God. Trying to partition off the “good parts” to bring to God while hiding the rest is pointless and counterproductive. God already knows. Our hiding doesn’t fool anyone but ourselves. Yet it keeps us from bringing our woundedness, or pain, and our brokenness to Jesus, the only person who can heal and repair us.

The slimy muck that covered the rocks and the cave floor was also my doing. Hiding my true self from Jesus stopped up the flow of water, or nearly so. The nasty and slimy muck, grew and accumulated when I would not be honest with myself about negative feelings and emotions I felt toward others. If others left me feeling hurt, angry, or disappointed, rather than allow myself to feel those feelings, I would stuff them down the hole, where they would fester and foul what little water was still flowing. The dynamic with the slime was much like that of the rocks. Where the rocks impeded the life-giving flow of God’s love, the slime was fouling what little flow was left.

It sounds odd, hiding from ourselves, but a lot of us, maybe even most of us, do just that. We wall off and try to deny those things, those parts of us, we judge unacceptable. Our emotions, how we really feel about ourselves, those we love, and God, are stuffed down a hole and denied. Too many of us were raised in families where “Shame, secrets, lies, betrayals, relationship breakdowns, disappointments, and unresolved longings for unconditional love lie beneath the veneer…”[3]

In the years following my visits to Pops’ Workshop, as I studied to become a Spiritual Director, I read many excellent books. One stands out like a map or guidebook that helped me understand what God had been up to and how I had been transformed in the Workshop: Peter Scazzero’s Emotionally Healthy Spirituality[4]. Scazzero shows us it is impossible for us to be healthy spiritually if we are not healthy emotionally:

“God made us as whole people, in his image (Genesis 1:27). That image includes physical, spiritual, emotional, intellectual, and social dimensions. … Ignoring any aspect of who we are as men and women made in God’s image always results in destructive consequences—in our relationship with God, with others, and with ourselves.”

Scazzero, p. 17

That is a fitting description of what God was showing me down the hole in the back of the workshop. I was damaging my relationship with God, with others, and with myself.

I think of Scazzero’s five dimensions as spokes on a wooden wheel. When we are healthy and strong in all the spokes, we will roll along just fine. However, if any of the spokes in our wheel is broken, weak, or stressed, that puts more of the load of life on the remaining spokes. We may get along fine for quite a while with one or two spokes that are weak or damaged, but when we find ourselves on a rough road, with life’s rocks and potholes, things can go very badly indeed. The weakened spokes may snap altogether, leading to a catastrophic failure, or the weakness in one spoke puts more and more pressure on the others.  In either case, the end is the same: the whole works comes crashing down.

As Scazzero predicts, my relationship with others, with God and with myself suffered. My lack of emotional health stressed the other dimensions of my life. As time passed, I would have to wrestle with and accept the depth of the hurt I had caused my wife and children. For now, in his Workshop, my Pops was dealing with the damaged relationship I had with him, which started with the damaged relationship I had with myself. He was trueing the wheel and repairing my damaged spokes.

Exposing, understanding, and accepting ourselves as we are is a key first step in our healing. I had a lot to learn about myself, I needed to reintegerate some parts that had been lost for a long time.


[1]Reading this today, I notice that I had agency. I could have never gone down the hole. I believe the invitation would have continued, but my Pops would not force me to confront anything I chose not to.

[2]I have only recently begun to be comfortable with mystery. Being comfortable with mystery does not make it any easier to describe a thing shrouded in mystery, especially not for a seasoned left-brain thinker!

[3] Scazzero, Peter. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature (p. 13). Zondervan. Kindle Edition

[4] Even years later, I am awed by the illumination of my later study. If I been exposed to work like Scazzero’s earlier, my unhealthiness would have kept me from receiving the healing the Lord was bringing. Learning after the fact has been affirming and life-giving; it validates and solidifies my sometimes vague understanding of what the Lord was doing

Chapter 11: Preparing for an Inward Journey

My journey was about to take a dramatic turn from ministry invitation to needed inner healing. In his wisdom and mercy, God was preparing me for that shift.

We confess that we are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.

Traditional Lutheran Liturgy

I could not know it at the time, but this adventure in my Pops’ Workshop was about to take a dramatic shift from invitation to healing. It is worth spending a moment to look back over the road I had traveled so far. I had met my Pops and experienced his love for me. I had encountered Jesus with his invitation to somehow help with his slow and gentle work of perfecting what he loves. I had begun to wrestle with questions of my worth and identity. Both Jesus and my Pops had invited me to help make him known and to bring words of peace, somehow, to untold numbers of people. I seen the mysterious inner work of the Holy Spirit and learned that, as improbable as it seemed, facilitating Holy Spirit’s work was also part of the invitation. Finally, I had been promised both peace for my soul and attacks by the enemy, with the assurance that any hurts would be put right.

All of this happened over a short period of time. My lunch with Danny, Mike, and Graeme was on February twentieth. I was first in Pops’ workshop ten days later, on March second. The Easter announcement that my peace is coming was only five weeks later, on April fifth. From my first time meeting my Pops to the warning about the enemy striking me was only sixty-two days. A lot had happened in a very short period of time. I am certain this timing was not happenstance.


Understanding is not always helpful

The Lord knows that I am a thinker and an analyzer, often to the point of obsession. That tenacity can be a good thing, but often it is less helpful. A passionate desire to dig into something and to thoroughly understand it can run off the rails when it comes up against mystery and beauty. For example, if was were to discover a rare and beautiful flower, something completely unlike anything in my experience, my instinct would be to uproot the plant so I could examine it fully, compare it to other flowers, ask experts about it, and learn everything I could about. It would be hard for me to simply be grateful for the grace and beauty and enjoy a rare and beautiful thing.[1] If I gave my nature free rein, I would, in all likelihood, destroy it in my attempt to understand it.

So it could have been with my time in Pops’ Workshop. By God’s grace, I was receiving a gift of exceeding beauty, power, and value. My Pops knew that, given the opportunity, I would have over-thought, over-reasoned, and over-analyzed what he was showing me. If the events so far had unfolded more slowly, giving me the luxury of time to really analyze them, I would likely have destroyed the experience.

I could easily have written the whole thing off as, at best wishful imagining and, at worst, a psychotic episode. I knew of no one who had experienced God in such a direct and personal way. I could have decided what I had seen and heard and felt was a fantasy, concocted by my subconscious as a balm to a hurting soul and a needy ego. There were times when I doubted my sanity, wondering if what was happening to me would be better addressed by a psychiatrist instead of a spiritual director. I could have set it aside and walked away.

