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Love as Appreciation

I have been meditating on two passages I’ve read this past week.  Both of them commend the art of appreciation.    The first quote comes from Gerald May’s wonderful book, The Awakened Heart (you may know him from his more popular work, Addiction and Grace).

A certain asceticism of mind, a gentle intellectual restraint, is needed to appreciate the important things in life. To be open to the truth of love, we must relinquish our frozen comprehensions and begin instead to appreciate.  To comprehend is to grasp; to appreciate is to value.  Appreciation is gentle seeing, soft acknowledgment, reverent perception.  Appreciation can be a pleasant valuing: being awed by a night sky, touched by a symphony, or moved by a caress without needing to understand why.  It can also be painful: feeling someone’s suffering, being shocked by loss or disaster without comprehending the reason.  Appreciation itself is a kind of love; it is our direct human responsiveness, valuing what we cannot grasp.  Love, the love of our heart, is not what we think.  It is always ready to surprise us, to take us beyond our understandings into a reality that is both insecure and wonderful.

The second comes from Mister Rogers:



I think I spend a lot of time trying to comprehend things.  I read books about love, for instance, hoping to understand it or, as Gerald May puts it, grasp it.    Perhaps I feel that by comprehending love I can better control it.

But these quotes cause me to pause.   It rings true to me that love is not something to be understood but appreciated.  Valued.   To hold something as holy, sacred.  To be in awe, with or without understanding the reasons why.

Maybe this is something like what Jesus meant by being born again, or becoming like a child, or having eyes to see.   Maybe to love oneself and one’s neighbor and one’s God is about being humble and giddy and vulnerable enough to allow yourself to be in awe.   To appreciate someone or something without grasping them or it.  This, I think, is love at it’s best and purest.

Who or what might you show appreciation towards today?


Maybe Jesus wants us to take the wheel

The other day my 13-year-old son, Maddox, did something miraculous.  Without being told, without any promise of reward or punishment, without this being on his chore list, he lifted a bag full of garbage out of the can and carried it outside.   I’m not exaggerating when I say this simple act brought tears to my eyes.

If you are a parent you get why this made such an impact on me.   But even if you are not a parent, you get how much sweeter it is to see a good deed done from the heart rather than because they’ve been told to do so.    Like when an apology is offered freely it is far more meaningful than one offered from cajoling, isn’t it?

I am moved far more deeply by an expression of love, a kind gesture, a wise choice when I know it springs forth freely from the heart as an act of will rather than when I know it is done due to adherence to my instruction, my principle, my law.

I think this is what Paul meant when he wrote about the difference between a life lived by faith versus one under the law in Galatians 3:

The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.”13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” 14 He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.

The law makes for a good nest as you grow your feathers and get your wings, but what is true of my children it is also true of God’s children:  one day, you gotta jump out of the nest and, hopefully, fly.

Ryan May, pastor of The Net Church, shared a message yesterday that was secondarily about how the Bible is not black and white on many matters, which means we need wisdom to determine which course to take depending on our circumstances and context.   But this message was primarily about how important this understanding of the Bible is to having a healthy, vibrant, functioning relationship with Jesus!    He shared a wonderful analogy that drives this home:   When his 10-year-old son asked him if he could drive, Ryan decided to let him sit in his lap within the neighborhood and steer.    He realized, however, that  a day will come when he, the dad, is going to have to switch seats and entrust his son with the wheel.    If in 6 years his son is still needing to sit in dad’s lap to drive we would think something was wrong, wouldn’t we?

In a similar fashion, God is happy to let us sit in his lap when we need the help but like any good father, his desire is to teach his children how to drive.

When we treat the Bible like a law-book of do’s and dont’s, depending upon it to answer all of life’s questions, we are in essence choosing to live by the law rather than by faith.  We are choosing to stay in God’s lap and play it safe rather than jump out of the nest and fly.

This applies to recovery in many ways, least of which being that we often begin our journey in recovery due to external forces (law) impinging on us.  We do it to save a relationship or a job or to appease a judge.   Law drives us to meetings and sometimes that is enough – and thank God for them! – to get us through some grueling stretches of the road.    But eventually living by the law will burn us out and not be a big enough reason to carry on.    In my experience, deep, lasting recovery will not materialize until we accept and believe that we are worth recovery.   Until we accept that we are children of God and worth redeeming – that we want serenity and joy and peace and love in our lives – not to save our marriage but simply because we believe we are worth it – than real recovery will always elude us.

