Contentment (Part 1)

“Real contentment must come from within.  You and I cannot control the world around us, but we can change and control the world within us.”  (Warren Wiersbe)

There is a way of living that more than any other reflects the depth of our faith journey.  It is a way that most of us have experienced but few have sustained.  A way marked by an abiding sense of peace, patience and joy.  A way abounding in the abundant life promised by Jesus.  The way known as contentment.

This reflection on contentment will be in two posts.  This month is the nature of contentment by looking at three examples from the Psalms.  Next month is how to find contentment by exploring the Apostle Paul’s “secret of being content.”  But first to the Psalms where there are at least three distinct manifestations of contentment that are helpful in fleshing out its essential nature.  These are Discontentment, Conditional Contentment, and Deep Contentment

“When our ancestors were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.”  (Psalm 106:7)  If there is one thing that stands out in the Exodus, it is how the Israelites were perpetually complaining.  Despite God’s miraculous provision, they constantly vexed him by their rebellion and discontent.

And so it is with many today who seem to be perpetually discontented even in the face of enormous blessings in their life.  It is curious how easy it is to focus on negative things and take positive ones for granted.  I am not writing about those who are suffering or in the throes of personal tragedy.  But rather about those who, despite generally good health and relationships, are nonetheless discontent.  Somehow in their journey they have lost a sense of the richness of their lives, and chosen instead to be resentful and angry.

In writing about struggles of our middle years of life, Ronald Rolheiser observes, “Many … deeply regret that during the healthiest and most productive years of their lives they were too driven and too unaware of the richness of their own lives to appreciate and enjoy what they were doing.  Instead of privilege, they felt burden; instead of gratitude, they felt resentment; and instead of joy, they felt anger.  One of the demons we wrestle with during our adult years is the resentment of Martha, that is, a joylessness bordering on anger for, ironically, being burdened with the privilege of health, work, and status.”  (Sacred Fire)

The danger of chronic discontentment is that it increasingly becomes one’s identity.  We have all known people who despite many blessings are perpetually discontented, having allowed their lives to be consumed by bitterness and anger.  One of the ironies of discontentment is that it is off-putting to others, and consequently they pull away.  The more they pull away, the more bitterness and anger grow.  It is a negative feedback loop that can be difficult to stop – particularly as we age.  But there is always hope because according to the Apostle Paul, contentment is something that can be learned.  Still, overcoming discontentment, like any vice, becomes more difficult with the passage of time.  Discontented old people were once discontented young people.

The spiritual implications of discontentment are chilling.  Because of the discontentment and incessant grumbling of the Israelites, God declared that they would indeed die in the wilderness and never enter the Promised Land.  (Numbers 14:26-29)

Conditional Contentment
“But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.”  (Psalm 131:2)  A child with its mother – here we have a beautiful image of contentment and peace.  So why is this not the paradigm for biblical contentment?  The answer is that the child has good reason to be content – it is with its mother, perhaps asleep in her arms.  And these favorable circumstances are precisely what make its contentment conditional.  For we all know what will happen when the child gets hungry or its mother has to leave.

Conditional contentment is therefore contentment that is dependent upon circumstances being favorable.  This fits well with one definition, “Contentment is happiness and satisfaction, often because you have everything you need.”  (Cambridge English Dictionary)  And it also fits pretty well with the spirit of our age that promises us that contentment comes as soon as our perceived needs are fulfilled.  As soon as we find someone to love us, we will be content; as soon as we get the mortgage paid off, we will be content; or as soon as we retire, we will be content.  But for those of us who bought into this storyline, inevitably we have come away disappointed.  It was great when I married Pat, but the honeymoon eventually ended.  I was elated when I paid off our mortgage, but it was short-lived because I then had to replace all of the windows and doors.  And soon after I retired, I encountered unexpected and difficult medical and family crises.

I am not alone in experiencing contentment conditionally.  Most of us have seasons of contentment when things are going well, and times of discontentment when troubles come.  And indeed, troubles always come!  Yet, as I honestly reflect on my life, I see so many blessings even during difficult times: a loving wife, faithful friends and family, and good medical care.  Christian maturity demands that we look beyond the temporal and take the long view.  This brings us to the third level of contentment, which is deep contentment.

Deep Contentment
“Although the earth erupts in quakes, we will not shake or fear; though glaciers crash into the sea, our God is always near.  And though the oceans roar and foam, and breakers crash and swell, though mountains sway and split in two, we know that all is well.”  (Psalm 46:2-3)  Here we have the true Biblical paradigm of contentment.  When our world is coming apart, there is a place of deep contentment.  A place where we can stand and truly say ‘all is well.’

Deep contentment is radically different from conditional contentment.  Consider the words of the Apostle Paul, I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4:11-13)  Contentment for Paul did not depend upon his circumstances or even whether his most basic physical needs were met.  To the contrary, Paul had learned contentment whatever his situation.

I don’t want to be glib about being content when things are in turmoil.  Struggles and suffering are real.  And it is easy to write about contentment when things are going well.  Still, there is value in thinking and praying about contentment when not in the middle of a crisis.  Paul writes, “train yourself to be godly”  (1 Timothy 4:7), which implies developing holy habits, such as contentment, before trials come into our lives.