Or, if I did believe the reality of what I was experiencing, it was so far beyond my understanding that my drive to understand it could have ended it in frustration. My pride was such that if I couldn’t understand something, at least well enough to explain it to myself, I would have rejected it as something false or something not worth pursuing. If I couldn’t make sense of something, surely must be a flaw in the thing I was analyzing!

If I had somehow surmounted those temptations to reject what God was doing, given time to think it over, I would almost certainly have disqualified myself. I would likely have decided that God’s idea of what I could do was intriguing and flattering, but clearly, he had the wrong guy: I was the bull in the china shop. I would not be able to patiently and lovingly sand anything to perfect it. I would grab a chisel or maybe even a chainsaw and “fix” what I thought needed fixing. Given enough time to really dig into what was happening, I would decide that I was not up to the job at hand.

That disqualification is a place where so many of us get stuck. We either set aside the idea that we can really be better and have the kind of life Jesus promises or we decide that we have to fix ourselves before God can use us. We have some ill-defined notion of the level of “goodness” God requires in us before he can complete the job. Believing that we launch ourselves on a doomed-to-failure plan of self-improvement. We try in vain to make ourselves good enough for God to love, forgive, and make new.

Trying to Fix Ourselves

Many of us believe that we really do need to get our act together and get our house in some semblance of order before we can approach God and before God will accept us. We have a very hard time believing that God loves and takes us as we are.  Most of us have heard the message as expressed in Romans:

“When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.

Romans 5:6-8 (NLT)

Yet we act as if somehow, now God expects us to make ourselves righteous. We believe and affirm that Christ died for us while were still sinners and, almost in the same breath, doubt that we can have a real relationship with the divine until we tackle our sin and brokenness on our own. Accepting the reality of God’s love and acceptance of us as we are is vital. In his book Interior Freedom[2], Jacques Philippe puts it this way:

The person God loves with the tenderness of a Father, the person he wants to touch and to transform with his love, is not the person we’d have liked to be or ought to be. It’s the person we are. God doesn’t love “ideal persons” or “virtual beings.” He loves actual, real people.

Philippe, Kindle loc 324

Our unwillingness to believe that we are not good enough for God to begin his work in us will always block our progress. But there is a way through:

The secret actually is very simple. It is to understand that we can only transform reality fruitfully if we accept it first. This also means having the humility to recognize that we cannot change ourselves by our own efforts, but that all progress in the spiritual life, every victory over ourselves, is a gift of God’s grace. We will not receive the grace to change unless we desire to; but to receive the grace that will transform us, we must “receive” ourselves—to accept ourselves as we really are.

Philippe, Kindle loc 338

My repeating pattern of sin and repentance I was lamenting on that Easter Sunday was not caused by any lack of sincerity or good intentions. Each time I realized my sin, my heartfelt vow was to reform myself, with perhaps a passing nod to God’s help. I desperately wanted to fix myself, to make myself worthy of God’s love. I did not, as Philippe says, “receive” myself. I was striving to change myself, to manage my own transformation. The peace I had been promised would come as I learned to accept myself as I am and receive God’s transforming grace.

My transformation would be a long process, one that is not yet concluded. It requires that I not dwell on my unworthiness and not give into my need to fix myself. Instead, I must dwell on God’s goodness and the beauty and mystery of his grace. Instead of trying to fix myself I must put myself in the hands of the one actually can mend what is broken in me. I must accept and embrace my identity as a beloved son of the Father. Author and psychologist David Benner sums up the dynamic of the journey this way:

Coming to know and trust God’s love is a lifelong process. Making this knowledge the foundation of our identity—or better, allowing our identity to be re-formed around this most basic fact of our existence—will also never happen instantly. Both lie at the core of the spiritual transformation that is the intended outcome of Christ-following.

Every time I dare to meet God in the vulnerability of my sin and shame, this knowing is strengthened. Every time I fall back into a self-improvement mode and try to bring God my best self, it is weakened. I only know Divine unconditional, radical and reckless love for me when I dare to approach God just as I am.

Benner[3], (p. 49).

My peace was coming and the Lord was not about to let me over-think that promise or what I was experiencing in Pops’ Workshop. I needed to be open to the inner work God was about to walk me through. I will indeed be struck by the enemy, but I know where to go for healing. God, in his goodness and steadfast love, gives me the tools and the strength I need for where he is taking me which, it turned out, was down a hole.[4]


[1]My tendency to yield to a need to understand and know was much stronger when I entered my Pops’ Workshop. To be sure, it is still with me but is now tempered with a desire and ability to simply “be” in beauty and mystery.

[2]Philippe, Jacques. Interior Freedom . Scepter Publishers. Kindle Edition.

[3] Benner, David G.. The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery (The Spiritual Journey). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[4]When I first wrote this paragraph some five years ago, it was in the past tense. I wrote as if I thought that my transformational journey was nearing an end. I could not have been more wrong, the journey continues; not always with the same intensity and rapidity, but it continues, pain and confusion included. I often need to be reminded of God’s goodness, acceptance, and strength.

Workshop Chapter 10: The Promise of Peace

I wrestle with the question of “why me?” and am promised, even in the face of impending danger, that my peace was coming.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.

John 14:27 (ESV)

My experiences in the workshop so far had happened over a span of five weeks. I had met and spent time with each person of the trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I was experiencing them in personal ways and was learning to trust my Pops’ genuine love for me. I had received profound and direct invitations to ministry. All of this is more than I could have expected and felt like it was more than enough, but, as it turns out, it was only the beginning.

Clearly, God was up to something in my life; I was on an incredible journey. One thing I did not know was how far along the road I was. Was I near the end of the road or barely underway? If you, the reader, had a book in your hands, you could look ahead and see how many pages are left or how many blog posts you have not yet read and make a pretty good guess. I had no such clues. I had no idea what, if anything, would be next. For all I knew, I could have already reached the end. Each time I returned to the workshop could have been my last.

I now know that was then nowhere near the end, but I had reached a point where the story was about to take an important and dramatic shift; a shift from calling and encouragement to healing deep wounds and scars that would otherwise keep me from walking out my calling. My Pops knew what I didn’t: I would need some reassurance and fortification in advance.


Why Me?

Shortly before my encounter with Holy Spirit, I had started asking myself, “why me?” I was pretty sure that my experiences were not typical; the few people I shared them with certainly thought them extraordinary. What was so special about me that I should have this ministry call to Spiritual Direction, especially in such a clear and personal way? Who was I that my Pops should bring me to his workshop? Many people wrestle long and hard to try to discern what the Lord is calling them to. I had received the proverbial engraved invitation.

