In Pursuit of Peace

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Over the last few years, I have reread Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s biography by Eric Metaxas several times, captivated by Bonhoeffer’s relentless hope in the most perilous of times. He was a well-known German pastor, theologian, and vocal opponent to the Nazi dictatorship in WWII, eventually executed by the Nazis for his outspoken faith and political activism, when he was only 39. Over a decade earlier, he had come to the United States for seminary and could have stayed here where he would have been safe and secure, but he believed that God needed him, and the people of Germany needed him to fight this war of evil, not run from it. He decided to go back knowing that he would be targeted by the Nazi regime. He chose to go back to the hornet’s nest.

There is a paragraph in his biography that spoke to me about his bravery.

There is no way to peace along the way of safety. For peace must be dared, it is itself the great venture and can never be safe. Peace is the opposite of security. To demand guarantees is to want to protect oneself. Peace means giving oneself completely to God’s commandment, wanting no security, but in faith and obedience laying the destiny of the nations in the hand of Almighty God, not trying to direct it for selfish purposes. Battles are won, not with weapons, but with God. They are won when the way leads to the cross.[1]

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For years I had chosen security, the majority of my life, actually. I was terrified of flying, so I found myself hiding from opportunities that would be further than a car ride away. As Restore has grown, I have worked to fight through my anxieties, surrendering as best I could to endure a flight to Central America or the occasional trip to Europe. As I have gotten older, though, the trips are longer, the physical effects make me weary, my nervous anticipation increases, and I often feel dread when an opportunity arises.

Earlier this year I had a choice to go to Africa with Restore, a place I have never been, spending nearly 24 hours traveling to arrive in a remote village to spend a week with 20 people whom I have never met. I did not have to go. The secure thing would be to just stay here, in Tennessee, avoiding all of the unpleasant feelings that I knew would accompany my travels.

Traveling wasn’t the way to safety, it wasn’t a place of security. It was going to be extremely difficult, scary, and uncomfortable. I would have no security or control. My only source of bravery came from the overwhelming peace that I knew I was supposed to go, because God had called me. It was apparent that God had opened a door and He was saying that He wanted me to go to Africa.

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As Bonhoeffer said, God promises peace is possible, but only with great courage.

I have grown immensely from my trip to Africa. It has called me into a deeper call to living in the peace of faith so that I will follow His lead and His guiding into my destiny.

 

[1] Metaxas, Eric. Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Page 241

Thirsty for Meaning

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By: Scott Reall

One day, as Jesus was walking through Samaria on a hot day, he came upon a well in the middle of the desert. Nobody was there except this Samaritan woman. Jesus and the woman got into a discussion about her life—as Christ often does; pulling us out of deep isolation and exposing our true human condition. What we learn about this woman is that she was struggling. We know that she struggled with shame as she came to the well at a time that no one else would be there. Jesus exposed her human condition. We see a pattern of her search for love and purpose as she had been married five times. She was seeking the answer for her human condition: the longing to be loved and the find the meaning and purpose of life with love. [1]

In this encounter, Jesus is speaking to the whole human race about our struggles with our human condition. Outside of a relationship with Him, anywhere we turn to find the answer of our longing hearts or to feel the meaning and purpose of love has the potential to often leave us empty and void of that love and meaning. Theologian Richard Rohr speaks of this longing for love. Rohr teaches:

“What we lack in an addictive society or a family is a sense of being alive, really interiorly alive. And so we look for pseudo-ways to feel alive. They never work, but for some reason they’re better than doing nothing. Nicotine, caffeine, eating food to give us some kind of sensation, pouring liquor our our throats. Or we overstimulate ourselves by gambling or by sexual activity – something to make a non-alive person feel alive. It’s a testimony to an utter lack of spirituality.” [2]

The world is filled with broken people like the woman at the well, desperate for love and significance. Within the human condition is an innate desire to love and be loved, so why are there so many broken hearts? Is there anything in this world that gives us as much meaning as love? Many of us try to deny our need for love by distracting our consciousness with life-controlling issues, but our hearts will never be truly satisfied.

