Spiritual Principles for Scooping Poop

th.jpg

Sometimes, entering our house from the backyard, the domain of our dogs, I’ll say, a little reproachfully, “I got poop on my shoes!”—directed at the assigned pooper scooper.  A defensive, “It’s probably dirt!” comes back. 

Dirt or poop?  I maintain to said pooper scooper that there’s a significant difference, easily discerned.  Poop stinks; dirt smells pleasant—blending scents of flowers and breezes and long, hard history into a subtle richness.  Dirt is good for growing things.  Some kinds of manure are good for fertilizer, but not dog poop.  It’s good for nothing, except to be thrown out. 

It’s important to know the difference between dirt and poop and to call poop, “poop.”

Once upon a time in a well-loved community—doesn’t matter who; doesn’t matter what--somebody did something that was blatantly wrong.  It was plainly wrong and a hallmark for “wrong” is that it unfairly harmed another person or, in this case, many people. The wrongdoer was full of poop.

And I saw and experienced how difficult it can be to call poop, “poop.”  The problem is, when we love and admire someone, seeing them in a certain way, and then they suddenly, dramatically become another way—and it’s full of poop—it’s shocking.  It’s disorienting, we lose our bearings.  It shakes our ground, shatters our sense of things.  (That’s before the difficult feelings of hurt, betrayal, and anger set in.)  The shock is heightened if the person was a leader whose goodness and sense of direction gave hope and compass to the lost and struggling.  Reeling in disbelief, we’re in a weak position to sanely and decisively confront.

But it is essential in these moments that the community, wounded though it is, maintain a steady sense of what is dirt and what is poop and keep calling poop, “poop.”  Then, even though our worlds are in upheaval, at least the basic principles of reality remain the same.  We’ve been shocked and disoriented by a person’s double or hidden or secret life. But right is still right; wrong is still wrong; up is still up; down is still down.  If we can’t call poop, “poop”—then we lose the person we thought we knew and our principles.  If we can call poop, “poop” then we can begin to re-ground and reorient around the same principles of reality.  To have a deep sense that reality and our principles remain the same in the face of such great loss and upheaval is soothing, healing and essential.

So, once we’re over the sheer fragmenting shock of the news, it is vital to roundly confront the poop.  We may hesitate, not wanting to appear judgmental or harsh. Perhaps we feel sorry for the wrongdoer, not wanting to shamefully face him or her with the devastating wrong committed.  But there is a way to confront people with their poop which is not judgmental in the hateful sense but is discerning in a life-giving way.  Here are the spiritual principles for scooping poop.

First, I don’t know why poop is so attractive, but it seems to be at times!  So… poop gets denied as we furtively hang onto it.  If you don’t gently and firmly point my poop out, I can go on in damaging denial for a long time.  We need to take responsibility for discerning each other’s poop and to muster the courage to confront the stink of it or else poop can be subtly addictive and fester and grow and spread to others. 

Second, as you prepare to confront another’s poop, remember your own poop.  We are all full of it at times. Truly.  And if you think you don’t have any poop, you’re probably not the person to confront.  Remember your own poop. Think deeply on it before confronting someone else’s.

th (4).jpg

Third, this is a delicate balance, but it is crucial that the poop be thrown away—NOT THE PERSON.  A main point in labeling the poop is to help the person being lost under increasing piles of it get out from under it. There is a sweet-smelling, loved-of-God person in there.  We must never forget that--even as we confront quite damaging poop that legitimately injured and angered us.  (Notice the irony of not confronting so we can be nice while just letting the person drown under the piles of poop.  It’s truly a hard balance to strike!)

Fourth, when someone has betrayed or victimized us or someone we love, it is natural to get quite angry—enraged, really.  Outrage can feel right or righteous. But when we confront out of unmodulated anger, the outcome is not righteous.  Enraged, we end up throwing the person away with the poop.  It is never right to throw the person away—however little of their personhood is left.  It is always the point to dig through the poop for the person. 

So take time to modulate your rage, in two steps.  First, let yourself feel heartbreak over the lost relationship.  Anger is our main defense against pain and sorrow—let the sorrow come and the anger will recede.  Remember the closeness you enjoyed with the person—the way his wise insights opened new worlds or her compassion pierced through despair.  Remember the lively, refreshing bond you found pleasure or relief or sustenance in.  Nobody’s all bad—there’s a decent person still full of potential (as we human beings are) under the piles of poop.  Temper rage at the egregious betrayal by recalling the honest good and thus inviting sadness over the loss.  

Then, step two, let your awareness shift from the carnage they’ve created to the carnage they’re lost in.  Maybe in the moment they appear to be living large, living the good life.  But the good life is never sustainable without good character.  Let yourself feel pity about the inevitable horrible mess they’re mired in.  Heartbreak and pity soften rage--and soften your confrontation. Harsh or holier-than-thou confrontations trigger defensiveness; gentle but firm confrontation is more likely to invite change.  And that is the point:  to invite change—to call out the better person you desperately hope is still there.

Finally, forthrightly but vulnerably tell the person the wounding impact their poor choices have had on you and others.  Be concrete and specific about their behaviors while making “I” statements describing the hurt, devastation, shame or fear their behaviors have triggered.    Don’t go ad hominem (against the person).  Don’t say, “You’re a rotten liar!” Do say, “Your lies have devastated me and destroyed my trust.”  Don’t say, “You dirty, good-for-nothing hypocrite!!!”  Do say, “Your choices so desecrate the very standards you’ve always taught!  Your behavior is so wrong and you need to let people know how wrong your actions have been or they’re likely to think your life and teaching were all lies and throw aside all the right behaviors we believe in so deeply!”  Rehearse with a trusted friend.  It’s easy to get muddled in emotional confrontations. 

Poop is inherently messy.  There won’t be a clean or perfect way to confront it.  You won’t always get the response you hoped for.  Let it go; it is still good and right to have spoken your honest feelings and principles.                         

              It is good and right—and healing and freeing—to call poop, “poop.”

th (1).jpg




Chemo-Induced Depression?! & Early Morning Struggles

laguna-sunset.jpg

King David’s ancient words of hope in his psalms speak forward into one woman’s early morning struggles with cancer and chemo.

There’s no doubt.  For those who are in a season of struggle, mornings can be tough.  As far back as the 11th century BC, we have Jewish King David crying out to God in distress in the morning.  These honest, searching verses penned by David are found in his beloved psalms:                                                                                                                               

  1. Give ear to my words, O Lord; Consider my groaning.                                                      Heed the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God.                                                 For to you do I pray.                                                                                                                  In the morning, O Lord, you will hear my voice;                                                                          In the morning I will order my prayer to you and eagerly watch.                                      (Psalm 5: 1-3)                                            

Fast forward to just the other day in 2013…    A client describes, almost defeated, a diagnosis of cancer followed by energy-sucking chemo that has stripped her schedule of pastimes she loves.  Pain and exhaustion prevent the pursuits which colored her life with joy—serious play with well-loved little ones; soccer (still at 60!),  tennis, golf, and long, luxurious treks with her husband in the inviting mountains surrounding her home.  Retirement at 55 had her waking up each morning with that “kid in a candy store” feeling—so much to do, so eager to do it.  Enter cancer…

 She detailed her new “schedule” to me: “I’m still an early riser--6:00 to 8:00 AM are good—and then begins the struggle with a long, empty day.  The hours just hang heavy.  I’m exhausted, hurting…  I don’t know what to do with myself.  It’s the worst part of cancer.  Do they have a diagnosis for ‘chemo-induced depression’?”  

            “Wait…” I wasn’t ignoring anything she said, but honed in on a striking detail.  “What do you do from 6:00 to 8:00 AM?!”

            “Same thing I’ve done for decades…I go get a Starbuck’s; then I settle in my favorite cushy recliner in my study, with a window overlooking those awesome mountains, and I read my Bible, pray the Psalms, and journal spiritual insights.   Lately, the spiritual insights are abounding!!!”

            We both got it at the same moment… a profoundly hopeful realization that here was one corner of her schedule the cancer had not been able to overthrow.  This piece of who she is and what she does lived on, unscathed.  She’d done it for decades; she’s still doing it--pursuing God and praying the psalms. 

            With that realization came a little energy and a little hope:  “I can do this.  I’m still the same me; God is certainly the same … with his help, I can do this.”  Mobilized, she began to face the new task before her:  mourning and letting go, for now, of her old daily structure and well-loved pastimes and forging a new structure, new pastimes, woven around her pain and exhaustion, one day at a time, grounded in what has never changed: her profound faith in God and her daily habit of leaning into him for strength and wisdom to pull off the day. 

It’s the way God works... breathing life and energy into one woman’s early morning struggles through King David’s early morning struggles, expressed in his beloved psalms thousands of years ago:                                                                                   

sunrise.jpg
 Weeping may last for the night,                                                                                                                                                                   But a shout of joy comes in the morning!                                                              Psalm 30:5b

 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

imgres.jpeg

Many don’t realize that God is a Lover who woos us pointedly and poignantly. In fact, it is said to be God’s love that actually provides the template for and inspires our love when it’s really well-done:

            “We love because He first loved us…”  (I John 4:19)

Some real gems of love poetry are found in the Bible—God could almost be confused with a winsome, courtly romantic. Consider the following;

The Lord your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior,
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in his love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.

(Zephaniah 3:17)

Honed contemplatives invite us to linger on the words, reading slowly, soaking them in. The words really are meant very personally for each of us as well as for the Israelites  as a community to whom they were originally addressed.  Substitute your own name for the pronouns such as "you."  "He will be quiet in his love.  He will rejoice over (your name)  with shouts of joy."   Ponder the words.  They are not just pretty words.  They are true words, heartfelt words spoken from God through the prophets to you and to me.    