In a time of contemplative prayer, I found myself at the back of the workshop asking Jesus these questions: “why me?” and “am so special?” He turned away from me and faced the back wall of the workshop. As he did, the wall faded from view. I looked where it l had been, expecting to see the forest or the side of the mountain. Instead, I saw row upon row and rank upon rank of people sitting at desks or workbenches. It instantly reminded me of a scene from King Vidor’s 1928 film “The Crowd.”[1]

Office workers in Vidor’s “The Crowd”

Vidor’s imagery emphasized the mechanistic, dehumanizing work environment where everyone is doing the same thing in the same way at the same time. He depicted row after row of workers, each diligently, if robotically, working — people as machines. In contrast, in the scene Jesus showed me, there was no sense of that dehumanizing environment. Instead of office workers, I saw people busy sanding blocks of wood, much as Jesus had. I was struck by the variety of people, young and old, men and women, some seemingly conservative and reserved and others more flamboyant and extravagant. They spanned racial, cultural, and socioeconomic spectra. All unique and yet all the same. Each was sanding carefully, thoughtfully, and lovingly. In the manner of Jesus, loving and helping to perfect what they were working on.

Although no words were spoken, Jesus impressed upon me that I was not alone in this calling. Legions of others are called to the same work. It was also clear, in this wordless communication, that I am unique and special to Jesus. I am not a nameless, faceless cog in a machine. I am known and loved by him. Many others, each known and loved, have been called to the same work. I am unique in my person but not in my calling; I am not alone. I am special, as each of us is in Jesus’s eyes, but not unique. This did not answer my “why me?” question, but it rendered it moot; the answer was no longer of interest to me. Why me? Because Jesus loves me and can use my natural and supernatural gifting to help him help others.


Peace is Coming

Soon it was Easter Sunday, and I was once again engaged in what seemed to have been a favorite pastime: serial repenting. When I review my journals, I see an annoying and embarrassing pattern of repenting of some sin, trying my best to keep myself on the straight and narrow, then sometime later, I’d once again find myself repenting of the same sin. This time I was once again repenting of being self-absorbed and self-centered – that was one of my favorites for serial repentance. It seemed that no how many times I repented of this sin, earnestly and with every intent to change, I sooner or later found myself back in the same place. Those twisted places in my soul had not yet been straightened out, and, oblivious to Holy Spirit’s work, I was trying to do it myself. So, there I was, in church on Easter Sunday, once again confessing this sin, fully aware that I had confessed and repented of my self-centeredness over and over again, when I heard the Lord say to me, “Your peace is coming.”

Sometimes when I hear from the Lord, I struggle to understand if it is him or me that I am hearing. This was not one of those times. “Your peace is coming” landed solidly in my spirit. I was certain it was the Lord. Unfortunately, I had no idea what it meant! I did understand it as a “now” word, not a “someday” word. My peace, if not yet present, was on its way. The order had been shipped, whatever the Lord meant by “my peace,” it was coming. I wondered how that could relate to my repenting over and over again of selfishness and being self-centered.

I knew that part of what the Lord was calling me to was to “speak peace” to an endless forest of people, yet I couldn’t fathom what my peace would look like when it arrived. I mentally tried on a few ideas of what my peace could mean. Perhaps I would be less impatient and angry? Maybe I would be able to get a job that allowed me to not travel so much? Winning the lottery would surely make me peaceful, could that be it? But none of them rang true and none of them seemed to have any connection to what I was praying when I received that word. Surely there must be a connection there. But no answer was forthcoming. I was left wondering: what was my peace that was on its way? How would I recognize it when it came?

It is only now, as I write this years later, that I am confident in what the Lord meant. As I expected at the time, it was not a coincidence that the Lord’s declaration about my peace came after my repentance. He was telling me that a deep, interior transformation I was about to experience was even then underway. My Pops knew how anguished, disgusted, and distressed I was with my repeated failed attempts to renovate my own heart. He was telling me that the needed changes, things he knew well and which I could not have guessed at, were already in the works. The peace that was coming is the peace that comes with true spiritual freedom, with knowing that I really don’t have to do anything. Even more, I can’t really do anything about my condition. It is a paradox for many of us: as long as we are determined to mend ourselves, we are doomed to failure. We are fallen and corrupted creatures. We are absolutely incapable of saving ourselves. That was one of many lessons I was about to come face to face with.


An Unexpected Caution

With the question of my peace not yet resolved, three weeks later, I had another vision, this time an ominous one. I was outside the workshop. The woods were thick, and there was an understory of dense vegetation low to the ground. I was walking down a narrow dirt path that wound through the brush and trees. Knee-high plants were growing up to the edge of the path. As I walked along the path, I glimpsed shiny black snakes in the underbrush along side of and sometimes crossing the path ahead of me. In the vision, I knew that the snakes were venomous. The Lord explained to me that the snakes were the enemy, Satan, lying in wait to strike me. Suddenly, the bucolic charm of the workshop was not so charming!

Then it got worse. I was told that I would be struck and wounded by the enemy. I saw myself being bitten on the foot. But as my injured foot swelled alarmingly, I was also shown a stream of cool running water, a stream of healing where I could bathe my wounds and be healed of my injuries. As I put my now bruised and swollen foot into the water, it quickly returned to its usual healthy state.

I would have expected that this revelation would alarm me. To know not only that Satan was lying in wait for me but also would strike me should have filled me with apprehension. But the promise of Jesus’ healing somehow made it seem all right. Without realizing it, I was starting to trust. It was easy to trust when Jesus was offering something good, like a ministry of spiritual direction. Now, surprisingly, I was finding myself trusting even when what is being promised is pain and difficulty. Perhaps my peace was closer at hand than I had realized. Trusting that whatever God has for me will be good is the beginning of surrender, and surrender is the beginning of peace.

Without realizing it, I was starting to trust. It was easy to trust when Jesus was offering something good, like a ministry of spiritual direction. Now, surprisingly, I was finding myself trusting even when what is being promised is pain and difficulty. Perhaps my peace was closer at hand than I had realized. Trusting that whatever God has for me will be good is the beginning of surrender, and surrender is the beginning of peace.

I had received three seemingly unrelated visions. I had been assured that I am not alone, I am unique but not unusual. I was promised peace for my soul. I had the sure knowledge that the enemy would strike me but that it would be okay; I would also find healing. None of these seemed to make sense in the context of the workshop or in the ministry I was being called into.

It is only in hindsight that I can begin to understand. I did not know it at the time, but I was about to be taken on a journey of self-discovery and healing. A journey that is necessary for me to be who I was created and called to be. A journey that will sometimes be painful and confusing. In those times of pain and confusion, it is vital to know that I am not alone and that healing was available. I was heading into turbulent waters, but peace was on the other side.


[1] Yes, I am a bit of a fan of old movies. But it is illustrative of a truth I discovered during my time in the workshop:  God speaks to us using images, references, or ideas that will resonate with us. For me, it was a scene from a classic film.