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At the end of the day, we all have one core need—to be loved. When this is absent from our lives, we experience lack of purpose and deep feelings of isolation, because a life without love feels meaningless.

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I often experience the feeling of meaninglessness when I am in downtime. Sometimes weekends, holidays, or being alone at night. In those moments of feeling disconnected to the purpose of my life, I notice a slight depression ormelancholy, then comes this instinctive awareness of longing for intimate connection. If I stay disconnected, the depression and melancholy gets more intense, and so does my need to escape. However I chose to numb, it disconnects me from the true meaning of my life.

Meaninglessness is the plague of modern man. We all have been the woman at the well. We all are searching and longing for an answer. Christ, as he presents Himself, acknowledges that we can drink all day long, insatiably unsatisfied, and the world will offer us no better option that to keep coming back to the same old well.


[1]Bible, John, 4:1-26

[2]Rohr, Richard. “Feeling Alive.”

The 3 Elements of Change

By: Scott Reall

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Do you remember your new year’s resolution? Probably not. In fact, we know that more than 90% of New-Year Resolutions have failed by March.[1] Unless you are part of the 10%, you are probably shrugging your shoulders and thinking, ‘well there’s always next year.’ Lasting change is hard work, and total transformation can feel even more impossible.

The longer I live, the more set in my ways I become and change isn’t always the most welcome experience. It seems like when we’re younger, we embrace change a lot easier – life is full of new opportunities and challenges and we’re excited to be apart of the many new seasons of life. But, with each passing year we become settled into a certain pattern, we get into a comfort-zone and start to resist change.

The sad thing about settling is that we stop growing. We miss opportunities that will challenge us; not stepping into new environments that could change our perspective, skipping out of relationships in a desire to stay “safe.”

Personal growth cannot happen is we don’t embrace the uncomfortableness of change.

I have spent the better part of my adult life trying to help people who know they need to change, but feel stuck and afraid that they will always be this way. We have a saying that we use a lot, ‘when we are stuck in our normality, we fiercely cling to what we know.’ Even if it’s dysfunctional, destructive, or keeps us from growing…we resist change. Most, if not all of the time, the fear of the unknown has us settling for lives so inferior to what we are capable of living.

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So, how is real change going to happen? If we don’t want to be stuck, but year-after-year find ourselves in the 90% of resolution dropouts, what now?

There are 3 mental and emotional shifts that must happen in order to let go of the old, before we can embrace the new.

  1. Vision. Michelangelo said, “I saw the angel in the stone and I carved until I set him free.” We need to always begin the change process with a vision of where we are going and what we are going to become. Vision always creates intrinsic motivation, which creates a clear picture of the possibilities in a new life – all the good that will come from the change. You must see it before it can become a reality. One of the reasons vision is critical is because things will get difficult, and when they do you need a well-drawn map to guide your feet down the path.

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  1. Support. We need others who are walking a similar journey to freedom. In supportive relationships, we not only gain encouragement, but inspiration through each-others successes and struggles. Anytime we’re trying to change something in our lives, it’s very difficult—if not impossible—to do it alone. It’s absolutely critical that you have the necessary support. Whether you’re trying to lose weight, change jobs, re-evaluate a broken relationship, or quit smoking – find a healing community. It could be one or two hand selected friends, a counselor or therapist, or a small group of strangers.
  2. Grief. All change contains loss. To break away from something we have always known, even in the pursuit of something better, we must confront the loss that must be grieved. Saying goodbye is so important as we accept that the normality we have been living in is about to change and will never be the same. Only when you grieve the loss of your old life, are you ready for a new beginning.

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No matter where we are in life, no matter how old we are we need to be stepping into this always-evolving process of change. These steps are not always the most simple, or can be made in a day, but little by little you can re-train your brain to begin a new way of thinking, leading to a new way of living.

[1] Statistic Brain Research Institute

Am I living a fear-based life or a faith-based life?

Written By: Scott Reall

Am I living a fear-based life or a faith-based life?

