Appreciation and Spiritual Satisfaction

Few people today are familiar with the story of Abner. As a leader of the army during the reign of King Saul, Abner coordinated military efforts to manage the Philistines. He was a relative and a trusted confidante of Saul. After the Battle of Gilboa, where Saul was killed, Abner knew what was needed and facilitated the transfer of power; he had Saul's son Ish-bosheth crowned as King of Israel. David was crowned as king elsewhere, creating a civil war. Abner continued to counsel Ish-bosheth until the King accused Abner of taking one of the royal concubines. Realizing what was involved in the accusation, Abner fled to David, where regrettably he was killed by one of David's military chieftains. 

Abner's tragic story is filled with irony, betrayal, and the dangers of life in the royal service in ancient Israel. While I obviously do not approve of all his choices in life, I realize that Abner was a wise adviser and mentor who would have been an experienced Elder had he been a member of Ohio Yearly Meeting. What came to my attention today is the gravity of the mistake that Ish-bosheth made.

Ish-bosheth faced an identity crisis throughout life. As one of the younger sons of Saul, he would have grown up with no thought that he would become king. It was a quirk of history that he was crowned. After his coronation, however, Ish-bosheth still faced something that seemed always just outside his reach - a peaceful reign. He was unable to appreciate the Lord's provision for him (his counselor Abner). Ish-bosheth was so blinded by trying to get what he could not have that he was willing to sacrifice what the Lord had given him. In the end, Ish-bosheth lost both Abner and his crown.

Appreciating what Christ Jesus has given us

In modern American culture, we too often find ourselves (like Ish-bosheth) unable to appreciate what we have. Many of us have beautiful families: a loving spouse, children, perhaps pets, our book collection (!?), economic mobility/stability, or other things. Maybe it is just part of human nature that sometimes we desire something until we obtain it and then take it for granted. For example, I have a lot of books that I have not read. We are tempted to forget to appreciate our parents, our family, our worshipping community, or other people we care about.

The things that the Lord has given me contribute to the overall trajectory of my life and help me discern when I face a choice. If He has brought me on a given path, it seems I should appreciate where I am, value the Lord's provision, and be mindful not to throw people or things away. I can't discern wisely if I become blinded into pursuing a wrong course. To me, God's sovereignty includes my acceptance of my current state in life: what He has given and what He has kept away from me. I can find comfort even if I wish that things were otherwise.

Lusting for things that I will not likely obtain

God warns us about lust over and over (such as Commandment #10). Lust is a powerful motivator. Sometimes the wrong voice says that the Lord is holding back something that we rightfully deserve, and we start to do what we can to get it. Look at the list given in Exodus 20:17 - we are warned not to covet our neighbor's house, spouse, employees, livestock, or things. The word "house" here (bayith) has many meanings: a dwelling (but at that time Israel was living in tents in the wilderness), one's extended family, a royal dynasty (the house of David).

It is instructive to consider the breadth of what we are told not to lust after (covet). It is more than lust after an object or person that we might see. God is telling us also not to lust after another lifestyle (such as that found in a royal palace), not to lust after a more pleasing setting for our lives, not to lust after someone else's job (such as coveting another's employees), and in general not to lust after things that we are not likely to obtain anyway.

Of course, we all fall prey to forms of lust. This is not necessarily bad - when thee is reaching the end of a chapter in thy life, it is obvious to look forward to new experiences with anticipation that thy life will improve. This type of yearning is helpful, as often the Lord places things in thy heart to help thee discern how to enter the next chapter of thy life. This type of yearning does not involve hurting others for thy personal gain; it brings an understanding of what thee needs to be doing or learning to prepare thyself for new parameters in life.

In my own life, I sometimes regret choices that I made many years ago. If I had made other choices, I would have a different range of options today. Did I make a mistake then? Perhaps so, but some of those choices cannot be revisited. The job in life that I am most suited for is not, and never will be, available to me. I regret my choices that made it so, and on occasion I have tried to get back on that track for my life. What has been impressed on me is that that if I try to force it, lusting after something that is not part of the current trajectory of my life, I will have to sacrifice a lot of things that I hold dear.

I want to avoid the mistake that Ish-bosheth made. I am incredibly thankful for the current setting of my life, including especially my wife and our puppy. Some course corrections in my life are warranted, and I want to be true to any new direction for service. My life will not always be as it is now, but for now, in His wisdom, it is this way. In my current situation, in the early stages of a chapter in my life, I need to plow ahead in my current trajectory. I still need to learn to appreciate more, and I need to covet less, and I understand that faithfulness to Christ Jesus in these things will play a major role in my overall happiness and satisfaction in life.


Holding Space

As a "listening people," the Society of Friends has a tradition of "holding space" for another person. While the term is new, the practice is old and went without a name for generations. Because of the roles that I play among Friends, I often listen to hurts and frustrations of our members. This piece describes a framework that I have developed over time to make sure that I understand the situation so that I can help the person find guidance for the way forward. The framework is the result of my own mistakes, learning through prayer about it, and consulting books and Friends with experience doing this. I use it for a range of situations, reaching from a small part of a conversation to a request to talk about problems privately.

Obviously, "holding space" has shades of meaning in different places. Some see it as a mini meeting for worship, where two or three people meet together to allow someone to share burdens or hurts. This is what I would call the context of holding space but not the contents. Obviously these sessions work best in person, but it can be done over the phone. When someone asks to share something with me (rather than doing this as part of a longer conversation), I find it best to keep the number of people involved to only two or possibly three. More people than that introduces a different dynamic.

This piece does not discuss confrontations or deeper issues that require psychiatric therapy, partially because these are not strengths of mine. This article is also not about "sharing stories." I approach the role of facilitator the same way I approach my role as Clerk: focus on the issue at hand, let the other person carry the conversation, and maintain a safe environment for sharing. In this posting, I will speak to thee as the potential facilitator.

The first part of a session is finding out what the person needs to share about. What usually happens with me is that someone needs to talk about a situation that precipitated feelings of insecurity or hurt. It is important for thee to make sure that the person conveys the entirety of the situation. Try to keep the person focused on one specific event or cluster of events - this is not psychiatry with multiple sessions. Some people share more easily than others, so one person might be able to share a situation in five minutes while another person might need 30 minutes. This cannot be safely rushed (says the Wilburite) - just be sure to get the entire story. 

My next part of the process is what I describe as understanding the interpretation. I might go through the same events and possibly not be bothered or feel something entirely different, but that is not what the session is about. It is about finding out how the other person interpreted the event. Usually the person will say this during the story, but not always. Was the person frustrated? Did (s)he feel betrayed? Did the event cause feelings of isolation or anger? As people say these days, "feelings are facts."

Throughout the process, it is critical for thee to make the person feel safe. This entails several things. Ohio Friends have a remarkable reputation for receiving this kind of information and never sharing it with anyone (except possibly with a spouse). Safety includes the facilitator agreeing not to mention the details to others and especially not to use the details later to harm the person in need. Safety also includes telling the person that things are okay if the person gets emotionally stirred up. Don't use this to try to manipulate the other person or to achieve some objective for thyself.

Another important role for the facilitator is to validate the person. The person needs to hear words from thee that demonstrate thy attention to the sharing. When a person shares a very difficult experience with thee, a part of validation is to say "wow, I am so sorry to hear this happened to thee. That must have been incredibly painful" [or whatever is appropriate to say]. Don't skip this step - the person needs to hear thee express something like this. Probably the worst thing to do is to minimize what the person went through, either by saying "well it wasn't as bad as I thought" or comparing it insensitively to something that is not a suitable parallel.

At this point, the facilitator is informed about the event and the person's interpretation. The next thing that I do is to work with the person about what to do from here. Does the person need to speak with someone in particular about these things? Does the person need to take some other specific action? Can the person learn something about themselves so they can do better in the future when faced with something similar? These questions obviously can't all apply to each situation - usually the situation makes it evident what questions need to be considered. I remember one time when a Friend needed to share a frustration about a third party who I knew well also. This gave me a perspective that led to something that I don't believe that I have said in any other case like this - she was carrying out her gifts during the events under discussion and, while it was difficult for her, she needed to continue forward with her behaviors that caused the other person to respond in a way that was not best. I find it helpful for the third phase of the discussion to include some element of how to behave in the future to achieve better results, because this makes it a learning experience with the potential for lasting results.

If a session goes more than 10-15 minutes, I like to say something when we have reached the end to indicate either the conversation is over or to indicate that we can talk about another topic. If the person shared something deep, it is good to say something like "Cynthia [use the person's name here], thank thee for sharing that with me. I hope the Lord brought thee some healing [or direction or whatever word is right] and that thee will feel free to let me know what happens in the future."

One last thing that I want to share on this topic is care for the facilitator. Holding space for others is not always easy and can take a lot of energy. Most of us have a spouse or family member that we can go to afterwards and share generally about how things went. I don't know if psychiatrists do this or not. As a single person, I find it difficult that I don't have anyone to "decompress" with. Another part of "care of the facilitator" is the question of what to do when the facilitator needs to share something. I face this problem from time to time because acting as the listener is such a part of my personality that others do not naturally consider that they sometimes need to facilitate me. Also part of my problem is that I need to separate "holding space" from sharing stories, so I am not able to be the facilitator and then turn around immediately and reverse roles. Sharing stories is fine, but my mind sees this as a different interaction.

Anyway I hope this might help someone who is looking for a framework for holding space for another in a way that provides guidance for how to engage with the person in a meaningful way.



Negative Self Talk

Matthew records an interesting conversation that Jesus had with the Pharisees about using words as a weapon. After Jesus healed a man who was blind and unable to speak, some Pharisees there accused Him of healing through the power of Beelzebub, an ancient Canaanite god. Jesus gave a somewhat lengthy reply that included the "house divided" passage, the caution about blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and an admonition from 1 Samuel regarding idle words that come from one's heart (Matthew 12:22-37).

The three things Jesus said in His response to the Pharisees can stand alone as independent teachings, and one can apply them individually to various situations. This posting, however, is about the application of the three parts of this reply to a specific problem.

Over the past weekend, I spoke with two dear Friends. Both are beautiful people who seek to live their lives as witnesses to the influence of the Light of Christ Jesus. They both have nurturing personalities, and any meeting would love to have these two people worshipping with them. One of them has been involved in a long-term project assisting a Friend who is going through a difficult time in life and has shown persistence in providing help that I do not believe that I would have the strength to sustain. I have met part of his family, and his wife is a lovely woman with her own gifts and wisdom. The other person is a woman with an emerging gift of eldership. She has been active in praying during worship for the Lord to be so palpably present that all gathered will know the  touch of the Divine Hand. I have not met her family. The man and woman I am writing about have both had difficulties in their lives, but I cannot recall an unkind word that either has said about another person. These two people are much more advanced towards sainthood than I am.

What struck me for the first time this weekend, though, is that both of them struggle with negative self-talk. I had individual conversations with them, and they both brought up this tendency without prompting. All I can say is that I am dumbfounded by both of them. Their lives are precious examples of the Lord's molding presence.

Using words to wound

Our Friend John Edminster said something recently that struck me. He is trying to stop using words to wound other people. John is a very tender and loving man, and I was surprised that he found this to be a problem in his life. I do not recall hearing John doing this, but apparently he feels a need to be intentional about eliminating it from his life. Living in the Life and Power that takes away the occasion of all war includes not sewing the seeds of discord, so his concern is a good one that we can all find instructive.

What struck me about John's words was the associated issue of a person using words for self-wounding. Sustained negative self-talk is not good. This is particularly the case if it becomes something that drains energy from thee or otherwise keeps thee from the exercise of thy gifts.

If this is a problem for thee, consider this: God created thee for certain purposes. Saying something like "My life is a failure" denies that thy faithfulness has ever touched the heart of someone else. That statement belittles what God has done in thee and for thee. This is the very thing that Jesus complained to the Pharisees about - denying the workings of the Holy Ghost in a person's life (in this case, thy life). Negative self-talk insults God.

Bearing in mind that I am not a psychologist, the following may be helpful for thee (or not). These are some things that have been weighing on my mind that could provide a way forward for thee to get out of the habit of negative self-talk.


Let us distinguish between negative self-talk and modesty. Many of us are careful not to puff ourselves up. Jesus set an example of this Himself. Several times when the Father revealed to others that He was the Christ, He would tell them not to repeat it. He would say things like "See that no man know it." Some things that Jesus was called to do needed to be done in a particular sequence, and until His time was come, He arranged circumstances in various ways including through directions to those who heard Him. Some followed His words and others did not. Considering who Jesus was and what He had the ability to do, He was incredibly modest (such as when He stood before Pilate).

Many Friends are also modest. For example, the three people who I feel have the most sustained gifts in the ministry in Ohio YM are remarkably modest. I have never heard any of these people (J, W, and N) say anything like "well, you know, I happen to be one of the most gifted ministers in the historic Quaker tradition." This could easily be a statement of fact for any of them, but they do not talk about themselves that way. In fact, often the Ohio ministers are so humbled by the recognition that they often won't mention to an outsider that their gift has been recognized unless the person specifically asks if they have been recognized.

Modesty is an outstanding Christian virtue. It helps convey that one's abilities are divinely given, so that the exercise of gifts feeds the spiritually hungry rather than feeding the ego.

Modesty is not a part of negative self-talk. The latter is a destructive tendency that involves a decision (conscious or not) on thy part to undervalue thyself, thy abilities, or thy gifts. It is wrong for thee to entertain the notion of undermining thy labor in the Divine vineyard. Much of thy faithfulness has been in response to a divine prompting. Thy negative self-talk tears thee down, undermines thy faithfulness, and denies the prompting of the Holy Ghost that caused thee to take thy faithful action.