Workshop Chapter 9: Holy Spirit

A surprising and mystical encounter with Holy Spirit leads to a deeper understanding of the work I was being invited into.

Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made.

Immanuel Kant

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

John 3:8 (ESV)

This third Person is called, in technical language, the Holy Ghost or the ‘spirit’ of God. Do not be worried or surprised if you find it (or Him) rather vaguer or more shadowy in your mind than the other two.

C. S. Lewis[1]

Sometimes, as was the case with my first visit to the workshop and my trip up the mountain with my Pops, my experiences had cinematic clarity and realism. Other times, the way I came to know or understand something was quite mysterious to me, defying my desire to grasp and analyze and explain. My encounter with Holy Spirit was one such experience, way off the charts for mystery.

As my experiences in Pops’ workshop unfolded, I wondered about Holy Spirit. Both logically and theologically, he had to be there.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are always together. I sensed he was there, but I couldn’t really see him, except as the swirling disturbances and shifting patterns in the dust and sawdust suspended in the air and caught by beams of light; patterns that were not from the movement of air but rather suggested a corporeal form – somehow there but not visible.[2] When I could perceive him, he was in the back of the workshop, in a corner near where Jesus sanded wood. I had also become aware that there were stairs nearby. Jesus was in one corner, Holy Spirit in the other, with the stairs in the center of the back wall, leading down to a closed door, which I presumed to be the door to a cellar.

A couple of weeks after my experience with Pops on the mountain top, I again was taken to his workshop. In a way that remains a mystery to me, I knew that this visit was to spend time with Holy Spirit. I expected him to lead me down the stairs to the cellar I assumed lay beyond the door. This was the first inkling I had of something “below” the workshop. I had a growing awareness that whatever was under the workshop, it was very important. But that understanding would have to wait for another day.

I stood there, in the back of the workshop. I did not speak to Holy Spirit. I simply focused my attention on him, not knowing what to expect but assuming he would lead me down the stairs and through the door. To my astonishment, instead of being led down that stairs, I felt myself ascending upward. At first, I thought I was floating, but later, I came to think of it more as being “relocated.”

Without any perception of physical movement, I was somehow relocated from one place to another. This is not a very satisfying description, but everything I experienced with Holy Spirit was, like his appearance, enigmatic and hard to describe. The experience was real and rich, yet describing physical particulars remains elusive. I was experiencing something completely different from anything else I had experienced in my life.

I was somewhere else, but I did not know where I was. At first, the only thing I was aware of was darkness, complete and utter darkness. Slowly I could discern that there was some kind of structure around me. It was disorienting at first, but eventually, I discerned that I was, somehow, inside a piece of wood; Holy Spirit and I, were together inside a piece of wood. We were not in some void or pocket in the wood. You can put your hand in a beam of light or be “in” the light. You can dive into a pool and be in the water. That is as close as I can come to explaining what I mean by being in the wood. The wood was whole and solid. Our presence didn’t displace or distort the wood; we were simply there within the wood, almost a part of it. Reflecting on this now, I am reminded of Holy Spirit’s indwelling a Christian believer. He is inside us, but he is not physically detectable.

As I tried to get my bearings, being inside a piece of wood, I realized that Holy Spirit was reshaping the wood. From the inside, he was straightening and smoothing out twists and knots. To say that he was straightening the wood may give a wrong impression. As far as I could determine, he wasn’t actually “doing” anything. Yet twisted places in the wood were being straightened and knots smoothed out. His presence in the wood was all that was needed to cause the wood to untwist and become smooth. I came to understand that Holy Spirit’s presence is incompatible with imperfection or corruption. His presence is a perfecting force. Once he is invited in, given the opportunity, his very presence will cause the imperfect to move toward perfection. When Holy Spirit is within us, that is his mission.  Holy Spirit’s goal, like Jesus’s, is our perfection. We can put on the brakes and say “no,” but as much as we will let him, he will be perfecting us.


The Work of the Holy Spirit

It is worth a moment to think about how Holy Spirit “works.”[3] Each Christian receives Holy Spirit upon their conversion, yet growth and change varies wildly from one believer to the next. Why would that be? Perhaps we can understand it by a metaphor. Imagine that each of us is given a seed. That seed is planted in whatever soil we have. Most of us have pretty poor soil; if we do nothing, that seed will remain implanted but is unlikely to grow and certainly will not flourish. On the other hand, if we tend the soil by breaking up hard ground, removing rocks and other debris, and making sure the soil remains watered, the seed will grow and flourish, producing much fruit.

So it is with our souls. If we neglect our inner life, Holy Spirit remains but is unlikely to produce the internal changes needed for us to bear kingdom fruit. If we attend to our inner life through repentance, prayer, worship, silence, and solitude, and other spiritual disciples, Holy Spirit has fertile ground to make the changes needed for our formation. We cannot change ourselves, but we can make it easier or harder for Holy Spirit to effect change by how we attend to or neglect our inner lives.


Another Invitation

As Jesus had done with sanding, Holy Spirit asked me if I wanted to help. I have no idea how exactly I received that invitation, but I knew I was being invited. I gave an enthusiastic “yes!” But as soon as I said yes, I realized I had no idea how I could help. I couldn’t even discern what he was doing, never mind helping him do it. But that mystery and confusion didn’t dampen my enthusiasm. Being in the presence of each person on the Holy Trinity was proving to be both overpowering and liberating. I was slowly learning to not need all the answers before acting, or at least before being willing to take the first step on the journey, saying “yes” to God’s invitation.

As Holy Spirit and I stayed inside the piece of wood, I became uncomfortable and wanted to leave. It was dark, weird, and confusing to me. Yet I knew I should linger. Eventually, I became more aware of my surroundings. While Holy Spirit was at work inside the wood, someone outside the wood was sanding the outer surface. They worked in tandem to the same end. Of course, the person sanding the wood was Jesus. This, too, shouldn’t have surprised me. It is part of the mysterious working of the trinity. Jesus and Holy Spirit are separate and yet the same, acting in different ways but united in purpose.

Their actions are not separable. Indeed, in the maddening (for me) mystery of the trinity, Holy Spirit is the spirit of Christ (see, for example, Romans 8:9  and 1 Peter 1:11). Jesus and Holy Spirit are united in the loving action of perfecting that which has been corrupted. In the visions shown me, Jesus is working to reveal our true selves, the beings God created us to be. Holy Spirit’s action seems to be a bit different.[4]

Holy Spirit was demonstrating an untwisting of our internal state. One of the key twisting is in how and what we love. Michael Reeves, in Delighting in the Trinity, reminds us that as fallen creatures, the problem is not that we don’t love, it is what we love.

