Tuesday, December 31, 2013

My Two Favorite Books of 2013

I can never narrow down my favorite book of the year to just one, so I've taken to listing two when people ask me. For 2013, the two books could not be more different one from the other.

The first is Love Does by Bob Goff.

Goff is a remarkable man - a lawyer, law professor, diplomat, and founder of the international justice ministry Restore International. He is one of those guys who lives a legendary story on your average Tuesday. Most of all, he is a guy who does things and loves loudly - hence the book's title.

If you are my friend on Facebook or follow me on Twitter (@ToddHahnID) you'll know I quote Goff (@LoveDoes and @bobgoff) more than anyone else except for C.S. Lewis and Frederick Buechner.

The book is riotously funny and endlessly moving - he'll take you from spending two weeks on a raft in the Pacific Ocean, to taking his kids to eat ice cream with presidents and prime ministers, to the harrowing and dangerous work of caring for those caught up in human trafficking in Uganda. His point is that life is interesting when love motivates every action. His life is a case in point.

It's not a linear book - Goff moves from story to story the way the rest of us put on and take off clothes - but it never, not for one second, gets boring. It's short, inspirational, profound in the least heavy-handed of ways, and perfect for people who say "I don't like to read books" and avid readers alike. I read it in one sitting on a plane from Charlotte to Dallas, finishing before the flight was over. And then I've read it twice since then. It's that kind of book.

The second book is a whole different trip, man.

It's My Bright Abyss by Christian Wiman.

Wiman is a renowned poet, a professor at Yale, and, for most of his life, a devout skeptic. Several years ago, he received a harrowing and terminal diagnosis and, through coming to grips with that, found his way to a form of Christian faith. He refers to himself in this collection of essays as a "modern believer" and his belief system - and system is the wrong word - doesn't stay inside any boxes. But, oh my, the poet's way of seeing he has and the writing.

I read Love Does on a flight and still had time to take a nap and peruse Sky Mall. It took me four months to read My Bright Abyss, usually two pages at a sitting, and I am two months into my second reading, only on page 93. You can't read words like these rapidly:

"So long as your ambition is to stamp your existence upon existence, your nature on nature, then your ambition is corrupt and you are pursuing a ghost"


"Be careful. Be careful that your expressions of regret about your inability to rest in God do not have a tinge of self-satisfaction, even self-exaltation to them, that your complaints about your anxieties are not merely a manifestation of your dependence on them. There is nothing more difficult to outgrow than anxieties that have become useful to us".


"Something is off. Life passes and we do not recognize it. The past streams through us like molecules we can't perceive, and we miss the God who misses - as in longs for - us."

or, finally,

"Christ speaks in stories as a way of preparing his followers to stake their lives on a story, because existence is not a puzzle to be solved, but a narrative to be inherited and undergone and transformed person by person."

These are rich meditations on life and death and art and being and seeing and faith and faith's counterfeits.

I read almost everything on my beloved Kindle Paperwhite. But I bought this book in hardcover. Buy it in a print edition so you can mark it up and return to it again to feel its rounded edges and smell its well-thumbed and yellowed pages one day. It's that kind of book.

What about you? What were your favorite books in 2013?

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Give Your Money To These Guys

Every year, I list a couple of organizations I think are worthy of your hard-earned money for last-minute charitable contributions.

Actually, this is my first year to write the blog, so that's not true.

So, this year I am going to list a couple of organizations I think are worthy of your hard-earned money for last-minute charitable contributions.

And, I mean it. We're giving some money to both of these organizations this year-end and will continue in 2014.

One is local, for Charlotte-area readers in particular. One is international.

Local first. The Way/Camino Church has captured my heart.

Most every church talks about serving their community. This bilingual, multi-ethnic congregation, with two campuses in the Concord area, does it like a boss.

This past year, the church and its Camino Community Center gave 1.2 million dollars away. The Community Center - at a separate location from the site where the church worships corporately - features, among other efforts, a free health care clinic, a counseling clinic, a food pantry, a homeless kitchen, and a community store - all run on a shoestring and incredibly effective at getting help to clients who need it most.

The church itself is a combination of a freshly merged two churches and offers an English language service at 10 AM and one in Spanish at 12 noon. I have seen few churches with a better vision and a brighter future and a more intentional commitment to community outreach than this one. The campus where services are held is at 7557 Ruben Linker Road in Concord (near the Concord Mills Mall exit) and the phone number is 704.721.5922. You can also like them on Facebook under The Way/Camino Church

My respect for this group of people and their pastor, Rusty Price, is immense.