It appears to me that almost all fears that creep into my life come from a place of distrust. Where my faith is short and my vision of God is blurred, I fall into patterns of anxiousness and dysfunction.

In essence the world has crowded God out of my life and fear has taken root.

All through Jesus’ life he encourages us to not fear, but to have courage and to have faith. Am I living a fear-based life or a faith-based life? This has been a place of great inconsistency with me, thus the sporadic patterns of sometimes peace and other times of bitter isolation and angst. I believe the answer is in the transformation of my heart. Peace comes from entrusting God with all my life—not just “spiritual” places, but deep into the recesses of my human heart.

If I will go there with Him and surrender all at that level, I will find no regrets or real fears; no more shame no more doubt. I will be left with “the peace of God, that surpasses all understanding[1]“. This is where I want to live the remaining days of my life.

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[1] Philippians 4:7 – NKJV

 

A Motive to Love.

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You cannot give away what you do not have. The majority of my life what I thought was love was actually dependency, needing a person to give me what I thought I needed, instead of getting it from God. I was not loving others, but needing them. When God is the central source of my life I can truly love another human being freely because I believe “Love does not demand its own way”. [1]

If I go to God to be my source for love I find it in abundance, then can I enter relationships with something to give away. This is what true intrinsic motivation to love looks like, it comes from a place of total freedom… I love you just because I do—not expecting anything in return. Love that is given conditionally so that I get something in return is not true love but manipulation. This is being selfish and it is not about loving you well, but all about me.

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When I feel lonely, abandoned, isolated, wounded or hurt my motivation becomes tested. It is in my pain that my true motivation is revealed. If my motivation is fear driven then when I am in the pressure of a crisis and feeling all those difficult feelings, I’m going to slip into my codependency. I continue to learn in my own struggles the unique and powerful difference between the extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

What I have learned about myself is that I am really driven by the need of your approval and acceptance to make me feel lovable. I can be easily dependent on your approval and acceptance at the expense of being dishonest with you and myself. If God is my primary source for love then he is whom I seek for my value. Seeking fulfillment outside of God gets me in trouble. The pattern is I give to get which is functioning from a deficit and it is very dysfunctional.

If the truth will set me free, then the truth is nothing can separate me from the love of Christ. I must accept this truth and trust God will do for me what I cannot do for myself. God must become everything to me first, and then I can reach towards others with the gift of love, instead of the manipulation of neediness.

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Growing up, I always knew that when I went home someone would be there to love me no matter what. Like that love, Christ’s love for me is unconditional and I do not have to earn it. Daily, God is teaching me to love, transforming and pursuing me until I come home to him.

[1] 1 Corinthians 13:5 New Living Translation

Thank you Disillusionment

I am a recovering perfectionist. What that means is every day I fight for my worthiness by admitting that I am powerless over my need to prove my worthiness. It means admitting that I make mistakes, and that people may not always like me (cringe). And it means believing that improving is possible, perfection is not. Unlike a substance addiction, perfectionism evades definitive ‘using’ or ‘not using.’

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Without practicing daily awareness, my addiction is “more crafty than any other wild animal” (to quote Genesis 3:1). It slithers into my life in subtle, deceptive ways. Perfectionism talks over my rational thinking, fabricates myths about what is possible and whispers to me doubt about being God’s beloved. It disguises itself in all the bustle of daily living: my relationships, my work, my home… My kid scored a “5” on his AP European History exam? Time to rejoice! (and just proof of my perfect parenting)… A co-worker thinks my latest idea is genius? So grateful to help! (and affirmation that I am a perfect employee).

So many thoughts collectively spinning through my unconscious every day. Sorting the worthy from the unworthiness? Exhausting.

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I watched the Olympics, wishing that I could appreciate them the way I once did. But all I can see now is the exhausting drive for perfection. Because let’s be honest. We are hoping to see the perfect swimmer or gymnast and marvel at their flawlessness. And then replay that flawlessness over and over in the highlight reels. I would love to believe that all of the athletes are well-balanced individuals who mirror strong work ethics and a belief in excellence. Perhaps they exist. But I would chance to say that beneath most of that competition lies fierce comparison, struggle to feel good enough, a deep need to feel accepted.