I love that the 12 Steps do not contain a single negative.   There is not a single “Thou Shall Not” or “Stop doing this” in the entire list.   Rather, it is a program of action.  It’s an invitation to jump out of the nest and start living life the way God intended.   The steps  don’t tell me exactly how to respond in every situation but rather they give me tools to enable me to respond to life on life’s terms with wisdom and love.     And ironically, with seven years of higher education in Bible and Theology under my belt, it’s the Steps that are most helping me read the Scriptures in ways that inspire me to trust that my Father delights in watching me, and you, drive.







I’m going to love you, anyway

Last night I finished Anne Lamott’s beautiful book, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy.   There is so much goodness in this short book that I could go on and on about it but there was this one line that arrested me which I needed to get down in writing before the impression it made upon me was forgotten.

Before I share the quote, some context.    She is riffing on Saint Paul’s “thorn in my flesh” (2 Cor. 12:6ff) affliction, something he could not shake but it helped him learn humility and reliance upon God’s grace.   She alludes to this passage in the context of admitting her own character defects, like being judgmental and conceited.   These are “thorns” she would rather not have and wrestles against them, sometimes successfully, other times not so much.   And then she writes the line which stirred my soul:

We don’t know if Paul was ever healed of his affliction.  I do know that being told I could keep my awfulness made holding on to it much less attractive.

I don’t know if Anne meant this the way I took it, but when I read these words what I heard God say to me was,

Chad, you can keep the stuff that is making you miserable if you wish. I am going to love you, anyway.

This is such good news to someone like me, who, historically would hang on to my character defects like Gollum holding onto his precious ring.   What’s more, I would cling to them even tighter if I thought that your love for me was conditioned upon me letting them go.  

Paradoxically, my disease often led me to cling tighter to the things I suspected were preventing people from loving me well.    Maybe this is because I’m super stubborn.  Maybe it’s because my disease needed this in order to thrive.   If you won’t love me for who I am, it told me, than I’ll just act out. 

But upon reading Anne’s line above, the insanity of all of that made sense to me.   I heard God say to me that he was going to love me regardless of my “thorn.”   God’s love for me isn’t conditioned upon me letting go of my awfulness.

Surrounded by God’s unconditional love makes holding on to my character defects, my disease, my awfulness far less appealing.   My addiction has, upon this realization, nothing or no one to rail against or stubbornly defy.  It has no one to blame, no one upon whom to justify it’s self-damning cycle of insanity upon.

God says to you and I, hey, you can continue being miserable if you’d like, I’m going to love you, anyway.    Somehow that makes hanging on to my junk seem like a colossal waste of time and energy.    Would you agree?

Serenity vs. Social Media

I have a confession to make.

A good percentage of the things I post on Facebook have shady motives.    Sometimes, if I post something political, it’s for the purpose of garnering “likes” from people I know will agree with me or, worse yet, to shame those who don’t.   Sometimes I post things because I want people to be proud of me, or to think I’m smart, or because I’m feeling lonely.   Other times I’ll post things in a passive aggressive attempt to let someone reading know that I think their ideas are awful and they should change (and they would change if they were as enlightened as me, I tell myself, and this meme will certainly do the trick!).

I’m not proud of this.   I recognize it as a character defect and it’s one of the hardest for me to surrender.   Step 6 encourages me to become entirely ready to give these defects of character over to my higher power, but to be honest, sometimes I’m unwilling.

Why am I unwilling?   Because I invest a lot of energy in justifying my social media presence.   I often think about how the world will be less safe or sane or good without my input.   I often fantasize that this tweet or that meme or my witty and theologically astute comment will go viral and all the world will say Amen.   I tell myself that if I don’t speak up and out, who will?

