I’m writing to inform you that Keith went to be with Jesus yesterday, Sunday January 22nd 2012, at 3:00 pm. Keith’s last few weeks here on earth were peaceful. He was visited by many friends and relatives whom he was always pleased to see. Andrea was holding Keith, her beloved husband of 33 years, when he drew his last breath. Keith loved you all so much and I know that he would want you to know.
Thank you for your fellowship, comments, love and prayers through this last part of Keith’s adventure here with us.
We hope to continue to post Keith’s insights and wisdom here in the future so please check back. While we grieve the loss of a great man we can rejoice in his everlasting life with our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Psalm 23 (The Message)
1-3 God, my shepherd! I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.
4 Even when the way goes through
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.
5 You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.
6 Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.
Lord, thank you for Keith and the beautiful life he led. His transparency and authenticity were a breath of fresh air to so many of us and we are so grateful that we were able to walk through some of this adventure with him. Please cover Keith’s wife, Andrea, and his entire family with your mighty comfort and peace. We ask all this in Jesus’ name, Amen.
Blessings to you all,
Friend and Assistant
John Keith Miller—Obituary
John Keith Miller, 84, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma and a resident of Austin, Texas passed away on Sunday, January 22, 2012. He was born on April 19, 1927 in Tulsa, the son of Earle T. Miller and Mable Davis Miller. After graduating from Tulsa Central High School, he served in the U.S. Navy and then entered Oklahoma University, Norman, OK. In 1949, he married Mary Allen Hess. At O.U. he was a member of Beta Theta Pi Fraternity and played on the O.U. Men’s basketball team. He received a B.S. in Business from O.U. in 1951. For the next decade, Miller worked in the oil exploration business in Texas and Oklahoma. He left the oil business to study theology at Berkeley Divinity School (at Yale) and Earlham School of Religion, Richmond, IN, receiving a Divinity Degree in 1964. In 1971 he earned a Master’s Degree in Psychological Counseling.
In 1962, Miller became the first director of Laity Lodge, an Ecumenical Christian retreat center in the Texas hill country. Howard E. Butt, Jr. president of the H. E. Butt Foundation and Foundations for Laity Renewal, the founder of Laity Lodge, said that Miller was known for introducing a new kind of honesty in which clergy and others were encouraged to share not only their spiritual victories, by also their spiritual struggles. “His work marked a decisive change in this element of religious culture, cutting across a broad swath of church life.” Butt concluded.
In 1965, his first book, The Taste of New Wine, which sold over one million copies, was published. He spent the rest of his life communicating hope and faith with people through his writing and speaking. All together Keith has written or co-authored 24 books on subjects including Christian living, addictions and codependence, the process of spiritual transformation, discovering and achieving one’s vocational and life dreams, devotions, and business. Other works include three DVD series, “A Hunger for Healing,” “Wrestling with Angels,” and “Write from the Heart.” His deep friendship and partnership with Bruce and Hazel Larson and many others influenced the way the Christian world understood and lived out theology. They helped establish “relational theology,” living out one’s Christian faith as an Adventure through a relationship with God that affects how one lives and relates to God and others. His commitment to the Adventure and the Story gave many others a way to know Jesus and live a life of faith.
In 1976 Keith and his wife were divorced. Several years later he married Andrea Wells who became not only his partner in life, but his partner also in ministry, writing and the Adventure. Keith continued to speak, write, and invest in the lives of those around him until the day he died. He was a passionate person who loved intensely and who wanted to reflect the light of Christ to the world. In 2009 he received the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from the Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest, a reflection of the mark he had made on the church. In November of 2011 he was awarded the Peacemaker’s Award for International Dialogue by the Dispute Resolution Center of Austin for his work in conflict situations in several foreign countries during the past twenty years.
He is predeceased by his parents and his brother, Earle P. Miller.
He is survived by his wife of 33 years, Andrea Wells Miller of Oak Ridge, TN now living in Austin, and his three daughters, Leslie Williams and her husband, Stockton of Kerrville, TX, Kristin Huffman and her husband Mike of Houston, TX, and Mary-Keith Dickinson and her husband Karl of Hunt, TX. Leslie’s children include Jerre Williams and wife, Jessica, and Caroline Williams. Kristin’s children include Lizz Provence Swanson and her husband, Chris, Mark Provence and Becky Provence. Mary-Keith’s children include Mitchell Dickinson and Mary-Blair Dickinson. Keith also had five great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be sent to one of the following: Austin Recovery, 8402 Cross Park Dr., Austin, 78754, St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 8314 Mesa Dr., Austin, Texas 78759, The Kroc Center, 201 Holdsworth Drive, Kerrville, TX 78028, or Presbyterian Frontier Fellowship/Light of Hope, 7132 Portland Ave. Suite 136, Richfield, MN 55423.
A memorial service will be held Saturday, February 4, at 10:00 a.m. at St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, 8314 Mesa (Steck & Mesa) Austin with a reception following the service.
New Years Day
My pitiful little self-centered mind is about half taken up with what my uncle called “the big C” (or malignant cancer) which is (though I have only seen evidence of it) pretty well eating away on my vital organs as you read this.
When I say it is the “best of times,” I’m referring to the fact that I’m clearer in my mind about the way I want to live and relate to those I know and love and whom God has put in my life.
This is the first time I could not negotiate any way out of my problem (cancer-ridden state). But I can still surrender each day—and sometimes each hour—to God and to loving His people—meaning the rest of you.
Although I have lived a larger-than-life life I am excited about the future. And I’m beginning to learn to share with people about the possibilities in their lives to use the creative potential in them.
Some days I am very sad about the terminal aspects of my illness, but I’m also very thankful for the eighty-four years of amazing life I’ve already been fortunate enough to live. Getting here on New Year’s Eve of 2011, I’m grateful for God’s resounding message about loving us (and the fact that so many of his people are living lives of self-limiting love) and for the fact that some days I am beginning to see that I can give and receive love from the God Jesus called Father and from his people who wander into our house to speak of love and gratitude to God.
Right now I’m peaceful. And I have a heart full of love for God, for those of you who are reading this as I wish you a glorious and peaceful new year in 2012.
Love from Andrea and me,
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – (Phil. 4:7) The Message
If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other. – Mother Teresa
Keith has written several blogs recently. Due to a week of confusion they are just now ready to post. We apologize for the time lag.
December 24, 2011
This morning our friend Trice took me to a meeting of a group of men. These men have had such an enormous positive influence on my life the last few years that I continue to get up on Saturday mornings and pay whatever price it takes to go and learn more about God. And I am also learning to become a more authentic man in a world that seems to have cut itself off from the moral and spiritual roots to the extent that, in 1961, my mentor told me the world was turning into a cut-flower society.
This meeting is unique in my experience in that all we do is listen to those who want to share their experience, strength, and hope with each other without contradiction, giving advice, or trying to “straighten each other out”.
Since I have often been reticent to show my real feelings with men, this place has been a real spiritual oasis in the midst of a desert of conventional thinking.
This morning I shared with this group the reality that I had had to stop three times in getting ready to go to the meeting because I had pooped in my pants and had to clean up three times before I could come. But after telling these men about this experience of shame as a very proud man, I felt spiritually cleansed somehow. And I thanked these men I’ve come to love so much for all their help and support in dealing with the progress of the aggressive terminal cancer with which I have been diagnosed.