There is a fine line between using our gifts and exploiting them. I get it. I really, really get it. We all secretly want that moment when the world says, “You are the absolute best” because the addict in us believes that will fix us.

The problem is…the world is fickle. It likes to send us all sorts of messages. Perform. Achieve. Look your best. Don’t let them see you sweat. Make something of yourself. You can do anything you set your mind to. It’s all a matter of how much you want it. You can have it all!

The word says that you can work out, be present for your kids, spend quality time with your spouse, pray, meditate, go to work, achieve amazing things, make plenty of money, pay the bills, have a photo-worthy house, schedule all your appointments and never forget one, do the household chores, be involved in church, go on mission trips, volunteer in your community, coach the baseball team, take the kids get to all their life-enriching after-school activities, maintain a network of close friends, cook a low-carb dinner, buy organic food, get a good nights’ sleep, never appear to be aging and never look tired.

Until the day you realize you can’t. We have been set-up.

Worldly success and others’ approval is a myth. The perfect life is a myth. As soon as we think we have it, it eludes us. As soon as we have all the plates spinning in the air, we drop one, and sweep it up quietly. Just as long as no one knows…right? Because it seems like everyone else has this perfection thing down.

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We have to accept that life’s perfect or imperfect moments are not a reflection of my worthiness. Who we are meant to be; who we were created to be is in the world and not of it. Our paths need to be guided by God’s deep love for us. Easier said than done? Yes.

So ask yourself: what am I trying to perfect and who am I perfecting it for? By whose standard am I living? Why? And for how long? If we can get to the heart of why we look for perfection, we can start to loosen its hold over us, one day of mindful living at a time. Let’s all agree to talk about being imperfect more, get out of our heads, silence the doubt, agree to not be complicit in perpetuating myths so we can all live better lives.

Why I run from what I long for…

 

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Recently, I have been stuck in a pattern that I dislike: longing for intimacy, but being terrified of vulnerability. For me, there are two types of vulnerability: one type I bring into a small group; the second I bring to one-on-one relationship. In close personal relationship I am far more guarded. I am comfortable in group, but in one on one relationships, I retreat because the risk is so much greater. Vulnerability with those I’m closest with requires honesty and truth about what I am longing for and what my weaknesses are; it is here that I am most afraid. In truth, I am fully aware that you can use my vulnerability against me and choose to reject me.

Rejection would really hurt so I remain guarded, distant, disconnected, no intimacy in close relationships, and I remain lonely.

What I have come to realize is that I fiercely cling to what I know. Even though I may be suffering by clinging to dysfunction, I don’t do anything to change it. Instead, I continue to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. I fear confronting a reality that I find unacceptable. But I accept it fearing that I will just make it worse if I try to change it.

This pattern becomes dangerous because I isolate and withdraw, then use some type of escape to fill the void, perpetuating resentment and self-pity. This pattern continues repeating with some small periods of relief like vacations or trips–but at the heart of it is loneliness. I stop trying to connect.

Brené Brown says, “Those who are vulnerable and risk pain and suffering from vulnerability live whole-heartedly; imperfect and wired for struggle, but worthy of love and belonging.”[1]

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What I am learning in this struggle is people deserve to know the truth. Yes, there is risk and potential suffering from sharing the truth, but it is the only path to being truly known. Isolation is the fertile soil of making bad choices to alleviate the pain. I can choose to suffer in isolation and silence withholding my truth from people, knowing that it will never bear fruit other than loneliness, or I can choose to suffer in the power of being known.

The very thing I run from is the very thing I long for.

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The only way I am going to grow and enter into the sacred place of intimacy is to risk truth in vulnerability. So I have decided that I am not going to suffer in isolation anymore, because vulnerability is the only path that leads to connection with others and ultimately myself.

 

[1] Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead