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
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
I have been sitting here for some time, writing my heart out to you on our new software program. I was telling you about our family’s solution to not having quality time together with our kids, grandkids and great grandkids.
After pouring my heart out for three pages, I was just writing a prayer at the end, when all of a sudden the cursor (and the curser) went wild moving backwards at the speed of light—erasing all my loving vulnerable sharing. I punched every button in sight and hollered for Andrea. By the time she got here, all my work had disappeared. The computer monster had gulped down EVERY WORD without a belch or even a “thank you.”
This is Friday, July 8th, and we have been trying to get caught up from our annual family gathering at a ranch near Bandera (21 of us), and from a surgical procedure I had upon returning (it looks like the Lord has given me another extension-for which I am very grateful—even though I actually forgot all about being grateful when the computer’s word feast began).
The bottom line is that I am exhausted somehow, and simply do not have the energy to rebirth and re-edit that personal document right now. So this will have to be my blog for the week. We will have another one up on Monday or Tuesday (the 11th or 12th).
Andrea and I are sending love and prayers with this note for any of you who have read this far.
Faithfully in our Lord,
Last week I wrote about the surprising difficulty I faced in trying to change a lifelong self-defeating behavior—being late to meetings. This week I want to tell you the story of what has happened since I admitted my problem and asked God to help me solve this irritating and frustrating habit. Dealing with this one foible is literally transforming my life—at age eighty-three—and giving me the courage to move ahead where I was stuck.
If you didn’t read last week’s blog you may not be able to understand the profound effect that changing one “small” bad habit has had on my whole life. I feel a little like the person who bought some andirons for their fireplace. They were attractive andirons but they made the fire screen look shabby by comparison. So a new fire screen became a necessity. Then the fire screen made the carpet and the drapes look old so—you know the rest of the story—changing out one small item, an andiron in the fireplace, led to the redecoration of an entire house.
For me, committing to let God help me deal with this one grundy little habit has led to my coming out of denial about the fact that I have been late to all kinds of meetings—even church, social, medical and business meetings—and that this has been a lifelong habit. Also these discoveries have led to some profound spiritual revelations about all of my life.
Here’s how this “momentous drama in a teacup” has unfolded. After a number of days of being on time for the noon meeting, I became aware that during this time I have also been on time for church meetings and other appointments in ways I haven’t been before. I began feeling pretty good about myself. But then one busy afternoon I lost track of time. When I finally did look at the clock, I saw I was late to a meeting. I decided to face the music by going to the meeting, even though it would be half over by the time I got there. I had also decided not to defend my pride by making an excuse—even though it could have been seen as a legitimate excuse—because of two things. One, I wanted to see what it would be like to face the music about failing in my attempt to change this lifelong habit in front of the very people I had told I was trying to change it. And the second reason is that by this time I was simply sick of making excuses.
The only vacant seat in the room was right up front, so I could not avoid being seen as tardy. I detected a few knowing smiles as I walked over to the chair, but as I felt the beginning heat of a shame attack, I silently prayed, “Thank you, God, for giving me the courage to trust you with my pride.” And as soon as I had silently prayed those words, the shame was gone! I realized that by facing one simple failure of intent openly, I was somehow free from the fear of failing to be on time—at least for the moment. I realized that I would fail to be on time occasionally. But I was still elated because I realized something the rest of you probably already know: by going public and telling the very people (some of whom were personally distracted by latecomers) that I was going to try to let God try to change a habit that I knew was rude and distracting to people who paid the price to be on time, I had been able to be on time for almost a month. And that’s the only meeting I was late to in over two weeks.
But an even bigger discovery God has dropped down my chimney is that the big locked doors in my life often swing on very small hinges. If I will oil the hinges by making one radical commitment to begin and surrender my life around that small issue, I may become able to adjust my thinking so that I am on time other places without my having to agonize over it. What I’m trying to say is that when I can ask God to help me solve some lifelong small irritating problem, I may find the courage to believe that I can finish doing major things on my plate—like writing the book Andrea and I have been working on for four and a half years. I have been afraid, recently, that I’ll die before finishing this book.