But if I’m honest about what’s going on in my insides when I do all this, I’m miserable.   I hate that I pick up my phone every 30 seconds to see if someone has liked my status.  I hate that I obsess in my head over what someone I’ve never met thinks about today’s news headline.    I hate that I construct these resentments in my heart towards friends, family and strangers because of what they have said or haven’t said on Facebook, or because they didn’t like or love my comment.  I hate that the need to be right has dominated my need to be happy and serene.

To quote Russell Brand, in justifying my misery I recommit to it.

I was discussing all this over tacos the other night with a friend.   We concluded that we were a lot alike in how we use social media.   We suspect that a lot of people are like us, too.   We also considered some of the best ways real change happens.   In my experience it happens over meals like that one.   It happens over face-to-face interactions where we seek to truly hear the other person’s perspective and, because we are face-to-face and therefore more vulnerable, we tend to speak our minds in kinder, gentler ways.   It’s easier to love someone whom I disagree with when they are eating tacos with me than when they are separated by pixels and screens and state-lines.

When I’m face-to-face with you I’m less likely to reduce you to a single issue or meme, and you are less likely to do the same to me.

This is not to say that all of social media is evil and brings out the worst in us.   It is to say, however, that more times than not it brings out the worst in me.   It unsettles my serenity and makes me a less joyful person when I am wrapped up in the web of everyone’s thoughts about world events or what I ate for dinner.

A week ago I became willing, at least for now, to surrender this defect of my character.   To help with that I removed Facebook and Twitter from my phone and stopped posting or commenting on either (when I publish something on my blog it is automatically shared to those platforms).    I’ve noticed myself lurking from time to time on my laptop (just to check in on my friends, I tell myself), but those times are getting fewer and farther between, and I’m grateful for that.   I’m learning that I can live without the world knowing what I think about this week’s news headlines (anyone who knows me well enough already knows what I think on those matters.  Why keep beating the same drum?).    I’m also learning that there is more room in my life for joy and peace and hope and thinking the best about my neighbors than I have when I’m debating strangers on Facebook.

And I’m learning, again, that I cannot fix people, places or things.   Rarely have I ever changed because of someone’s argument or Facebook status.  But I’ve changed much when others simply loved me for who I am, where I am, and entrusted my life to the care of God.   I want to be that sort of person for others.   If one day I can be that person while being on Facebook, that would be great.   Until that time, I’m willing for today to give it up.


Beautiful Boy

I’m really looking forward to this movie coming in October (see trailer below).    It’s based on a true story about a father trying to help his son overcome addiction.

I’ll be interested to see how it plays out.   We know that when it comes to dealing with loved ones suffering with addiction that we cannot make them do anything.  In my experience, no one was ever able to “fix me.”    They wanted it, prayed for it, at times tried to manage it, but in the end the only thing that will heal the addict is the addict deciding they have had enough pain and become willing to admit their powerlessness and need for a power greater than ourselves to save us.

I know this frustrates the daylights out of our family and friends (but there is help for them too!   Look into Al-Anon, CoDa and other support groups for family members of addicts!)

What experience, strength and hope do you have to offer family members going through the pain of watching their loved one suffer?


Justifying our misery

I’m reading Russell Brand’s brilliant book, Recovery.  In the chapter covering Step 6, where we are “entirely ready to have God remove all our defects of character,” he writes,

Having identified these defects through our inventory we have a decision to make: do we want to continue to operate within these patterns or to transcend them?  No one wants to be miserable but few people are willing to do the work required to enact change.

My belief is that we accept our suffering and only attempt to tackle it through outward means.  Even having identified Lust as a ‘defect,’ a negative and problematic trait, we don’t automatically discard it.  ‘Lust is natural, I’m entitled to lust, if she had sex more I wouldn’t look at porn’, all these justifications are obstacles to change.  In justifying our misery we recommit to it.  

In justifying our misery we recommit to it.

I spent a lot of time justifying things to myself or others.   Lately, the thing I find myself justifying is my anger – righteous or otherwise.  I’ll get angry towards someone or something and I’ll tell myself I have a right to feel this way.   I even have a responsiblity to feel this way.  I have been wronged, I tell myself, and therefore you should know how much you have wronged me by how I give you the silent treatment for the next 2.5 hours.   Etc., etc.