Made in the image of this God, we are created to delight in harmonious relationship, to love God, to love each other. Thus Jesus taught that the first and greatest commandment in the law is to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind, and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself (Mt 22:36-39). That is what we are created for. What, then, went wrong? It was not that Adam and Eve stopped loving. They were created as lovers in the image of God, and they could not undo that. Instead, their love turned. When the apostle Paul writes of sinners, he describes them as “lovers of themselves, lovers of money, . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God” (2 Tim 3:2-4). Lovers we remain, but twisted, our love misdirected and perverted. Created to love God, we turn to love ourselves and anything but God.

Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity[5]

We are designed and made for love. First to love God, then, reflecting his love, to love others. In our sin, we stop looking outward, outside of ourselves, for the object of our love. As we look to the world to satisfy our wants and desires, we may feel we “love” what we find in the world. In reality, we “love” what makes us feel good or happy or perhaps dulls our pain. In our fallen state, we “love” what serves to mollify and serve the true object of our adoration: ourselves. We do not really love the things outside ourselves. Instead, we twist our natural inclinations to self-love and self-worship. What Holy Spirit was showing me in the piece of wood was his action of untwisting our souls away form of feverish self-love and back toward what we are meant to love: God and our fellow men.

Over time a tree develops knots, whorls, and twists as a result of damage, stresses, and wounds it sustains as it is growing. Any carpenter will tell you, knots in the wood, while they are hard and durable, they weaken the structural integrity of the wood that contains the knot. Where the knots are is where the wood will split, splinter, and break when stressed or carrying a heavy load. That is an apt metaphor for our souls, our interior states. As we grow, we often learn where we need to protect our hearts and where looking outside of ourselves for love can be painful. We become bent inwards, and in doing so, we become hard and brittle. Then, like knotty wood, we crack and break under stress. We do not have the interior health and strength we are meant to have.

I was being shown how Holy Spirit is at work: restoring, repairing, and untwisting us. I was being invited to help, but how could I help with what Holy Spirit was doing?  God only heals what we bring to him. We need to know that we need untwisting. Since this mysterious time with Holy Spirit, I have learned that part of what a spiritual director does is to help people become aware of and attentive to their interior state – to pay attention to the state of their souls. A director can help you become aware of the knots in your soul and walk with you as you invite Holy Spirit’s action of untwisting and smoothing.

This time in the workshop left me with the knowledge that somehow, I could help with Holy Spirit’s interior activities as well as helping with Jesus’ activities. It would be much later that I would better understand those interior activities of Holy Spirit.


[1]Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 73). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

[2]This description of Holy Spirit is very reminiscent of how he is described in “The Shack.” I cannot help that. I can only relate how God chose to reveal himself to me. I am not surprised that he used images I would find familiar and not disquieting. My perception of Holy Spirit also brings to mind C. S. Lewis’s eldila in his space trilogy.

[3]Here is a great time to remind you that I am my theological understandings derive from my reading, which, with the notable exception of my training as a spiritual director, has not been systematic and is almost certainly lacking both depth and breadth. If you find my thoughts on the work of Holy Spirt helpful, that is fine. If you do not, please let it drop from your mind.

[4]I do not mean to draw any sharp lines between Jesus’s activity and Holy Spirit’s action. I do not believe it would be wise for me to try to do so. The difference shown to me is what I needed to see and understand. I do not pretend to understand it as a theological truth and would be suspicious of any such assertion.

[5]Reeves, Michael. Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (Kindle Locations 965-972). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition

Workshop Chapter 8: Speaking Peace

Prayer takes me back to the workshop where I am shown yet aonther aspect of ministry.

Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times in every way. The Lord be with you all.

2 Thessalonians 3:16 (ESV)

Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly.

Psalms 85:8 (ESV)

About a week after the unexpected invitation to help people see Jesus more clearly, as I was praying, I once again found myself standing outside the workshop. As I stepped through the open door, my Pops took me by the hand and immediately led me back out. Together, hand-in-hand, we followed a path up a hill into the heavy woods, eventually coming out of the trees at the top of the mountain. Below me, as far as I could see, were trees—an unending sea of trees. As I stood looking out over them and wondering, Pops said, “Speak peace over all of these.” That one simple command, seemingly nonsensical, was jam-packed with meaning for me.

First, there are the trees. As I stood there with my Pops, surveying the vastness of the forest, I knew at once that the trees were people, just like the beautiful wood that Jesus was lovingly perfecting was a person and just like the wood my Pops was shaping in his workshop was a person. The sea of trees was a sea of people. The limitlessness of the trees, spread out before me in all directions, was my Pops’ way of indicating the universality of his command. Where I had been thinking of a particular ministry of meeting one-on-one with people seeking to know the Lord more fully, he clearly had a more expansive idea. Given the vastness of the forest, it could not be possible to “speak peace over all of these” one “person” at a time. My ministry could not be limited to one-on-one encounters. I did not understand how I might speak peace to large numbers of people, but that was the command.


Speaking Peace

“Speak peace.” What does it mean to speak peace? Peace is a simple word. Webster’s dictionary[1] tells us that peace is tranquility or quiet, as in a peaceful scene. It can also mean an absence of strife or conflict or freedom from disquieting or oppressive thoughts and emotions. I knew that my Pops had something more than that meaning in mind.

I had long been drawn to the Hebrew word “shalom,” which is usually translated as “peace.” When I say that I had been drawn to the word shalom, I mean that often, when reading the Bible, the word “peace” would stand out, causing me to stop and wonder what exactly was meant. It was an odd thing for such a common word to have that effect. I had spent considerable time reading about, thinking about, and praying about the significance of this simple word.

In Hebrew, shalom has a much broader meaning than the single English word “peace.” Mounce’s Dictionary says shalom “is one of the most important words in the OT [Old Testament]. In addition to ‘peace,’ this word can be translated as ‘prosperity, well-being, health, completeness, safety.’”[2] This sense of completeness and well-being is what Luke has in mind when the angels proclaim Jesus’s birth, “Peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased” (Luke 2:14b, NLT). The angles were announcing the coming of Jesus, who would set to rights all that had been marred by man’s fall in the Garden of Eden. He brings us inner peace; he manifests wholeness and completeness. The angels were also proclaiming the peace between rebellious mankind and a loving, forgiving God.

Shalom can also be taken to mean spiritual as well as physical completeness and well-being. Considering that, we also get a better view of what Jesus likely had in mind when in John 14:27, he tells his followers, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you” (ESV). God is not offering simple freedom from conflict. The lives of the first Christians were decidedly not free from conflict. He told his followers to expect trouble (John 16:33). What he does offer is spiritual and emotional wellness and completeness. He is giving his followers the reconciliation of God and man, the only path to real spiritual completeness. That is the peace I am to speak.


Power in Speaking

Even the simple verb “speak” is significant. In Genesis, God’s creative activity is carried out by the act of speaking:

God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. . . And God said, “Let there be an expanse in the midst of the waters. . . And it was so. . . . And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” And it was so. . . . And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” And it was so. . . . And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. . . .” And it was so. . . . And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” . . . And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures according to their kinds—livestock and creeping things and beasts of the earth according to their kinds.” And it was so. . . . . Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. . . .” So God created man in his own image.”

Genesis 1:3–27 (ESV)

God says, and it is so.

Over and over again, in both the Old and New Testaments, blessings (and sometimes curses) are spoken over people and nations. In the New Testament, when Jesus declares words of peace, healing, or forgiveness, the thing he declares is accomplished as he speaks it. The old testament prophet Isaiah, speaking for God, reminded us that as snow and rain, when they come down from heaven, do not simply return back to the heavens – they water the earth, bringing growth and life. So it is with God’s word: it does not return to him empty — it accomplishes everything he intends for it (see Isaiah 55:10-11).

Speaking God’s word is not an empty exercise. A Roman centurion who encountered Jesus knew this well:

Now a centurion had a servant who was sick and at the point of death, who was highly valued by him. When the centurion heard about Jesus, he sent to him elders of the Jews, asking him to come and heal his servant. And when they came to Jesus, they pleaded with him earnestly, saying, “He is worthy to have you do this for him, for he loves our nation, and he is the one who built us our synagogue.” And Jesus went with them. When he was not far from the house, the centurion sent friends, saying to him, “Lord, do not trouble yourself, for I am not worthy to have you come under my roof. Therefore I did not presume to come to you. But say the word, and let my servant be healed. For I too am a man set under authority, with soldiers under me: and I say to one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

Luke 7:2-8 ESV

The centurion understood the meaning of Jesus’ authority. Jesus’s followers today have the authority to proclaim him and to be his ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:  20-21). Speaking his peace over multitudes will not be an empty exercise.


Are You Sure You’ve Got the Right Guy?

The idea that I might have something to say was not new. Over several years I have had many people, at many times, speak prophetically into my life, telling me that I have important words to share: prophetic words and knowledge and insight. People have had visions of me teaching, visions of me carrying a scroll, visions of me carrying a book. They have had impressions of me telling people just what they need to hear, just when they need to hear it. They have indicated that I should write, I should teach, the words the Lord has put in me are important and life-giving and carry spiritual authority.

The Lord’s persistence in telling me that I have something important to say was matched by my steadfast refusal to obey. I would discount those voices, assuming they were making much ado about nothing. Even when I did believe the truth of what they said, I found excuses to stay quiet.

Prominent in my excuses to stay quiet was the fear of no one listening. What if I “speak” and no one listens? I stayed quiet to protect a too fragile ego; if I spoke and no one listened, that would reflect poorly on my ability to communicate. That line of “reasoning” keeps many of us on the sidelines and not fulfilling our kingdom purposes. The reality is that we are called to obedience; we must be content to leave the effects of our obedience to God. When we are called, we should do our best, but the results are not up to us. Knowing something and acting on it are two very different things. At the time my Pops was calling me to speak, my vanity and fragile ego were still ruling the day.

But the Father is patient – he has all the time there is. Now that I had come earnestly seeking him, had come to his Workshop, he once again, and very directly, reminded me of my call to speak. My Pops was reminding me of what I should have already known: part of my ministry calling is to be writing and speaking his truth, his shalom to many people.

Taken all together I was being called into a three-fold ministry: helping people uncover the beauty that God created in them; helping people, whose vision may be obscured, to see Jesus and his presence in their lives; and speaking God’s peace – his shalom – to everyone  I can. I am thankful that these are overlapping! In becoming a spiritual director and offering direction one-on-one, I can accomplish the first two purposes. In preaching and accepting offers to speak and in writing (this book even!) I can accomplish the second and third calls my Pops was placing on me. But all of that was still to come. I had barely begun my workshop journey. There was still much my Pops wanted to show me, and though I didn’t know it then, he wanted to heal many wounds I did not know I had. I was being called, but I was not yet ready, not yet equipped to answer the call.


[1] Merriam-Webster, http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/peace, retrieved August 14, 2016.

[2] William D. Mounce, Mounce’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), n.p.

Workshop Chapter 7: A New Assignment?

Meeting Jesus in training class for my work leads to deeping understanding of a ministry call.

As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man called Matthew sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him.

Matthew 9:9 (ESV)

The whole dance, or drama, or pattern of this three-Personal life is to be played out in each one of us: or (putting it the other way round) each one of us has got to enter that pattern, take his place in that dance.

C. S. Lewis[1]

One of the remarkable things about my experiences in Pops’ workshop is that I am just an ordinary guy. It is my encounters with God that were extraordinary. Once I had started down this journey, I found that God was not about to let go of me. I suppose I could have turned away, but that would have been all my action, not the Lord’s. I shouldn’t be, but sometimes am, surprised by the lengths the Lord goes to work out his plans. I didn’t know it yet, but he had long been preparing me for the ministry he was calling me to.

In my “real” job, I am a coach and consultant – trained and experienced in listening and observing and guiding and directing. Those same experiences and skills are needed in spiritual direction. I soon discovered the lines between my “real life” and my “religious life” blurring. Eventually, the distinction would be lost altogether.

A short time after my conversation with my Pops about my identity, I was in a three-day workshop to hone my coaching skills. The course was excellent, well presented, and facilitated by great instructors. Much of the time was spent helping me and others in the course understand others and, to a lesser extent, understand ourselves. We learned about understanding people and their behavior by comprehending their deep needs and longings. We talked about deep and valid needs we have as human beings: being trusted, being valued, and making contributions to something larger than ourselves.

I was struck by the irony of the class missing the single greatest need we have: to be in a life-giving relationship with the risen Christ. I was not surprised, this was, after all, a secular course. Nonetheless, we are created to be in a relationship of mutual love with the triune God, and as long as that relationship is not pursued and nurtured, we are necessarily not all that we can be. The needs identified in the course, to be trusted and valued and to be part of a valuable enterprise, are fully accomplished in our life with Christ. There we find our ultimate purpose, ultimate value, and ultimate source of trust and confidence.

My thoughts drifted away from the class material and towards the self-understanding I was starting to gain in Pops’ Workshop. Silently worshipping and praying, I found myself asking Jesus to show me where he was in the classroom.

