Tag Archives: Examen

Be Inspired — Faith in and through Tragedy

be inspiredNext in this month’s be inspired series is another great conversation from the archives — a 2011 interview with Christina Schofield. She’s an illustrator and a writer; her book, My Life and Lesser Catastrophes — An Unflinchingly Honest Journey of Faith, tells the story of how a tragic motorcycle accident radically changed the trajectory of her life and challenged her faith.

* * * * *

Chris, I’m so glad to introduce you to my “friends.” Can you tell them a bit about yourself?

I was born the youngest of four to a gentle, humble Swedish preacher in a tiny Midwestern town. I doodled and passed notes all through my school days, so kind of stuck with it for a profession. The last fifteen years or so, I’ve illustrated and written stuff for mostly Christian publishing companies. I’m married to a campus minister (Allen) and we have a seven-year-old daughter, Lily. If my days were a pie chart, it would look like this: Taking care of the fam’ (including two cats that hate each other and a neglected beta fish): 30%, Driving people places—30%, Making sandwiches—30%, Work, house-cleaning, and pretty much everything else combined—10%.

I’m very excited about your book, My Life and Lesser Catastrophes, that is coming out this summer. For my readers who don’t know your story, can you tell us what your book is about?

Not quite four years ago, my husband and I were in a motorcycle accident. I was okay, but he broke his neck and was left paralyzed. The book is kind of a walk through that ugly-faith journey — picking up the pieces and saying that God is good even when my life is bad!

This month we’re looking at the discipline of life-change. I imagine that the extreme difficulties you and your husband have lived through recently have been a catalyst for some serious self-examination. What has God revealed to you about yourself through this challenging season?

Initially, came the question, “WHAT? How could you let this happen, God? I thought we were friends!” There was instant perspective — a lot of things I had desired goal-wise  I immediately realized didn’t really matter compared to the pursuit of God and getting my family well. The next challenge was coming to terms with the fact that God still loves me even when I have nothing to offer him in return. I’ve spent most of my life struggling to “perform” for him, do my best stuff to win his approval and/or impress people. There is a sort of peace that comes when you hit rock bottom and realize, “Wow. He loves me still.”

What else has God revealed to you about himself through this painful journey?

His love of broken things. We avoid brokenness at all cost, but God views it differently than we do. Psalm 52 says a broken spirit is what He actually desires. Psalm 34 says he is near to the broken-hearted, and I’ve found that to be totally true! He is much closer than I ever realized! If you let that get in you good, if you let God open your mind to what he thinks is a big deal I mean, it helps you see people through new eyes.

Scripture tells us that God’s grace is sufficient. Of course this doesn’t mean the difficulties in our lives go away if we trust God! How have you experienced this promise?

Allen was in hospitals for about two months. Shortly after we got back, I had a phone call on the answering machine from an old friend who had been struggling with addictions and family problems and spiritual problems. I had really kind of been overwhelmed with our friendship before Allen’s accident because I didn’t know how to help her. I put off returning her call and she died shortly after of a drug overdose! I felt terrible! I confessed to God, “How do I do this? How can I help others when I feel so burdened myself?” I felt like He was urging me to “do it broken.” To let His strength pour through my smallness, weariness, brokeness (2 Corinthians 12:9-11). He has done that in some really cool ways!

 How can we be praying for you and your family?

Please continue to pray for Allen’s healing, strength, rest, and peace! For wisdom in raising Lils, that she will grow up to love and worship God. Lately, I’ve been praying that God will get all the stuff out of us that keeps us from being completely his. I pray it with hesitation because I know that can be painful! (But necessary.) Thanks! We love getting prayed for!

* * * * *

Check in each week this month for more stories from women whose faith, ideas, and love will inspire you! 

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

.

Spiritual Cartography

From space, this planet has no lines dividing up continents, marking out where one country stops and another begins. But a good atlas shows you these boundaries. Once etched on a page by cartographers, now marked out via Computer-Aided Drafting, these boundaries identify the limits: the edge of a county, the end of a time zone, the limit of one government’s claim and the spot where another begins.

boundaryAre there lines etched out on your life? Lines that denote your limits? Boundaries that signify where your commitments, your energy, your involvement stops?

Putting limits in place – identifying boundaries – is critical to forging a life with time and energy and space for “being” with God. As a do-er who has a difficult time saying no and seems to perpetually feel tempted to take on new challenges and start new projects, I’ve learned this the hard way. In fact, I perpetually keep learning the hard way that it’s critical to draw lines that say “no.” Continue reading

Joy . . . at Rock-Bottom?

Readers, I’m privileged to introduce you to Karen Beattie, the author of Rock-Bottom Blessings—Discovering God’s Abundance When All Seems Lost. (I damaged my copy of the book in the very best way: dog-earing pages, underlining tons, constantly scrawling notes in the margin.)  Here Karen joins us to talk with me a bit about joy. . . and how (and even if) it fits into life’s rock-bottom seasons.

