I Can’t, God Can

I Can’t, God Can

Keith, you write about problems you’ve faced and what you’ve done about them.  At this stage in your life, what is the most difficult problem you are trying to face and overcome?  And how are you trying to deal with it? 

Since I believe that God is in the business of transforming lives, and I have given God permission to transform mine, I have tried to share the kinds of things that I have discovered during the process of God working in my life.  A good number of things have changed, but it seems there is always something new—since nobody is perfect.  So I’ll share a couple of things I’m dealing with at this 83-year-old time in my life.  These two problems are ones I’ve never dealt with in the same way before.

One is facing my own mortality.  Andrea and I are in the process of co-authoring a book, which we have been working on for about four and a half years.  Our hope is that it will help people not to be so afraid of surrendering their whole futures to God—so they can become the people they may have wanted to be since childhood.

The problem I’m dealing with is that I am old and am getting a little “rickety.” And the spiritual problem that poses for me is to have the faith to trust that I’ll live long enough and have good enough health to finish my part of the book—the basic writing of the complete draft.

The other problem I will share is one that has plagued me since I was a small boy.  It has disrupted almost every close relationship I’ve had.  But I have never before had the courage to deal with it.  And that is my difficulty with being on time. 

I can still hear my father’s voice shouting at me when I was in grade school, “If you don’t get in the car in three minutes you are going to walk the four miles to school!”  And I can see me running around in circles inside the house trying to find my coat, or my notebook, or my lunch money and finally running out to the car with all of these things in a jumbled wad, clutched to my chest.

If there were space in this blog, I could tell you dozens if not hundreds of times I have walked into church, school, or work late, filled with shame and good excuses.

Much later when I tried to surrender my life to God on a road side in East Texas, I began to deal with my part of issues in all my relationships.  But there were issues like being more honest in all my close relationships, not being so judgmental and trying not to control people, events, and outcomes regarding other people’s behavior.

But finally, because of my old age I made some significant life time discoveries that finally led me to be able to hear God telling me that if I’d change a “little” thing or two he’d be able to help me discover some “little” things that would transform my entire life.

About two and a half weeks ago I got the strong feeling that I should deal with the fact that I am almost always late to a meeting I’ve gone to several times a week for the past twenty-five years.  I realized that I was doing the same frantic circling, ritualistic “dance”—looking for my wallet, keys, papers I was going to need after the meeting, etc. etc.—every day.

And by the time I started the car I was either already late or had to make several crucial stoplights to make it with what I decided was an acceptable tardiness.

But that morning I committed the matter to God and told him if he’d guide me I’d give it my best try (realizing that I was powerless to do this on my own—after almost 80 years of trying to.)

As I was praying the novel idea came to me: start getting all your things together one half hour before you would have to get in the car to make the meeting.  (I realize that you may think I am an idiot, but this is the hardest truth I’ve ever told you.)

Anyway, to my amazement, I was calm as I arrived at the meeting ten minutes early—for the first time in twenty-five years!

When I was on time the second day something happened that was a little shocking to me.  As a friend was speaking at the meeting, he happened to glance over at me already sitting in my place sipping my decaf.  He stopped in the middle of his talk and said out loud across the room to me: “How in the world did you make it to the meeting on time?”  And the room exploded with a roar of spontaneous laughter.

Smiling, I replied, “It was a miracle!”  When the laughter broke out again, a thought crossed my mind, “They’ve noticed—all these years!”

So after my friend sat down I told the group about God finally getting through to me about my ubiquitous tardiness, and my growing awareness that this being late everywhere had become a character defect that had inconvenienced and hurt my wife and children, my friends and business associates (although my survival needs had helped me to be somewhat better about being on time to business events such as speaking engagements.)

But I told the group (that day that my friend blew my cover) how it felt inside to trust God enough to tell them what I was trying to do—to break a “small” lifelong habit that had caused so much pain.  I added that I had a great deal of fear about telling them because I knew they would raise their eyebrows and/or kid me when I was late again—which I knew would happen sometimes because I’d never been able to deal with this habit.

But I told them in spite of my fear because I had told God that I was willing to have him remove this defect of character because I had finally realized that I am powerless over it.

That was two and a half weeks ago.  And I have only been late to one meeting.  I got hung up on a business call and by the time the call was over I realized I’d missed half the meeting if I went to it.  I prayed about going and decided to go—and not use the valid excuse I had.

Come back next week and I’ll tell you what happened at that meeting—and how agreeing to let God help me change this one sinful and shaming lifelong habit had a ripple effect and brought into my life new courage—courage that I had to find to finish writing the book Andrea and I are writing (the title of which is ironically, The View From Square One.)

Lord, thank you that you can transform our lives, but only if we realize we are powerless to change and ask you to change us.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

“Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.” – John 16:23-24, NIV

“This is what I want you to do: Ask the Father for whatever is in keeping with the things I’ve revealed to you. Ask in my name, according to my will, and he’ll most certainly give it to you. Your joy will be a river overflowing its banks! – John 16:23-24, The Message

To what will you look for help if you will not look to that which is stronger than yourself? – C S Lewis

I Can’t, God Can

Don’t Look Behind the Curtain

Although I am a committed Christian, I have realized that I am also a compulsive “fixer.”  After my family rebelled against my attempts to help them I started working almost constantly in ministry.  I can’t seem to take time off just to live.  My fear is about losing touch with my family, and feeling lonely and resentful that no one seems to care about me any more.


I can certainly relate to your feelings and to being so involved in ministry it feels like there is no time left for you just to live.  At one point in my life I got burned out trying to serve God and minister to people.  I went to a counselor and discovered a mystery, a secret about myself that had been hidden behind my confident smile and attempts to be God’s person.  Much to my surprise I saw that crouching behind my compulsive religious working and overachieving was a lonely and starved self, like a lost child—which in one sense I’d felt like all my life.  That was true even though I had caring parents and a brother and we lived in a “Christian home” and I had won all kinds of honors in school. 

I saw that I was almost completely focused on getting love and attention.  I used everything I had—all my talent and energy—to manipulate the people and things around me, often “for their own good,” but really so they would love me and think I was a great person.  I saw, in short, that I am an almost completely self-centered person, one who puts himself in the center and tries desperately to control his world and the people in it—traits I have always abhorred in other people.  Since this had not been conscious, I’d never faced these behaviors and when I made a serious commitment of my adult life to God I began to build a life and a ministry trying to solve this need to feel okay.

