“He who does nothing to stop evil condones it” ― Bangambiki Habyarimana
Meditation: What a humanly understandable wish and prayer. “God, destroy the wicked and save those who want to follow you.” If only it were that easy! Usually murderers and liars live long, even if they have miserable and toxic lives, and they make the lives of those around them miserable and toxic as well. The Psalmist wishes and prays for a reality where the unjust and wicked will be stopped or even killed, and the faithful and trusting will be saved.Isn’t that in sync with God’s will? Why does God not just stop evil? Why does God allow evil to go on? And who are the wicked?
Maybe I need to ask differently: Why do we humans allow evil to go on? Why has religion been (ab)used so many times to justify wickedness, condone oppression and perpetuate lies inside and outside of its religious communities? How can life giving spiritual values at times become so perverted that people use religious language to make lies and evil deeds “look good”?
Prayer: God, we are tempted to join the Psalmist asking for protection and wishing for you to intervene and stop the murderers, the wicked and the liars, as if this was alone your job and not also ours. Help us to see when we are the ones called to stop violence, when we are called to name injustice and to speak truth into falsehood. Save us, God, by giving us courage to openly name the destruction and the lies that exist inside and outside of our communities. Help us stop the violence and change the wicked ways in our own communities first, so that we are believable when we work to change the world. Amen
Psalm 55:23 But you, O God, will send the wicked down to the pit of destruction. Murderers and liars will die young, but I am trusting you to save me.
Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness. If it doesn’t feel vulnerable, the sharing is probably not constructive. Brene Brown
Meditation: Yesterday I spoke sternly, I even yelled a few words. I was upset. I was angry. As mother that is what you do when a teenager lies to you, don’t you? I lectured, I demanded changed behavior, I proclaimed “You did not pass the test”… And then I stepped away. I did not like that she lied. Yet I also did not like the way I came across. It did not feel constructive and only raised the resistance on her side. And when I calmed down and went deeper, I realized that underneath my anger was worry and fear. I had been afraid something could have happened to her. I felt vulnerable as a Mom who wants to protect her children. And so I went back to her. We were disconnected after what happened. She was shut down, just as her door was locked. I started with: “Can I, please, talk to you?” I shared that I had been worried and afraid as her Mom who wants to protect her. She shared why she had lied, as she felt I would not have given her the freedom and space she needed. We saw things from each other’s perspective. It felt vulnerable, yet connecting and constructive. We talked about how to handle a similar situation better in the future. And then we ate together, as the whole ordeal had made both of us hungry.
Prayer: God of vulnerability, help us as parents and help our teens to find back to connection in those places of vulnerability. Help us both admit openly our basic feelings of fear, anger and worry as we walk together through those difficult teenage years. Help us to admit that we love each other, even though our tone, behavior and words seem to contradict this truth all too often. Help us parents to make the first step in showing our vulnerability, as teenage life is nothing but… Amen
Then Peter (a Mom) came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother (my daughter) sin against me, and I forgive him (her)? As many as seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times. Matthew 18:21-22
Teenagers are some of the most passionate, dynamic and creative people I know. Yet, too often, this creative spark is left to flicker precariously and sometimes fade entirely. Malorie Blackman
Meditation: I marvel when I watch my teenage twins. They can get passionate about a new idea or discovery in a blink of an eye. The have energy that is exuberant and contagious. They come up with putting thoughts, ideas and images together in ways we as adults would have never thought to do.
At the same time the cultural, family and school expectations that teenagers face can be overwhelming to them. They are dealing with overloaded schedules, outside pressures to succeed and peer pressures to become inauthentic, just to fit in. Additionally teenagers often struggle with internal challenges of emotional imbalance, self-esteem issues and feelings of loneliness or “not fitting in”. Many teenagers either shut down emotionally, isolate, overschedule their lives or use maladapted coping strategies that include numbing by substance to feel better. How do we parents and adults support teenagers so that their passion, creativity and positive energy does not fade away? I learned that being an “available parent” goes a long way so that the flickering spark receives some protection when needed, but also enough air and space, so that it is not being “smothered”. (An important guide for me to consciously practice this balance has been John Duffy’s book “The available parent”).
Prayer: God, help us see the amazing sparks in our teenagers. Help us to be emotionally and physically present enough to augment, foster, encourage and admire their light. God, help us to become available parents and adults who do not cause additional stress by uploading our anxieties and expectations unto our teens. Help us to shelter their burning wicks while giving them enough oxygen and space to breathe on their own. Help us to find this balance of presence, structuring, support and space giving, so that throughout our teenagers’ years of challenges they will be able to keep their passion, energy and creativity alive.
A bruised reed He will not break, and a dimly burning wick He will not quench… (Matthew 12:20a)
Someone who has experienced trauma also has gifts to offer all of us – in their depth, their knowledge of our universal vulnerability, and their experience of the power of compassion. Sharon Salzberg
Meditation: Trauma is experienced in accidents, violence, abuse, neglect or sudden traumatic loss. Trauma happens to many individuals and by extension also to their families. Often the trauma is kept a secret. Many times others outside the family are unaware of the huge impact that trauma has on a person and on a family. Some never fully recover from those experiences. They continue to live a life paralyzed in fear, and their “body keeps the scores” (see the helpful book “The body keeps the score” from Bessel Van der Kolk). However, if traumatized persons and their families are able to seek and find compassionate and safe places, healing is possible. Yes, there will always be scars and healing will take a long time. And unfortunately the effects of trauma usually linger for a long time before healing is sought. Our culture still avoids mental health and resources to recover from trauma are still not readily available. But when persons seek help, they can find it. And as they walk on this journey of healing from trauma, they develop greater depth, increase their awareness of human vulnerability and develop greater compassion for self and for others. It is very sad that even in the 21st century, our Western society does not talk enough about the impact of trauma on individuals or families. PTSD still holds stigma. People and families still get isolated and lack the support they need and deserve. How can we educate ourselves and others about the incredibly impactful physical, emotional and relational consequences of trauma on individuals and families, and thus reduce and even do away with the stigma that trauma unfortunately still holds?
Prayer: Gracious God, we pray for all individuals and families who have been impacted by traumatic loss experiences, by traumatic violence and by chronic abuse or neglect. You see the depth of anxiety that trauma creates in people and how this anxiety can linger for decades in these individuals and their families. Let all who struggle with trauma find safe spaces where they are being cared for and can begin to heal. Heal the families of soldiers and the victims of abuse, neglect, accidents and sudden loss. You want us to bother you with our trauma. You want us to cast our anxiety onto you, as you know all about trauma through your son Jesus Christ who suffered a traumatic death. Thank you that you care for us and that you want to help us deal openly with our fears and heal us from trauma. Amen
“Cast all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1. Peter 5:7
Spiritual Leader Burnout reason number 9:
Trying to be perfectly “holy” versus trying to become “whole”
Some spiritual leaders have begun to reduce their worldview and value system to a microscopic spiritual perspective. Those leaders quote Scripture verses at every occasion and basically see everything from a spiritual angle. On the one hand, there is nothing wrong with this, as after all their role in the community is to uphold the spiritual perspective and offer and represent a certain spiritual value system. On the other hand, burnout happens when spiritual leaders focus exclusively on “becoming holy”, in the sense of becoming “spiritually perfect”. For some spiritual leaders reducing their efforts to “living a holy lifestyle”, of “reaching certain spiritual heights” while “representing God on earth”, leads to burnout in daily painstaking perfectionistic attempts to no longer present as human. The understanding of becoming “holy” can be observed in some Christian spiritual leaders’ perfectionistic pursuit of overcoming their “flesh”, doing away with their “old Adam (Eve)” and avoiding their “sins”. This narrow (and mis-)understanding of “holiness” can lead to burnout as a reduction of Spiritual leaders’ life quality, which is experienced as the loss of the freedom of being authentic and the loss of admission to have human flaws and shortcomings like everybody else.