Months earlier, through exposure to Immanuel Prayer, I had learned the value of looking for Jesus in everyday settings. Immanuel Prayer is a method of inner healing prayer where, with the help of a trained prayer facilitator, a person asks the Holy Spirit to bring to mind a painful memory; painful, but one that will lead to healing. The person is then invited to see where Jesus is in the memory and what he would say or how he feels about the events being remembered. A key truth behind Immanuel Prayer is that Jesus is always with us, in our past, our present, and our future, whether we are aware of his presence or not, he is there. In addition to looking for Jesus in memories, I had begun looking for him in day-to-day situations, starting to break down the artificial wall between my “real” life and my religious life.

As I looked for Jesus in that training room, I saw him behind the instructors, lounging in a corner, laughing. Clearly, Jesus found it amusing how the instructors explained human behaviors in terms of deep longings and needs without thinking of him or bringing God into the conversation. My impression was that he appreciated their efforts, but he knew that they were taking the long way around and were missing many key tools.

I asked Jesus if he was present at all in the secular content of the course. He showed me a full-length mirror like you might have in your bedroom. It was completely fogged over, as if by steam from a hot shower. Jesus was reflected in the mirror, but the reflection was so obscured that you could barely tell it held a person’s image, let alone discern that the image was Jesus. He was there but barely discernable. He was showing me that his truth is there in the course material, just very hard to make out. In this vision, Jesus offered me a towel, and I began to wipe the mirror, removing the obscuring condensation and revealing Jesus more clearly with each stroke of the towel.

This was remarkably like the offer to take up sanding wood that Jesus had made on my second visit to the workshop. Yet they are different. In sanding, Jesus was inviting me to help reveal the beauty people are created to have. The invitation to wipe the mirror is an invitation to help people see and know the Lord, not only where he is hidden in training material for coaches, but where he is in their daily lives. It is less about healing and more about learning to see God’s presence in our lives.

My initial thought was that this was a distinctive and personal calling. A ministry of revealing Jesus to others? That sounded like a calling for a missionary or an evangelist. Yet as I thought about I realized there is nothing unique about it. Each of us, as followers of Jesus, should be helping to reveal him. Our mission on earth is to continue the work of Jesus. Individually and collectively, we are to be his hands and feet, his body here on earth (2 Cor 12:27). One of the things that Jesus came to do was reveal the Father to the world (Luke 10:22, John 14:7). Jesus wiped away the fog so that we could clearly see what our Pops is like. In the same way, it is our job to show people Jesus, the only way to the Father (John 14:6). As Jesus reveals the Father, we are the next link in the chain, revealing Jesus to the world so that, seeing him, they will know the Father.

Understanding the universality of this mission, I realized that Jesus was not only reminding me of this call we all have but was also letting me know that the work he is inviting me into includes helping others to see him when their vision is obscured. He was again showing me, in advance of my later training and education, an aspect of spiritual direction: helping people see and recognize Jesus in their daily lives.

In a situation like this, my normal stance is to disqualify myself, to assert that I am not smart enough, good enough, or trustworthy enough. Like Moses in Exodus chapters three and four, I want to tell God all the reasons why he has picked the wrong person. I should have been intimidated by this new revelation. I am not ordained. I have no formal theological training. Even worse, I was still the proverbial bull in the china shop, leaving a trail of hurt and damage behind me. Yet Jesus’s invitation to help reveal him to people left me excited, not intimidated. To my own great surprise, I didn’t tell Jesus that he’s got the wrong guy for the job.


Dancing with God

Instead of disqualifying myself, I asked the Father what this ministry of revealing him might look like and what shape it might take. His reply was: “Let’s just dance for now.” That may seem to be a cryptic and obtuse answer, but it made perfect sense to me at that moment. In my journey with God, I had a strong desire, nearly a compulsion, to know an outcome before I committed to a course of action. I was reluctant to take a step, even a small one, without knowing where the journey would take me. The Lord had told me years earlier that this is not how it works with him. If I know exactly where I am going, where the road leads, then I am not really trusting him. I am making my own judgments about whether that is a destination I want to travel to or not. The only way to travel with him is by faith, and faith assumes an unknown (if not an unknowable). Faith says, “wait and see.”

“Let’s just dance for now.” The invitation to dance was an invitation to step deeper into a relationship with Jesus. Since ancient times the church has used the metaphor of the dance to talk about the intertwining relationship of the three persons of the Trinity. Each of us is invited to join the dance, to step into a relationship with God. My Pops was gently reminding me to not worry about where the road leads and inviting me to spend time growing in my relationship with the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Step into the dance, don’t worry if you know all the steps or where it will lead you. Just start dancing!

Now I seemed to have a two-fold assignment: “Sanding wood” to help reveal the beauty that people were created to have and “wiping away the fog” to help people see Jesus so that they might also know my Pops.


[1]Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (p. 73). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Worshop Chapter 6: Who Am I?

In my Pops’ workshop I begin the long and difficult work of understanding who I really am.

As I shifted away from trying really hard to “revisit” my Pops’ workshop and toward a genuine desire to experience God’s love, no matter how he might to chose to show it to me, I realized that I might have been trying too hard. I was looking for really impressive, unmistakable affirmations of the Father’s love. Was I overlooking a multitude of small, daily reminders? I shifted my praying in that direction, asking for the grace to recognize the small, daily tokens of my Pops’ love for me. I unexpectedly found myself back in the workshop, talking with my Pops.

I was in the front part of the workshop, where Pops shapes wood. That is just what he was doing, using a rasp or file to shape a piece of wood. Watching him work, I become aware that this is creative activity; he is creating something new from a block of wood. This is fundamentally different from Jesus’ work of restoring, his sanding and polishing. Pops is creating, Jesus is perfecting and restoring. What the Father creates is good, but we are in a fallen world where we invariably drift away from the good we are created to be. Jesus is about putting things back to the way they should be, restoring and perfecting the beauty that was there in creation. He undoes the hurts and camouflage we accrete as we go through life.

As I watched Pops working, I called out to him, “Hi ya, Pops!”

His response was matter-of-fact. “Hello, David.”

God kept at his work while I stood quietly to the side. When one isn’t used to having a conversation with God, thinking of what to say can be daunting. This level of conversation was different from my past experiences of prayer. Before my workshop visits, I mainly talked to God (or at him) but not with him.  Now I wanted my words to be profound and worshipful. Almost anything that came to mind seemed trite, if not irreverent. My thoughts turned to my familiar, casual name for him. I broke in on his work, “It seems formal when you call me ‘David.’ Shouldn’t you call me ‘Sonny’ or something?”

Pops paused in his work and replied, “How about I call you ‘Beloved’ instead? You know, you are my beloved.”