As I began to face myself at this new level I was horrified to see that this self-centered grandiosity, this playing God, I’d been involved in was “addictive.”  I could somehow hide it from myself, but despite all my resolve, I couldn’t stop it.  I realized that this compulsive, driving busy-ness as a Christian to be enough, do enough, to please people (to get their attention, approval, or love),to lead them to Christ and/or fix them in order to become okay myself, operated like any other addiction.  I had an uncontrollable compulsion to repeat these self-defeating behaviors that was disastrous to me.  Sometimes I felt as though I must be crazy not to be able to change simple habits I wanted to be rid of.

For example, I kept getting snarled up with people close to me.  I would promise not to tell them what to do or try to run their lives.  But then, against my own will it seemed, I would catch myself doing the very thing I had promised myself (and them) I would never do again.  I was like a drug addict promising not to use chemicals and then going right back out and doing it.  I could decide I was not going to give people close to me unsolicited advice or try to influence their decisions, yet at the end of every phone call or visit with certain people in my family I would see that I’d done it again—and again.  I could hear the anger and discouragement in their voices.

I discovered that I used work, intensity, alcohol, and religious activities to cover and blot out the feelings that would have revealed to me that though I might look like a humble Christian (and truly want to be one), I was playing God in people’s lives to get the attention and approval I needed so desperately from them and/or even from God.

These may not seem like important issues to you unless you have made resolutions—to change your eating habits, exercising habits, or drinking habits, to get rid of resentments or fears, or not to do things that are irritating to those around you.  But I tried to change some of these things and was baffled when I could not.  I saw that what I was doing was Sin* and I also saw that it was addictive.

It dawned on me with an awesome certainty that when people speak of themselves as being “sinners in need of God’s healing,” they are actually talking about being in the grips of the addictive spiritual disease that the Bible portrays in connection with Sin.  I realized that this disease can disrupt our everyday lives and relationships and never be seen to even be connected to Sin.  And I saw that this Sin-disease may well be the matrix for all compulsive, manipulative, and controlling behavior.  In an instant of clarity I saw that what we have always called Sin just might be the source, the breeding ground, of all other addictions and for the irrational destructive and addictive behaviors that are destroying our lives and institutions across the world—even our churches.

My counselor had told me that the best program ever devised for recovering from compulsive behaviors and addictions of any sort was the Twelve-Step program originally devised for alcoholics but now used by those addicted to food, people-pleasing, drugs, gambling, sex, religion, and many other compulsive habits and relationships.  I saw that I was compulsive in several areas.

As I began to work through the simple twelve steps many years ago, I realized that here was a profound program of spiritual and physical healing that got at issues of spiritual sickness I had never been able to reach or even see through the traditional theological and psychological methods I had learned in seminary, in graduate courses in psychological counseling, and during over thirty years of studying the lives of the saints.  Although those things had helped significantly and had led me to where I was, they did not deal directly with the repressed and compulsive behaviors of the Sin-disease I was now confronting.

After about a year of being in recovery I started to connect the sanity and security I was experiencing with the peace and joy that were such an integral part of the experience of the early Christian church.

I wondered if perhaps the simple spiritual program that was changing my life and the lives of thousands of people “right now” wasn’t pretty close to the early church’s clear recognition of sin and the gospel’s remedy for it.

If this was true, then countless numbers of people might find their way to freedom… and to God, using the spiritual process underlying the Twelve Steps.**

Dear Lord, thank you that your healing Spirit that was revealed in Jesus captured the hearts of some of your addicted servants and through them provided a way of healing and wholeness for millions of Christians whose lives and relationships have been bruised and broken though the same controlling compulsiveness that set up addictive drinking and acting out.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

God’s Word warns us of danger and directs us to hidden treasure.  Otherwise how will we find our way?  Or know when we play the fool?  Clean the slate, God, so we can start the day fresh!  Keep me from stupid sins, from thinking I can take over your work; then I can start this day sun-washed, scrubbed clean of the grime [and unreality] of sin.  These are the words in my mouth; these are what I chew on and pray. Accept them when I place them on the morning altar, O God, my Altar-Rock, God, Priest-of-My-Altar.

– Psalm 19:11-14, The Message


O to grace how great debtor daily I’m constrained to be!

Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee. 

Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love;

Here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.

– Hymn lyrics by Robert Robinson


* Sin with a capital “S” being to put myself in the driver’s seat of my life where only God should be if I wanted to live as he made me to be.  Sins (with a small “s”) are things I do as a result of putting myself in the center of my life.

** See A Hunger for Healing: The Twelve Steps as a Classic Model for Christian Spiritual Growth.

I Can’t, God Can

Blessed at the End of Your Rope

Recently I was reading in the gospel of Matthew and ran across Jesus’ first teaching to the disciples.  He starts it out this way: “You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope because then there is less of you and more of God and his rule.”  What in the world does that mean?  I mean, it sounds crazy.  I thought you were blessed when you succeeded or things went well.   What is Jesus trying to say here?


Good question.  In fact, I believe an essential question for any Christian who would like to see his or her life transformed.  I think the basis underlying this experiencing “powerlessness” as “blessedness” is that Jesus came to announce and inaugurate a new Kingdom of God (or Reign of God) in the people’s lives.  The people had tried to have a geographical kingdom through military conquest and they’d tried political conquest.  And Jesus was saying, “No, the Kingdom of God is going to be within you, inside your mind.” 

If the Kingdom of God is going to be within our minds where nobody can see it, then before the kingdom can come we’ve got to establish God as king there.  But our difficulty is that our dominant problem is Sin (with a capital “S”); that is, we put ourselves in the center where only God belongs.  And we can’t see ourselves surrendering the driver’s seat (throne) to God. So we try to live our lives using our own happiness, fulfillment and way of doing things as the sovereign criteria for all of our decisions..  And when we’ve tried everything in our power, and we can’t prosper, can’t get what we’re trying to get, or be loved the way we want to be loved—we may get to the end of our rope.  But it’s at that point we may get tired enough or lonely enough to be willing to surrender to God, asking God to help us become what we were meant to be as human beings. Also at that point we’re open to the possibility of letting God be in the drivers’ seat of our lives to help, teach, and guide  us, since we’ve realized that we don’t know how or don’t have the power to fix our situation. 

Jesus says we’re blessed when that happens because “then there’s less of us (and our self-absorbed ways of doing things) and more of God and his rule.”  To me, that means that when I get to the place where I can’t handle life and hit a wall, then I can detect a doorway in that wall, with a handle on my side.  And if I decide to trust God with my whole life, I can step through that doorway into the Kingdom of God.