For some, contentment means having no desires.  For example, one definition of contentment is “A state of mind in which one’s desires are confined to his lot whatever it may be.”  (Easton’s Bible Dictionary)  This is not so far from Buddhist belief that desire is a root of suffering and therefore to be eliminated.  We should be clear on this:  Death of desire has no place in Christian practice!  We are to desire God’s kingdom to come in our marriages, our homes, our community, and our world, and we are to work for its fulfillment.  Scripture calls us to action – from helping the oppressed to working on our character.  Indeed, it is precisely because we are called by God to fight injustice and to seek righteousness that contentment finds its true home.  Biblical contentment never seeks the end of godly desires.  Instead, its power is in not allowing those desires to rule our lives.  We draw our life not from whether we obtain our desires, but from the Spirit.  This is why Paul tells us that if we walk by the Spirit, we will experience joy, peace, patience, etc.  (Galatians 5:16, 22)

Deep contentment is not an impossible dream.  It is not just Jesus who could sleep in a boat in the middle of a storm (Matthew 8:24-25), or Paul who be content even when hungry (Philippians 4:12).  There are people in every age who have demonstrated deep contentment in the face of personal hardship and tragedy.  For example, Horatio Spafford was a Christian and successful businessman in Chicago in the latter part of the 19th Century.  Spafford lost his only son to scarlet fever in 1870.  The next year, his real estate investments were destroyed by the Great Chicago Fire.  Two years after that, his four daughters drowned when their ship was struck and sank while crossing the Atlantic.  His wife miraculously survived, and as Spafford sailed to join her, his ship passed near the spot where his daughters went down.  It was there he penned the words of one of the great hymns of our faith.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
when sorrows like sea billows roll;
whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Deep contentment is being able to say when sorrows come, “It is well with my soul.”


PS   Next month I will reflect on the secret of contentment that the Apostle Paul discovered.


“Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good.  Anyone who does what is good is from God.  Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God.”  (3 John 1:11)

An anechoic chamber is the quietest place on earth.  Acoustically isolated from the outside world and fitted with irregular foam shapes on the inside walls, all sound generated from within is absorbed.  The word anechoic literally means “without echo,” which accurately describes the function of the specially constructed walls.  Scientists use these rooms to conduct acoustic tests, such as determining the noise level of various consumer products.  Some years ago I had an opportunity to spend a few minutes inside an anechoic chamber.  When I stepped into the room and the door closed behind me, I spoke a few words but did not recognize my own voice.  The walls literally absorbed all of the sound, and the normal echoes one takes for granted simply ceased to exist.  If I had screamed at the top of my lungs, it would have made no difference for all noise would still be absorbed by the non-reflective walls.  There is an otherworldliness feeling to anechoic chambers, and I can understand why NASA uses them to help astronauts get accustomed to the silence of outer space.

Fortunately, God did not design an anechoic world.  Just the opposite, because echoes add an amazing richness and timbre to our lives.  For example, the Lord has made great canyons where the splashing of rushing torrents echoes in splendid cacophony.  A place where deep calls to deep in the roar of [his] waterfalls.”  (Psalm 42:7)  Each day starts anew with the waking sounds of creation greeting him.  “Awake my soul, arise with me, awake O harp and strings; together we will wake the dawn as all creation sings.”  (Psalm 57:8)  He created old growth forests where bird songs like that of the Wood Thrush reverberate with a flute-like trill.  For there, “the birds of the sky nest by the waters; they sing among the branches.”  (Psalm 104:12)   And great cathedrals built to honor the Lord uniquely resonate as sacred music and hymns of praise echo off of vaulted ceilings. For God is King of all the earth so sing Him songs that please; sing psalms and hymns and spirituals with sweetest melodies.”  (Psalm 47:7)

But it is not simply a matter of aesthetics that God designed sound to be reflective.  Functionally, the echo of sound waves bouncing off of our surroundings helps give us our bearings.  We intuitively sense the position of objects by the direction and speed of sound that is reflected from their surfaces.  And with the two ears God has given us, we can judge direction and distances even in the dark.  Truly, the echoes of sound in the natural world are a wonderful gift from the Lord.

When it comes to our spiritual life we have a tendency to echo whatever we observe in others.  If those around us embody that which is good and decent, we are encouraged to do the same.  Contrariwise, if those around embody that which is evil, we are tempted to follow.  God, of course, does not intend for us to echo the latter, but the former.  “Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good.”  (3 John 1:11a)  Rather than echoing the evil we see and hear, the Lord would have us absorb it like the walls of an anechoic chamber absorb sound.  Yet this is hard for us to do.  For when evil is experienced by us, we are tempted to retaliate.  And even when evil is only observed by us, we can be tempted to imitate.

We echo evil when retaliation is our response to someone who is treating us unjustly.  Paul tells us “do not overcome evil with evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:21)  A common way we retaliate is by anger.  Anger is like a wildfire – once it is lit it can quickly consume all those in its path.  But even though anger may automatically rise up in us as a response to the unjust and evil actions of others, we don’t have to yield to it, and can choose to absorb it like the walls of an anechoic chamber.  In the words of Dallas Willard, While anger arises spontaneously, we can choose whether [or not] to receive it and indulge it.” (The Divine Conspiracy)  Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount is, You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  But I tell you, do not resist an evil person.  If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also.”  (Matthew 5:38-39)

Still, there is a far more subtle way that we echo evil, which is when we imitate those around us who disregard God’s moral law.  I am not referring to the pagan culture in which we live because most of us Christians are aware of the dangers inherent to the spirit of our age.  Rather, it is the danger of our relationship with those who claim to be Christians – be they our friends or public figures – who act in ungodly ways.  For even when we know the difference between right and wrong, there is a temptation to disregard moral restraints when we observe other Christians doing so.  I don’t completely understand the psychology behind this, yet we all know it is true.  Somehow when we see others who claim to be Christians acting in an ungodly manner, we can be tempted to believe that it must be okay for us to act in the same way.  In some cases we may trust their judgments more than our own, or perhaps we feel social pressure to conform our behavior.  It’s almost like we are hearing the words of the serpent, “Did God really say that you must not eat from any tree in the garden?”  (Genesis 3:1)

For example, if a Christian we know and respect slanders someone, we may question whether slander is really so bad.  Like masters of illusion, we tell ourselves that it is really not slander or that it is somehow justified.  The Apostle Paul recognized the danger, which is why he tells us to have nothing to do with those claiming to be Christians but not acting accordingly.  But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler.  Do not even eat with such people.  (1 Corinthians 5:11)

Paul’s counsel can present us with a dilemma when the person acting immorally is a personal friend.  For example, if they are having an affair, should we drop them as a friend?  Or what if they have an addiction or are pursuing some other idol in their life?  There are Biblical principles about loving and caring for those in need, so simply not associating with them may not be the right thing to do.  And frankly we all fall at times, and our critique of the sins of others can quickly lead us down a path of graceless judgments and self-righteousness.  At the same time, I believe we can underestimate the danger of being around those who habitually sin because of the temptation to echo their behavior and similarly fall.  Paul’s word to the Galatians reflects this dilemma, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.  But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.  Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  (Galatians 6:1-2)