Some Queries

The following are some queries that may be helpful for thee. Consider discussing them with a confidante in order to get additional insight into thy own situation.

1) What prompts thy negative self-talk? Is it based on frustration arising out of a poor decision thee made in the past? Is it uncertainty during a turbulent transition time for thee? Is it an inability to see how the Lord might be guiding thee into the future? Is it a lack of ways to cope with others?

2) Can the self-talk be better worded? Instead of saying "I am a total failure," would it be more accurate to say something else such as "I don't feel that I have the ability to face my current challenges"? Reaching more precise language may give thee insight into how to proceed and help thee find a good person to share thy challenges with and start to find divine direction for a way forward.

3) Does thee have enough love in thy life?  It can be particularly difficult for single people to experience the care and nurture that they need. This may sound so obvious that it is insulting, but there are three primary ways to increase the level of love in thy life: A) Get more love from the Source, B) Get more love from sharing it with other people, and C) Get more love from sharing thyself with someone else who cannot return the love. Thy circumstances may prevent thee from using all three of these ways of increasing the level of love in thy life. What is the Lord asking of thee in this regard? Try to be realistic and avoid getting over-extended.

4) Does thee have a mentoring relationship with another person? This is one of my ongoing concerns that some people are tired of hearing about. Most of us can have two great mentoring relationships at the same time: one with a more experienced person and one with a less experienced person. Thy circumstances may limit thee to only having a spiritual relationship with someone roughly on par with thee, and if that is thy lot, embrace it.

5) Does thee need help from the Lord to accept the current circumstances of thy life? It is easy to be tempted with the idea that Christ Jesus (or possibly thy meeting) is holding thee back from experiencing one or more of the joys of life. It can be easy to question why good things happening to other people are being held back from thee. I face that problem in life myself right now. Perhaps the Lord wants to arrange some things for thy future and wants to show thee some other things right now. The overarching challenge is thy recognition that God is looking out for thee, wants the best for thee, and sees it right to occupy thee with other things at this stage of thy life. Can thee embrace thy current situation, even for a short time, and look around for ways to be of service or otherwise find spiritual food? These ways may not resolve thy hurts and are not long-term solutions, but the Lord may have some other purposes for thee in life right now.

Negative self-talk and associated issues are not easy to deal with. Don't let thy life be hampered or paralyzed by them. Some of God's greatest blessings take time and/or discipline to experience. Give thyself a chance to know His precious peace and find His healing presence in thy heart.



A Silent Witness

Worship at my meeting today was very good but still a little challenging for me. My meeting is small, though today we had three visitors. A challenge that I face is that we have several men who are frequently led to speak during worship. Their leadings are pretty consistently valid, and I do not want to take anything away from any of them.

What weighs on me is that it is somewhat rare for any women to speak during our worship. It does happen, perhaps once a month. As a result, it is common for nearly every male to speak during worship, but no women.

This has happened before. A few months ago I sensed a leading to speak during worship. The leading was not as strong as it is most of the time. While I was in discernment about sharing it, three different men stood to speak. One of the men in my meeting has been appointed to choose an Advice to read during the worship, so counting him, four men spoke at that particular meeting, but none of the women. If I had shared the leading I had sensed, it would have meant that all men present would have spoken but none of the women. I felt that would be a bad example to set, and I chose not to share the leading rather than set up such a dichotomy.

For the most part, this has not been much of a problem. I normally only sense a leading to speak once a month or so. About two months ago, something happened that seemed to pull a plug in me, and I have sensed more leadings to speak than before. Since that time, I have sensed leadings to speak in meeting about three times out of four. It is this increased frequency that has challenged my discernment process.

Today, three men spoke, the one man read an Advice, and there I was weighing a leading to speak. Part of today's challenge was not just that I felt a somewhat strong leading to speak, but that this one seemed to be among the better leadings that I have sensed of late. I felt for a while today that one of the women visitors was weighing a leading to share, and I was hoping that she would do so. That would have allowed me to also speak. She didn't, so I didn't. As the Lord brought things to pass, meeting broke a little early and I did not speak.

I struggle with the rightness of this new policy that I have. I want to be faithful to the Lord, and in fact I am willing to break my new guideline. My reluctance is based on the message that it would send if all the men spoke at a particular meeting but none of the women. God does not limit Himself to using the Y chromosone, and the women who attend my meeting are all gifted people. This struggle with balancing two different types of faithfulness does not appear to be going away soon, so I may post here about it again.