From the very beginning, I’ve never felt like I needed to pretend to be someone I’m not when I’m with her. On the contrary, she—more than anyone else—welcomes and invites my truest self (the me that’s usually hidden from other people and even from myself) to show up and be known.
She’s a record-settingly good mom to our kids. They love being with her, and not just in a “young kids want to be around mom” kind of way. She’s fun, patient, caring, and encouraging with them.
When she laughs at something, she’s usually kind of a cute quiet giggler. But I love the sound of the rare times she has a good belly laugh.
She takes life at my kind of speed. An example is that an ideal vacation for either of us doesn’t involve moving fast and being around noise. Give us a porch with a view and a couple of rocking chairs and we’re happy. This means we have a good, long future of enjoying one another.
She cares deeply about people.
Obviously True Statement for Christians: It is good to read the Bible.
Obvious Corresponding Question We Virtually Never Ask: Why?
The lack of any but the most simplistic of answers to that question costs us tremendously. Even though the question is rarely asked, if we think about the answers that are implied in what we’ve been taught about the Bible, we probably come up with some responses which are the religious equivalents of a parent's, "because I told you so." (I've used that line with my kids, and if you have too, you know how ineffective and mutually unsatisfying it is––and if we're honest, "ineffective and mutually unsatisfying" may describe much of our experience with the Bible.)
Why is it good to read the Bible? Even if the question has never occurred to us, we already have an answer to it hidden somewhere in our minds, and that answer inevitably shapes the ways we read it. I see a few different ways this could go:
One strong possibility is that our answer shapes the way we don't read it. If the answer in our minds is anything along the lines of God or our religious leaders saying “because I told you so,” (the gentler-sounding religious translation of which might be something like a simple, “because it’s God’s Word”), we’ll end up thinking that reading the Bible is good and important while also rarely ever reading it. That tension itself will cause us to find ways to try to get by while living in a prolonged spiritual numbness.Read More
I have never had a moment when I am not being shaped into some kind of person. Neither have you. Maybe this is easier to notice with kids. When they're little, the rate at which they are taking in information from the world and learning new skills is so dramatic, and it's easy to see in any six-month period their experiences, their choices, their relationships, etc. are shaping who they are becoming.
But the person-shaping doesn't stop when we reach adulthood. In fact, it never stops, because as Dr. Mulholland points out in the passage which includes this quote, being in that process is an unavoidable part of what it means to be human. Choosing to write this right now shapes me, and what I will choose to do with the rest of today will shape me.
Recognizing that, and paying attention to the process, is what we're talking about with the term "spiritual formation.” My spiritual formation can go well (and if so, we might use the biblical term of transformation), or it can go very poorly (spiritual malformation?), but it is always going. Who you and I will be forever is the result of this shaping process. We either open ourselves to God’s grace in cooperation in it, or close ourselves to it in either stubborn refusal or plain old distraction.Read More
As if he didn't identify enough of us in the paragraph above, in another place, Dr. Mulholland adds, "Information gatherers are structurally closed to being addressed by God. Frenetically functional activists find it extremely difficult to be still, and know God as God."*
There. Now that about covers all of us.
I have issues with control. I want things to be the way I want them to be, my buttons get pushed when things aren’t that way, and by default, I do not react well when those buttons are pushed. To make matters trickier, I’m usually blind to what’s happening. I’m probably aware that something is stirred up in me, but to recognize that a button has been pushed, to identify which button it was, and to question whether it’s appropriate for me to react by trying to take control…those are in-the-moment skills that I need double-doses of God’s grace to employ. Much more often, I lean into my default reactions when the button gets pushed, but things still don’t come under my control the way I want. Then yet another bucket gets tossed into what becomes a lifetime-full lake of ingratitude, resentment, and a host of other things which don’t add up to the kind of person I want to be at my core.Read More
Those thirty words from Dr. Mulholland explain decades of my life.
I had been in full-time ministry for about eleven years when I crashed into a wall. I had expended a lot of energy trying to be in the world for God, and I was utterly depleted. The invitation at hand, about which I both felt fear and longing, was to allow everything to be pruned except learning to live my life in God and to submit any results of my existence in this world to the steadfastly loving Father of Jesus rather than to the work roles I had engaged in for God’s sake for so long.
So, I am remarkably well-acquainted with the first half of Mulholland’s statement (the well-intentioned but misguided living in the world for God), and my hope is to spend the rest of my life as an experiment in the second part (living in God for the world). My experience of going underground and of learning to stay planted for the long haul has given me occasional, small tastes of what “in God for the world” means. The central lesson perhaps seems obvious but in practice is very counter-intuitive: arranging our lives to be lived fully in God is the only way that we can become carriers of the incomparable gift of God’s grace to the world.Read More
What if everything that you need to live truly and fully as who you are in Christ is already available to you, right here, and right now?
What difference would that make in the ways you choose to spend the rest of the day in front of you?
For many of my earlier years, I thought that my life as a Christian was dependent on my "setting out to find God." It was as if seeking and finding God could only be the result of a kind of acquisition: by studying more, by gaining a better theological understanding, by becoming more proficient in more kinds of prayer, by becoming more effective in efforts to minister to and serve others, etc.
But then, after what felt like a long time of setting out to find God, I came across the approach to opening myself to God which Mulholland introduces with this statement, and the sense of relief, freedom, and hope which come with it.Read More
M. Robert Mulholland, Jr. is on the short list of authors who have influenced me the most. He influenced me in direct ways (as I have read and re-read his books and listened and re-listened to his teaching). At least as profoundly, however, is the indirect ways he has influenced me through the personal relationships he had with others who have critical roles in my life (such as my pastor, Steve Brooks, and one of my primary teachers, Ruth Haley Barton).
Dr. Mulholland’s teaching is well-known among some groups of people, while many others are not familiar with his name nor what he wrote and taught. His teaching is so needed and helpful that I want to do my small part to spread it.
To do so, I am beginning a series of posts in which I’ll try to describe my own reactions to statements from him which stopped me in my tracks or shifted the way I thought about something.
The list below will serve a constantly-in-progress table of contents to his statements and my reflections on them. I'll use it both to park statements about which I want to write a reflection in the future, and to link to the reflections I've written.
- “Our spiritual journey is not about our setting out to find God. It is a journey of learning to yield ourselves to God and discovering where God will take us."
- Often we "will expend amazing amounts of energy and resources to be in the world for God. But, you see, we are called to be in God for the world."
- "Graspers powerfully resist being grasped by God. Manipulators strongly resist being shaped by God. Controllers are inherently incapable of yielding control to God. Spiritual formation is the great reversal: from being the subject who controls all other things to being a person who is shaped by the presence, purpose, and power of God in all things."
- "The question is not whether to undertake spiritual formation. The question is what kind of spiritual formation are we already engaged in?"
- "One of the chief characteristics of the religious false self is its ability to manipulate the scripture consciously or, more often, unconsciously to avoid a transforming encounter with God."
- "We become either agents of God’s healing and liberating grace or carriers of the sickness of the world."
- "The Word became text to provide a place of transforming encounter with God so that the Word might become flesh in us for the sake of the world." (The Way of Scripture, 16)
- "In the mystery of an incarnational God, Jesus is both fully God and fully human. In that same mystery, the text is both fully divine and fully human...Those who see Jesus as merely human miss the presence of God in him. Those who see the text as merely human miss the possibility of genuine encounter with God in its pages." (The Way of Scripture, 17)
- "There are two fundamental ways of being human in the world: trusting in our human resources and abilities or a radical trust in God...You might describe these two ways of being in the world as the 'false self' and the 'true self.'" (The Deeper Journey, 23)
- "I heard a wise teacher say, 'Repentance is not being sorry for the things you have done, but being sorry you are the kind of person that does such things.'" (The Deeper Journey, 23)
- "I began to realize that underneath the thin veneer of my religiosity lives a pervasive and deeply entrenched self-referenced being which was driven by its own agendas, its own desires, its own purposes, and that no amount of superficial tinkering with the religious facade made any appreciable difference." (The Deeper Journey, 23)
- "My false self, like all false selves, is a control freak that manipulates people and situations to protect it from disturbances to its status quo." (The Deeper Journey, 24)
- "The temptation to take over God's role in our life is the essence of the false self." (The Deeper Journey, 27)
- When he says, "If anyone would come after me, they must deny themselves," and "Whoever loses their self for my sake will find it" [,] Jesus is not talking about giving up candy for Lent. He is calling for the abandonment of our entire, pervasive, deeply entrenched matrix of self-referenced being." (The Deeper Journey, 47)
- "Our religious false self may be rigorous in religiosity, devoted in discipleship and sacrificial in service––without being in loving union with God." (The Deeper Journey, 47)
- "Rigorous religious practices, devoted discipleship, sacrificial service, deeper devotional activities may do nothing more than turn a nominally religious false self into a fanatically religious false self." (The Deeper Journey, 48)
- "God comes to us in our false self in order to offer God's self to us to be our true life." (The Deeper Journey, 74)