Jesus goes on to list other circumstances we encounter when we try to run things under our own power that can be doorways to wholeness. 

For example, he says “You’re blessed when you think you’ve just lost that which is most dear to you, because only then can you be embraced by the one most dear to you.”  I did lose my success, my minor fame that seemed to major to me, and I had to face the fact that I couldn’t control other people’s opinion of me.  I’d screwed up my life in a pretty big way, so I knew that I didn’t have a leg to stand on in terms of being perfect.  At that point, I came to the place once again where I was willing to say, “Lord, I surrender my life to you—because it’s now clear to me that I can’t handle it.  I am powerless to do this.  I want to start over, and be your child.  Teach me how to be loving, and how to be culpable.”  And he has done these things, at least to a larger degree than I ever dreamed could happen.

As I began to live this way, I gradually began to relax, and eventually saw that I really was blessed, because now I didn’t have to prove anything to anybody (although sometimes I still catch myself trying to do these things).  All I had to do was to be honest and culpable about myself and make what amends I could and do the next right thing in my personal and vocational lives.   And I have this awareness that God is willing to help transform my life now if I will just come to him and surrender the outcome of my life to him and listen to his guidance concerning my decisions, my wife and children, to him.  Then when I fail in any of these areas, he’s there at the end of my rope to guide and teach me, giving me some things to do, and teaching me how to have more integrity and to love and care for other people whether they love or care for me or not.  These are things I never could have imagined doing naturally without God—and strangely this way of life has already made me happier and more loving than I ever thought I would be. 

Jesus goes on to say that “You’re blessed when you are content with just who you are, no more, no less.”  I’ve learned that when I’m sitting in the driver’s seat of my life, I want to be number one.  I want to be the best at whatever I do.  If I’m going to be a Christian I want to be the best Christian around.  If I want to be a businessman, I want to be rich and successful.  And I have lots of ideas I want God to help me perform and implement.

But there is a different set of values in the Kingdom of God.  Evidently the reason that Jesus came to announce and inaugurate this plan is so we could live in an intimate relationship with the God Jesus called Father, let him transform our lives, teach us how to love other people and tell them about him and his reign.  When I’m content with just who I am, then I’m not all the time agitating for something more or better or different.  Although I don’t like everything that I am, I’m content with who I am right now.  And I want to be whatever God wants me to be.  And that’s a switch. 

Jesus goes on and says “You’re blessed when your witness to me elicits persecution.  Because this persecution will drive you deeper into my Reign and my way of life.”  Sure enough, it’s been true.  It’s paradoxical that even when I’ve had church officials reject me, I have been calm as I try to hear them and love them because for me this is part of living in the Reign of God. 

One little thing I’d like to add.  It’s important for me to live in the present moment if I want to cultivate this intimate relationship with God.  When I’m at the end of my rope or have lost something very dear to me, or can’t achieve the success I want, then I’m not concerned with little unpleasant things.  I’m almost totally focused on the threatening situation that’s going on in the present moment.  Somewhere along the way somebody told me that God never did anything in the past or the future.  God operates only in the present. Anything that happened in the past was—at the time it actually happened—in a present moment.   And so if I want the Kingdom of God and his Reign to be the dominant motivational purpose in my own mind and lived out in my life, then I’ll have to learn to live more in the present moment—instead of filling my present moments with fears about the future or regrets about the past.  Whenever I see that I can’t do something in that moment, I can bring it to God and ask if it’s even the right thing to do.  If it is, I ask for God’s power; and if it’s not the right thing to do, then I let it go and try to discern something else God wants me to do instead. This has given me a sense of enormous freedom. 

I’ve come to realize that God made me in a certain way with certain gifts (and that each person is unique with certain gifts).  And the more that I’m willing to surrender to God, the more I’m inclined and able to use these gifts for other people—to love them without trying to make them see and do what I see and do.  I ask God to help me to quit counting to see how many good deeds or how many people I’ve helped or who have helped me.  This is a freedom to me, and a sense of peace that I never had before because I was so restless and driven and prone to keep score. 

These days I am loving the work I’m doing.  I realize I’m not the best in the world to do it, and sometimes I feel like God’s made a mistake in having me do this particular kind of work because he could get a lot better people.  But he’s let me know somehow that, although I was not necessarily the first choice, he’s chosen to guide me in it because I said “Yes” and am trying to do it.  And when I fail and confess that failure or sin to God, he has let me experience his forgiveness and lets me begin again.

So I’d just say to you, Jesus is trying to describe a different, deeper more significant kind of “being blessed” than just having success or enough material goods.  The question I’ve had to face was, “are you willing to surrender your life to God and let him be in the driver’s seat of your inner mind and life, to show you who you are and what to do?  At that moment when you are ready, you are really blessed—because he’ll do it.  At least that’s been my experience so far.


God said, “Heads up! The days are coming when I’ll set up a new plan for dealing with Israel and Judah…. This new plan I’m making with Israel  isn’t going to be written on paper,  isn’t going to be chiseled in stone;  This time I’m writing out the plan in them,  carving it on the lining of their hearts.  I’ll be their God, they’ll be my people.  They won’t go to school to learn about me, or buy a book called God in Five Easy Lessons.  They’ll all get to know me firsthand, the little and the big, the small and the great.  They’ll get to know me by being kindly forgiven, with the slate of their sins forever wiped clean. 

 – Hebrews 8:6-13, The Message


Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way.

 Thou art the potter, I am the clay.

Mold me and make me after Thy will

While I am waiting, yielded and still.


Have Thine own way, Lord! Have Thine own way!

Hold o’er my being absolute sway!

Fill with Thy spirit, ‘till all shall see

Christ only, always, living in me.

– Hymn by Adelaide A. Pollard, 1907

P.S. If you are interested in learning how it might feel to actually take God this seriously, the story of how Keith began to take God consciously into the different parts of his ordinary everyday living and working lives is recorded in The Taste of New Wine.

I Can’t, God Can

When Problems Come in Waves

I feel like I’m drowning.  I’m over my head in conflicting problems.  I don’t know what to do,  and there is no one I feel safe enough to talk to about all this, yet you are able to write openly about some really hard problems, and how small groups have helped you.  How can a bunch of other screwed up people help me?  What is the spiritual process in such groups that has given you the courage to face and deal with the problems you write about?