International next.

I hold no large-scale organization in higher esteem than the International Justice Mission. They are a human rights agency which brings rescue to victims of slavery, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violent oppression.

Their fearless team of investigators, lawyers, operatives, and aftercare professionals lay everything on the line to serve, rescue, and care for 'the least of these'. These folks are on the front line of dealing with the most significant human rights issue of our time - human trafficking. Their mission is worth every dime you can send their way.

In addition to their website, you can like them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter at @IJM.

Whether you've got five bucks or five hundred thousand, a year end gift to The Way/Camino or IJM is a great investment.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Friday FAQs - Four Ways To Follow Fiercely in '14

I love the week between Christmas and New Year's because it offers a little more leisure time than usual and it is perfectly positioned for reflection - one year is ending and a new one with all of its possibilities and perils is beginning.

I think, write, and coach about leadership a lot. But, at heart, I want to be a great follower.

My personal spiritual commitment is to be a follower of Jesus Christ and "disciple" is simply a synonym for follower. So, following is at the heart of what I want to do with my life.

Here are four areas of followership where I am trying to be strategic in 2014 - and I offer them for your consideration:

1. Follow Your Family
My first day as a consultant, the wisest and best consultant I have ever known gave me three principles I will never forget. I'm not going to tell you the first two because I don't want to blow two more blog posts. But here's number three: Follow the client's energy.

I've found that advice to be brilliant time and again. It simply says this: whatever you bring into the room as a coach/consultant is less important than what is already going on in the room. The point is not your experience, insight, or brilliance, assuming you have any. The point is what is going on in the heart and mind of the client. Figure out what that is and go there rather than presenting a predetermined boilerplate neatly packaged in a three ring binder or Keynote presentation.

Same for your family. Every member in your family has energy going on somewhere - a life change, an undiagnosed insecurity, a hidden resentment, a cherished dream. Figure out where the energy is in each of them, whether they are aging parent or pre-adolescent, and do your best to serve and help them there.

2. Follow Your Instincts...After You've Listened
The older I get the more I trust my gut. Some of that is accumulated experience - mine and others. But more than that it is increased skill in paying attention to patterns. Some folks are  naturally gifted at seeing and identifying patterns of behavior, cause and effect, and motivation. Others of us have to work at it.

But in working at it, we learn a secret - having good instincts is not about going off half-cocked but about reflecting your way through life - considering everything that happens in your life for good or ill and divining what was going on underneath the surface at the time.

"Listen to your life...", Frederick Buechner writes. Listening leads to instincts you can trust. Listening defeats the prejudices and biases you grew up with or grew into, the comfortable certainties that are often unreliable. Listen. and then go with your instincts.

3. Follow Your Body
Chances are your body is not telling you to eat more Krispy Kreme, exercise less, function on very little sleep, and ingest more alcohol or nicotine.

You know this and your body does too.

The reptilian part of your brain - the part that likes to lie still and bask lazily in the sun - is telling you those things.

Repulse the reptile.

It's mostly inertia that piles on the calories, fat, shortness of breath and drowsiness.

It doesn't have to be CrossFit or a triathlon, but a few changes and tweaks (you know what they are) are going to raise the watermark on your physical well-being, which will bleed over to your spiritual, emotional, and relational life.

4. Follow The Right Leaders
Don't waste any more time following the wrong boss, pastor, or (God forbid) celebrity.

We don't live that long on Planet Earth. In the grand scheme of things, it's a short run. Why waste a second placing yourself in the hands of leaders who are incompetent, untrustworthy, unmotivated, or subpar?

That sounds brutal.

It's not. You've got a gift to bring to the world - Your Intentional Difference (by the way, there is a book by that title in a few days, if I haven't mentioned it previously!).

You and you alone are responsible for where and how you make that deposit, where you offer that contribution.

Evaluate who you are following. Don't be judgmental or arrogant, but do be reflective.

Do you trust the boss, pastor, or mentor you are following? Are they delivering consistently excellent results? Are they really good at what they do? Are their followers increasing or decreasing in number? Do you have confidence in the future under their leadership? If you had it to do over again, would you choose to follow them?

If you had to place your retirement income on them, would you?