At your leisure, consider the following  3 passages in the same way... (or you may just want to stay with the first passage--reading love poems is not about how much you get read; it's about how deeply a few words sink in.)

“See how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, 
that we should be called children of God; 
and such we are.” (I John 3:1)

Now this from the prophet Jeremiah who lived centuries ago and whose words still give hope:

The Lord appeared from afar…saying,
“I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness. 
Again I will build you and you shall be rebuilt…
Again you shall take up your tambourines,
And go forth to the dances of merrymakers.    (Jeremiah 31:3)  

Finally, this from the Psalms:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
So great is his lovingkindness 
      toward those who revere Him.  (Psalm 103: 13)                                                    

       May you have a blessed and Happy Valentine's Day

 Photo by  Daniel Peckham

CREATIVELY OVERCOMING ANXIETY

anxious asian.JPG

Way back in the first century A. D., a man named Paul wrote a letter comforting people he loved. He wrote:  “Be anxious for nothing…” (People have been struggling with anxiety for a long, long time!)  In his encouragement to his friends, he went on to instruct them in a creative approach to overcoming anxiety, from a spiritual perspective, which is still—now in the 21rst century—unsurpassed in its wisdom:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God.  And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians, New Testament)

Paul’s 1rst-century encouragement to his friends packs advice about dealing with anxiety that presages cognitive therapies today but also contains transformative spiritual direction.  First, learn to be aware of your thoughts.  Don’t let anxious thoughts simply happen, unchecked.  There is a “you” behind your thoughts—or as Paul might have said, there is a “soul & spirit” behind your thoughts.  When you notice that your thoughts are anxious, don’t just let the anxiety go on and on, worrying obsessively, ramping up.  Notice the simple fact that… you are anxious; you are worrying.  And realize that you have a choice; you get to choose what to do with your worries.  This may sound simple, obvious, but realizing that there’s a “you” behind the worries who can choose what to do with them is actually a huge step and shift in your habitual anxiety.  Our worries can happen automatically, tormenting us before we’re even fully aware that we’re worrying.  Pausing to be aware—to realize there’s a “you” behind the worries who gets to think about what to do with those worries—is thus a significant first step in resolving anxiety.

Next, make a creative choice—rather than continuing in futile anxiety, pray to God about whatever it is that worries you.  Consciously, intentionally mention the things that are worrying you to God, asking for his help in dealing with them.  God numbers the very hairs on our head—he has amazing capacity for and attention to detail.  There is nothing too small to “bother” God with.  However petty your issue may seem—stacks of clutter that I can’t get to; 5 lbs weight that if only I’d lose…, scheduling my family’s lives & how to pay for my kid’s club soccer; meeting a deadline that I’ve procrastinated on; trying to plan the perfect vacation—if it’s big enough to cause you anxiety, it matters to God.  As you become aware of your anxieties--rather than just lost in them—use your worries and anxieties as a trigger to pray to God for help in resolving them.  There is no quota on your prayers; as often as you notice yourself anxious, you pray, throughout each day.  This can allow for a really sweet outcome to your anxieties.  Rather than swamping us, our anxieties can lead to increased conversation and closeness with God.  As we learn to hold our anxiety wisely, it can leave us with an increasingly accurate awareness of ourselves as helpless creatures who need help from God and of God as an all-powerful being who loves us and wants to help.

Third, give thanks as you pray.  Increasingly, literature on happiness emphasizes an attitude of gratitude as essential to our well-being.  Anxiety and worrying breed an escalating sense of “I’m overwhelmed… I can’t cope... I can’t do this…”  “The cup is half full; I don’t have what I need and I don’t know what to do about it.”  In just that anxious mood or circumstance, it is key to give thanks as we turn to God for help. We give thanks to God because, first and foremost, God is in charge of the world and our lives and--however utterly bleak things may seem in the moment--we can trust him that, in the end, all will be well.  We are given much that we don’t realize and to begin training ourselves to realize the little gifts that we’ve taken for granted is not pie-in-the-sky or a trite “Count your blessings” but an honest, realistic acknowledgement of what we have.  Thanksgiving is realistic; it’s also a path to greater well-being and less anxiety.  Giving thanks is a discipline that shifts our awareness to the reality that we have great resource in God, that we are not alone in our anxious struggles, and that we can learn to trust God (he will help us trust him if we ask) that all will be well in the end however insurmountable the difficulties seem just now.

Finally, there is a lovely, honest promise at the end of Paul’s instruction on anxiety: “And the peace of God, which passes all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  With God’s help, leaning into his Spirit, we work to create a new pattern with our worries and anxieties.  Rather than remaining passive before their bothersome (even tormenting) assault, we start being aware of our anxieties, taking charge of them, learning to bring them to God in prayer.  As we learn to use our anxiety as a trigger and motive and reminder to pray to God for help--rather than passively allowing our anxieties to go on and on, feeling victimized by them--the peace of God will come to guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.  Anxiety stops having the control it has enjoyed.  We begin to experience an unfathomable peace we never thought possible.

 Photo by  Daniel Peckham