At the end of the meeting, a dear friend handed me this page which I am including in the blog. It is a reading from the book, Jesus Calling by Sarah Young.
The principal reason why prayers are not answered is because in our hearts we limit the power of God. The Bible constantly tells us that the people got into trouble because they limited the Holy One. When you say, “There is no way out of my difficulty,” what can it possibly mean except that you cannot see a way out? When you say, “It is too late now,” what can that possibly mean except that it is too late for you?
When you pray you are turning to the power of God, and surely you will admit that God is omnipotent, and therefore nothing can be too difficult or too late, or too soon for Him. You will surely admit that Infinite Wisdom knows at least more than you do, to put the thing rather mildly. Well, Infinite Wisdom takes action when we pray and so our own limitations do not matter—unless we think they do.
Children often find themselves completely overcome by a difficulty that a grown-up person easily solves. What to the child seems an impossibility is quite easy to his father, and so even our greatest difficulties are simple to God.
Infinite Wisdom knows a beautiful and joyous solution to any dilemma. Do not limit the power of God for good in your life.
“…Is my hand shortened at all, that it cannot redeem? Or have I no power to deliver? … (Isaiah 50:2)
I thanked the members of the group for the enormous gift of their acceptance of my reality on this journey, which without them would be the loneliest passage of my life. Then I went home with a song of gratitude in my heart for this band of powerful, loving, and compassionate men whose presence and acceptance are as close to a community of wisdom and holiness as I can imagine.
Tonight, hours after the meeting was over, there was a knock on our front door and, to my amazement, I saw (and heard) a group of these very unlikely Gentle Giants and some of their women friends and relatives — singing CHRISTMAS CAROLS!!!
I don’t think Andrea and I have ever been so moved by the Spirit of God on Christmas Eve!
Merry Christmas to you all!
With much love,
At once the angel was joined by a huge angelic choir singing God’s praises: Glory to God in the heavenly heights, Peace to all men and women on earth who please him. (Luke 2:13, The Message)
This post is really different for me to write. It is about the process of making the transition from a life of faith in the God Jesus called, “Father,” to the end of that life in the process we call “dying”.
As I am writing this draft, Andrea and I are now in the M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and have received the news that the cancer is in so many crucial areas of my body (liver, pancreas, lymph nodes) that finding a “cure” is not one of my options.
For almost ten days I couldn’t eat or drink anything without gagging and throwing up. Not only that, some bile came up into my throat due to a blockage in my upper intestine so everything I tried to swallow tasted like feces. I Finally contacted my doctor about my concern and was immediately sent to ER, put on a stomach pump to relieve the pressure from trapped fluids in my stomach, IV’s for hydration, and put on the schedule for an endoscopy to try to correct the problem.
In the meantime my three daughters arrived and along with my wife, Andrea, we had a “love-in.”
During all this time I have continued my practice of walking through my days and nights thanking God for all the advantages and blessings that have given me the freedom to love people and help them become what God created them (particularly) to be, and to spend time writing and playing with Andrea, and other members of what has become our new “extended family.” and others on our ‘team.’
One of the main blessings on my continual gratitude list had been my health. So when that was failing, I became grateful for the clinic I was able to get to, and for my friends who began to step up and help us get in to see these remarkable medical specialists.
But all this unexpected serious information and experience began to depress me and affect my positive attitude and practices. When I got to my lowest point, a visiting friend took me to a meeting in the hospital area. Simply being honest and sharing my fear and my experience, strength and hope got me through a very difficult time, and prompted me to write the e-mail getting honest with my physicians about my inability to eat or drink.
All this, and my family’s arrival, interrupted my description of the inner process of dying. With the family and a few friends here filling my life with love, my faith was concrete, my loving listening and gratitude were intact, and my awareness of God’s healing presence intact somehow.
The night before the family was to leave I began to pray alone in the dark hospital room. I asked myself what I believe about a “life after this one.” I realized with a shock that I really hadn’t spent a lot of time learning about “heaven.” Fear suddenly gripped me. I calmed myself by surrendering my entire life, death, and future to God. And then I became aware of what I have come to believe happens when some believers die.
My conscious focus during the past few years had been on learning to live and share the self-limiting love I have experienced from God in the present “Reign of God” that Jesus announced, described and inaugurated throughout his entire life and work. I’ve done this because it is what I saw Jesus doing.
When he did speak to his disciples about how they and their lives would be evaluated in the last analysis, he referred mostly to how well they had replicated the LIFE of self-limiting love he had given them. And for me that included the way Jesus had referred and deferred to his loving Father as “Daddy” in a continuous dialogue.
But then, in that dark night alone, I suddenly thought, “What’s going to happen to me and my relationship to God that has come to fill and inform my entire life?” And I almost panicked. Compared to what I had already received and experienced in this life with the Father as Daddy, the pictures Christians had developed about Heaven seemed pale and insignificant. I had moments of thinking maybe I should stop and do a crash course on “Heaven” with someone I knew. And finally, I once again surrendered my life and my entire future to God and went to sleep.
The next morning I just happened to talk to a Christian who’s spent a lot of time studying about Heaven. I suddenly remembered Jesus and what he did in his own life as it was drawing to an end. He simply trusted his Heavenly Daddy, did and said what he could determine was what God wanted Him, Jesus, to say and do. And at the last of his life, in the Garden of Gethsemane, with nothing in hand to assure him in advance that what he had to do would turn out for him personally as he hoped things would, Jesus decided to take the first steps alone—even if all his own followers deserted him.
I saw that for me—if I am really to follow Jesus, I am going to have to step up to the doorway of death that I am facing right now—the end of all I know of life and human experience. I must stand before that doorway with the same faith of a small child as Jesus did, doing what he thought his daddy was asking him to do–regardless of whether his own followers (and in my case what other Christians) may think. Although I am in the midst of my family and those of you who are a part of life’s family too, I am all alone.
All I can think of to say as I approach that door is, “Daddy who is in Heaven, it’s me, John Keith. All l I have to give you is the life of love that you have given me! All the rest of the material possessions and public attention that came about as a result of the life I built for you as a Christian—all that has gone somehow. All that is left is this little boy who loves you as his Daddy. And I’m knocking, wanting to come in and let you continue—in whatever way—to teach me about how you made us to be when you created us way back in the beginning in the garden. But if this is not your plan, or whatever you have for me (or don’t have), whatever happens (or doesn’t happen) I’m knocking on this huge Dark Door of Death, wanting to come in and say ‘Thank you,’ and ‘I love you, Daddy.’*
My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? John 14:1-3
If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! Matthew 7:10-12
“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 7:20-22
And prayers come with these words for all of you who have become so dear to me.
(Note: Since writing this post Keith has come back to Austin. He will begin chemotherapy next week. Your prayers are appreciated during this time and we are certainly grateful for the kind words and prayers you have offered thus far. Thank you.)