If the answer is no, they why the heck are you following them?

They don't have to be perfect, but they do have to have game.

If not, move on. Don't move on with pride or arrogance, but with kindness and humility. Who knows, you may be the one holding them back! But, for your own sake, move on.

Take this week between Christmas and New Year's to evaluate how well you are following your family, your instincts, your body, and your leaders.

Get your thought ducks in a row:

And then make some gutsy leadership calls in order to follow well.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Two Most Important Words of Christmas Eve

Imagine if you had not spoken in four hundred years.

All those years to think about what you would say when you finally said something.

Now, imagine you are God.

According to the historical record, as the curtain closed on the bleak end of the Old Testament, God went strangely silent.

Things were bad in Israel, the heart of his people were far from him, their nation and people were in tatters. The future was uncertain, old alliances were fractured, friendships had been broken, security was lost,  the economy was depressed, families were split apart, up was down, and down was up.

And God goes silent.

You'd expect him to speak because at that point you'd figure people would pay attention. You'd figure.

But instead he goes silent. Generations pass. A people fizzle out into disinterested captivity. God is forgotten. A few reckon that God has forgotten them.

Only, God never forgets.

And then there is Christmas Eve, the first one.

A few years ago, the story has picked up a bit, the plot appears to have some juice to those with eyes to see and ears to hear. Something is astir.

The desert wind blows a bit differently, the leaves are rustling in the trees, creation itself seems to be in a state of uncertain anticipation.

And something finally happens. It's not on the big screen, in Silicon Valley, in the financial centers, or in the major media markets. It's in a backwater town. One with historical significance, mind you - it's the ancestral city of the great King David of Israel - but those days have long passed. Now, there's a new king in town, an Emperor to be exact. This one's not ruddy of face and beautiful of countenance and noble of spirit as much as he is pudgy of face and sharp-eyed and full of appetite.

A baby is born, of uncertain provenance, under sketchy circumstances, in an extra room customarily used to feed animals, tonight pressed into service because there is, well, no room in the inn.

And, you know the rest of the story, at least sort of, most of you. The baby is born back in the mud room and hardly anyone notices.

Certainly the shepherds, with unshaven faces and dirt under their fingernails, aren't aware. It's another night in the salt mines for those guys, another workaday evening in their workaday world. Counting the damn sheep yet again.

And then the angels, sent from God. And then their words, God breathed words.

The first words from a seemingly silent heaven in nearly half a millennium.

God's first words in nearly four hundred years. Two words.

What would you think they would be?

"Hey, listen!"

"OK, then..."

"Be quiet!"

Angry or commanding or judging words, to be sure. Words designed to put the sinners (most everyone except the religious people with titles) in their place. Words designed to separate the good from the bad, the holy from the unholy, the in from the out, the acceptable from the marginalized, people like us from people like them.

Religious words, no doubt. I mean, keep a god silent for four hundred years and surely he's going to issue commandments or institute a new ritual or instill a new code of morality so that people - who had gone quite slack, the truth be told - would know to shape up or ship out. At the very least, they'd be able to define where they stood on the continuum of good and bad.

Maybe a call to arms. It's time to take back the promised land, people. It's been four hundred years and things aren't nearly as good as they used to be. We've gotten away from what's made us great! And that Emperor is a dunce and a corrupt, lying one at that - we need to get rid of him and get some god-fearing, upright people in there. After all, if we don't stand up for right, who will? And now, after four hundred years of silence, we've finally got a god speaking to us to tell us what to do and where to go. Right, God?


And then.

The first two words after four hundred years. Whatever they are, they are going to be important. They are going to be revealing.

Imagine yourself silent for that long. Finally you can speak and the people you love the most are gathered in front of you, hanging on your every word. How can you pack four hundred years into two words, how can you pack yourself into two words?

After four hundred years, God speaks these two words:

Fear not.

Just that.

Fear not.

Don't be afraid.

Don't tremble.

The words had a literal meaning. By all accounts, angels were fearsome creatures to behold.

But push beyond the obvious, remember that these words are from God.

The one thing I want to tell you, people, he is saying, is "Fear not".

Wherever you are, whatever you have done, wherever you have been - there is nothing to be afraid of.

You are admitted into God's good graces, without prelude, without ritual, without the right words.

You don't have to hide anymore, you don't have to hide others anymore, you don't have to hide your heart anymore.

God speaks not in the language of revolution or religion or morality or politics or judgment or show business but in the manner of a parent to a child:

Fear not.

Don't be afraid.

The rightful King has come back. He is here, where and when you least expect him, in a way you never would have dreamt, and he is going to set everything right.  He has not forgotten you. How could he?

Now, it won't be easy and it won't be quick.

There's misunderstanding and mocking and exile and betrayal and a fearsome death and three dark, cold, lonely, terrifying, silent days of death to come.

But, even given what is and what will be and what you fear might be at 3 AM when you can't sleep...fear not.

Because after the pain and after the cold, lonely desert will come life and will come victory and will come forgiveness and families riven apart will embrace again and nations will throw down their weapons and shake their heads wondering what they were thinking and the poor and foolish will try on new robes of unimaginably luxurious texture and the sick and "ugly" will possess a beauty so fair and an elegance so breathtaking that you won't be able to turn your eyes away.

Everything will be turned upside down, well and truly, and right will come round again.

You'll laugh at the thing you fear the most. You'll embrace the thing you thought you had lost forever. You'll defeat the ugly, grasping claws of that resentment, that addiction, that abuse that has endeavored for years to drag you down.

And when you laugh and embrace and break free you'll live that way too - not motivated by fear to grimace and judge and push away and push down anymore.

No matter what has come and what will, those are the two words with which to begin Christmas Eve and with which to end your life:

Fear not.

For behold these are the great tidings of the good news.

For unto you has been born this day in the city of David a new King. The once and future and always King.

Forever and ever.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

Of Ducks and Men

Here is my one-time, very short take on the Duck Dynasty kerfuffle.

The whole thing worked exactly the way it is supposed to in a pluralistic, democratic republic:

1. Heavily bearded businessman expresses his opinions and convictions and returns home unmolested by governing authorities.

2. Corporation responds in line with its convictions and/or business calculations. Corporate executives return home unmolested by governing authorities.

3. Heavily bearded family of the heavily bearded businessman responds in line with its convictions and may well leave corporation, which may cost said corporation its leading revenue generator.

At no point does the government get involved or interfere with anyone. In so doing it upholds the Fourteenth Amendment Establishment Clause (protecting the citizens from a state-mandated or state-preferred religion) and the Free Exercise Clause (insuring that citizens can express their religious convictions and not be subject to prosecution or reprisal from the government).

It all worked perfectly. It's an amazing country and an amazing experiment in democracy, this United States of America.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Three Ways To Get Spiritually Prepared for Christmas

So, I was sitting around thinking about Christmas, drinking hot chocolate in my Christmas onesie. Oh, wait, that wasn't me. It was this guy:

Christmas. It's the most wonderful, high-stress, anxiety-producing, family-fightin', bank account emptying time of year!

But it doesn't have to be.

Here's the secret to a stress-free, spiritually meaningful Christmas:

Just kidding.

This post has nothing to do with that guy - I just felt left out because everyone else was posting his picture today.

Here's how to get spiritually prepped for Christmas:

1. Find moments to stop everything, be present, and savor.
When I perform a wedding ceremony for a couple, I tell them: "Several times during this weekend stop everything you are doing and savor. Take a mental picture of the people around you that you love. Notice the light, feel the air on your skin, catch your beloved's eye across the room at the rehearsal dinner. Freeze that moment and capture it, imprint it on your senses. Savor. Be, don't do.

For me, this is late Christmas Eve after most everyone is in bed. I take a very short walk alone, in the utter silence of Christmas Eve, and savor. I breathe, and look at the lights and at the sky and I talk to God. I've done it for twenty years and each year I can't wait for those ten minutes.

2. Read the Christmas story in the Bible once a day for the week leading up to Christmas.
Try Luke 2. Each day, imagine yourself as a different character in the story. What were they thinking and feeling in those days? What was it like to be Mary? To be Joseph? To be the shepherds or an angel? To be the magi who came a few years later to visit the toddler Jesus? Now, put yourself in the story. What would it have been like for you?

3. Spend time and money you don't have on someone else who needs it during the week leading up to Christmas.
Give some money directly - directly - to someone, anonymously if you can. Figure out how much is prudent and then give more. Talk to the folks at local charities to find folks who are in need if you don't know anyone. We try to do this every year around this time; there is always need.

You're busy, no time, family to see, presents to wrap, stuff to do. So, find some time for someone who would give almost anything to be as busy as you are, to have stuff to do and have someone to do it with. Invest time in them that you don't think you have.

I'll talk to you before then, but Merry Christmas. Prepare well, friends.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Who Cares How You Climb?

This is a New Year's-esque post even prior to Christmas.

What can I say? I tend to be an impatient man.

My two year old and I were out in the backyard yesterday. Our home, which we moved into this past January, used to operate as an illegal daycare center. That's a bit sketch, but the benefits to us are that some previous owners built a climate-controlled enclosed sunporch we get to enjoy as well as two nice swingsets and a slide.

Beckett has this funny thing about the slide. He doesn't much like to take the time to climb up the stairs and slide down. Takes too long, you see (wonder where he gets that?).

He finishes the slide and then starts climbing right back up the slide to do it all over again, ignoring the fact that the stairs are faster.

I have photographic evidence:

That's my boy.

I don't necessarily recommend this approach to either you or your toddler, but I am probably not going to change at this point in life.

When I'm ready to engage something, I engage it all out. When I'm ready to be done with something, I'm done.

On some visceral level, I've always resonated with St. Paul's words in the New Testament:

"Forgetting what lies behind...straining towards what lies ahead".

Now, that's not a perfect way to navigate life. It can be part and parcel of denial and deflection. Some of you are analyzers and processors and deliberators and I honor that.

But there's a tribe of us who needs to be reminded to be true to ourselves by going for it, ignoring the conventional ways of getting to the top of the slide, charging - straining, even - ahead.

Maybe that's you. Even if you've never acknowledged it before.

It's not quite the New Year, when such resolutions tend to be made, but who cares?

What do you need to forget (while being grateful for what it may have meant) and wave goodbye to?

Better yet, what's the next thing ahead of you? It shouldn't scare you and you shouldn't hesitate and you shouldn't allow yourself to feel guilty about it.

My normal writing style is to list examples at this point, in the belief that universal examples can lead to particular personal application.

Gonna hold off on that this time and let you fill in your own blanks:

____________________   _________________________   _____________________

Endeavor to strain for wherever it is you are going with all you've got. Even if others say "Hey, that's not the way to get there!"

Monday, December 9, 2013

Tuesday Teaching: God Is The Eternal Optimist, Even About You

Heres the way the Bible talks about the origins of mankind:

God created Adam and Eve, for perfect relationship with him and with each other and with the earth.

But they wanted more than that - they chose wanting to be God over relationship with God.

Ten generations go by, things going from bad to worse. People become more and more violent and loathsome and so God chooses Noah, a good man, to start over again with.

Only Noah develops a drinking problem and ends up choosing the bottle over relationship with God.

Another ten generations go by and things get, if anything, even worse. This time, humans decide that they've had enough of God and so they vow to unite and build a tower that goes all the way to heaven, glorifying themselves and their own ego and waging a coup d 'etat against God. The Tower of Babel.

People chose pride over relationship with God.

You'd think that by this time God would get it. People are difficult and we really don't want him.

I mean, we might want what he can offer - stuff, security, meaning in life, a way out of a dangerous dark alley on a stormy night. A partner, a baby, a good job, some job other than the one you have. Health, peace in the family.

But not God for God's own sake.

We want something else. Or God plus something else.

That's what it means to be human.

God would be justified in just being done - angrily - with the lot of us. Casting thunderbolts or plagues of lice or something. Or nursing a Scotch on the rocks in a dark corner, mumbling to himself about the ungrateful kids.

Instead, he causes Abraham to show up.

Abraham - out of Ur. Out of nowhere. No one special - maybe the most famous man in the history of the world (think about it - he's a major figure in all three of the major world religions), but no one really knows who his daddy was. 

He's discontent, underachieving, nervous, restless, maybe a little OCD, more than a little dishonest. Dude has a very casual relationship with the truth.

A big deal in his culture is having kids, lots and lots of kids. A man is judged by the quantity and quality of his offspring. And for the longest of time, neither Abraham nor his wife can have children.

Altogether unpromising. But it was from his line, his descendants, that God chose to bring Jesus Christ into the world.

You think your kids are special? Well, how about.....

Abraham basically had one thing going for him and it didn't click into view until years later. According to Paul, the great early leader in the Christian church, Abraham "believed God and because of this belief got credit for being in the right place when it came to his relationship with God". (Galatians 3:6).

That's it. At the end of the day, he believed God. And staked his life on that belief.

He chose.....nothing over relationship with God. No thing over relationship with God. He just believed and rolled the dice or went all in (choose your own gambling metaphor, friend).

God endured generations of disbelief, mocking belief, disobedience and all-around lunacy before he brought Abraham along. Because when it comes to people he is not a pessimist. He's not even a realist. There's nothing realistic about the story of the Bible. Very little of it makes sense, from either a psychological or theological standpoint.

It's the most unlikely of stories, the most far-fetched of books. If you don't laugh out loud from time to time when you are reading it, you're not paying attention or you're either too religious or too uptight or both.

God is holy and perfect and even frightful, not to be trifled with. That much is true. He is jealous of love and he roars like the billion most terrifying lions in the world defending their children and he often seems to make no sense and occasionally appears to wreak havoc.

Life can look a lot more like Sophie's Choice than Rudy a lot of the time.

And yet God is absolutely, crazily in love with people at the same time he is absolutely, steadfastly determined to bring justice and goodness and peace in the world, not through carols and tolerance - nice as those may be - but through nails and blood and kindness and sacrifice and pain and raucous, battle-soaked laughter.

Because he knows how things are going to end.

The Cross turns into the Resurrection and death turns to life and mourning turns to morning and whatever the hell you are going through ultimately gets redeemed - bought back, made new.

God believes in you. All he asks you to do is believe in him and do the stuff he did.

When it comes to you, no matter if you've been sold out or or on the deep discount shelf....God is buying.


Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday FAQs - Four Things To Say To Someone Who Is Hurting

'When I run across someone who is really hurting, I just clam up. What do you say to someone like that, especially if you've never experienced what they are going through?'

I get this one a lot, because a lot of my career has been spent as a pastor and pastors are expected to have something approximating a good answer to such questions. But it is relevant to being a consultant too, or a leader of any kind.

When you see someone hurting - because of a seemingly random tragedy or because of a self-inflicted wound or because of a simple cruel twist of fate - it can create fear and anxiety in you.

You're afraid the same thing could happen to you, so you don't want to go near them. Perhaps pain is contagious?

You think things like "Well, you dummy, if only you'd have listened to...none of this would have happened" but you sense that this would not be a helpful thing to say.

(You are correct, by the way. It wouldn't be.)

Or you just flat out don't know what to say.

So, what do you say? Four things:

1. Something

Saying something is almost always better than saying nothing. Seriously. Not everything is better than nothing, (see 2 below) but almost everything.

Saying something, even if it is inarticulate or has been said before, shows that you care, that you want to make a connection with the person.

When our family endured the loss of an unborn child far along into Miranda's pregnancy, we were overwhelmed with the love of our friends and even people we weren't particularly close to. But there were a few others who, inexplicably, stayed away.

One approached Miranda later.

This person said "I just did not know what to say and it was really hard so I avoided you".

Now, if you have had someone treat you this way, don't be too hard on them. No one does this out of malice or ill-intent.

But if you are not sure what to say to a hurting friend, whatever you do, don't avoid them. That compounds the hurt. Say something. Say it quickly after the deepest cut of the hurt.

First responders are our heroes - the police officers, firemen, military, and emergency medical personnel who run to a disaster. Be a first responder when it comes to the pain of others.

2. Something brief

If a person is hurting it feels like life is screaming at them. They are trying hard to silence the voices in their head..."If you'd only said"...."How could you have done that?"....."Why did God allow this to happen?".

It feels like there is no relief. So don't add much to the cacophony of voices. Don't quote someone's sermon. Don't be too quick to share similar experiences of your own (see 3 below). Don't tell them things will get better,  because they might not for a while. Don't minimize their pain, no matter its source.

Be brief. Sometimes "I'm really sorry. I know you must really be hurting" is perfect. In fact, almost all of the time it's perfect.

3. Something about them

Don't make it about you. Now, this is easy to do because if you are nervous or struggling for something to say you can always go to the subject you know best - yourself.

But even if you are talking to someone who is enduring a pain similar to one you have endured, their experience will be vastly different than yours, because they are vastly different than you are. What eased your pain may make theirs worse.

Whatever you do, friends, do NOT say "I know exactly how you feel".

This is a nails on a chalkboard, a squawking infant at 3:47 AM, Dick Vitale with a sore throat. It's intolerable and it's untrue.

The only thing that is worse is to try to draw moral lessons or to explain the ways of God to a person who is hurting. Good luck with that.

If you are a person who reads the Bible, you'll know that there are two exemplars of the making-a-moral-point and explaining-the-ways-of-God school: the friends of Job in the Old Testament and the Pharisees in the New Testament.

Both groups had one thing in common - their hearts were very far from God and they get crunched in the end. If you are hurting and someone begins a lecture of any sort or a theological explanation of any stripe, run for the hills as politely as you can. Run.

Remember, "I'm sorry"? When you go to someone who is hurting, go with that.

Go with that and connect it to them.

"I'm really sorry. You must really miss your husband."

"I'm really sorry. Losing your job must really be a blow right now."

"I'm really sorry. I know that diagnosis is scary for you".

Do you see how you can't go wrong with any of those statements?

You're connecting with them, talking about their experience, offering your sorrow. That's a great and lasting gift.

4. Something About You and Them

This one applies in particular if you have a relationship with the person.

To suffer is to feel alone, to feel like things will never get better, never work out, that the pain will never stop and that there is no one who can enter into that pain with you.

And no one fully can enter into that pain with you, to be sure.

But you can connect with the person who is hurting.

At times in my life when I have been in pain, the words that gave life were such as these:

"I am here for you no matter what".

"I've got your back and the backs of those you love".

"You're my friend and I love you now even more than I did before this really hard thing happened".

Brilliant, life-giving statements. But here's the deal - You. Have. To. Follow. Through.

None of this requires a degree, any special knowledge, or a type of particular experience.

Just a heart of love and some common sense.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tuesday Teaching: Does God Even Know What Time It Is?

Psalm 31:15a is stark and simple. Someone praying says this to God:

"My times are in your hands".

And, just like that, you have words to base your life on, an unambiguous promise, and a mantra - all in one.


God relates to us in a personal way, because he is a person - not an idea, a construct, a philosophy, or the Honorary Invisible President of Outer Space.

Because he is a person, you can speak to him in the first person. He knows you personally, whether you have known him well for years, whether you are not even sure he is there or not, whether you are so glad he exists because his existence alone makes sense out of life, whether you believe in him kicking and screaming, whether you hate him or love him. He is. And you are.

And you are his idea.

When he looks at you he sees someone he is flat out crazy about, not someone he is ashamed of, barely tolerates, or is disappointed in.


Don't miss this part. The word "times" is important.

The writer could have said "life" or "days" or "future" or "existence" or something like that.

Instead, he said "times". A very specific word, meaning a very specific thing - every second of life you have lived, are living at this very instant, and will ever live.

Every. Second.

That horrible time years or weeks or minutes ago when you hated what you had become, hated what was being done to you, hated the mess you had made, hated the mess you had been handed.

He was there when you let someone you love down, said the thing you would give years of your life to take back, walked away from an act of courage or kindness, failed to say that thing you have always wished you had said. Back then.

He's there in that uncertain future that right now that you don't trust, that you dread, that you can't believe in. There in the uncertainty around your marriage or finances or health.

He's there in that future you are so excited about and have such high hopes for - so high that you can barely dare to believe it might be that good and right.

And he is there right now, in this very moment whether this moment is about great joy or searing pain or just your average afternoon.

All of your times. Every second of them.

And that goes for those you love - the beloved you can't live with or without, the kids you love more than you dare express, the older one who is slipping away from you more each year, the little one yet to be born whose life you hope for so much.

are in your hands...

There's that personhood thing again. God's not an old-fashioned watchmaker who wound up the universe and is letting it wind down on its own, or a forgetful laptop owner who boots up and forgets to plug in and ignores things as the battery runs down, or a psycho puppeteer playing with his jerky creations as they dance around on strings finally crumpling into pointy pieces.

He's holding you, supporting you, seeing you, loving you, telling a story with your life that is not a one-man or one-woman play but is rather a great work of art - full of drama, comedy (you know who you are!), triumph, loss, long journeys and - always - a coming home.

You're not an accident, and you have not been left on your own to fend for yourself.

You're not the captain of your fate or the master of your soul.

You're loved, far more than you could ever dare to ask or imagine.

Whatever your times have held, are holding, will hold...they are in God's hands.

So you can relax and hope, no matter the odds or how late in the day it feels to you or how little you may feel up to the task of the next moment.

Your times are in his hands.