The matter is somewhat different when the Christian who is acting immorally is in the public arena, such as the church, sports, politics, media, or entertainment.  For when they act immorally, it is not just us who are in danger of echoing their behavior, but all who see them.  Given that our ability to influence a public figure is usually minimal, our best course of action is to move beyond the sphere of his or her influence.  We hear a lot these days about the need for role models because of how those in authority can influence others for good or ill.  Jesus paid particular attention to this when he warned against causing people to go astray, and the particular punishment for those who do.  “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble!  Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come!”  (Matthew 18:6-7)

Jesus, of course, never echoed evil.  He never repaid evil for evil – never!  Even on the cross, he did not revile his persecutors.  In this he showed us the way.  “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.  (1 Peter 2:21-23)  Jesus is our model – we are not to echo evil and injustice, but we are to absorb it like the walls of an anechoic chamber soaks up sound.  As we do this in increasing measure, we anticipate our destiny, which is “to become conformed to the image of his son.”  (Romans 8:29)



“The first duty of love is to listen”  (Paul Tillich)

I would like to be a better listener.  To be attentive and focused when someone is speaking to me.  To be interested in what they are saying.  And to be slow to jump in with a response.  But lifelong habits are hard to break.  When I am involved with something, I don’t suffer interruptions well.  When a person is rambling or speaking slowly, I can become impatient.  And frequently my mind wanders from what is being said to how I will respond.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, I write about Christian virtues not because I am particularly proficient in any, but precisely because I am not.  I write to think them through and remind myself what is important to God.  Listening well is surely one of these.

The desire to be really heard and understood by others is a bedrock need of every human.  It is a need that can only be fulfilled when someone makes an effort to listen well.  Author Ralph Nichols puts it this way:  “The most basic of all human needs is the need to understand and be understood.  The best way to understand people is to listen to them.”  Imagine a world in which no one ever listened to us.  Perhaps a world in which everyone wore headphones.  People could tune into their favorite station and never be interrupted by another.  It would be like a world of animatrons “that have ears but cannot hear.”  (Psalm 135:17)  This may not be so far removed from the worlds that some have created.  With all of the ways we can isolate ourselves physically and emotionally from others, many of us have ceased to listen to those desperate to be heard.  And when we cease to listen we cease to love.  As Rick Warren writes: “You see pain with your eyes, but you sympathize with your ears.  Sometimes the greatest way to serve someone is just by listening.  Behind every need is a story.”

I find it curious that there is not much in Scripture about the importance of listening to one another.  I once counted over 300 Bible verses relating to the words we speak.  Yet, I am hard pressed to find verses about listening to others.  The one verse Christians point to in regard to listening is in the book of James, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19)  But even this verse in context has more to do with listening to the word of God than listening to other people.  There are a handful of verses in Proverbs that speak to the importance of listening to others, but for the most part these relate to the listener gaining wisdom, rather than the speaker being helped.  For example, The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.” (Proverbs 12:15)  By any reckoning, the virtue of listening to others is not emphasized in the Bible.  Although there is much recorded about listening to God, the importance of our listening to one another must be teased out of God’s Word.  This is not to say that listening to others is unimportant.  To the contrary, it is the quintessential way we love others.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book  “Life Together” writes, “The first service one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them.  Just as love of God begins in listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.”

Listening to others is an important means for mediating other Christian virtues.  Consider the seven virtues Paul mentions in Colossians, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.”  (Colossians 3:12-14)  Each of these seven virtues – compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, and forgiveness – is demonstrated (or not) to the extent we really listen to others.

Listening with compassion means we seek to share in the pain of the person speaking.  When tornados devastated parts of Dayton on May 27, a number of my friends were filled with compassion for the victims and immediately volunteered with the cleanup effort.  But often people suffer in ways that are not self-evident.  Only by taking time to listen to them tell their story – without judgment or comment – can we demonstrate compassion.  The word compassion comes from two Latin words: “cum,” meaning “with;” and “pati,” meaning “suffering.”  So listening with “com-passion” means we suffer with the person as they unburden themselves.  Job’s friends initially listened with compassion when they sat with Job for seven days – saying nothing and listening to Job speak.  But eventually they could not restrain their tongues and accused Job of doing evil.  Recriminations are incompatible with compassionate listening.

Listening with kindness means we seek to orient our heart to the other person.  We show kindness by being available and attentive when they need to be heard, not just when we feel like listening.  We may demonstrate our interest by being an active listener and reflecting back what they are saying.  But the real grace of listening with kindness comes in providing an emotional space where the other person feels like they are really being heard.  Simply knowing that someone is truly listening can provide a healing balm to a troubled soul.  Among all the ways we can show kindness to another person, one of these is surely listening with an open heart.

Listening with humility means we seek to restrain our own words and ego.  We listen to the other person without turning attention to ourselves.  When we truly listen to another person, our pride screams at us to say something.  We feel an overwhelming urge to respond by giving advice and sharing our own brilliant ideas.  Stephen R. Covey observed that, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  (The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People)  When the mind turns its focus from what is being said to what its response is going to be, it is listening with pride and not humility.  “Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions.” (Proverbs 18:2)

Listening with gentleness means we seek to create a safe place for the other person to share.  We are non-threatening as we listen without judgment.  The other person opens up and unburdens their heart in the presence of someone who is interested and safe.  Jonathan Edwards said that, “real disciples of Christ have a gentle spirit in them.”  Listening with gentleness means that our gentle spirit is present to the other person.  This presence will be like a well-worn cardigan that we wrap around them.

Listening with patience means we seek to be fully present to the other person.  We are attentive although we would rather be doing something else.  And we stay engaged even in the face of boring or rambling comments.  It is hard enough in normal interactions to stay focused when another person is speaking.  But this is exacerbated when the person is speaking about something that is of no interest to us or that we cannot understand.  And so we practice listening with patience as we shut out all other thoughts and concentrate on the words being spoken.  Listening with patience can be particularly important when we are present with older people whose minds no longer function as they once did.

Listening with forbearance means we seek to accept the other person as they are and not as we would like them to be.  Even when we disagree or perhaps even dislike the other person, we are listening to understand rather than to be understood.  We listen as a matter of respect for the other person as one made in the image of God.  We don’t listen because we seek to gain anything from the interaction.  Rather, we listen because God commands us to, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Matthew 22:39)  How much of the conflict in our marriages, our families, and our communities could be ameliorated if we learned the discipline of listening with forbearance.

Listening with forgiveness means we seek to release a person from the debt of their wrongdoing.  But here our listening must be of a different kind, because often we need to forgive someone who will never speak to us, let alone apologize.  They may be estranged, or in another town, or even dead.  Listening to them is therefore impossible.  And so, when we are listening with forgiveness, we are listening to a different voice – the voice of One who forgave even as He was going to His death.  We listen again to the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” and our hearts start to thaw.

Listening to others is simple, but it is not easy.  It is simple because it only requires time and a willing heart.  It is not easy because it requires us to overcome engrained habits born of self-interest.  Yet, there are few actions that reveal more about our spiritual maturity than how well (or not) we listen to others.  Jesus is the only hope for a broken world, and we are his people, the instruments through which his grace and healing is dispensed.  In the midst of all that is wrong and broken in the world today, we have the opportunity to shine his light through the simple act of listening.


Psalm 1

Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law doth he meditate day and night.
And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the 
Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Psalm 1 holdeth a special place in my heart.  I memorized the King James version as a teenager, decades before I became a follower of Christ.  To this day I delight in its lyrical parallelism and rich metaphors wrapped in the luscious language of the King’s English.  The world has changed in many wonderful ways since 1603 when King James I of England authorized a new translation of the Bible, but not necessarily in our use of language.  These days a person walks, stands, or sits – quick, precise, and to the point.  Utilitarian to a fault.  But not so in the court of King James I where a person walketh, standeth, or sitteth (probably mostly standeth when the king was present).  The pace of life today is intense – with efficiency and speed prized virtues – all of which is reflected in our language.  In today’s world, a tree is genetically modified, cross-bred, grafted, and sprayed to maximize its yield; but back then a tree simply “bringeth forth” its fruit.  Today chaff is hauled to a compost facility; but then chaff was “driveth away” by the wind.

Psalm 1 is reflectively poetic even as it brilliantly illuminates the spiritual divide between those who choose their own way (the ungodly), and those who choose to follow God’s way (the righteous).  Jesus says those who choose their own way are foolish, and will forever be buffeted by the winds of life.  But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”  (Matthew 7:26-27)  In contrast, the righteous stand strong despite whatever misfortunes may befall them.  Paul’s description is,  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”  (Philippians 4:12-13)

Psalm 1 uses two great metaphors to describe this contrast – chaff for the ungodly and a tree for the righteous. It is tempting for us Christians to frame these metaphors in soteriological terms – with chaff representing the unsaved, and tree representing the saved.  Naturally, we all want to believe we are like the tree – saved and secure in the kingdom of God.   But framing this in black and white – either we are chaff, or we are a tree – flattens a three-dimensional world into two.  For this Psalm can also be understood in terms of spiritual formation, in which chaff and tree are on opposing ends of a spectrum.  There are times when we are more like chaff and times when we are more like a tree.  Spiritual formation then is not a fixed point but the direction we are heading, and Christian spiritual formation the sure and steady movement from chaff to tree.

Psalm 1 cautions us that the life of the ungodly is like chaff.  Chaff of course is the husk surrounding a seed.  It starts its life as part of the plant.  Indeed, it serves a very important purpose in surrounding and protecting the seed.  But it dries out and becomes brittle as the plant matures, so by harvest time it has no value at all.  In ancient cultures, after grain was gathered it was beat upon the floor to loosen the chaff from the seed.  The mixture would then be tossed in the air on a windy day, and the lighter chaff would literally be blown away.  To be chaff then is to lack weight and substance.  It is a waste product that is of no use to anyone. Chaff has no life in itself, it has no roots, and when exposed to the slightest breeze it is thrown to the four winds.

There are times when circumstances have blown me about like so much chaff.  For example, I can recall instances when I have responded to a minor problem with rage, an unkind remark with brooding, a physical illness with self-pity, a fear of inadequacy with defensiveness, and even a kind word with pride.  Whenever my actions are controlled by my circumstances without regard to the word of God, I am like so much chaff blowing in the wind. At such times I am living like one who does not know God.  I harm others and I harm my soul.

I know other Christians who have similar experiences.  For example, there are some in the church who allow fear to blow them about like chaff.  There are many concerns in today’s world that we perceive as threats to our way of life – the environment, immigration, technology, terrorism, and finances to name just a few.  Despite being told throughout Scripture to “fear not,” many succumb to their fears and respond with the tools of the world – the counsel of the ungodly, the way of sinners, and the seat of the scornful.   But God’s word is, “do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good,” (Romans 12:21).  Benjamin Corey states in reference to his new book “Unafraid: Moving Beyond Fear-Based Faith,” Fear seems to have gripped American Christianity like never before, and the impact is already noticeable.  This generalized fear is causing us to turn on one another, abandon consistent and collective application of Christian values.  It’s seriously damaging our witness.”  He cites fear as a reason some believers seem to place greater faith in leaders who are otherwise anathema to the principles of our faith rather than our bedrock Christian values.

In contrast to chaff, Psalm 1 gloriously describes the life of the righteous as a tree planted by rivers of water that yields fruit in season, a tree whose leaves are forever green, never withering.  This is an abundant life, a life well-lived.  And who among us, Christian or not, does not desire this kind of life?  For all of us eventually experience hardship and heartache.  We may for a time believe we are in control, but reality eventually hits us and we realize there is very little we control – not our health, our relationships, or even our finances.  The winds of change can be fierce and unforgiving, and the desire to withstand them is irresistible.

I know many followers of Christ who have faced adversity in their lives. For those who have remained grounded in the Word, their faith has revealed them to be like deeply rooted trees. Some of them I have mentioned in prior posts, but there are many others.  For example, Jim is surrounded by family members struggling with physical illness, mental imbalance, stress, and unforgiveness.  Yet Jim’s roots go deep in the Lord and he is faithfully persevering through prayer.  Greg has physically suffered from back problems, but has not yielded to despair all the while maintaining an infectious faith.  Steve has undergone four heart valve surgeries but never ceases praising God for His goodness.  All have “let the word of Christ dwell in [them] richly.” (Colossians 3:16)  And they continue to bring forth fruit in their lives.

So how exactly do we move from chaff to tree?  How do we mature as disciples of Jesus in our spiritual life so that fear, insecurity, pride, etc. lose their grip on our souls and we become like trees planted by rivers of water?  Psalm 1 says the answer is to “meditate” on the law of the Lord day and night.  To “meditate” on the law of the Lord is simply to think deeply about the law so as to rewire our mind from our flawed model for life to God’s perfect model.  In so doing, we are moved to action.  This is what Paul meant when he wrote Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  (Romans 12:2).

I have found one very simple way to meditate on the law, which has had a profound impact on my spiritual journey. I simply take a single verse from Scripture and then think about it and try to live it out for a day or perhaps several days.  For example, one verse I have meditated on is “love is patient” (1 Cor. 13:4).  It is amazing how much this has revealed to me about my heart and how impatient I am with others.  Over time, the practice has allowed God to work a change in my heart so that many annoyances have lost their power to blow me about like chaff.  The possibilities are endless.  “Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” “Clothe yourself with compassion.” “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.” “Everyone who looks for a woman with lust for her has committed adultery in his heart.”  And so on and so forth.

It is tempting to extend the metaphor of chaff and tree by observing that chaff was once part of the grain, but eventually dried up and was discarded, thereby following a way that led to death.  In contrast, the tree that was once planted near a river grew and eventually yielded fruit, thereby following a way that led to life.  But here the metaphor dries up because neither chaff nor a tree has the power of choice.  Psalm1 is clear that rejecting the way of the ungodly is a choice, just as whether to meditate on the law of the Lord is a choice.  For truly, there is a way that leads to life and one that leads to death. “The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”



“Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.”  (Colossians 3:2)

When I started law school in 1979, I probably knew less about the legal system than anyone in our class.  I didn’t know the difference between civil law and criminal law.  I couldn’t distinguish a misdemeanor from a felony.  I vaguely understood the role of the Justice Department.  I had no concept of the interplay between federal and state judicial systems.  I had never read the Constitution.  My background was exclusively in engineering and mathematics, which put me at a disadvantage vis-à-vis my classmates.

However, it wasn’t my general ignorance that was the greatest hurdle I faced.  Rather, it was my belief that there were right and wrong answers in the law to be discovered.  Engineers operate on the knowledge that there are exact answers to technical problems.  For example, in my first job as a systems engineer, I was involved in developing computer simulations for surface-to-air missiles.  When I once inadvertently inserted the letter “O” rather than the number “0” in a computer program, the missile “crashed.”  In those days computer time was costly, and this error caused considerable consternation to my supervisor.  Still, it was better to find out in a computer lab rather than in an actual missile flight.  No doubt the engineers who worked on the angle of attack sensors for the Boeing 737 Max wish they had discovered their error in the design phase.

The engineering mindset that I brought to the study of law had to be transformed before I could move forward.  For, you see, law is more of an art than a science, which is why it finds its home in the liberal arts rather than the hard sciences.  Lawyering emphasizes interpretation and persuasion over calculation and solution.  Scientific laws are by their nature invariant within a given system.  Science and math are logically objective, whereas law is inherently subjective.  Although at times a law and its application are clear, more often than not there is room for construction and argumentation.  This is because laws are enshrined in words, and words are far more nuanced and intrinsically ambiguous than scientific formulas and numbers.  Therefore, in order to succeed as a lawyer my mindset had to fundamentally change.

When I switched vocations from the sciences to law, I did not know that a quarter century later my thinking and foundational assumptions would once again be radically challenged.  This occurred (and continues to occur) in my journey from the secular, non-believing world into Christianity and the kingdom of God.  For the mindset of one who would dwell in the kingdom of God is diametrically opposed to the mindset of one who follows the pattern of the world.  I did not understand this when I first became a Christian.  I thought that I might need to “kick up my game” a notch or two – perhaps by being a little kinder, a little more generous, or bit more forgiving.  It never occurred to me that the way of Jesus would require a baseline reset of my mind, a fundamental readjustment of my thought processes.

Paul certainly did not believe that following Christ was a matter of a few minor adjustments to our character.  He made it clear that we are a new creation and should no longer live for ourselves.  (2 Corinthians 5:15-17)  He wrote that this transformation is predicated on a change in our thinkingDo not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  (Romans 12:2)  What Paul is saying is that we Christians must rethink the way we see the world. The patterns that we have become comfortable with, the assumptions that we have accepted – either explicitly or implicitly – must be examined.  And the goal?  It is to “test and approve”God’s will!  And here we come to the heart of the matter – life in the kingdom of God is centered around God’s will, whereas life according to the pattern of this world is centered around my will.

Thus, kingdom living requires that our thinking must be directed to discerning God’s will.  We pray this in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done.”  (Matthew 6:10).  We hear this in the teaching of Jesus, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”  (Matthew 7:21).  And we see this in Jesus’ prayer in Gethsemane, “Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  (Matthew 26:39)

The question I have struggled with is how to pull this off in practice? How can my beliefs change so that I really believe God’s will is paramount?  I have a lifetime of living according to my will – putting myself first – in my family, my career, and my marriage.  While God surely renews our mind even as he gives us a new heart when we are saved; still, it is my choice where I will set my mind, what thoughts I will dwell upon.  The Spirit will lead, but I must follow.  On this there can be no doubt.  Moreover, as Paul makes clear, what we set our mind on will determine how we live.  “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”  (Romans 8:5)

Changing my mindset from my will for my life (living for myself) to God’s will for my life (how he would have me live), is a far harder transition than changing my mindset from engineering to law.  So much of what I see and hear in the “pattern of the world” opposes the will of God and would tempt me to do the same.  For example, Jesus speaks of the evil of lust, but sexual images are everywhere.  He warns against anger, but I live in an angry world.  He says to speak the truth, but I am bombarded by lies.  It takes great effort for me not to slip into the cultural streams flowing past.  Yet, I must do precisely this if I am to avoid conforming to the pattern of this world.