In justifying my misery – my anger – I recommit to it and therefore never get to a place where I am entirely ready to have God remove this defect of my character.

What sort of things do you find yourself justifying?    Could it be that you are recommitting yourself to whatever that is each time you do?   Are you ready to let God have it?   Truly?


Proverbs and Programs are not Promises (and that’s good news)

I heard an important message Sunday at church.   It was part of a series on the book of Proverbs and the pastor began with this warning:

Sometimes it doesn’t work.

Sometimes we do all the right things, make all the right plans, follow all the right advice, cross all the t’s and dot all the i’s and still things go sideways.   To quote one prophet, Forrest Gump, life is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get.

The sayings in Proverbs, the pastor went on to say, are not so much promises but probabilities.   Following the wisdom found in Proverbs will better situate a person for a fulfilling, rewarding life than not following its advice.    But nothing in life is a guarantee and sometimes you’ll bite into a coconut cluster when you were totally expecting caramel.

In the same way that Proverbs cannot promise a smooth-sailing life, working the steps of recovery will not guarantee rainbows and unicorns.   I can be working the perfect program but still get laid off tomorrow.  I can recite the most beautiful amends to someone I’ve hurt and still be kicked to the curb.   I can rise each morning and seek to connect with my Higher Power and hear nothing back in return.    I can strive to give back to the world what I’ve learned and be rejected or ignored.

Neither Proverbs nor the Steps are a talisman promising good luck if rubbed just the right way.    And thank God for that.

Thank God because who wants a Proverb or a Program that works like a vending machine?  Actually, as I type that question I realize that at times many of us want exactly that.   We want to be able to recite a verse or work a step and because we have done X we can be certain that Y and Z are sure to follow.   Deep down we want to feel we have earned our reward.   Yes, we may want that at times, even most of the time, but thank God that is not what we get.

Because here’s the deal.   Not one of us ever has nor ever will work a perfect proverb or program.   Not one of us ever has nor ever will get it right enough

Moms and dads, on a scale of 1 to 10, just how often are you operating at a consistent 10 when it comes to training up your child in the way they should go (Prov. 22:6)?   I often strive for a 10 but there are days when I know I just phoned it in.

Fellow addicts, on a scale of 1 to 10, just how fully are you turning your life and your will over to the care of God as you understand God?   I often strive for a 10 but there are days when I realize I’ve been running on my own steam and stubbornly clinging to my own will.

I am so thankful that both Proverbs and my Program are probabilities for a better life rather than promises because if they were promises than that would mean I would be accountable for perfectly performing those promises in order to get the promised prize.  My relationship with God would be based solely on how well I performed each transaction, how perfectly I lived out each proverb, how precisely I worked each step.

Probabilities, on the other hand, create room for grace.

Grace, God’s unmerited favor and goodness towards we who strive and stumble through life, makes up for the days I’m operating at a 5 at best.   Grace enables me to be gentle with myself and let go of worry about the future because while I know I may never be a consistent 10 when it comes to parenting, God our Father, is.

Grace is those moments you see your child respond to someone with compassion and you can’t remember having done it quite so beautifully as they or had no idea they were watching if you did.

Grace is what makes up the difference on those days when I know I haven’t had time to work a great program but I’m sober today and a text from a group member reminds me that I am not alone.

Understanding that my program, like proverbs, is made up of a list of probabilities releases me from the bondage of performance anxiety.   So long as I am setting my sail in the direction these steps suggest I can be hopeful that I’m going to make progress even if – no, when! – I don’t do it perfectly.    The Big Book, in the chapter titled How It Works, after listing each of the 12 Steps has this to say:

Many of us exclaimed, “What an order!  I can’t go through with it.”  Do not be discouraged. No one among us has been able to maintain anything like perfect adherence to these principles.  We are not saints.  The point is, that we are willing to grow along spiritual lines. The principles we have set down are guides to progress.  We claim spiritual progress rather than spiritual perfection.

So, if you are struggling today with keeping a bunch of promises and worried that your sub-par performance is going to sink you or those you love, know this:   Because of Grace, if you continue taking it one day at a time, moving one step at a time in the right direction, the probabilities that you’ll make positive progress are really, really high.   Don’t give up.