The notion of “becoming whole” on the other hand means that one’s body, one’s raw emotions, one’s authentic vulnerable and human self with all flaws and particularities are being integrated into the spiritual leader’s awareness and identity. When spiritual leaders stop presenting themselves as “holy” or “holier”, professional burn out is being prevented. When “wholeness” (understood as”healing and “integration”) become the predominate goal of the spiritual leaders for self and for others, the notion of “holiness” is being transformed into a life giving spiritual practice that overcomes spiritual perfectionist striving. The striving for wholeness means the ongoing practice of accepting and healing of one’s body, one’s emotions, one’s personal story, one’s strengths and one’s “sins” and shortcomings. When spiritual leaders allow themselves to remain “human”, they become “whole”, which in itself is deeply liberating and prevents the burn out of spiritual perfectionism.
I suggest Parker Palmer’s books who focuses on the development of authenticity as the basis for all spiritual discernment, ministry and spiritual education.
First we learn that Jesus was the baby of a young couple who were in the midst of travelling and the conditions he was born into were less than desirable for a birth or a baby. Then we hear that because of a threat to his life, his parents had to take him as a young infant to Egypt, so that he would not be killed as their first born son. Jesus was a refugee. Did he have to be quiet as a refugee child? Was he traumatized?
My mother and her two sisters were all born during the second world war. My grandfather was a German soldier fighting in the war, and my grandmother was left alone with those three infants who were born during difficult times very close to each other. She then had to take her three small daughters and flee from the Russian soldiers. They found refuge at a farm in the country side. The place was so filled with refugees that my mother and her sisters had to sit under the table as toddlers. My grandmother had to make sure the toddlers were quiet, so that the farmer’s family would not throw them out.
I remember when I was two or three, my parents rented an upper floor in the house of an elderly couple. Everyday after lunch the couple would take an afternoon nap, and my older brother and I had to be quiet above their heads. I remember my mother’s urging that “I had to sleep and be quiet”. It felt like a “life and death” urgency. Somehow I got the message that we could be thrown out if we were not quiet.
I remember when my daughters were three years old and would not want to be quiet and take a nap, I felt this deep “life and death” urgency about them having to be quiet and sleep. I think I scared them in my attempt to “make them sleep”. I felt deeply fearful, even though there was nobody anymore who could have threatened and thrown us out. Refugee trauma spans through generations.
When we church people sing “sleep in heavenly peace” during Christmas, we easily forget that Jesus was a refugee. We forget that Christmas involves trauma. Trauma that is unconsciously passed down for generations. God enters traumatic places. God identifies with refugees. God becomes a refugee. Our current world story has become a large refugee movement. And those who are not refugees need those who are on the move “to be quiet”.
Let us not “be quiet”. Let the church become a voice for refugees. Let us “God people” speak up for those hidden under tables. Let us be the voice for the refugee children who are still separated from their parents. For those whose very existence is being “hushed”, until we hear that yet another refugee child has died from lack of care.
We humans have lost the wisdom of genuinely resting and relaxing. We worry too much. We don’t allow our bodies to heal, and we don’t allow our minds and hearts to heal. Thich Nhat Hanh
Meditation: Today my fifteen year old daughter got inspired to clean out her room and start the New Year in a new way. She hauled away bags for Goodwill filled with items from her childhood that had become clutter, and that she felt she no longer needed. For Christmas she had gotten new bedding for her bed. Once she was done, her small room looked clean and clutter free, even spacious. After a long day of preparing, she is now resting and relaxing. These are “holy” (“healing”) days of resting in between the years. The past months had been very challenging for her with many painful growing experiences that teenagers have to go through. These days off are meant for her and for all of us to be a time of resting and relaxing. Besides sleeping long, I am engaging some gentle Yoga and meditation. I am also in need for my body, mind and heart to heal.
Prayer: Healing Spirit, we bring to you all our worries that are left from the old year: Painful experiences, worrisome memories and disheartened thoughts. Gift us with the ability to rest and relax. Be present as we become mindful and still. Wipe the healing tears that stream at times while we meditate. We trust in your presence to heal us from the inside out. Amen
“Meditation can help us embrace our worries, our fear, our anger; and that is very healing. We let our own natural capacity of healing do the work.” Thich Nhat Hanh