You’ve pin-pointed a crucial question that I’ve heard from many people. There are groups whose primary purpose is to study together, discuss topics, or enjoy a common activity together (like square dancing, quilting, hunting and so forth).  So not all groups are helpful for dealing with personal problems.

A certain kind of group has not only helped me but led me into a way of living that has kept me from panicking so much when I realize I’m in deep water, fighting to stay afloat somehow while wrestling with some pretty serious problems.  But the kind of help I’m describing didn’t always happen right away.

For example, when I first stepped into a men’s group that dealt with compulsive behavior and addictions, I realized I was “in trouble.”  By that I mean I wasn’t sure I could be really honest—because I didn’t trust men much.  But these men didn’t try to change me.  They just said, “Welcome.”  Then as they talked about their lives, they brought their inner worlds out into the open,  including the terrifying, frightening and seemingly impossible situations that had driven them to the end of themselves.

They were very honest about themselves and didn’t try to fix each other.  Almost all of them said they felt like they were “in over their heads,” struggling in deep water and didn’t know if they could survive. and that they had ventured into the group only because their situation had gotten so scary that they became, after much resistance and struggle, willing to “come out of hiding” and talk honestly in this safe, confidential setting, even though most confessed later that they really didn’t believe the group could give them any significant answers or help!

Somehow, hearing about their fear of losing things they were not prepared to live without made me feel safe, which sounds strange.  But my sense of safety came from realizing I was with people that had been where I was.

I came to see that this was no study course you had to make a grade in.  These men had not accumulated a large body of knowledge.  It was more like a swimming school for people who had almost drowned in deep water and these men had learned how to “swim” in these deep-water situations, and weren’t so terrified of drowning in them.  In fact, I saw that if you learn to be a strong swimmer, it doesn’t really matter how deep the water gets.

Although this was not a study course, there was a simple program of steps described in one book, two-thirds of which is made up of  the stories of people who are dealing with the same kinds of struggles the members of the group talked about. The stories were about how God was helping them to trust enough to allow them to let the group help them to swim through deep water situations.

As I thought about what I might say about my own situation, I realized that I needed to learn to trust the group before I could learn this kind of swimming.  And I realized that talking about weakness and failure out loud took great strength and courage in a society in which many of us had focused on cars, houses, clothes, cosmetic surgery and super deeds to try to appear to be more successful, beautiful and adequate than we really are.

As I sat there listening to these men sharing their guts, I remembered I remembered a time many years ago when I was teaching some little kids how to swim.  This one young boy wouldn’t even put his face in the water although I was holding him up.  After I gave him a pep talk about how “you can do it!” he still was too scared to put his face in the water.  After many sessions, I was about to give up, but then I had an idea.  I told him that if he would  relax in the water, the water would hold him up, and he would not sink.  I added that I had had trouble believing this until I tried it.

Finally I said that at first I would have my hand under him to hold him up.  Then I’d slowly lower my hand down just about an inch below his tummy so I could catch him if he began to sink.  He asked me again and again to tell him what I would do if he started sinking.  Finally, I think his curiosity must have become a little stronger than his great fear, because he took a deep breath and tentatively stretched out face down on the water, trying to relax on my hand beneath him on his stomach.  When he had floated for a few seconds, he came up sputtering, and grinning from ear to ear.  The next session he began learning to swim.   And all the other fearful little boys I taught that summer began to catch on, too after they first learned that the water they were in would support them.

And in the same way, as a new person in the group, I had to learn to trust that the water (group) I’d stepped into would support me so I wouldn’t drown.  I kept attending the meeting, and when I could finally trust enough to risk trying to live a whole new kind of life, that was when I could listen to the message of grace about how God would really forgive even me, a man who had failed and hurt so many people.  And I began to learn to live a life of facing my problems honestly as they come up so I could swim through the deep water that all my friends in the group are swimming in—ready to hold out a hand if I start drowning again.

But if the scene of the real action of honest, loving and non-judgmental spiritual groups is evidently inside each person’s mind, then how can we learn how to keep learning, growing and facing new problems that happen in all lives and relationships?  Well, when this kind of group meets, every person brings his or her new inner failure,  and shares how the experience, strength and hope he or she is learning about helps the person to quit thrashing and start swimming again.  And before my eyes every week I see how God continues to work in our lives behind the scenes in our personal experience.

And if my twenty-five years is in any sense the experience of others, then I can tell you that wherever you go (these meetings have sprung up all over the world) and whatever happens to you even in countries where you do not speak the local language, you will never have to be alone again!

Lord, thank you that your Kingdom or Reign in people’s lives is broader and deeper than I had even imagined—even after many years trying to learn all about you.  Thank you that you came to turn our lives right side up—and then to invite us as we struggle to keep our heads above water to let you teach us how to swim with you.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

“But me he caught—reached all the way from sky to sea; he pulled me out  of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos,  the void in which I was drowning.   They hit me when I was down,  but God stuck by me.   He stood me up on a wide-open field;  I stood there saved—surprised to be loved!” – 2 Samuel 22:19-20, The Message


“You’re blessed when you are at the end of your rope.  Because then there is more of God and less of you.”  – Matthew 5:3, The Message


“Sometimes God calms the storm.  At other times, he calms the sailor.  And sometimes he makes us swim.” – Author Unknown


“The water is your friend…..you don’t have to fight with water, just share the same spirit as the water, and it will help you move”. – Alexandr Popov, Russian former Olympic gold-winning swimmer, widely regarded as one of the greatest sprint, freestyle swimmers of all time.

Correction to “What Makes A Life Meaningful?”

On February 4th I posted a blog titled “What Makes A Life Meaningful.”  In that blog I was wrestling with the fact that as an old man (of 83) it seems to me about all I can do is help a few people find hope and meaning by helping them find sobriety and/or a new life of faith in God.

I related an incident that occurred while a group of friends and I were reading about Bill Wilson’s doctor’s opinion that Bill had little chance of ever getting sober unless he had some sort of spiritual experience.  I reported how one of Bill’s old drinking buddies named Ebby had gotten sober at Calvary Church in NYC and went to see Bill.  I said that at first Bill thought Ebby had just “gotten religion,” but something about his friend’s changed life convinced Bill to go with Ebby to meet the Rector, Sam Shoemaker.  As a result, Bill Wilson became a Christian, sobered up, and with Shoemaker’s help wrote the “Big Book” that described and inaugurated Alcoholics Anonymous’ very powerful spiritual movement during the last sixty percent of the 20th century.  To read the original post, click here.