This was challenging to hear. Two things crashed through my mind. First, I was aware that “David” in Hebrew means “Beloved.” God seemed to be saying that my name fits me in his eyes. The second thing that came to my mind was what God spoke from the heavens at Jesus’ baptism:

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Matthew 3:16-1 (ESV)

Jesus was God’s beloved. How could that same honorific be applied to me? I knew God loved me. He had to; he loves everybody. I love Nacho Cheese Doritos, but I don’t notice or love any particular Dorito. I don’t differentiate one Dorito from another. I love them as a group. But here was God seeming to say yes, he loves everyone, and yet, he notices and loves me in particular. It is as if I were to pick one Dorito from the bag, a Dorito that is especially dear to me. But here the metaphor falls apart. Each of us is special to God. With our human finiteness and limitations, it is hard to understand it, but he sees, values and loves each one of us. Whether we know it or not, we are each his beloved. He knows me, and I matter to him.

It was unnerving to hear my Pops declare that I was his beloved and to think about what that meant. In the vision, I could see myself looking down, studying my feet as I lightly kicked at sawdust and small scraps of wood on the floor. I was decidedly not looking at my Pops. I had not yet accepted that I could be special to God. I was grappling with a reality that didn’t fit with my view of God and of myself. I had started this journey wanting some ill-defined “more” and found myself directed to experience God’s love. When the “more” came, when I came face to face with the love of God, and I was having trouble accepting it.


Getting Real

Part of me wanted to shore up my crumbling defenses, to come up with some obfuscating reason, some glib response to mask my discomfort and avoid the truth: God’s assertion that I was his beloved was colliding violently with my view of myself as fundamentally flawed and unworthy of love. Set against my desire to avoid that internal incongruence was an increasing sense of safety and security; a sense that nothing truly harmful could come from opening up to my Pops. He is, as C. S. Lewis described him, good but not safe.[1]

My discomfort and internal conflict did not go unnoticed by my Pops. After a few moments passed, he asked gently, with a hint of sadness in his voice, “Why is that so hard for you to accept?”

I choked on my reply but decided the risk of honesty was going to be worth it. I admitted, “I guess I think I am not much of a person.” This was no false humility. I carried an internal “truth” that I was somehow broken or defective. Sadly, many of us learn that growing up. In my case, I already knew much of the cause.

My mother was an alcoholic, and my father was all but consumed by co-dependency. Children have a remarkable ability to believe they are all-powerful actors in their families. As children, we believe that if anything goes wrong, it must somehow be our fault. Like many others raised in chaotic and highly dysfunctional households, I had a deep-seated belief that I was somehow defective and not lovable or worthy of love. Knowing that the belief was not rational or reasonable did not change its reality.

Besides, I could look back over my life and see a string of damaged and broken relationships. Even as a Christian, trying, in my own strength, to emulate Christ-like love and compassion, I often “failed” and hurt those I was trying to love. I knew God was good; therefore the problem must be me. I must be “defective.”

I had yet to learn that we cannot, by the strength of our wills or intellect become more like Jesus, we need to open ourselves to the inner transformation of the Holy Spirit. I am not saying that God didn’t value and honor my doomed-to-failure attempts to mold myself in the image of his son. Quite the opposite: he values and respects our desires to conform to his will. He knows the healing we each must go through before we can stop trying to do it ourselves and allow his spirit to transform us. Looking back now, I believe that my time in the Workshop, unexpected and unbidden, was a sign of God valuing me and my misguided attempts at righteousness. But in the moment, with my ignorance of that dynamic, my continuing misfires in trying to be like Jesus reinforced my sense of shame and worthlessness before God.

My Pops had asked me why it was so hard for me to accept that I was his beloved. He already knew the answer to his question; he asked it so that I could start to uncover the answer for myself; he knew that I needed to peel back the layers of pretending that I was “okay.” I needed to be honest with myself about how I felt before I could be honest with him. It was a painful truth to face. We cannot be healed of what we do not know and acknowledge

With the piece of wood he was working on still in his hand, my Pops, continued, “I don’t make bad people or unlovable people. I have always loved you.” As he said this, I became aware that the piece of wood he was shaping was, like the wood Jesus was sanding, a person.


Who Am I?

My thoughts turned to God as the creator, specifically the creator of me, and I asked, “Who am I supposed to be?”

He replied, “You are supposed to be you.”

That seemed a less than satisfying answer, a throwaway, almost. Yet it was profound. My Pops was telling me that I am okay the way I am. I already am what I am supposed to be. I don’t have to be anyone else besides who I am, who he created me to be.

Then, as the vision ended, I could see myself trying to pile sawdust and wood scrap onto myself as if to undo what the Father and Jesus were doing. It was a futile and silly act, trying to go back into hiding, putting back the layers of defense and camouflage. Clearly, I was still not fully ready to accept that God saw me as his beloved; that I am treasured just the way I am.

Later that day I had a session with my spiritual director, where I shared this experience.[2] His advice was to press into being known by God and knowing who I am. He suggested that I spend time asking my Pops how, specifically, he sees me. Who is it my Pops sees what he looks at me?

I did just that: I prayed, asking the Lord what words he would use to describe me. In response, I heard these adjectives: “compassionate, very smart, generous, and caring.” I was immediately dismissive of this list. It looked a lot like a list that a vain and arrogant person might come up with. If you had asked people who knew me even a few years before my Workshop experience, how they would describe me, you would not have heard caring, generous, or compassionate. Smart? Yes – I made sure everyone knew how smart I am. But not caring or compassionate. If I was anything, I was vain and arrogant.

I asked Pops specifically about arrogance. Surely arrogance must be high on the list. It was my number one character flaw; the very thing that was immobilizing me from going deeper with him! He led me to understand that his list was describing how he made me, the true me. In spiritual direction we often talk about the psychological concept of the false self and the true self. My Pops was describing my true self. Arrogance and all the other negatives I would use to define myself were a description of the false self; part of the paint and varnish I had accumulated over the years. My false self was the protective shell I covered myself with to try to protect myself. Those things effectively protected me, but at a very high cost to myself and others.

My defense mechanisms, learned and honed to a sharp point protected me but hurt those around me. Arrogance, along with pride and vanity, do not define me; they are not who I was meant to be and really do need to go. They are not me, and when I am in the hands of my Pops, they are no longer needed. In his hands, my defenses and protections are just in the way.

Striping off the paint, varnish, and other accretions we have covered ourselves with is what Jesus is doing with his sandpaper and what he invites me to help others do: helping people see themselves as they are meant to be, as God created them to be. Jesus was starting to model for me the ministry he was calling me to. I didn’t understand it at the time, but he was showing me the ministry of Spiritual Direction.


[1]See chapter eight of “The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

[2]Now, as a Spiritual Director myself, I wonder at my director’s calm acceptance of my visions as I unpacked them with him. I felt like that sort of thing happed all the time.

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