Saturday, January 29, 2011

Head or Heart?

I suspect that we all carry a bias about whether it's best to consult your head or your heart when making an important decision. If you tend to be a heart person and someone asks you for advice, you will probably tell them, "follow your heart." If you're more of a head person, your sage advice to them will be something like, "think it through carefully, weighing the pros and the cons." But the thing is, no one is all head and no heart or vice versa. When making decisions, both are a part of the mix. It's the way they tend to compete with each other that can throw us into a tizzy.

Most of us have difficulty making decisions from time to time. It’s especially tough when the head and the heart are in conflict. When that happens, we will usually struggle between following one or the other. But even if we do choose one over the other, the inner conflict doesn’t go away. If you decide to go with your head when your heart doesn’t agree, your heart won’t let go. You’ll continue to struggle, even though you may not realize it on a conscious level. Just because you have decided to go with your head or your heart, doesn’t mean that the inner conflict has ended. It goes underground and often resurfaces incognito.

With the polarities of our lives, we tend to think that we must choose either one way or the other, when the real solution is so often both/and. This is certainly true for head/heart conflicts. Either too much head or too much heart will get us into trouble. The solution to a head/heart dilemma is not to choose one over the other, but to use both to make good choices. Both the head and the heart are gifts God has given us for discernment.

Are you more of a head person or a heart person? It’s one of those things that it’s good to recognize in yourself if you want to avoid repeated heartaches or headaches in your life. If you tend to be a heart person, don’t neglect to use your brain. And if you’re head person, don’t forget your feelings. Oh, it sounds so simple, doesn't it? Of course it's not.

"Half our mistakes in life arise from feeling where we ought to think,
and thinking where we ought to feel."
- John Churton Collins

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Blessed Life? (It may not be what you think it is.)

“I’ve lived a blessed life.” We hear people say it all the time, but what do they mean by it? Quite often it’s said when things are going well. They get a job promotion and they’ve been blessed. They find out that lump they had biopsied isn’t cancer and they’ve been blessed. Someone finally makes an offer on the house and they’ve been blessed. But is that what it means to be blessed? Is it all about having things go our way? If that’s the case, I wonder why Jesus would ever have said anything so preposterous as, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” or “Blessed are those who mourn.” Being blessed must not have a whole lot to do with having everything go our way. It must mean something else.

I heard a story about a man named Michael Plant, who set off on a solo crossing of the Atlantic in 1992. He was an expert yachtsman and had made the trip several times before. His brand-new sailboat, The Coyote, was very high tech; there were few like it in the world.

Plant’s support team monitored his trip by satellite and radio. Everything was smooth sailing. Even when a storm disrupted the communications, no one worried about it. After all, this guy was one of the best sailors in the world. His boat was equipped with state-of-the-art navigational equipment. They figured Plant would resume radio contact when everything settled down.

When they didn’t hear from him, they tried repeatedly to reach him by radio. Still nothing. So they sent out Coast Guard helicopters to search for him. They spotted The Coyote floating upside down. It’s captain and sole passenger was never found.

How could this have happened? people wondered. Everyone knows that sailboats are very hard to turn over. Their deep keels and massive rudders right themselves. But as the boat was examined, the cause of the tragedy became clear. For all its beauty and technological advances, The Coyote didn’t have enough weight beneath the surface. There wasn’t enough ballast below to outweigh the fancy gadgetry above. And so, it flipped over as it lost its ability to balance in the water during a storm.

We seem to equate being blessed with what’s happening in the boat. The more fancy stuff we have in our lives and the better they look on the surface, the more we believe we’ve been blessed. But I don’t know if that has much to do with the way God blesses us his people. God’s blessing is found beneath the surface. It’s the keel that gives our lives direction and keeps us from capsizing in a storm.

The relationship we have with God is what blesses us. We would do well to work at developing that relationship so that more weight is given to our lives below the surface and less above the surface. For when we find ourselves in a time when we’re struggling to stay afloat, it will become apparent to us how blessed we are. We’ll understand that being blessed is not about having everything go our way, but being blessed is experiencing and knowing that no matter what happens in this life, God will see us through it.

Our blessings are measured by the weight and depth of the relationship we have with God. That’s the kind of blessing Jesus tells us to strive for. It’s why he can say: Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the hungry. Blessed are those who mourn. It’s also why he could say: don’t spend your life fretting over what you’re going to wear or what you’re going to eat. Above all else, seek the Kingdom of God.

There’s an old Celtic fisherman’s prayer that says: "Dear God, be good to me; the sea is so wide and my boat is so small." It’s so true. The sea is so wide and our boat is so small. And our boats are blessed, not because of what they carry inside them or how they look above the surface, compared to other people’s boats. They’re blessed because of what’s happening below the surface, the part no one can see. It’s the relationship we have with our God that blesses us.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Inquiring Minds Want to Know

Last week I got an email from Angela, one of the young parents at Holy Trinity, who wanted to tell me what 4 year olds are theologizing about these days. She shared with me the questions that her son Henry had asked over the course of the previous two days…

Does God die? How is God Jesus and God at the same time? If God doesn't die, why didn't God make it so we don't die? Does God like the cold weather? Does God like pirates? Do pirates do bad things to God, too? Where does God live? Was God ever a baby? Does God love sharks? Why did God make sharks? Does God talk to us when he isn't right here?

Henry alternates between calling God a he and a she. Angela wonders if maybe he is thinking of his pastor as God. He told his mother that he met God once and told her what he liked, and that God had brown hair. When his mom told him that she, too, asked God why we had to die, but that God didn't answer, he said, "Well, if you two are kind of close, maybe you could ask again and she will tell you."

Questions are such an important part of faith. We all have them, although we may not feel as free to voice them as a 4 year old does. But questions are nothing to be ashamed of. They’re not marks of ignorance or weakness, the way they so often are perceived in our world where we always seem to be competing to prove who is most competent. Questions are the product of a lively and curious mind.

I hope that your minds are full of questions about God. I’ve found in my own life that the questions never go away. Instead, I keep coming up with new ones. One of the things I have learned, though, as I’ve matured in my faith, is to be at peace with the questions. They don’t keep me awake at night the way they used to. I’m okay with the fact that for the best questions, there are no real answers. And I rest secure in the peace of God that passes all understanding. God's love for me is bigger than my questions, and that is enough for me. But despite that, I still have questions.

What are some of the questions about God that you carry around?

Thursday, January 6, 2011


Why can’t I love the way I long to be loved?
With mouth wide open, gasping for air,
I disappoint myself time and again
by expecting, and needing, and aching.
I had hoped to love freely, and selflessly, and joyfully.

Am I smothering my love
with past patterns of pathos rehearsed ad nauseum, now simply pathetic?
with blind spots carefully constructed to shield me from seeing the truth?
with razor-sharp fear I dare not approach without a bag of blood in the bank?
So many breath-defying barriers that keep me from loving the way I long to be loved.

And yet, my failed attempts at loving never prevent me
from being dearly loved by the One
who breathes a love into my lungs
that fills me to my fingers and my toes.
I am loved the way I long to be loved.

I am beloved.