I write about the pursuit of virtue to explore some of the ways I seek the renewal of my mind.  It has been a journey of discovery for me, but not one that has revealed any formula or one-size-fits-all process for change.  Indeed, I find more mystery than certainty around how the mind changes.  Much of what I have learned and written about has come from good teaching, great authors, prayer, and meditation on Scripture.  But one of most impactful ways I have found for doing this is through a community of like-minded individuals.

I learned this first when I was in law school.  Although I had a number of wonderful professors, it was my fellow students who inspired and challenged me by their approach to the curriculum.  My classmates were “all-in” for the study of law.  No one spoke of equations and calculations – it was all about investigation and issues, research and writing, precedents and persuasion – and slowly but gradually my thinking changed.  Being immersed in an environment where everyone was set on pursuing the same goal was a powerful inducement for me to learn and achieve.

It is a lesson that has been beneficial in my spiritual journey. The power of a community of believers whose minds are set on discerning God’s will has encouraged and helped me to grow.  It is a great blessing to have family and friends who have a kingdom mindset – those who don’t assume that faith is a matter of abstract belief and assertions, but that it involves real effort that starts with what is truly believed.  For example, on Tuesday mornings for the past ten years I have met with a community of like-minded believers.  There are roughly thirty of us who weekly read and discuss books from great Christian authors.  We also pray for one another, but mostly we listen and learn from one another – from men who have their minds set on things above.  On Friday mornings I meet with a smaller group of men.  Jim, Dave, Gideon, Bill, Mike, and I are less structured in our time together, but share challenges in our faith journeys, listen with open hearts, and encourage one another.  And every Saturday morning I meet with my friend John.  We have no agenda – we simply talk about our lives.  We pray and we laugh a lot, and we encourage one another to keep our minds set on things of God.

Friends, we are living in a time where following Paul’s counsel, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things,”  (Colossians 3:2), is harder than ever.  For increasingly the pattern of the world is to follow our own self-interests.  As Richard Foster recently wrote, “In the contemporary scene today, narcissism is the spirit of the age … It is in the air we breathe … this extreme self-centeredness, this total self-absorption, this exaggerated sense of entitlement, this utter self-obsession.”  More than ever we need the bond of Christian brothers and sisters whose minds are set on the kingdom of God and his righteousness.




“Where man sees but withered leaves, God sees sweet flowers growing.”  (Albert Laighton)

May is here and gardeners rejoice.  Whether in the south where backyard gardens are in full swing, or farther north where they are still emerging from a long hibernation, growers of every stripe are embracing the season.  In southern Maine, where Joanie and Pete grow their own organic produce, the soil has been mostly tilled or otherwise prepared and seed planting is underway.  Early planters such as snow peas, lettuce, and radishes are up and before too long beans, corn, and squash will be seeded.  As the days get warmer, the demands of the garden will grow and the two of them will spend more and more time outside.  Joanie loves gardening, and there is nothing she enjoys more than to spend a few hours outside tending her plants and talking with the Lord.  It fills her soul to partner with God to bring forth the bounty of the earth.  As the Psalmist proclaims:

O Lord, You drench the hills with rain, You water all the lands;
The earth is nourished by the fruit created by Your hands.
You make the grass grow green and lush for cows and bulls to eat;
You give us plants that we can tend and crops of grain and wheat.
 (Psalm 104:13-14)

When Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden, horticulture was not difficult.  We know this because after the Fall, God cursed the land.  His chilling words to Adam were:  “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life.  It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”  (Genesis 3:17-19)  Anyone who has gardened knows “sweat of your brow” is not a metaphor.  It takes strength and perseverance to grow produce.  Fortunately, Joanie is a certified Master Gardener with an indefatigable spirit, and good knowledge of when to plant and how to execute a winning strategy against the three scourges of gardening:  diseases, pests and weeds.  But above all she understands that the essential component of garden life is literally in “the ground,” namely, a vibrant and healthy soil teaming with organic life.  Indeed, good soil is to a garden what a virtuous life is to a soul.  While plants can grow in poor soil, to be healthy and sustainably thrive they must be rooted in good earth.

Good earth is a particular focus for Pete.  For while he provides encouragement and a willing hand for the endless manual labor involved in raising a garden, he also makes compost.  More correctly, Pete partners with God to make compost, because the “magic” of making compost is nothing less than a miracle.  God may have cursed the ground after the Fall, but he also provided for its sustainability in the form of compost, which is a never ending cycle of “dust to dust.”

For the uninitiated, compost is the end product of accelerated decomposition of organic matter.  Ideally, the organic matter is a combination of those rich in nitrogen such as fruit and vegetable scraps and manure, and those rich in carbon such as dry leaves and sawdust.  And the end product?  It is a nutrient rich fertilizer that looks like soil but with a texture that more closely resembles peat moss.  Gardeners fondly refer to compost as “black gold” because of its incomparable value when added to the soil.  Compost enriches the soil with nutrients and provides a medium where beneficial microbes live and thrive even as they support the life of growing plants. Compost is not simply finely chopped up organic matter, but a radical chemical and biological transformation of such dead matter into a rich, dark, crumbly substance.  While it contains low levels of plant nutrients, its primary function is not a fertilizer to feed plants per se, but rather to feed the soil creating a better environment for the plants to feed themselves.