* This account is not “the way” any Christian (or others) “should” think about approaching God at the time of his or her own death. But this was my honest experience the other night as I was realizing that my own life—as I have lived it—is coming to an end. Not being an expert of any kind, this is just part of my own “experience, strength and hope.” I miss you all and love you very much! –John Keith
After several days of medical procedures and tests we were told last Thursday (October 20th) by my Gastroenterologist that the internal blockage that has caused recent discomfort is the result of the bile duct being squeezed shut because of a tumor pressing against it. The tumor is right next to my liver. Because of its location it cannot be removed—too many other things in the area.
On Friday I went into surgery where a stent was inserted into the bile duct to allow it to drain so poisonous bile will not be backed up in my system. They also took a biopsy of the tumor and the liver to see if they have been “communicating.”
I was in the hospital overnight and most of Saturday. This past Tuesday, Andrea and I met with my doctor where we learned the tumor is malignant. The doctors could not give us any information about a prognosis at the time.
This has been a sudden shock, since I have been dealing with a neck issue. The neck discomfort was resolved a few weeks ago and then pain in my stomach increased.
We are processing the abrupt change in our lives because of the inoperable aspect of the problem and the fact that all our plans that included me will possibly be canceled.
Many of you have been so loyal to us in your reading and responding to these blogs that we thought the least I could do was to be honest with you about this unscheduled confronting of my own death, since this is a big part of the adventure with God.
Andrea and I are very much in love and closer than we thought two people could get, so we’re experiencing the biggest shock I could have imagined—although, having buried all my “growing up” family by the time I was 28, I should not be so surprised, but I find myself in a new world of “reality.”
Last Thursday, when I told a dear friend about what’s happening he said, “I’m coming to town in January and I’ll look forward to a visit then.” I had to gently remind him that “I might not be alive by then.” This is just a vivid example of what we are experiencing in every relationship we have.
Since we have been working full time on a book for five years that includes a trip clear through the Bible I am going to try to tell the story on video. We will report on our progress on this in the future. And as my commitment has been to you all along, I’ll try to continue to respond to your questions that come up as we are walking through our adventure with the Lord and each other.
Bottom line of all of this: We will appreciate your prayers for healing if possible and for continuing to live for him in either case.
I am extremely grateful not only for the amazing life I’ve had, but for friends like you who are reading this.
This is not something we would normally write, but since the last part of this life is a part of the adventure of living with God and with each other, I’ll see what I can do.
The most important thing on my agenda is the people I love—which includes more people than I ever dreamed it would and certainly some of you who are reading this.
After a long day at the hospital on Tuesday Keith came home and enjoyed a wonderful evening with his family. Then early Wednesday morning Keith woke up with a fever and discomfort and was taken to the emergency room. There the doctors were able to reduce his fever and he is feeling better. Keith is staying in the hospital for a few days to make sure that any infection is eliminated. The next step, after Keith comes home, is to see an oncologist about possible treatments for this tumor.
We invite you to leave your comments, thoughts and prayers for Keith and Andrea and all of their family here. As they are able they will check in and read your comments.
We thank you for your prayers.
Lord, thank you that you promised to prepare a place for us, beginning now, so that we may be together with you always.
“…I go to prepare a place for you.” John 14:2b
Photo © MaxPaul Franklin 2011
I’m a Christian and am also newly in a recovery program. But I’m confused about some of the terminology of the spiritual life that seems to me to be more similar to the faith I found before recovery than I had thought, but still different. My question is: In the 12-Step program I’m now in, some people talk about the process as leading toward “recovery.” But others say “This is a program of “transformation.” After almost 27 years, I feel strongly that I am being transformed into a better, more caring, less self-centered person. And I’m happy about that. But “transformation” implies that I’m being changed into a ‘different person’—whereas the word ‘recovery’ implies that I’ve lost something I once had and by working the program I will one day be able to recover it.
Since I’ve started thinking about this, I’m wondering if Christian transformation doesn’t raise the same question. Is God making me into a different person than I feel like I am now? Or does God help me to be a new and better version of the me I used to be?
I realize that this may be a dumb question. But since I can’t imagine myself being the super-pious person some Christians seem to claim they are experiencing being, I am looking for some clarification of where we are headed on either or both spiritual journeys.
Thanks for the good questions. These have been real questions for me, too. But for a long time I just parked them aside. However, after 26 years of being on a spiritual journey that in a sense combined a 12-Step program and a Christian spiritual way, I can at least tell you how these apparent differences are being resolved in my life.
My experience as a Christian and a person in a 12-Step recovery program is basically this: In both cases I needed to recover from the effects of my intense but denied self-centeredness. This putting myself in the center of my life where only God belongs is what Christianity calls Sin (with a capital ‘S’.) In other words, without my realizing it, I wanted my wife and children (and everyone I worked with) to behave the way I thought they should—although I didn’t realize the extent to which that was true.
I finally saw that my behavior and attitudes were hurting the people around me and making them angry. When I heard that if I would surrender the driver’s seat of my life to God and try to learn to live as God made me to live, I finally put myself in his hands, and I began to be able to see my sins (with a small ‘s’) that were things I did because I had put myself and my wants in the driver’s seat of my life instead of trying to find out what God would have me do.
Many years after becoming a Christian my life and relationships became very painful because of drinking alcohol to calm my fears when I tried more openly than I had before to get what I wanted. My self-centeredness tended to override my commitment to doing God’s will as I understood it. So when I went to treatment, I saw that I needed to recover from the use of alcohol. And as a Christian I realized that I needed to let God transform my whole life toward being a more unselfish and loving man.
But over the years as I did the steps and worked the program, I saw that I was being transformed—but not into a different person. No, I felt that I was, for the first time, gradually becoming the loving, honest person I had always wanted to be.
So the bottom line for me now is that both Christianity and the 12 Steps are aimed at helping me become more my authentic self. I say this because I never did feel natural trying to be some kind of pious saint or paragon of Christian virtue or a “perfect person” or “big-book thumper” who always pretends to do the Steps and the principles of the program perfectly.
And the joy for me is that God seems to be helping me to be transformed into the loving person I always wanted to be. Not perfect by any means, but becoming more natural and feeling more at home in my own skin—more the same person in all the different relationships and situations in my whole life.
And by surrendering my life to the God Jesus called Father every day, and asking him to teach me how to be the loving person he made me to be, I feel like I am “coming home” to enjoy being simply the person it feels like I was somehow designed to become—not super good, but more real somehow.
God, thank you that you evidently don’t want us to live a life in which we can’t feel comfortable, but that you’re freeing us to be what we really always wanted to be—but didn’t know how. Help me to surrender to you so you can help me become who I was meant to be all along. Amen.
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
– Romans 12:1-2, The Message
Fritz Kunkel summarized the difference of recognition of self and God as it unfolds for the individual coming to himself [or herself]. “He who really finds himself finds God… Our true self is the final goal of our religious development. At first it is “I;” then it becomes “We;” and at last it will be “He.”
– Fritz Kunkel, In Search of Maturity
How do you deal with sad things like missed opportunities or things you regret in your past? I have some incidents from twenty years ago that periodically come up in my dreams. I wake up filled with sadness, but since we can’t undo what happened in the past, how do you learn to live with it?
A great question. I’ve had several kinds of regrets that used to plague me periodically in my dreams. Some, like things I did wrong or that hurt someone, I have learned to go back to the people involved and make what amends I can. (E.g. I paid off a debt I “forgot,” and told people I had hurt that I’ve realized what I had done and how they must have felt, and asked their forgiveness.) Other things I have just had to confess to God or a spiritual counselor and ask God to help me use the painful situation to show sensitivity toward others, and to take the time to love and help people I meet who come to me.
But sometimes there are totally unexpected opportunities to find healing one could never have caused or predicted. For example, recently I had an unexpected opportunity to possibly find healing for a painful situation that occurred while I was in college at Oklahoma University sixty-four years ago. Last spring I got a letter from the new basketball coach at O.U., Lon Kruger. Lon and the athletic department were going to institute a weekend celebration to which all living players who had ever lettered in basketball would be invited to come back to O.U. for a celebration get-together. Among other things there was to be an exhibition game, and the letter said that anyone who wanted to play in that game would receive a complimentary game uniform.
First let’s go back to when I was in the ninth grade. I saw my first basketball game and became fascinated. I told the coach I would do anything he told me to do if he would give me a chance. And he did. I worked diligently, developed some skills and became a starter on the Tulsa Central High School basketball team that was undefeated during the regular season.
Later, after World War II was over and I got out of the Navy in the summer of 1946, I enrolled at Oklahoma University. My high school coach must have given me a very good recommendation because I got a basketball scholarship job.
When I got to the campus I learned that twenty-seven returning veterans showed up to play that year, young men who had lettered in basketball in college, mostly at O.U., and then had been in the service during the years of the Second World War. Nine had been All-Conference and two players had been All-American (Gerald Tucker and Allie Paine). Coach Bruce Drake was building the most talented team in O.U. history to that point, a team that got to the national finals game in the spring of 1947 against Holy Cross with Bob Cousey, et al.
My freshman year was a fabulous experience. I told Bruce Drake the same thing I had told my high school coach: “I will do whatever it takes to make the team.” I realized that I was going up against the best players in America every day in practice. But I worked very hard and in my sophomore year began to travel with and play on the team.
Then during the Christmas holidays, I told the coach that I could not go to the New Orleans invitational basketball tournament because my brother, Earle, was killed the year before and my parents were going to be alone at Christmas. He understood, and O.U. still had a great deal of available talent from the previous year.
But during that Christmas break I went with some friends to a party in Enid, OK, about sixty miles away. The car was going 90 mph down a highway that had the dirt washed away from the concrete slab. The right tires slipped off the edge of the slab and the driver tried to whip the car back on the road. The car flipped into the air and rolled 270 yards down a hill. I broke my neck and they didn’t know if I’d be paralyzed or even live.
I remember praying—not knowing what was going to happen, and I turned my future over to God.
I went through a long rehab and after a lot of hard and uncomfortable work (and a lot of the grace of God through a great spinal surgeon) I recovered much of the use of my body, but not enough that I was cleared to play again. Bruce Drake saw that I lettered in basketball in 1947-48 year.
I tried hanging around at practice, but felt like a leech, since I had nothing to offer. Finally I couldn’t enjoy going to the games, so I quietly withdrew from O.U. basketball and began to build a new life. But something started happening then that I never told anyone but my wife until recently. I would have a dream that I was playing basketball at O.U. again. And I’d wake up from the dream and cry like a little boy. That started in 1948 and happened periodically for years.
So when I got that letter from coach Kruger I first just thought it might really be fun to “go back home to O.U.” and meet some of the players I’d heard about. Then a thought hit me. I called coach Kruger and asked him if he had a good sense of humor. He chuckled and then I said, “I’m a letterman, and I’d like to get a uniform and be a part of that game.”
He said, “Fine. We’d love to have you do that.”
I said, “The problem is, I’m 84 years old. I can still shoot the ball a little and I’d like to warm up with the team. But—if someone tries to put me in the game, I’ll put out a contract on them.”
He laughed and said, “Fill out the form. We’d love to have you.”
The thought that had hit me (as a man with a degree in Psychological Counseling) was that if I signed up, suited up, and showed up on the court for that game, it might lay to rest that ache in my gut that caused the dreams about having to quit playing basketball.
So I got a new pair of basketball shoes and began to practice handling a basketball and shooting close in shots so I wouldn’t fall down or otherwise shame myself.
When Andrea and I got to the hotel in Norman, we discovered that this was a lot bigger deal than we had planned on. At the banquet the night before the game, I realized that we were sitting in the midst of a bunch of All-Americans, retired NBA players and other really outstanding players from the past forty or fifty years. Some of them still played in the NBA or on European teams overseas. And there were two outstanding coaches who had been named “Coach of the Year” during their time at O.U. Also I discovered that the exhibition game had been advertised, the public invited, and was going to be in the O.U. game facility where the varsity games were played.
When the two teams (Red and Cream) were ready to go onto the court, I trotted out and was introduced on the Cream Team, “84-year old Keith Miller from the class of 1947-48.” I tried to jog onto the court as if I were a younger man (of 60 or 70). And somehow the sight of an 84 year old man with a white beard in an O.U. basketball uniform must have triggered something inside that crowd, because although I couldn’t hear it, Andrea told me that the crowd’s response was very positive and big.
Photo courtesy of Karl Dickinson. To see more, click above.
Both teams ran the warm-up drills and shot a few baskets. When I’d hit one a student section on our end of the court would cheer, and when I’d miss, they’d go “awwww,” sadly.
And then the game was on. It proved to be very rough and competitive. It ended in a tie and the Cream Team won in overtime. Every five minutes a new five players would be substituted. Three times coach Sampson tried to send me in. Although the game was so rough the first injury was a torn quadriceps tendon, there was no letup. But still, the third time coach pointed at me to go in, I almost did! You talk about insanity—I couldn’t even keep up running the length of the court. But the thought crossed my mind, “Maybe I’ll get lucky!”
After the game the audience brought the prepared autograph pages out onto the court and kids and grownups alike came for autographs. Since I was the oldest person, my name was listed first. So I looked in the eyes of and encouraged a lot of little boys who were star struck by the whole experience—but no one more than the 84-year-old in an O.U. uniform who was burying the pain of his past, and being born into a new life as a “real player” in a life filled with gratitude to God.
Thank you, Lord, that it’s not over until it’s over. You stay with us all the way with your loving and healing presence. Help me to be aware that many people have painful circumstances and unmet dreams from the past that you can fulfill in their hearts. In Jesus’ name, amen.
“People brought anybody with an ailment, whether mental, emotional, or physical. Jesus healed them, one and all.”
– Matthew 4:24, The Message
“Healing is a matter of time, but it is sometimes also a matter of opportunity.”
Ancient Greek Physician, referred to as the Father of Western Medicine
Dear Keith, I don’t know what the matter with me is. I have a good job and a caring family, but inside my head when I’m alone I seem to have some sort of secretive and self-defeating mental/emotional disease. I find myself drinking and eating too much, and masturbating while looking at pornography. And I’m a church-going Christian.
I can’t bring myself to go for professional help because I feel like I couldn’t deal with the shame of admitting these behaviors to another person. But I’m getting more and more isolated and frightened because I have nearly gotten caught at one or more of these habits several times recently.
I feel like I have a terminal disease that is out to kill me. I know that’s ridiculous, but it feels true. Do you have any ideas about what I’m describing?