* * * * *

Welcome, Karen. Can you tell my readers a bit about yourself?

Beattie photoI’m a writer who lives in Chicago with my husband and 3-year-old foster daughter and a needy, geriatric cat. I write about faith, doubt, and, well, life. I don’t settle for easy answers. I write in order to try to understand, or at least have peace, about the difficult parts of life.

This month we’re talking about joy on my blog. What’s the first thing that comes to mind for you when you think of joy? Is it an image? A memory? An experience?

My 3-year-old foster daughter exudes joy. She has been through so much loss in her short little life, but still, she is joyful 90 percent of the time and her giggle is music to my ears. She is teaching me what it means to find joy in difficult circumstances. Seeing her leap and skip down the sidewalk with a huge smile on her face, to me, is the pure definition of joy. She just loves everything—the robins she sees on the sidewalk, the woodpecker we hear in the park, the moon. Oh, to have that child-like joy again!

Your book, Rock-Bottom Blessings, tackles such a critical question: What does it mean to live the “abundant life” when all seems lost? Why did you want to write this book?

Beattie Book CoverIn 2009, like thousands of Americans, I lost my job. That was devastating enough in itself. But it had ramifications far beyond the fact that I had to find a new job in the middle of a recession. My husband was in graduate school, without my income we had to put everything on hold, including an adoption. We were wondering if we’d ever become parents. And it brought up all of my doubts about whether or not God loved me…and if he was even there.

Author Parker Palmer said he became a writer because he was born baffled. I can relate. I was baffled by why all of these bad things were happening to me, and I wrote the book to sort through it all. I also wrote try to discover what I still believed about God, and if there was a God, what sort of relationship I had with him. Some of my old beliefs about God and my faith – such as what it means to be blessed – were not working any more. People throw the word “abundance” around, but what does it really mean to have abundance? In the process of writing the book, my idea of what it means to live an abundant life was turned on its head.

How do you think the idea of “joy” is related to living an abundant life?

I think living an abundant life is about finding deep and inner joy, which is more than finding just temporary happiness. But living an abundant life is also experiencing the depth and richness of all of life’s experiences, including the dark times. I used to believe that the verse in Scripture said, “I came that you might have abundant life.” . . . Well the scripture actually says, “I came that [you] might have LIFE, and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). We tend to skip over the “life” part and go right to the word “abundance.” But experiencing life in all of its richness includes the joy, grief, suffering, the boredom. I discovered that during those times when joy is absent and life seems dark—if we look closely enough, we will find treasures. Continue reading

Soar!

What do you want your relationship with God to be like?

[Wrong answer:] I want it to be a facade; a guilt-ladden bustle of busyness; a bunch of checked-off spiritual to-do list boxes; a set of facts I affirm; a lonely emptiness; a worn-out, passionless routine;  a low and neglected priority; a long-lost, now-distant friendship; a stuck-in-a-rut sameness; a label I wear.

flyNone of us would say this, of course! But sometimes, if we have the courage to stop and really look at our lives; we realize that our faith has become one of these. Somehow, without intentionally steering this way, we find ourselves at a spiritual place we don’t like. And we realize: This is not where I want to stay. Continue reading

Mirror-gazing, part 2

A spiritual practice that’s been particularly meaningful to me in recent years is examen or examination of conscience. It’s a Christian way of praying that is a sort of confession — an honest look, with God, at one’s life or at one’s day. It’s nestled in grace, not guilt, and it’s a way of identifying areas of needed growth. It’s also a great way to pause and recognize in gratitude the many ways God has been and currently is at work in one’s life! Click here to read a post in which I explain how to practice examen. Consider what role this prayer practice might play in your life.

A matter of lighting?

There are moments in my life when I realize our bathroom mirror has inadequate lighting. It’s visually warm and cozy. I can apply make-up in a jiffy and feel great.

But then I walk into a bathroom with a different type of lighting–like at the movie theater or an airport. (You know the lighting, don’t you? The brutally honest lighting?) Suddenly I see things I didn’t see at home. Maybe I didn’t blend in my cover-up and there’s a big opaque splotch on my face. Or maybe there are big bags under my eyes or a plethora of pimples and assorted blemishes I somehow missed. Or perhaps there are other horrors too ugh!-ifying to type on this blog.

This different lighting is not the warm and inviting light that I choose to live in, and for good reason. But the brutally-honest lighting has it’s place. It’s critical not just for our appearance, but similarly for our souls. There are times when we benefit from a cold, hard, horrifying look at ourselves. When rather than a mere glance, we stare into that spiritual mirror and really see who we are, blemishes and all. Continue reading

Cutting Back Part 2

I wrote a short article for GiftedforLeadership.com in December 2008 that is, essentially, “Cutting Back Part 2” — a continuation of the discussion on the questions I asked in my last post. How, practically speaking, can we figure out if we are doing too much? How can we pare back our commitments to form a more healthy, focused way of life?

This article, “Taking a Sharpie to Your List,” candidly describes a moment I had when I was overwhelmed and needed to re-evaluate my commitments. It describes the painful conflict we feel between our need to please others and a determined focus to honestly ask God, “What do you want me to do, God? How do you want me to invest my time right now?” It involves letting go, giving up, being patient with dreams, and being content with God’s calling . . . for you . . . for today. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this article!

No offense, but I’m crossing your name off my list with a big black Sharpie.

I’m not crossing you out of my life — just off my list.

It’s not crossing you off because you’re unimportant or because I don’t care or because I don’t think you’re cool.

Blackening your name off isn’t easy for me, but I’ve got to do it.

It’s not you; it’s me.

And I’m not superwoman.

Sorry, but I’ve got to do this . . . 

 Screech!(Sound of Sharpie on paper.)

This one-sided dialogue was repeated in various forms in my mind throughout a revolutionary hour I spent with a blue index card, a pencil, and a big, bad, black Sharpie.

Before that hour, my life looked a bit like this:

There were the various groups I was already a part of: a book club, a ministry group, a home group, a Sunday-school-class group, and a few various committees peppered in here and there. Then there were the groups I felt interested in joining or guilty about not participating in or somewhat pressured to be a part of: women’s Bible study, a mentoring program, three more committees and ministry groups, and various parent volunteer groups at my kids’ schools.

There were also all sorts of various relationships I was trying to maintain: “outreach” relationships with neighbors, relatives, friends, international students, and a regular Jehovah’s Witness door-to-door visitor. Then of course there were the close friends who live far away in Portland and Boulder and Istanbul and Grand Rapids and Chicago. Then there were the Christian friends who are close by, from my present church, from my old church, from MOPS, from book club, from here, there, and everywhere. Then of course my family: my husband, my son, my daughter, my sister, my brother, my sisters- and brothers-in-law, my nieces, my parents, my parents-in-law, my aunts and uncles, and my fabulous seventeen-year-old cousin. Oh, and there were the people I’m trying to invest in and encourage, like a couple we go on double-dates with, the single mom I’m encouraging, a younger Christian I studied the Bible with on occasional Friday mornings, the mom-friends who I swapped parenting advice with and?well, trust me, I could go on and on.

 And along with groups and relationships, there were spiritual growth habits, exercise goals, personal aspirations, various other neglected hobbies, work commitments, and household tasks. I felt like Bilbo Baggins when he told Gandalf, “I feel… thin. Sort of stretched, like… butter scraped over too much bread.”

 Ignatius of Loyola outlined the spiritual practice of examen or “examination of conscience” in his Spiritual Exercises written in 1522-1524. In essence, examen is the habit of prayerfully reflecting, with God’s help, on your thoughts and actions during a given period of time and considering how your life matches up with what God desires for you. Christians from various traditions throughout the centuries have practiced the habit of examen in various forms, from formal Ignatian prayers to John Wesley’s brutal accountability questions to simple private reflection on the life-giving and death-dealing moments of one’s day.

 I knew I needed to assess more than one day. I needed to look with God at my pattern of living over weeks and months and years. I knew that rather than living with purpose, I was aiming for hundreds of targets and missing most of ?em. Rather than living richly, I was left spiritually and emotionally poor. Rather than enjoying deep and meaningful relationships, I’d become thin, listless butter.

 Hence, the appointment with the Sharpie for some lifestyle-examen.

 I filled that card with every commitment I’ve got, every person I’m trying to care for and encourage, every task or person I feel guilty about not attending to, and every dream I’m neglecting. I jam-packed every centimeter of that poor little card. And then I sighed.

 And then I prayed.

 “Lord, help me,” I prayed. “Help me get a grip. Help me get a grip, first, on my outrageously huge view of myself. (I am not Atlas — nor do I want to be!) Then help me see your vision for my life and grasp onto it.

 “Then Lord, help me loosen my grip on all those other things I’m holding on to and trying to do but just . . . well, just can’t.”

 And after some prayer and after some silent staring and after quite a bit of inner wrestling with self-imposed guilt, I put that Sharpie to work.

 I crossed several commitments and goals off that list. (That wasn’t so hard.)

 But then I literally crossed several people off that list. (That was hard. It felt very . . . mean.)

 But that blacked, blotchy, barely legible card became a target for me. A clear, defined target to focus on that freed me to obey and follow God’s leading rather than chasing after all my own notions of what it means to serve him and live life.