From time to time in years past, I tried making compost with varying degrees of success.  When I moved to an abandoned farm in Maine in the mid 1970’s I thought that I would plant vegetables to become self-sufficient.  A local farmer generously plowed and harrowed an enormous ten thousand square foot garden plot.  On one side I built several large bins for compost, which I mostly filed with chicken manure from a neighbor’s farm.  I didn’t have time to balance the high nitrogen manure with carbon rich materials, nor did I have the time to turn the piles over to help in the decaying process. As a result, when I finally dug into the piles later that year not much had happened over the summer – very little decomposition had occurred and it still smelled foul.  Several other half-hearted attempts to make compost over years met with similar results.  The one striking success was in the mid 1990’s when living in Ohio I prepared and tended a much smaller compost pile.  This time I was careful to balance the different types of organic matter and within weeks the pile started to heat up.  When I finally dug into it several months later, I was pleased to find that all of the kitchen and yard scraps had been transformed into the sweetest looking and feeling compost imaginable.  It was truly a magical moment.

God works a miracle when organic matter is converted into compost. To watch the breakdown of banana peels, corn cobs, and even coffee filters is a transformation that is truly amazing to behold.  God works no less a miracle when he takes a soul that has been crushed by sins and/or wounds and transforms it into a new creation.  Yet this is what we are promised when we are told that the one who belongs to Christ has become a new person – “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:  The old has gone, the new is here!  (2 Corinthians 5:17)

If Jesus had used compost as a parable for the kingdom of God, I imagine it may have gone something like this.

The Parable of the Compost

“Jesus told them this parable.  ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a refuse pile on the edge of a field.  Weeds, pomace, dung, and all manner of leftovers are cast into the pile where they are transformed into compost, which works through all the soil in the field.’

When his disciples heard this they said to him, ‘Explain to us the parable of the compost.’

Jesus answered, ‘The Refuse is anything that damages the soul – any sin such as anger, lust, and greed; and any evil that befalls a person such as illness, rejection, and the loss of a loved one.  The Field is the world, and the Compost stands for the people of the kingdom whom God has transformed out of the brokenness of their souls.’

‘But Lord,’ they said, ‘How can good come out of something so bad?’  Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.  Very truly I tell you, unless the refuse of one’s life is transformed into compost, it remains only refuse.  But if it is composted, it produces life for many.’

When his disciples heard this they were amazed.”

Jesus obviously did not use compost as a metaphor for the kingdom of heaven, but the point of a soul being transformed is very real.  I witnessed just such a transformation some years ago with a woman I knew from work.  Becky was a follower of Christ who had had her ups and downs in life.  Her marriage had ended in a divorce, but the union had also produced a daughter who was the love of her life.  Becky raised her daughter and watched her mature into a confident and beautiful young woman.  It was a great day when she graduated from a local high school and started her freshman year at a nearby university.  Like all parents who send a child away to college, Becky felt both joy and fear when her only child moved out.  The latter turned out to be prescient when one evening early in the school year her daughter was a passenger in a car on driven by a boyfriend.  Tragically, he fell asleep at the wheel and drove into a bridge abutment.  She was killed instantly.  There is no way to describe Becky’s suffering.  Her one and only child, with a lifetime ahead of her, instantly cut down.

I didn’t see Becky very often for the next year or so, as she continued to work while processing her grief.  Still, she did not lose her faith through her ordeal, and gradually she was functioning again.  But what really stood out was how much empathy she showed towards others when they were going through difficult times.  It seemed that Becky was the one people turned to when they were suffering. When another woman in our department lost her granddaughter to a sudden crib death, Becky was the first to comfort her. The Lord had taken Becky’s divorce and tragic loss of her daughter and was working them for good.  She had become compost in his hands, allowing the Lord to transform her damaged soul so that she could now give life to others.

Spring is the season of hope.  The good earth, long suspended in a frozen grave, is once again in motion.  The world turns green and life stirs anew.  Gardeners emerge from their winter doldrums with enthusiasm and a vision for the year ahead.  There is no looking back.  The remnants from last year’s garden have been piled up and wonderfully transformed into compost.  May this Spring be for us too a new beginning, as the Lord takes the sins and wounds of our past and turns them into something beautiful for his kingdom.



“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18)

Pat and I recently attended a Sunday service at a small church in our town.  After a few hymns, an elder stood up and read a list of prayer requests for members of the church and various family and friends.  It was a nice reminder that the body of Christ is a community that prays, grieves, and rejoices together.  When a church grows; however, there will come a day when the list becomes too long to read in the time available.  Even at the service we attended, the number of people needing prayer was impressive.  But what really caught my attention was that almost all of the prayers were for physical healing of one kind or another.  There were prayers for various cancers, heart problems, injuries, and other illnesses. There were one or two prayers asking God’s comfort for those suffering from the loss of a loved one, but for the most part the prayers were for physical healing.

When it comes physical healing, my thoughts gravitate towards how God works in the natural order of things.  For example, I marvel at how wonderfully God has designed us – from “simple” things like blood clotting that prevents bleeding to death when cut, to the way the body fights off infections and heals from injuries such as breaks and sprains.  I also believe God heals through the work of doctors and the progress of modern medicine, such as how a highly skilled surgeon replaced my aortic valve several years ago.  But when it comes to supernatural physical healings, my faith is derivative from what I hear (or not) from others.  The Biblical record is extensive regarding miraculous physical healings performed by Jesus, which occurred with a regularity that in my experience is absent today.

God also provides supernatural spiritual healing, “The Lord heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”  (Psalm 147:3)  Spiritual healing is the healing and regeneration of a person’s soul – a soul that has been so damaged by hurts and/or obsessions that spiritual growth ceases if not regresses.  Although modern science has given us a vast array of drugs to soothe over a lot of the emotional turmoil of life, true spiritual healing comes only from the Lord. I have not heard a lot of teaching about spiritual healing, which is too bad because I believe many of us unnecessarily live with spiritual wounds from our past.