Oh yes! Although the specific behaviors vary a lot, the disease beneath the behaviors you described so clearly is the experience of virtually all people on a serious spiritual journey. The apostle Paul describes the way it worked in his life near the end of his ministry.
“I’m full of myself…what I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for me and then do it, it becomes obvious that…I need something more! For I know the law but still can’t keep it, and the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions such as they are don’t result in action. Something has gone wrong deep within me, and gets the better of me every time. It happens so regularly that its predictable…Parts of me rebel and just when I least expect it, they take charge.” (Romans 7:15-23)
Although there isn’t space here to describe all that happened to me before I got to the place of powerlessness you described in your question, but I finally did. I went for help to a treatment center, faced this spiritual “disease,” and although I’d been a sincere converted Christian for years, I discovered how to surrender to God the parts of my life that I was afraid to face with anyone and enter a process of spiritual transformation with a group of other people who wanted to face their conflicting inner lives and desires.
That was twenty-six years ago. All I can tell you is that one day at a time—sometimes one hour at a time, I have learned how to face the hidden inner urges and pain that is part of every spiritual life. I wrote three books about things I learned that have helped me face the powerful inner compulsions that once seemed impervious to change (The Secret Life of the Soul, A Hunger for Healing, and Compelled to Control).
But I believe the most striking thing about this spiritual disease (that Paul called sin and that others call the addiction disease) is that even though the kinds of things and solutions that can bring you all the help you need are available by admitting you need help and surrendering to God—the disease “tells you” that these things will NOT in fact help YOU.
To let you know how strong the negative message coming from this spiritual disease is, after twenty-six years in a spiritual recovery program that has changed virtually all my relationships and ways of letting God transform my life, last Saturday morning I almost did not go to the men’s group that has been most helpful to me for years in facing my problems and finding new solutions. Recently I have been dealing with pain in my neck and right shoulder that is evidently connected with a broken neck I experienced in a car wreck when I was nineteen years old. Now this pain is not even about something sinful or bad but it has been keeping me from sleeping. I was starting to isolate and believe there was no help or support I could receive from the group. (After all my issue was about physical pain that I could not get to stop, not compulsive behavior.)
But at the last minute, I went to the meeting and shared what was happening to me. As I did so, I addressed some of the young men saying, “One of the worst things about this spiritual disease we share is that it tells us that meeting together will not help us. But I want to tell you that in the next 30 days some of you will be tempted not to come share what is happening to you. But if you listen to the disease and don’t come and share, the disease is just waiting to get you to believe that only what it tells you to do (like drinking, over-eating or compulsive selfish thoughts or sexual escape) will bring you relief. And that’s the way it will finally ruin your life and kill you.” When I had shared, I sat quietly and realized that I was calm and that the pain had quieted somehow.
Christians have an especially difficult time believing that going to church can help them. And of course, if you attend a church where neither the clergy nor the congregation is dealing openly with the real areas of life that need healing, it may be very difficult to find a safe place to share. But Jesus spent a great deal of his time alleviating the pain of the people with whom he worked and taught and I believe he was telling us that surrendering our lives to the God he called Father is the beginning of a life of healing.
Dear Lord, Thank you that when we have the courage to face who we really are, you can accept us and help us to become the persons you designed us to be. Help us to find and walk with others walking with you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
“Nothing, I suspect, is more astonishing in any man’s life than the discovery that there do exist people very, very like himself.” C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy
“How often we hide behind masks and hug delusions with compulsive passions, because we are afraid to be known, to be loved. … We cannot really respect a person unless we know him. We cannot love what we do not know.” Fr. William McNamara, The Art of Being Human
I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. (Romans 7:24-25)
Saturday at Riverbend Church here in Austin, TX, a large number of people gathered to say a formal “Goodbye,” and “We love you, Hank!” to our dear remarkable, unpretentious friend, Francis Leo “Hank” McNamara.
It was a strange mix: some 50 or 60 family members; many Austinites who had known Hank since grade school; at least as many who had known him in recovery programs—some only for a few days or months. The atmosphere seemed to be permeated by…love, at least that’s what I kept thinking as I met dozens of them.
The day after he died, his wife, Trish, asked me to speak at his funeral. I nodded my thanks, went home and cried.
Ten months earlier, Hank had broken his neck. It would not heal, which meant that if he tripped or bumped into a wall wrong the second vertebra would shift and he’d be dead—or paralyzed. Since he already had a bad heart and several other serious physical issues, his prognosis did not look good.
One day several months ago I asked Hank if he would like to tell his family who he really was and what he thought of them (he had a very large family). He said he really would. Shortly after that, using a tape recorder, we started on a joint trip through his whole life that for me was a life-changing journey. I swore to him that I would never reveal what he said on tape until he had edited it and given me permission to reveal it.
After only a couple of sessions, I realized that he had raised or co-raised thirteen children who lived in various places around the country. After we had finishing a taping session, I asked him if he would like to say something specifically to them. If he would, we could structure that into our sessions together. Hank said he would. He told me (not on tape) that although he’d been married three times before he wanted each of his children to know that he had loved their mother, that he loved each one of them and his grandchildren especially, and he was glad he’d gotten to be their old man. And he wanted to tell them before it was too late. Unfortunately Hank died before we had any more recording sessions. But because he had told that to me in a personal conversation when the tape machine was off, I could pass that part of our conversations on to them at the funeral. Also I could tell Trish that she was the love of his life—even though I’m sure she already knew that.
Although I never can type and share the information on those tapes now, I learned a lot about Hank McNamara in the last few weeks before his death that I could and did pass on to those who are his friends and family members at the funeral.
Hank was a remarkable man. I can still see him coming up the sidewalk. He had to wear a kind of neck support made up of four rods (two at either side of his face and two at the back corners of his head) going up several inches over his head and connected by wires—like some sort of futuristic scaffolding. He had oxygen tubes in his nostrils, was pulling an oxygen tank, and as I recall, carrying an aluminum cane. And yet he was smiling and gracious to everyone he met. He was going through some of the most scary and painful things a human being can experience, and yet he was filled with gratitude—gratitude for his beloved Trish (he was very much in love), but also I never saw him when he wasn’t grateful “for another day.”
The “magic” Hank brought with him everywhere he went was amazing. The day he died I heard a young woman say that she had come for help to a meeting Hank had started, feeling shame and worthlessness. But the way Hank shook her hand, smiled and greeted her—as if she were a fine worthwhile person—awakened a belief in her that maybe she could become those things someday. I heard many similar stories during the next few days.
As I thought about Hank’s life over the twenty years I’ve known him, I realized that he had changed the focus of his approach to helping people in trouble. For the last several years he had begun to “stand by the door” of the places where people in trouble were frantically searching for God. He had begun to spend more and more of his time helping “newcomers” to get started on a spiritual journey that could lead them to become the people they had lost hope of ever becoming—or becoming again after a life of failure and running from reality and God.
That night before Hank’s funeral, I remembered a poem I had read years before. It had been written by a man who I consider to have been one of the most outstanding men in the 20th century regarding helping people into a life of faith. The man had sent it to me in October of 1961. I decided to read a couple of stanzas of this poem at his funeral because I recognized Hank within in the lines (although I am almost certain that He did not know about the poem).
SO I STAY NEAR THE DOOR—An Apologia for My Life.
I stay near the door.
I neither go too far in, nor stay too far out,
The door is the most important door in the world—
It is the door through which men walk when they find God.
There’s no use my going way inside, and staying there,
When so many are still outside, and they, as much as I,
Crave to know where the door is.
And all that so many ever find
Is only the wall where a door ought to be.
They creep along the wall like blind men,
With outstretched, groping hands,
Feeling for a door, knowing there must be a door,
Yet they never find it…
So I stay near the door.
The most tremendous thing in the world
Is for men to find that door—the door to God.
The most important thing any man can do
Is to take hold of one of those blind, groping hands,
And put it on the latch–the latch that only clicks
And opens to the man’s own touch.
Men die outside that door, as starving beggars die
On cold nights in cruel cities in the dead of winter–
Die for want of what is within their grasp.
They live, on the other side of it–because they have found it.
Nothing else matters compared to helping them find it,
And open it, and walk in, and find Him – – –
So I stay near the door.
There is another reason why I stay there.
Some people get part way in and become afraid
Lest God and the zeal of His house devour them;
For God is so very great, and asks all of us.
And these people feel a cosmic claustrophobia.
And want to get out. Let me out! they cry.
And the people way inside only terrify them more.
Somebody must be by the door to tell them that they are spoiled
For the old life, they have seen too much;
Once taste God, and nothing but God will do any more.
Somebody must be watching for the frightened
Who seek to sneak out just where they came in,
To tell them how much better it is inside.
The people too far in do not see how near these are
To leaving—preoccupied with the wonder of it all.
Somebody must watch for those who have entered the door,
But would run away. So for them, too,
I stay near the door.
The startling thing about this poem is that it was written by the man who was “standing near the door” when Bill Wilson’s friend Eby brought Bill to Calvary Church in New York. That man, The Rev. Sam Shoemaker, put Bill Wilson’s hand on the latch of the door. Sam showed him how to commit his whole life to God. And then, at Bill’s request, Sam helped Bill to frame Alcoholics Anonymous and to put the spirituality into the “Big Book”, and The Twelve Steps and the Twelve Tradition’s. And this anonymous movement became the fastest growing spiritual movement in the 20th century during a time when many organized religious organizations were shrinking or floundering.
It was this incredible realization about Hank that made me realize the deep significance of his life: Our friend Hank McNamara (who did not consider himself to be “religious”) had realized—as Sam Shoemaker had half a century before him—that the future of the movement that saved Hank’s life and the lives of so many of us, might be continued only by loving persons willing to stand near the door—wherever they live—to guide the hands of a few lost people onto the latch of the door through which they may find Life—and God.
I am very grateful that I got a chance to know Hank McNamara, a real man of God.
“If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you.”
-Revelations 3:20, The Message
Keith, After I decided to surrender my life to God, how should I go about finding my vocation?
Good question. At first I didn’t know what to do. I was a land man for a major oil company. It was a good job but hardly considered to be a training ground for Christian disciples—which I definitely wanted to be after finally trying to turn my life over to God.
I prayed about what to do and at that time there seemed to be only one way for really serious players to go: go to theology school and become ordained to be a full time Christian minister. So I studied the Bible and theology and the history of the church and preaching under some good professors. Along the way I sat with my parents when my older brother was killed and with my father when he died of a heart condition and with my mother when she died of cancer—all before I was 30. All during this time I was praying and reading the Bible and the lives of the saints—the people in the past who had given their lives to God.
I decided that the playing field I was called to in which to help people find hope and real love was in the ordinary life I was trying to live as a businessman. I made a decision that God had my address. Instead of spending all my time “deciding what I would become for God,” I would treat my own ordinary life as a father and husband who commuted in a car pool twenty miles one way to work five days a week—that I would commit that life to God and to learning how to live for him all day long.
I made that decision because I simply didn’t know any ministers at that time who talked, preached or shared individually about having real problems in their own lives and relationships with their spouses, children, parents or fellow clergy. I was still in my thirties and just couldn’t believe that I was the only committed Christian who wrestled with lust, jealousy, and the many faces of fear of failure. None of these pastors seemed to have that terrible three-day silence warfare with their spouses or had to be right in arguments with a spouse or feel like a wimp, or worry at night about developing a retirement plan or squeezing in vacation time. In fact, since I did wrestle with all of these things, for a number of years I thought I must not be a good Christian.
But at another level I was learning that the way out of the fears for me was not courage, which I’d prayed for, but love. When I was worried, I discovered that if I helped someone else, my fear left me—and that maybe Jesus was right (J) when he said that it is “love that casts out fear.”
At twenty-two I had met a man who encouraged me to keep a journal about the things in which I was interested. He helped me write a small book of ballads. And after a few years of talking to lay people about the hope I was finding in an intimate relationship with the God Jesus called Father, I began writing books about the simple yet agonizing discoveries concerning what it might mean to try to live one’s whole life for and with God.
As I’ve written in blogs before, I kept trying to be open to finding out the truth about my own character defects. And that process has made me face many of the denied self-centeredness and control issues with which I had never before been confronted—either in church or school. But because I’d learned a lot about Jesus and his life, teaching and self-limiting love, I knew that when I learned about my sins and character defects, to confess them to some Christian men also trying to live for God. And I began to see how I’d hurt many of the people I love most.
The incredible thing to me is that in spite of my flaws—many of which didn’t surface until I had become a best-selling author and lecturer and had traveled in many foreign countries around the world, teaching about how God can change our whole perception of what it means to live intimately with him and other people. The bottom line about the discovery process is that I would have bet anyone that I would not do the immoral and hurtful things I wound up doing. And they happened to a man who was very disciplined and had “kept the rules” all his life. I was baffled. And when I faced and admitted what I’d done, it was too late to mend some of the fences I had charged through.
What does this have to do with finding a vocation? For me, a great deal. After having a number of best-selling books translated into many languages and having trained with and learned from many powerful and wealthy people as a young man, I finally realized I am just a person. And that I can sometimes love and help people who are struggling with the questions of life and who have discovered the hard way that they are powerless on their own to change their lives at a deep level.
I go to group meetings of people, some of whom I have known for twenty-five years, with whom I share the pain and joy of trying to live for God. When guests and new people come, we discuss our scariest and most fearsome problems. I was writing books and lecturing in different places in foreign countries, but for twenty years I didn’t find it helpful or necessary to tell them that I was a writer and lecturer. But lately, since many of the people who read my books are very old or deceased, I have told some of these people I love and meet with that my vocation is being a writer and a sort of talent scout for God—helping a few people discover the vocational dreams they buried along with their self-centeredness and control issues. That’s come to be the focus of my vocation.
The short answer to your question about choosing a vocation as a Christian is that since God seems to want loving representatives in every culture and every financial, political, educational and medical field, it doesn’t much matter what you do vocationally as long as you love God and surrender the center of your life to God. So I’d advise you to pray about it, ask God’s will, and then pick something that you really love to do. Then go and find out if you can do it.
Will there be pain and sorrow? Of course, but you will find that in the long run your ability to navigate through pain and still be loving will have more effect in spreading the Good News into other people’s hearts around you than all of the sermons you could preach and all the books you could write.
Lord, help me to keep listening for your voice in the pain of other people’s lives and in my own. And thank you that you let me fail enough to wake up and see that I don’t have to “win” to be the person you will love “someday,” but just to open my eyes and see your loving presence in Andrea, our families and the other people we get to walk with on your crazy adventure. In Jesus’ name, amen.
“This is a large work I’ve called you into, but don’t be overwhelmed by it. It’s best to start small. Give a cool cup of water to someone who is thirsty, for instance. The smallest act of giving or receiving makes you a true apprentice.”
-Jesus to the Twelve in Matthew 10:42
“But I do more than thank. I ask—ask the God of our Master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory—to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for his followers, oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him—endless energy, boundless strength!”
-Ephesians 1:18-19, The Message
“Always continue the climb. It is possible for you to do whatever you choose, if you first get to know who you are and are willing to work with a power that is greater than ourselves to do it.”
-Ella Wheeler Wilcox—American Writer (1850-1919)
“Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”
-Theodore Roosevelt—26th President of the United States (1858-1919)
Keith, what does Jesus say about the fact that good Christians often have serious pain?
I don’t know where the notion came from that committed Christians shouldn’t have pain. But for me pain has been the most important way that I find my way back to God—again and again. I remember hearing Dr. Paul Tournier, a Swiss physician and author and also a Christian, give a lecture on this topic. A physician in the audience asked him a similar question: “Dr. Tournier, how do you get your patients out of their pain?” I was shocked at his answer, as was everyone else in the room.
“Oh, I don’t,” he responded. “Not until they know the meaning of it.”
For most of my life I was very anxious to get out of pain—that is until I tried to surrender my whole life to the God Jesus called Father. It had not occurred to me that personal pain is virtually a necessity for one who hopes to live as a serious citizen of God’s Kingdom/Reign. In fact, as I’ve said before (see this post), pain is like a fire alarm system to help us pinpoint issues we need to recognize and deal with.
There are many kinds of personal pain: pain that results from physical injury or various kinds of pain involving loss of self-esteem or from troubled or broken relationships.
When Jesus first drew his disciples apart from the crowds to teach them, he listed some of the most painful personal experiences or losses people can experience and said to them, “You’re blessed …
- …when you reach the end of your rope.
- … when you feel you have lost that which is most dear to you.
- … when you are content with just who you are, no more, no less.
- … when your commitment to God provokes persecution.
- …every time people put you down or throw you out or speak lies about you to discredit me…You can be glad when that happens—give a cheer, even!—for though they don’t like it, I do! And all heaven applauds. And know that you are in good company. My prophets and witnesses have always gotten into this kind of trouble. (Matthew 5, The Message)
I think he was saying that until the disciples and I realize that we are powerless on our own to control our lives, our circumstances and other people’s acceptance and approval of us, we will not really believe that we actually need to surrender our whole lives to God.
When I became a Christian, I surrendered my “overall” life early on with a statement to that effect. But as time went on my behavior (and my family) finally told me that first surrender had evidently not included my insistence on being right in arguments, and over time my ambition that caused me to neglect my family (although I made valiant attempts to make it up to them, etc.). But clearly I was powerless and hurt my family because I was over-focused on succeeding at everything I did—even as a Christian. And I failed as a husband and a father. Only then in the despair and rejection resulting from a failed marriage that I had caused did I hear Christ saying to me that unless I would go back to square one and become like a child in my relationship to God as my intimate Father. I could not see and change my life-long mostly unconscious compulsion to control circumstances and people to get them to act the way I wanted them to. I needed to recognize clearly that inside where no one can see, I am a little child calling out to his intimate Father (abba=daddy). I am asking Him to teach me how to live and relate to other people as loving siblings instead of getting them to be actors in the drama I am producing and in which I am the star.
This stance of putting ourselves on center stage in our daily or professional lives and subtly or openly trying to get the others around us to be supporting actors in our drama is a powerful word picture of the self-centered Sin that we Christians believe only God can overcome. The problem is that God’s process of transforming us into the wonderful, loving and creative people he created us to be cannot, it seems, begin without our giving God permission (to the best of our ability) to teach us who we are and what our role in life will be that can bring happiness and fulfillment to other people and ourselves. And this evidently begins with awareness, confession and surrender.*
One of the greatest mysteries about God’s process of transformation is that we cannot see in our own lives and behavior that we are in fact trying to control the other people around us (however subtly and “lovingly” we may be doing the controlling). Some people who have the most serious problem of controlling their wives, husbands, children or siblings are consciously so “gentle and loving” with their hints and suggestions that they are astounded when accused of controlling. They may even cry or rage and say things like “Controlling?! Good grief! I’m only trying to HELP you!!” Or weep and say, “I’m trying to help you avoid making some terrible mistakes!!” And that may be how they experience their behavior. So solving these difficulties may take some counseling to unravel.
In my case, rejection by family member—when they couldn’t get through to me about my self-centeredness and control issues—caused me so much pain that I went to a treatment center, and there my denial finally cracked open. (I described how this happened for me in The Secret Life of the Soul.) Now I try to listen to the pain in my own life and see how I can relate to it as Jesus did and see what it may have to teach me about how to be more loving the way Jesus loved.
The experience of inter-personal pain is often a shock—whether it is experienced by being rejected by a person or group or the pain of a degenerating spine. The good news is that as I surrender the pain and my future to God I can learn how to walk through the pain of living and understand better how to love people as I’m going through it. And looking back I have realized that the areas of personal pain in my own life are like drawbridges I can put down into other people’s lives and walk with them as I learn how to take their hands and help them know at least one path through their particular kind of pain.
So it is often through our experiences of pain that we become “specialists” in helping people learn how to deal with their experience of that same kind of pain—or at least to know that it is possible to make it through that pain, because we made it through—or are still making it through.
And my journey as a Christian has led me to realize that it is the experience of personal pain that can lead us to see new values in the world and to be more caring and loving to people who are alone in their pain. And since that is one of the purposes of citizens of God’s New Reign in Jesus—to love people and be a part of their healing, we can actually use our painful lonely experiences to become the loving people we were designed to be—if we can learn to look for and notice when other people are in pain…and when appropriate, to walk a few steps with them.
Dear Lord, thank you for realizing that the various kinds of secret pain in my life can be sources of wisdom as to how to love you and other people specifically when they are going through the loneliness of solitary pain. Help me to learn to listen and let people tell about their pain instead of rushing in with fixes and all kinds of “answers” (before they are even asking for help). Thank you that you didn’t promise us “answers” in the usual sense but said you would be present with us in our pain—and that would somehow transform us to learn how to love others in their pain. Help me to be willing to go and sit with people in their pain—as you have done through those who have visited me. In Jesus’ name, amen.
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going to work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering.
-Romans 12:1, The Message
Don’t run from suffering; embrace it. Follow me and I’ll show you how. Self-help is no help at all. Self-sacrifice is the way, my way, to saving yourself, your true self.
-Mark 8: 35, The Message
Let me tell you why you are here. You’re here to be salt seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth…and another way to put it: You’re to be light, bringing out the God colors in the world … (and the way you’re to be light is) to shine…be generous with your life. By opening up to others you’ll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven.
-Mt. 5:13-26, The Message
* I’m not being “Pollyanna” here. I still want to get out of pain as quickly as possible. But I’m not quite as frantic about having pain because I have realized that all I have learned by going through a good bit of pain has helped me to become more sensitive and loving to other people—and more aware of God’s presence in my real life.
 If you have had this experience, you might consider taking a look at Facing Codependence.
Keith, as I have watched you from a distance for the past twenty-five years, you have not been a Christian who just made up his mind to be a Christian and just relax and be one. You seem to keep wrestling with the faith as if it is a continuous process after you are saved (or accepted by God). Why would you have to struggle with faith problems when you’ve been saved?
That’s a good question. It implies to me that you (or people you know) see Christianity as a transaction between God and a person like joining the YMCA or signing up as a Democrat or Republican. Once you’re in, you’re in. Of course you may have to pay dues, but the decisions are over once you’ve made the choice to join.
But for me, a serious relationship with God is more like a marriage than joining something. A marriage involves an initial commitment, but if one has a real marriage there is a commitment to ongoing communication and growth as the relationship deepens. Here’s a thumbnail sketch of how the life of faith has gone for me.
When I was a little my mother told me that God is real and taught me to pray. I continued to “say my prayers” at night, and prayed for help when I felt vulnerable or like I might fail or not get what I wanted.
Then by the time I was twelve or thirteen I decided that “God is real”—not symbolic like Santa Clause or the Easter Bunny. So when asked to, I stood with a bunch of other young people in front of the huge congregation at Boston Avenue Methodist Church in Tulsa and “said the words” that the Methodist church had for a commitment to Christ. I was doing what I had been told was the next right step. And according to the Church, I was officially saved and going to heaven. And I am not doubting the validity of the churches confirmation rite. But for me, inside my mind, I was to experience a lot about which I hadn’t been told.
That was when puberty hit. I began having two kinds of consciousness. I had my usual mind that dealt with schoolwork and how to be better at sports, etc. But when I was tempted to do things I was pretty sure God wouldn’t encourage us to do (like masturbate, think about girls and sex, etc.) I stepped out of the “God room” in my mind and into an empty windowless film room. Having a secret space to go where God was not invited didn’t seem like that big a deal for a long time since I’d never been told that God would “get me” if I wasn’t good.
Then life brought devastating situations that I could not change or make sense of by myself. My only brother was killed in WWII. A few years later I walked beside Dad as his damaged heart weakened, then killed him. I sat with Mother (taking the night shift in the hospital) a few short years later as cancer took her life, an inch at a time.
I began to ask questions I’d never asked, like “What is death?” and “Why do people hurt and kill each other?” I read serious books about what it might mean really to know God and learn how life was designed to be lived—since I believed he was its creator. I knew that I didn’t know God as I knew other people.
I had married a beautiful and very intelligent young woman. We were in love and I went to work to start fulfilling the American dream of raising a family and “becoming successful.” But when my mother was dying I realized that life wasn’t what I’d thought it would be. And then one day on a roadside in a car I had a deep intuitive knowing that I needed to surrender my whole life to God, and that he would guide me into the truth about life.
When I started to live out my commitment (to this God Jesus called Father) in every area of my life, I began to write books about the journey. The books succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. I studied theology and then psychology, writing and lecturing in many places across the world about what I was discovering. Before I knew it, I had been given more affirmation and success than I could ever have predicted.
The experiences about which I’ve written might be seen by some people as struggling with faith. But to me it as been more like a struggle between myself and God over who would be in charge of my life.
Sometimes I wish it were as easy as I’ve heard people say it is for them—easy just to surrender, keep out of the driver’s seat of my own life and allow God to be in control all the time. It has not been so for me. At each stage of my learning, I was being asked to face personal issues that came up. I would pray and finally realize that I was putting something ahead of God. And after much prayer and counsel, I would see what I needed to give to God, finally surrender that and have a new burst of freedom.
Somewhere along the way—after some years of notoriety and the deference that comes with it—life lost its joy, and I was bewildered. I became aware of “something” about myself that was totally resistant to surrendering to God. I didn’t learn exactly what it was for years. But I was baffled at the uneasiness and frustration I was experiencing—while living a life of effectiveness and glamor caring for many people everywhere I went. I was really confused, but could not see what the matter with me was.
People close to me sensed that somewhere very deep in my life I was not the unselfish person whom people seemed to experience in relating to me. (The person whom I consciously was much of the time.)
Eventually a little beer or wine morphed into a lot of Scotch whiskey. Even several years of prayer and psychological and spiritual counseling did not uncover what the problem was. My behavior deteriorated and I acted out some of my fear and frustration in very self-centered and immoral behavior leading to a divorce and to the crash of the great life and work I’d been given to do.
Finally my misery led me to a treatment center where I learned that the thing I would not surrender to God was so deep and so well defended that I’d even repressed it from my own sight and sincerely thought God was driving my life. I came to the place where I saw no other way, no other solution than to agree to surrender whatever it was that I was hiding, if God would show it to me, as frightening as that prospect was. And at last I saw that it was my self-centered need to be in charge of my life and to make sure that I could get my own gigantic need for love and attention met. Facing and surrendering that was the most frightening experience of my life. I felt that if I surrendered my future, I might be nothing. (I have described the experience in a book.) The morning after facing my deep self-centeredness and my unconscious need to control even God, I realized that the self-centeredness and need to control had been my underlying denied problem all my life.
So the answer to your question, “Why have I continued to struggle with God and faith if I were truly saved or converted when I first committed my whole life to God” is this: In my conscious experience I gave all of my life I could see to as much of God as I could understand, asking him to show me what to do. And as God began to shed light on what I might do for him, that same light revealed things I needed to surrender in order for me to be able to do what he gave me to do. My struggle has been to recognize, confess, and be willing to give up each character defect he showed me—and then ask God for the power and the courage to live and love people, trusting Him with the outcome of my efforts.
Twenty-six years ago I began a new adventure of faith by seeing and confessing my deepest sin of wanting to control my destiny. On the new adventure, I have been learning more about how to think about other people and their adventure and to help those who are seeking to find the dreams God has put in their lives—and to help some of them accomplish those dreams.
I suspect you would never intend this, but this is what happens. When you attempt to live by your own religious plans and projects, you are cut off from Christ, you fall out of grace. Meanwhile we expectantly wait for a satisfying relationship with the Spirit. For in Christ, neither our most conscientious religion nor disregard of religion amounts to anything. What matters is something far more interior: faith expressed in love.
– Galatians 5:4, The Message
Cultivate your own relationship with God, but don’t impose it on others. You’re fortunate if your behavior and your belief are coherent. But if you’re not sure, if you notice that you are acting in ways inconsistent with what you believe—some days trying to impose your opinions on others, other days just trying to please them—then you know that you’re out of line. If the way you live isn’t consistent with what you believe, then it’s wrong.
– Romans 14:22, The Message
The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him [or her]. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you.
– Galatians 3:11, The Message
Lord, thank you that you have been so loving and patient with me as I have struggled to see not only your will for my life, but also as I have struggled to learn to live each day asking what your priorities are for me today, right now. And thank you that my job is not to try to change other people—especially family members—but just to love them as you have loved me. In Jesus’ name, amen.