 So if I crossed you off my list, I’m sorry. You’ll never know you got crossed out because I’ll still be kind and I’ll still enjoy being with you and I’ll still meet you for coffee if you ask.

 But I’m called by God to invest my energies elsewhere.

 And if that’s fine with him, it’s fine with me.

The Bad News . . . the Good News

“Mom,” my four year-old daughter asked me the other day, “Why don’t any of the people in the Bible obey God?”

In my answer, I patiently brought up examples of men and women who obeyed God in Scripture: Joseph forgave his brothers, Queen Esther saved her people, and so on.

But my daughter wouldn’t have it. She shot down my examples with counter-examples of disobedience. She said, “Even those people you said still disobeyed God.”

Her simple observation led to a rather profound theological discussion to have with a preschooler: we are all sinners—and that sinfulness is a profound theme running through Scripture. It’s a truth that has become blatantly obvious to my 4 year-old simply from learning Sunday school stories and listening to Genesis on a CD.

And this “bad news” part of the Good News is central to this discipline of life-change.

Lest I make this month’s discipline sound morose, discouraging, and one to be avoided at all costs, we must recognize a core truth: recognition of our sin, confession, and repentance (turning away from those sins) leads to freedom.

One of my favorite theological writers, Frederica Matthewes-Green, says this: “[R]epentance, is joy. Initially we fear looking squarely at our sins, lest we get overwhelmed. But the reverse turns out to be true. The more we see the depth of our sin, the more we realize the height of God’s love. The constant companion of repentance is gratitude; seeing our sin becomes, paradoxically, an opportunity for joy.”

My daughter’s observation about the Bible is true of my life too—mine is a story that includes disobedience, selfishness, sin. Yours does too.

As we look honestly at our lives—with God’s loving presence and gentle grace—we can find this paradoxical joy and freedom that comes from facing the reality of our brokenness.

This week—Holy Week—may be the very best time of the year for a period of personal self-examination. This week we remember Christ’s determined march to the Cross, the pinnacle of the Bible’s swell of human brokenness. It is the week we face our own sins that he carried with him on that road to Calvary. Yours. Mine.

Let it be a week in which we courageously look at those sins, confess them, and receive God’s beautiful gift of not only forgiveness but of transformation through the power of his Holy Spirit.

15-Minute Formation: Examen

Much of the lingo regarding spiritual formation has to do with be-ing rather than do-ing. Fundamentally I completely agree with this shift in focus. We seek to abide in Christ rather than “accomplish” for Christ.

But by nature I am a do-er. I am very accomplishment oriented. Each day I leave behind a list scrawled on paper or a Post-it in which I’ve recorded my to-do’s (and attempted to do at least some of them).

This month’s spiritual discipline of life-change adds an element of do-ing to our be-ing as we actively and intentionally join our best efforts with the Spirit’s work in our life, seeking to align our actions, character, and thoughts with the way of Christ.

One powerful way to do this is through the practice of examen.

In examen, we muster the courage take honest stock of our lives with God. Here’s how I explain examen in The Busy Mom’s Guide to Spiritual Survival (you can find more in-depth discussion of this topic in the book):

Ignatius of Loyola taught that Jesus-followers should regularly spend a focused time of prayerful reflection, taking stock of their day and evaluating how well they lived out your faith. He called this practice examen and outlined it in five basic parts:

1. Recognize that you are in the presence of God.

2. Reflect on your day with gratitude and thank God for how he blessed you, guided you, and provided for you.

3. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you as you prepare to evaluate the outer actions and inner motives of your day. Open yourself to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

4. Take time to prayerfully review your day. Start in the morning and think through the events that occurred during the day—consider your interactions with your children, spouse, and others; reflect on your inner thoughts and feelings; evaluate your use of time and your attentiveness to God. As you review your day, joyfully respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit as God points out areas in which you fell short of how he wants you to live and to love. Continue reading

Life as an Open Book

This month we’ll look at the practices of self-examination and life-change. I believe it is most fitting to look at a Scripture passage that exemplifies what these practices are all about.

Consider these words from The Message paraphrase:

God, investigate my life: get all the facts firsthand.

I’m an open book to you;

even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.

You know when I leave and when I get back;

I’m never out of your sight.

You know everything I’m going to say

before I start the first sentence.

I look behind me and you’re there,

then up ahead and you’re there, too—

your reassuring presence, coming and going.

Is there anyplace I can go to avoid your Spirit?

to be out of your sight?

Investigate my life, O God,

find out everything about me;

Cross-examine and test me,

get a clear picture of what I’m about;

See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong—

then guide me on the road to eternal life.

(Selections from Psalm 139)

Will you speak the same open, honest, candid, risky, scary, freeing invitation to God? This month, invite God to show you what it means to live as an open book to him.