Spiritual wounds are different than physical wounds because they reside in the soul as opposed to being localized in the physical body.  A spiritual wound can be inflicted by a hurtful word, a broken trust, abandonment, abuse, etc.  For example, James spoke of the power of a word to impact a life, comparing it to a fire.  “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.  It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.”  (James 3:6)  Was there ever a more bogus childhood mantra than “sticks and stones can break my bones, but names can never hurt me?”  Indeed, a broken bone may be easier to endure because it will heal and the pain will eventually go away.   But unhealed spiritual wounds can be felt for a lifetime, affecting our thoughts, emotions, relationships, and actions and therefore stunting our spiritual growth.  In many ways, spiritual wounds are more debilitating than physical wounds because they can damage our relationships, degrade our character, and devastate our soul.  This is why Scripture admonishes us to guard our heart, Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” (Proverbs 4:23)  Jesus’s words are stronger, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”  (Matthew 10:28)

I received a spiritual wound when I was six years old that impacted my thoughts, emotions, relationships, and actions for more than fifty years.  An apt analogy for what happened to me is given by James when he compared the power of a spoken word to the “rudder” on a ship.  (James 3:4)  One word (or in my case one event) having the power to steer a life like a rudder steers a ship.

In many ways, when I was approaching 60 my soul was fragmented.  On the outside I seemed to be holding things together pretty well.  I belonged to a couple of small groups, taught a Sunday School class at church, and was engaged with various friends and family.  Yet on the inside I experienced daily turmoil, as I anguished over almost every interaction I had with other people.   For I tended to judge social contacts through the lens of my ego.   For example, if I met with a group of men and got a bunch of laughs and was affirmed, I felt great.  If I thought I was ignored, I felt horrible.  I internalized relationships and interactions based solely on how much interest other people showed in me.  Even unanswered emails were a cause for consternation, as I often imagined that the other person was angry with me.  No slight, perceived or real, was too small not to upset me.  And I hardly need to mention that open conflict with others had to be avoided at all costs.

This came to a head at a church picnic one summer day in 2011 when I had a brief encounter with a man I knew.  I don’t remember anything about our interaction other than the fact that something was said that made me think he was upset with me.  I honestly have no recollection of what transpired, but the matter quickly escalated in my mind.  As Pat and I drove home I brooded over the incident, feeling at once both angry and depressed.  That evening, fretting and fuming, I went outside and sat on the porch to reflect and pray about the incident.  I was totally unprepared for the revelation that the Lord brought to my mind.  For he miraculously revealed the source of my distress was a seemingly trivial event that occurred when I was six years old living in Baltimore in 1956.

My recollection of the event is that my father had sent my older brother and me to the local market to pick up a few grocery items for dinner.  [In the mid 1950’s a parent thought nothing of sending two children ages six and eight several blocks to run an errand.]  Somehow I ended up carrying a grocery bag with a bottle of ketchup, which in those days came in glass.  Unfortunately, on the way home I dropped the bag on the ground and the bottle broke. I was crying as I stumbled into the kitchen, and remember feeling my Dad’s anger when he found out what had happened. I am sure he didn’t spank me (something that I never remember him doing ever), and I don’t even remember him yelling.  But I do remember that he was unhappy with me.  In retrospect I don’t think his reaction was out of line, nor do I doubt that my Dad loved and cared for me.  Perhaps this is even why the episode had such a lasting impact, because for the first time I felt the weight of disapproval from someone whose love I had never questioned.  As a result, something happened to my soul that day that would remain hidden from my view until revealed by the Lord more than a half century later.

For what the Lord revealed to me as I prayed on the porch that summer day in 2011 was that fifty-five years earlier I had believed a lie from the Enemy that I had to be prefect in order to be loved.  As the years went by this lie slowly metastasized into a spiritual wound in the form of a deep fear of rejection and an overwhelming need for approval from others.  As I realized that this was the root of the turmoil in my soul, I started to weep as I sat on the porch.  I wept for the little kid who had dropped a bottle of ketchup a lifetime earlier, I wept for how I had needlessly carried the burden of it for so many years, and I wept for the people I had wounded from my wound.  But mostly I remember just thinking over and over again that, “I was just a little kid.”  It is not hard to imagine the “spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” that had been at work on that day in 1956.  It was truly a cathartic moment as the Lord miraculously healed me from this wound.  For the first time, many events of my life suddenly came into focus.  I saw how many of my life choices had been driven by a fear of rejection and need for approval, how they had controlled so much of my emotional life, and how they had impacted most of my relationships.

It is hard for me to write about this incident because it is so minor in an objective sense.  When I compare it to the experience of some children who have suffered from broken and unloving homes, mental torment, bullying, and sexual and other physical abuse, it is almost embarrassing for me to relate.  Yet it played a significant role in shaping my personality and relationships, far beyond what could have been predicted from its seemingly trivial nature.  This isn’t a story about a mean father.  Nor is it a story about an overly sensitive child who protected himself by defensive behaviors.  Rather, it is a story about spiritual wounds that can only be healed by God.

I write about the pursuit of virtue because I believe it is the only way to follow Jesus.  It is not because I am a virtuous person or for that matter even a very good person.  Rather, it is precisely because I am not particularly virtuous or good that I feel compelled to reflect on my life and the struggles of my faith journey.  In the course of my journey, there have been some victories, but also there have been areas where I have been stuck in patterns of behavior.  I suspect that habitual patterns of unrighteous thoughts, words, and/or actions for those who would follow Jesus may be linked to unhealed spiritual wounds.  The question for all of us is whether we want to be healed?   Jesus asked the invalid by the pool, “Do you want to get well?”  (John 5:6)  When we can honestly answer Jesus’ question in the affirmative he will surely hear us, for we have his promise, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  (Matthew 7:7-8)

I experienced an amazing spiritual healing from the Lord in 2011.  I knew that something deep in my soul had changed and I felt a tremendous relief that I no longer had to live for the approval of others.  Jesus words, “the truth will set you free,”  (John 8:32) could not have been more true for me.  The freedom I experienced gradually affected all of my relationships, but it took some time.  When I had open-heart surgery in 2013, I did not immediately jump off the operating table and start to dance.   I had many days, weeks, and months of recovery – much of which took effort on my part as I gradually started to exercise and strengthen a torn and bruised body.  Similarly, after I experienced spiritual healing from a need for approval, my patterns of thought and behavior did not immediately change.  Old habits and automatic responses to interactions with others had to be relearned.  But a lie had been exposed, a wound had been healed, and a soul had been set free.