I now recognize that if I do die before finishing this book I will have had the thrill of learning some amazing things about the way God operated in the Bible story to give people the courage to trust Him, so that he can guide them to be the free and loving people he designed them to be from the beginning. I sincerely hope that I get to live long enough to finish and share that book with you, but if I don’t, at least I have had a small taste of what it might mean to begin living as an authentic child of God in the impossible hidden areas of my life.
Lord, thank you that it’s never too late “to find the keys to the car,” never too late to give the keys to You and begin letting You take me where You want me to go. This is a strange paradox for me that I don’t understand. But the fact that You have once again let me see how I have unknowingly put in denial things that I don’t think I can change…and evidently don’t think You can’t either. I do love You and I surrender my life in this moment to You once again. And I pray that the people reading this will have a good day. Amen.
“Each year one vicious habit discarded, in time might make the worst of us good.”
– Benjamin Franklin, Politician, Author, Scientist,
Then Jesus turned to the Jews who had claimed to believe in him. “If you stick with this, living out what I tell you, you are my disciples for sure. Then you will experience for yourselves the truth, and the truth will free you.”
– John 8:31-32, The Message
Dear Keith, I am having real trouble. Some time ago I heard you speak about honesty and realized that I have been phony all my life. So I decided to change my ways and began to confess to everyone exactly what I feel regarding them and life. My husband was horrified at some of my past actions (which I confessed) and now we are not speaking. I am telling the truth, compulsively, in fact. But everything is cratering. Please send suggestions!
I am not sure what you heard me say when you heard me speak about confessional honesty, but let me tell you what I intended to say. In the first place, confession of old sins may be healthy and not harm anyone. But there are ways in which thoughtless confession can be very destructive to a relationship. Compulsive confession is a bit like vomiting on someone—it may make the confessor feel good—but it doesn’t do much for the recipient.
Some years ago I spoke about the lack of honesty in my own life at a church group meeting. After the meeting an older man came up and said very thoughtfully, “You really spoke to my condition. I’ve been dishonest for years and I’m going to change.” He seemed to be deeply moved about his decision.
About a month later I got a call and as soon as I picked up I heard two hostile words from the other end of the line: “You bastard!” I was dumbfounded. “Who is this?” I had to ask. It was the man from the meeting. He had gone home and confessed to his wife (among other things) that he had often committed adultery over the years. (A fact she had never suspected.)
“Now,” the voice said, “she’s under the care of a psychiatrist in a mental hospital. Got any more ideas about Christian honesty, Keith?!”
As a result of that encounter I realized, in a way I’ll never forget, that raw honesty is not the highest value in the Christian life and in fact that “honesty” can be a very selfish thing, or even a way to clobber people under the guise of being a good and honest Christian. The highest values for Christians are love and concern, and it may be that one may have to confess some things to God before his pastor or a close Christian brother or sister… and not his or her mate (even though there are things which one can confess to his mate in time which will not destroy the relationship). Alcoholics Anonymous has a marvelous plan to the effect that one confesses his sins to a third party he trusts (not the party he has harmed), and makes restitution to the offended party except when making restitution would hurt that person or someone else.
So although I believe in the therapeutic value of confession before a trusted fellow Christian, I try to be careful not to hurt other people just to “get it off my chest.” And I’ve made plenty of painful mistakes even trying to follow that rule.
Dear Lord, thank you for James’ explanation of why I am to confess my sins—so I can be in helpful and healing relationships with you and with others in my life. Help me to be more loving and sensitive to the feelings of other people with regard to my confessions, so as not to needlessly hurt them just so that I can feel better or “keep the rules.” 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 5:16, The Message
Let me give you a new command: Love one another. In the same way I loved you, you love one another. This is how everyone will recognize that you are my disciples—when they see the love you have for each other.
John 13:35, The Message
God is love. When we take up permanent residence in a life of love, we live in God and God lives in us.
1 John 4: 17-18, The Message