The same day the blog came out I received an email from my friend Ruben who pointed out the following:

I remembered that Ebby probably didn’t know the amazing effect of his walking a few days with his old friend, because I’d heard that Ebby went back out and drank himself to death.  Ebby’s life did have great significance because of working a simple program for a short time.  But I also realized that whether Ebby knew it or not, those few days eventually gave meaning to lives of probably millions of men and women around the world.

Wilson stayed sober and eventually formed Alcoholics Anonymous with Dr. Bob Smith while [Ebby] Thacher soon returned to drinking. Wilson always called Thacher his “sponsor,” and even though he had returned to drinking, Wilson looked after his friend’s welfare for the rest of his life. Thacher struggled on and off with sobriety over the years, and ultimately died sober in Ballston Spa, New York from emphysema in 1966.”

Ruben’s email included several more paragraphs about Ebby’s struggle with the disease the rest of his life, but I will not quote them here since the point of my post was not about Ebby’s death, but to say that Ebby’s willingness to go see his old friend led to the founding of a great movement of healing.  And I realized that I am having a meaningful life simply by helping a few people find hope, people whom God may have plans for that are between Him and them.

And thanks to Ruben who has helped many people already, including me.

I Can’t, God Can

Child-Training the Bored and Restless Ones

Dear Keith,  my husband and I are both Christians.  We are doing our best to teach our two young sons how to treat other people—thinking about other people’s feelings, showing respect and using good manners.  They seem so uninterested when we explain these things to them.  What else can we do to help them learn about this, since it is so vital for their ability to get along in the world when they are grown and on their own?  Any ideas?

Sounds like you’ve got the future well-being of your boys well in mind as you bring them up.  I had some good days and bad days as a father.  I don’t know how old your boys are now, but it seems to me that their apparent boredom [dis-interest] is pretty normal.  But that doesn’t mean that they aren’t watching and listening.  And it doesn’t mean that you quit explaining. But I believe that it is possibly your personal example that teaches the most—how you and your husband treat each other, your friends, relatives and the strangers you encounter in stores, etc. when your sons are with you.  Also, if you write or e-mail thank-you notes for Christmas presents, etc.  We required that our kids write thank you notes starting early.  It’s also important in how you treat your boys, even when they are disrespectful, rude or insensitive to your feelings (i.e. Do you correct them without shaming them?  If you have shamed them, can you tell them you’re sorry?)  It’s very possible that they may be watching you more than you think.

As I thought about this, I remembered a story from my childhood.  When I was five, I heard that my mother’s birthday was the next day. She was always giving people gifts. “What if she didn’t get one?” I thought.

I decided I’d buy her a birthday present. I put the thirty-five cents I’d saved from my allowance in my jeans pocket, slipped out of the house and started walking the dozen or so blocks to Main Street and the five-and-ten-cent store.  Once in the store, I couldn’t find the right gift.  Finally I approached the lady behind the counter.

“I want to buy a present for my mother.”

“How much money do you have?”

I opened my fist and showed her my thirty-five cents.

Nodding seriously, she said, “I see.” She showed me some things, but I only shook my head.  Then she picked up a little blue glass jar with white bumps all over it and a powder puff inside.  Wow! How could that lady have known that Mother had broken her jar just like this one!

“That’s it!”  Then fear.  “What does it cost?”

“Uh…thirty-five cents. Would you like me to wrap it? Wrapping is free.”


I carried the little brown sack with the gift-wrapped jar in it all the way home.  I was so excited that it didn’t seem far at all.

The next day while her friends were having birthday cake and coffee, I gave her my present.  She was really surprised! Then she asked, “Where did you get this, Johnny?”

“I walked to the store to buy it,” I said proudly.

You what?” Suddenly she looked frightened.  “Don’t ever do that again!”

When I cried, she picked me up. Hugging me, she said, “I love the present, but you should not walk downtown alone.”  Then she wept and held me until I could wiggle free.

As I was running out, I heard one of her friends say, “How in the world did you teach him to do that kind of thing at five?  Mother just shook her head and shrugged.

Grown ups were so dumb. There wasn’t any trick. All my life I’d seen my mother go to the trouble to give presents to everyone she knew.

Lord, thank you for a mother who was the changes she wanted to see in me.  Help me even at this late age to become a better person—father, grandfather and great grandfather—who may help them see and experience the love I feel for them as I hang out with them at the edge of their worlds.  In Jesus’ name. Amen.

“Point your kids in the right direction—when they’re old they won’t be lost.” Proverbs 22:6, The Message


“The training of children is a profession, where we must know how to waste time in order to save it” Jean Jacques Rousseau, Swiss-born French philosopher, educationist & author


“Each child represents either a potential addition to the protective capacity and enlightened citizenship of the nation or, if allowed to suffer from neglect, a potential addition to the destructive forces of a community…. The interests of the nation are involved in the welfare of this array of children no less than in our great material affairs.” Theodore Roosevelt, 26th US president, 1901-09, colonel of Rough Riders cavalry in Spanish-American War


When you give a child advice your state of mind is far more important than the advice itself.  You may be inspired by fear—the fear that he is turning out badly.  In this case you will suggest the fear to him even without formulating it.  And your advice, however proper it may be, by turning his thoughts toward evil, gives power to the evil.  if, however, you are inspired by prudent and trusting wisdom, this same advice will be useful.

You have to punish a child.  You know well that you can do it in anger.  You will then work out of your own system the irritation his misdemeanor has caused you.  Or you may be avenging yourself unconsciously for punishments you yourself received in childhood.  In such a case the effect of the punishment will not be to correct him, but to arouse rebellion in him.  But it may also be a proper sense of your educational responsibility, which prompts you to punish him without any question of your being angry.  In this case it is your love for the child that inspires you, and the punishment will be fruitful.” Paul Tournier, Swiss Internist, The Person Reborn, p. 58

I Can’t, God Can

Stepping into Reality… from Fear

Keith, I am so afraid that my life is not going to turn out well.  My closest relationship is in shambles.  No one knows this because in my family we were trained not to admit our fears or our failures.  But in my heart of hearts my fears have gotten so big that there seems to be no room for anything else.  It’s like they are swelling and are going to choke me somehow.  My imagination and pictures of a divorce or business failure and of being alone and unhappy are dominating my life… and no one knows.

If you can understand what I’m saying will you tell me what you’ve done to deal with this kind of scary, crazy thinking?

This is a very important question—and problem!  My life seems like a magnet for this question or others very similar to it.    And before I talk about how I’ve learned to deal with the fear into which these swollen images of failure and rejection lead me, I want to tell you that almost every really sensitive person I have counseled or mentored before in a continuing way has reported similar fears that have almost overwhelmed them—till they finally got the courage to bring them out and share them.

From a clinical perspective (and from my own experience) what I see happening is that some significant  problem comes up that a person can not solve—perhaps a significant relationship is threatened by an affair, or a spouse announces that he or she has ‘had enough’ and is planning to leave, or one has discovered that his or her drinking has increased but he/she cannot stop, and that person gets fired, etc.

What happens to me is that I start by “awfulizing” in my thinking.  My mind begins generating images of being alone, deserted, or fired, with no job or remedy in sight.

When I get in such a situation, my natural impulse is first to try to find someone else to blame, so I won’t be shamed and rejected by those whose approval means the most to me.

I see myself  trying to muster evidence that will make my unacceptable behavior be seen as reasonable or justified.  But when that doesn’t work, my fears swell until I can’t sleep or even rationalize any way out of my “overwhelming” problems.

Fortunately, years ago I met a man I trusted enough to tell him what was happening—to share the terrifying scenes that were by that time filling my mind, leaving no room for anything else.

I heard this man share his spiritual experience with a group of people who meet together regularly to share such problems honestly.  After attending that  meeting for several weeks I finally got the courage to ask the man who had shared if I could talk to him.  When I had told him honestly how frightened I was and how powerless I felt to overcome my fears, he said that I had “just taken” the first step to deal with my seemingly impossible situation.  I had gotten my feelings of fear and powerlessness out in the open in the real world.

He told me what he’d found helpful to get through such times of magnified fear was to realize that the human mind is 3-dimensional and that we experience our fearful mental images in 3-D, often Technicolor, moving pictures that have length, width and depth.  And these fearful pictures are strangely elastic—that is, “they swell” and our fears increase in magnitude in our minds so they seem to fill our consciousness until there seems to be no more room for anything else—like solutions or strategies to solve our seemingly impossible problems.

So I asked him, “What do you do when you’re in that situation?”

He smiled and said, “I do what you just did; I bring my fears out into the 4th dimension: “time,” the arena of Reality.  And when I share these feelings with others in the reality of the present moment, they quit swelling.  And I see in the eyes of the listeners with whom I share, that my swollen fears are normal and can be faced and changed.

What happened was is that I was no longer alone with my fear.  And I realized that the greatest threat of my fearful fantasies—that I would wind up alone and rejected—had dissolved.

And instead of being rejected as I’d shared fearful experiences I was accepted as one of the group as a real, fallible but honest struggler trying to surrender our lives to God.  And I realized that God is always there in the present moment when we bring our lives out of the unreal shadow land of the past or future because God never did anything in a “past” moment or a “future” moment, only the present moment.  So my only hope to have God’s help is to bring my guilt about the past and fears of the future into God’s time, the present moment, where he has always been—waiting to forgive us and love us—and to be with us from now on.

Dear Lord, thank you that you are waiting to deliver us from the elastic three dimensional images of the guilts and regrets of our pasts and the fears of the future.  Help us to have the courage to bring these painful images and fears into the 4th dimension: time, your dimension—the present moment—where they no longer swell and can be offered to you and our brothers and sisters in your family for forgiveness, and new changes in a new life.  In Jesus name, amen.

“Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed.” James 5:17, The Message

What Makes A Life Meaningful?

I was thinking I’ve had my shot.  I’m an old man and all I can do is help a few people find hope and meaning by helping them find sobriety and/or a new life of faith in God.

But helping some pretty negative and defiant people in these ways didn’t seem to me to be related to having lived a meaningful life.  Besides, lots of the young men I meet with are proud and in denial about their addictions and control issues and very rebellious about the idea of really trusting God with their lives.  Although I understand this since I have been the same way most of my life, it’s discouraging sometimes how many have to hit an iron wall before they are ready to surrender enough to get to the wonder of God’s adventure.

Recently a group of us were reading about Bill Wilson, who co-founded the multinational movement of Alcoholics Anonymous.  We read that when Wilson had just gotten out of the hospital for the last time because of his drinking problem, one of his old drinking buddies came to see him.  This friend, Ebby, had sobered up as a result of going to a soup kitchen manned by parishioners from Calvary Episcopal church in New York City.

Bill Wilson’s doctor had told him that he had to quit drinking or he might not make it.  And further his doctor believed that Wilson could never quit drinking, except for one possible chance—that of having a spiritual experience of some kind.  At first Bill thought Ebby had just “gotten religion.”  But somehow the meeting with Ebby struck a chord in Wilson’s life.  He went with Ebby to Calvary church and met the rector, Sam Shoemaker.  As a result, Bill Wilson got converted to Christianity, sobered up and with Sam Shoemaker’s help, wrote the Big Book that described and inaugurated Alcoholics Anonymous as a movement—arguably the fastest growing spiritual movement in the world during the last sixty percent of the twentieth century.

As I sat there listening to the story unfold in the pages of the book, Alcoholics Anonymous, I thought about Ebby, a newly sober alcoholic, working his program by telling his friend, Bill, about what had happened to him.

I thought how grateful Ebby must have felt at the end of his life to have had such a significant role in founding one of the most significant and transformational healing movements in the world.   If Ebby never did anything else, that was meaningful, being responsible for the religious conversion and recovery from addiction of the man who founded this great healing community of A.A. would be meaning enough for a lifetime.

But as the story continued, I realized that Ebby probably never even knew what happened because of his simply doing what he was taught to do to stay sober himself—telling another alcoholic how he (Ebby) had found sobriety by surrendering his life to God. 

I remembered that Ebby probably didn’t know the amazing effect of his walking a few days with his old friend, because I’d heard that Ebby went back out and drank himself to death.  Ebby’s life did have great significance because of working a simple program for a short time.  But I also realized that whether Ebby knew it or not, those few days eventually gave meaning to lives of probably millions of men and women around the world.

And after that meeting in which we were reading about Bill Wilson’s beginning with Ebby, a man I’d mentored years ago, who had moved away from Austin, and whom I hadn’t seen in several years, walked up, and we had lunch.  I learned that the young man was not only still in recovery but had gone to seminary and was now being ordained as a minister.  I was struck after lunch by the transformation in the man’s life.  His deep faith and enthusiasm about his work touched me profoundly.  And as he left after lunch, I realized that if I never do any of the exciting things I once did, that my life would have great meaning because I encouraged this one young man and helped him get sober by working the same simple program Ebby was working when he had lunch with Bill Wilson over seventy-five years ago.  And I was very grateful that the Rev. Sam Shoemaker taught Bill Wilson the kind of spirituality that is at the heart of the life Jesus taught his disciples.

Lord, thank you for a life in which each person we love and help along the way gives our lives significance and meaning to you and sometimes to other people we may never know.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

“Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.” Philippians 2:1, The Message


“Don’t begin by traveling to some far off place to convert unbelievers.  And don’t try to be dramatic by tackling some public concern.  Go to the lost confused people right here in the neighborhood.  …  Don’t think you have to put on a fund-raising campaign before you start.  You don’t need any equipment.  You are the equipment.” Matthew 10:6-10, The Message

I Can’t, God Can

Changes in Our Marriage

Dear Keith, last year at this time my marriage was beautiful.  We could tell each other anything, were very much in love, and enjoyed being together and with the children.  We realized how good things were and swore we’d always keep them that way.

But a year later everything seems to have fallen apart.  My husband and I can’t even talk about it without getting mad.  We both love God and go to church.  Is it normal for a good Christian marriage to change when neither party wants it to?  Why would our relationship change so drastically?

Good question.  Of course I don’t know why your relationship with your husband has changed.  But I can say with some conviction that I would be very much surprised if it hadn’t.  Good marriages I know about do change.

If one (or both) of the parties in a close relationship changes as an individual, then the previous balance of the marriage relationship is automatically changed.  And in periods of rapid development in a man’s or woman’s life, which may include a significant promotion at work, the birth of a child or one party gaining important insights or changes in self-concept, the existing relationship in the marriage may be in for quite a storm.  For  instance, a man may realize he’s been acting like a little boy and avoiding some decisions he should make as a husband and father.  So he steps up and starts making these decisions, and his wife is hurt—thinking he no longer trusts her to make them.

The most helpful thing I can do in our changing marriage is to keep communicating with my wife about what I am discovering and try to keep listening to her.  But if we start being too busy to visit with each other alone, changes and irritations can build up until they are too big to handle easily.  When these periods happen we often avoid communicating about personal discoveries and pains at all.  It sounds crazy because we both know we should talk things through, but neither of us wanted to face the anger, etc. that can be part of the process.  One thing that has helped is that we have located a counselor who understands us both, and we call him when we need to.

A very good aspect of this business of a “beautiful” period being followed by a hard one is that when two people get some problems solved and feel very close, a feeling of new security often develops in the relationship.  And one party or the other may feel safe enough at last to bring out (or act out) problems which were “too dangerous” before the beautiful period—and all hell seems to break loose right in the middle of the peace.

Sorry I can’t tell you why things have changed for you and your husband.  Everything is going well in our house right now, but next week I may be wanting to write to you about what happened to us.  Keeping the communication lines open is not easy for busy people.

Lord, I don’t understand why good relationships can become difficult, and why it is so hard to resolve the problems that cause the difficulty.  So often I’m tempted to sweep these issues under the rug and pretend everything is as good as “it used to be.”  Help me to realize that hard times are “normal” in most relationships and lead to growth.  Help me to recognize when things seem difficult for me and be willing both to talk to and listen to my wife instead of sweeping problems under the rug and faking it.  In Jesus’ name, amen.

But Jesus said, “Not everyone is mature enough to live a married life. It requires a certain aptitude and grace. Marriage isn’t for everyone. Some, from birth seemingly, never give marriage a thought.  Others never get asked—or accepted.  And some decide not to get married for kingdom reasons.  But if you’re capable of growing into the largeness of marriage, do it.” Matthew 19:11, The Message

“One advantage of marriage is that, when you fall out of love with him or he falls out of love with you, it keeps you together until you fall in again.” Judith Viorst, American Poet and Author

“Compromise, if not the spice of life, is its solidity. It is what makes nations great and marriages happy.” Phyllis McGinley, American Poet and Author

I Can’t, God Can

Can God Help with My To-Do List?

Keith, I seem to be constantly overwhelmed with stuff to do!  I am busy all day getting things done, but the list of what DIDN’T get done seems always longer than what I did get done!  I can hardly go to sleep at night because I worry about how I will ever get caught up.  How can I get God involved in solving this?  I seem to be pretty helpless about it myself.

Don’t be too hard on yourself.  Lots of people (including me) have this experience.  Here’s how it usually goes for me:  Yesterday, I woke up with things to be done swarming around in my mind like bees looking for a place to sting me.  I jumped up and made an “action plan” about these urgent tasks.

Once I’d completed it, the plan transformed some things I could “consider doing” to a list “carved in stone” and handed to me on a mountaintop by God.  I felt that I had to accomplish the entire list that day to be a worthy human being!

However, as I prayed, asking what God would have me do that day, I realized that there were several problems with the list—and the ones like it that I have made up every day for years.

1. It was at least twice what any sane person would try to do.

2. It was a grandiose projection of my own unreal expectations of how much time it really takes to do each thing.

3. It was a reflection of the fact that I wasn’t trusting God with the everyday decisions about how to spend my time each day, since I realized that my primary job is to love God and the people I contact every day, and trust Him with the rest.

I thought about what my list would look like if I could somehow totally trust in God (which, I realize, is practically impossible, given my human tendency to take back control once I’ve surrendered.)  But if I could, how would I prioritize this list?  What would I remove altogether?  What could I entrust to someone else?  What really had to be done?  Trying to answer these questions gave me a new perspective on how I fill up my time with what seems to be “urgent” without considering what God might think is really important.

Then I remembered a story I had heard a while back about a man who routinely brought work home from the office to do after dinner.  His little boy wanted his daddy to play with him, but his father always told him that he was too busy.  Finally, in tears, the little boy asked his mother, “Why can’t Daddy play with me after supper?”

His mother said, “Because he’s behind with his work at the office.”

The little boy asked through his tears, “Well, why don’t they put him in a slower group?”

I realized then that perhaps God wants me to get in a different group, too, the group of those who know that they are not God, and have seen that “sober judgment” includes seeing things as they really are, including how much they can realistically expect themselves to do in a day.  And that’s when I began to listen more and care more specifically for the people in my schedule—and when I do that—I have been amazed at how much more peaceful and at home I feel in my own everyday life.

Lord, help me to be willing to live a sane life for You that includes taking time to love the people You’ve given me to love—even if I have to get in a slower group.  in Jesus’ name, Amen.

Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. – Romans 12:3 (NIV)

Since Jesus went through everything you’re going through and more, learn to think like him. Think of your sufferings as a weaning from that old sinful habit of always expecting to get your own way. Then you’ll be able to live out your days free to pursue what God wants instead of being tyrannized by what you want. – 1 Peter 4:1, The Message

When we breathe, we do not stop inhaling because we have taken in all the oxygen we will ever need, but because we have all the oxygen we need for this breath. Then we exhale, release carbon dioxide, and make room for more oxygen.  Sabbath, like the breath, allows us to imagine [realize] we have done enough work for this day. Do not be anxious about tomorrow, Jesus said again and again. Let the work of this day be sufficient…. – Wayne Muller, Sabbath

We have to fight them daily, like fleas, those many small worries about the morrow, for they sap our energies. The things that have to be done must be done, and for the rest we must not allow ourselves to become infested with thousands of petty fears and worries, so many motions of no confidence in God. Ultimately, we have just one moral duty: to reclaim large areas of peace in ourselves, more and more peace, and reflect it towards others. And the more peace there is in us, the more peace there will also be in our troubled world. – Etty Hillesum, An Interrupted Life

I Can’t, God Can

Keeping Up or Keeping On?

Keith, If the church is going to make it in increasingly complex political, social, and economic worlds, don’t you think our first priority to be effective Christian communicators should be to keep up, to learn all we can about the latest advances in these fields?  How else can we speak intelligently as ministers to the problems people face who are trying to live in these complex and changing environments?  P.S. If you agree, have you got any ideas about how to get the time to ‘keep up’ in all these fields?


Wow, I can see what you’re talking about just from my own challenges with complex new developments.  I just learned a few months ago how to text my grandkids!  And the state of the economy, world events and politics here in the U.S.A. come through to us so much more fully because of all the communication technology that has evolved in the last fifty years.  

I agree that it is important for those who would be Christian communicators to realize the fact that enormous changes are taking place in the social, economic and political scenes.  But I don’t think it is necessary or possible for anyone to keep up with all the specific changes in all these areas.  In fact, an attempt to be totally knowledgeable in all these fields could become a cop-out and a defense against specific action which might lead to actual improvement in any one area.

This is what I mean:  I think that God, through the Gospel, deals with basic human conditions which include people’s responses to social, economic, and political activities and changes.  And the basic human conditions and responses do not change all that much.  They include our separation from God, from other people and from our authentic selves.  Our responses include experiences of anxiety, fear, hunger, sickness, being dispossessed, persecuted, and loneliness.

  If these things are true, then one Christian approach to helping people deal with social, economic, and political changes affecting the basic human problems would go something like this:

Get involved with real people in a specific place.  Get to know them and their needs, hopes and dreams.  Then as social, political, and economic changes affect those people adversely, we can examine those specific changes and try to speak out or take action, such as going to bat to help the specific people affected by the changes to live in the freedom and love God has for them.

That way the issues and changes we concentrate on are always relevant, and our passion to engage these issues as Christian communicators comes from love of God and His people rather than from a love of issues and of becoming a good Christian communicator.  (This is much easier for me to say than do.) 

Dear Lord, thank you that no matter what economic, political or social conditions we encounter, your basic message of love applies.  Help us to learn more and more how to love you and other people in our lives by the way we respond to changes and how they affect us and those around us.  Help us learn how to provide a loving, human touch in the midst of whatever changes we may confront.  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. You won’t lose out on a thing.” – Matthew 10:40


“Beware you are not swallowed up in books! An ounce of love is worth a pound of knowledge.” – John Wesley

I Can’t, God Can

God’s Fire Alarm System

 Keith, you have said that it’s better not to run from pain but to embrace it.  But I don’t get it. What on earth can be good about pain? 

You’re sure not alone with that question.  Have you noticed how many commercials on television are about ways to quiet our pain?  Yet I believe that pain plays an important—even essential—role in our spiritual growth process. 

The first time I can remember hearing anything good about pain was one day when I was about eight years old.  My mother and I were sitting at the breakfast table.  I was not in school that day because my friend Jimmy had thrown a pampas grass spear at me during a mock battle and had struck me between my right eye and right eyebrow—miraculously missing putting out my eye, which was now almost swollen shut and hurting like crazy.

“Why would God invent something as awful as pain?” I asked, wishing mine would go away.

Mother raised her eyebrows and looked out the window behind me a few seconds.  Then she said, “Well, feelings like pain are God’s way of sending helpful, even life-saving, messages to us about dangerous or harmful things we’re doing that we might not notice until it was too late.”

I scrunched up my face and asked, “What do you mean?”

She continued, “You might say that pain is like a fire alarm system God’s given us to help us pinpoint the exact place where our personal fires, our injuries or sicknesses, are.  And if we don’t pay attention, the pain usually gets louder until we do.  And God uses all kind of pain to show us where we need to change our live if we pay attention. So pain can be a life-saving friend.”

“How could pain actually save my life?”

“Well, imagine that early one morning you were running barefoot down the beach alone and you stepped on a jagged piece of glass bottle half buried in the sand, and it cut your foot, maybe nicked a large vein.  If it weren’t for pain, you might bleed to death if you didn’t happen to look back and see that you were leaving a trail of blood in your footprints.  Pain is one way you learn to take care of yourself.”

I thought about that for a few minutes, wondering if there was anything connected to the pain of my swollen eye that I could learn that would be a life-saver.  Then I asked, “You mean like my deciding not to play spear-fighting chieftains anymore?”

Mother smiled and nodded her head.  “That seems like a pretty smart change to me.”

Lord, thank you that so many kinds of pain contain a message to teach me about how to live my life.  Help me not to numb it, or avoid it, but to examine it squarely and seek the life-meaning behind it.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

“Distress that drives us to God…turns us around. It gets us back in the way of salvation. We never regret that kind of pain. But those who let distress drive them away from God are full of regrets, end up on a deathbed of regrets.”  Cor. 7:10, The Message


“How privileged we are to understand so well the divine paradox that strength rises from weakness, that humiliation goes before resurrection, that pain is not only the price but the very touchstone of spiritual rebirth.”  Bill Wilson, Christmas Letter, 1944

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