Perhaps it is fitting that I should find myself grappling with the issue of “boundaries” while I was staying in the Scottish Borders (an area that was constantly being battled over between England and Scotland and was continually being forced onto one side or another without regard for the wishes of the people).
From my reading of The PAPA Prayer I have been trying to pay better attention to who I am and what is going on inside of me. As I have been reading Changes that Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud, I have been recognizing some of the struggles I have in the realm of boundaries. Since so much of my identity has been shaped by being a “good” person and trying to make others pleased with me, I have often been poor at setting boundaries. (After all, if I set boundaries with people they won’t be pleased with me; I won’t be seen as “good” in their eyes.)
Dr. Cloud explains, “Boundaries are the realization of our own person apart from others. This sense of separateness forms the basis of personal identity. It says what we are and what we are not, what we will choose and what we will not choose, what we will endure and what we will not, what we feel and what we will not feel, what we like and what we do not like, and what we want and what we do not want. Boundaries, in short, define us. In the same way that a physical boundary defines where a property line begins and ends, a psychological and spiritual boundary defines who we are and who we are not.” I realize that I need to and want to grow in this matter of knowing better and claiming better what I want or don’t want, what I feel or don’t feel, who I am and who I am not.
Dr. Cloud points out that one of the danger zones for people who do not do a good job of setting boundaries is that they are out of touch with their feelings. This has so often been true of me. He warns, “Feelings signal our state of being. Feelings tell us how we are doing, what matters to us, what needs changing, what is going well, and what is going badly. To disown our feelings, to ignore responsibility for them, is one of the most destructive things we can do to both ourselves and others.”
One of the ways I often disown my feelings has to do with a failure to recognize my needs. I experienced this the other day while walking through the Borders. I took a bus to a stop a mile shy of Hermitage Castle (where my ancestors spend much time in the prison during their years as Border Reivers). Leaving the castle I had to walk 7 miles to Newcastleton to catch a bus back to Hawick. The arthritis in my hip was really bothering me, but I didn’t even think to take some ibuprofen until a couple of miles into my trek because I simply get in the habit of not paying attention to my needs or taking care of myself. I believe this is an area of my life God wants me to grow in…and He is bringing it to my attention.
I realize that it has been a while since I have posted something on my blog. I also realize that my lack of posting primarily has to do with the fact that I am lonely. (All the guests at Whitchester Christian Guesthouse have left now except for me, so I go to meals in the beautiful dining room and find many tables filling the dining hall, but only one is set, and it is set for just one person—me.)
I acknowledge that most people would probably find the solitude to be a great time to fill a blog. But not me…and I am beginning to understand why.
One of the books I am reading (and have mentioned before) is The Papa Prayer by Larry Crabb. In the last couple of days two things in his book have really hit me and are helping me to come to grips with what is going on in me about this.
He talks about “relational sins,” and in his discussion of relational sins he talks about how we tend to be driven by fear that others will reject us. One specific thing he said about this especially hit me: “Loved kids figure out what keeps their parents loving them and then parade their virtues…or they become pastors, missionaries, good people who display their goodness for all to see.” Keep that in mind as I go on to the next matter.
He also talked about going to an unfamiliar shopping mall, finding the map of the mall and locating the “red dot” that tells us, “You are here.” He says that when we come to God in prayer we need to locate our “red dot.” We need to come to grips with where we actually are in our own hearts and moods and experiences when we come to God in prayer.
Now put the two together. As I tried to locate my “red dot” today, I realized not only am I lonely but also that I am afraid of admitting to others that I am lonely. I have tended to cope with my own fears of rejection in the very way that Crabb describes, by being a “good boy.” That leaves me quite hesitant to admit when I am not good or do not feel good. I think that if I really am a “good Christian” I should be able to rise above a little loneliness and trust God more and be very happy with my circumstances. Maybe that’s where I should be, but according to the “red dot” I am not there. I am lonely for now.
Serendipitously, I went to Jedburgh today to visit the beautiful ruins of a great ancient cathedral there. Before touring the cathedral, though, I visited the old Jedburgh Castle Prison. In the display they talked about the practice of solitude within the prison system. Prisoners were not allowed to talk to each other, and when they worked together (turning the mill wheel) they were blindfolded so that they could not even whisper to each other or mouth words to each other or use sign language between themselves. The display talked about how often prisoners went crazy from this forced solitude. Perhaps I shouldn’t complain too much about my loneliness.
I also thought about Jesus spending 40 days in the desert alone. I cannot imagine being in complete solitude for 40 days…but, then again, Jesus truly knew an intimacy with His Father that I have had just a nibble of but I pray that I will come to know it more fully.
REFLECTIONS ON IONA
I left Iona about a week ago. I have been through many rich experiences since then but wanted to hold off on my comments about Iona until I could post a picture. Finally I am in a coffee shop that has good enough wi-fi connection to allow me to post piictures. So here are some brief reflections on my time in Iona.
At first I felt somewhat awkward and out of place on Iona, for I seemed to be the only theologically conservative person in the community. But when you work on a job together (which is required of everyone participating in the Iona community), and when you laugh together (at such things as Crazy Hat Night when we all showed up wearing hats of our own creation), and when you dance together (at the Ceilidh one night), and when you worship together (as we did each morning and evening), you become well-connected with each other despite differences.
One of the great joys for me at Iona was the opportunity to love other people by listening well, by helping out, and by taking a genuine interest in them. It felt good to confirm that I love others not because we agree theologically or anything like that, but just because the God who loves and reaches out to everyone in the world is establishing some of His love in me, His child.
Another great blessing of Iona was the opportunity to be enriched by some wonderful times of worship, some of which included new and creative approaches to worship. I hope I can bring back some of that creativity so as to help people become more engaged in worship.
One more benefit of my time on Iona is that it gave me opportunity to consider thoughtfully why I disagreed with the speaker on theological matters, what were the important issues he brought up that need to be addressed, and how I would approach such issues from a very different theological framework.
One of the books I am reading on my sabbatical is The PAPA Prayer by Larry Crabb. The word PAPA is chosen by Larry Crabb both to express the quest for deeper intimacy in prayer with God our Father and as an acronym.
The first “P” is for “Present.” It has to do with a call to us to present ourselves to God as we really are–not as we wish we were or as good Christians are supposed to be, but as we really are. It has to do with us genuinely presenting to God whatever it is that is going on inside of us.
The first “A” is for “Attend.” It has to do with “attending to” or paying “attention to” God and to whatever it is I may be experiencing of God. Again, the focus is on genuineness. Am I aware of God’s closeness? Or am I aware of my heart missing greater closeness with God? Am I aware of some conviction from God? Or am I aware of some affirmation and encouragement from God? Or am I aware of some ideas that God may be stimulating in my soul?
The second “P” is for “Purge.” It has to do with clearing away anything that blocks my relationship with God. Since something is always coming up that blocks my relationship with God, that makes this an on-going need of our prayer lives.
The second “A” is for “Approach.” It has to do with approaching God as the most important thing in our lives. Crabb comments, “It then becomes clear that everything else is a second thing. Whether my spouse makes me feel important, whether my lunch mate asks me more than one question, whether my cancer comes back, whether I feel alive and vital and full of excitement–everything I want besides God is a second thing, legitimate in its place but an idol if it climbs into a higher place than God and His glory.”
I thought about that prayer as I turned to my adventures beyond Stirling (Scotland) today. I set out to catch a bus to the beautiful ancient cathedral in Dunblane then a bus to the William Wallace Monument. I didn’t know where I was supposed to go in Dunblane or how to get from one bus to the other or how long I might have to wait for buses or whether the rain would soak me. But I realized that my “outward” adventures on this sabbatical (visiting historical sites and such) are not as important as the “inward” journey (discovering more fully who I am inside and growing in greater intimacy with Christ), so I determined to keep my focus on the issues of the PAPA prayer–especially being present with God and paying attention to Him. As it turned out, my day involved much unexpected waiting. But that was okay. I brought my real self to God and paid attention to God and to what was going on inside of me, and I read some things that encouraged me and challenge me (and I happened to be inside most of the time that it was raining today).
After an afternoon of touring Stirling Castle and the Argyll Mansion, I walked into town for dinner. Following dinner, on my way back to my lodgings, I passed a sign that invited people to a Christian gathering above a coffee shop. I went up for some conversation, then some singing, then a speaker was introduced. The speaker happened to be the minister at the Church of Scotland church in the town where I will be spending a week beginning this Sunday. That was pretty cool in and of itself.
The minister spoke from Psalm 67:1: “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face shine upon us.” He spoke about how deeply God desires to bless us abundantly—which ties in directly with what I want to learn to embrace more fully on this sabbatical. I thank God for drawing me to this service this evening to hear this message.
One of the examples he used had to do with a woolen mill in his town (Hawick) that was going to be closed down. Many of the workers at the Mill go to his church and to other churches in town. They began to pray for a new company to buy the mill so that it wouldn’t close down, putting all the employees out of work. After several months of fervent prayer the Chanel Company bought the mill. An abundant blessing!
Now…if only I can keep in mind God’s desire to bless me abundantly when I worry about the cost of talking to my wife by phone from overseas!
(Talking to the speaker later, I found out that the people who run the lodging where I will be staying next week attend his church in Hawick.)
One of my goals over the course of this sabbatical is to learn to open my heart wider so as to be able to receive more freely and more fully. I want to be able to receive God’s love and goodness more freely and more fully in my life, but I am finding that to have a heart that is open to receiving from God I must also have a heart that is open to receiving from others.
That is not natural to me or easy for me. I tend to be self-contained and self-sufficient. I tend to be closed to the help or kindness of others.
I find that I am much like Simon Peter. When Jesus tried to wash the feet of Simon Peter, he answered, “No, you shall never wash my feet.” Like Simon Peter, I don’t like to have other people go out of their way for me. Yet I fear that for as long as I have been refusing the kindnesses of others, I have also been refusing the kindnesses of God that He would send my way through other people.
With all that in mind, one of the “exercises” I want to work on during this sabbatical is to practice receiving the kindness of others. Well, I got in some great “exercise” sessions over the last few days.
These “exercise” sessions began with Martin Howie giving me a ride from Fionnphort (a short ferry ride from Iona) to Methlick. Martin lives in Aberdeenshire, but it was still about a six hour drive and a half hour further out of his way to drop me off in Methlick. On top of that, he paid my way on 2 more ferry passages between Fionnphort and Methlick, bought me a muffin, and took no money from me for gas, only allowing me to purchase lunch for the two of us along the way.
Though Matt & Julie Canlis and their 4 children are in the midst of packing up their belongings for a move back to the U.S., they warmly received me into their home on Friday evening and took wonderful care of me.
Then Colin & Anne Presly took over. They brought me to their beautiful home on their sheep ranch on the outskirts of Methlick (Scotland) and provided tremendous hospitality to me from Saturday afternoon until Monday morning. It was at their home particularly that I began to feel the strain of these “exercise” sessions. I realized how difficult it is for me just to receive graciously from others. I wanted to do something to make up for them putting me up, but wouldn’t let me. I found myself worrying that I was getting in their way too much, or perhaps that I wasn’t being available enough to them. I was worrying, but they just kept providing warm and gracious hospitality. Their hospitality was a loving expression of their faith in the Savior who has given so graciously to us.
As I rode away on the bus this morning, I got to thinking about many other people throughout the years who have extended an invitation to Debbie and me to welcome us into their homes if we would venture their direction, but I have not taken people up on in because I have been so reluctant to put others out. I am beginning to realize that I have deprived them of company they have wanted, and I have deprived them of an opportunity to offer a loving expression of their faith in our gracious God.
I have had some good exercise sessions so far. I wonder what my Trainer has in store for me next?
Here, at last, is a picture Debbie took of me when she dropped me off at the airport for my flight to Scotland.
I am extremely grateful to God and to many people. I am grateful to all who have helped me to make this sabbatical possible. I am grateful to the bus driver and passenger who steered me in the right direction to get to Glasgow from the Edinburgh aiport. I am grateful to Martin Howie for driving me from Fionphort on Mull to Aberdeenshire, and going out of his way to drop me off in Methlick. I am grateful to Matt & Julie Canliss for putting me up last night, and to the folks from the Methlick Church who will put me up tonight and tomorrow night. God has been kindly watching out for me in many ways, and I am extremely grateful. I need to rush away now to join Matt & Julie and their church in a walkathon in Methlick. Hopefully early next week I will have opportunity to write more and to post some pictures from Iona, Methlick, and Stirling (where I will arrive on Monday).