Failure is Essential

February 8, 2016 — Leave A Comment

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“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” ~ Winston Churchill

I came across an interesting question this morning in Elizabeth Gilbert’s book BIG MAGIC:

What would you do even if you knew you might very well fail?

Upon reading this, I immediately breathed a sigh, as if laying down a burden I didn’t realize I carried. This question speaks to the very soul of my life, and gives it permission to be there.

Failure is a possible outcome of even the noblest of quests. And if it does fail, that fact makes the quest itself no less noble or worthy of pursuit. It’s even ridiculous to say “if” because every noble quest, even those that end in victory, is pock-marked with failures all along its path.

The one who wins every fight up the mountain has chosen too small a dream. Failure in any worthy endeavor is to be expected. In fact, I believe it’s essential. How else will the hero learn and grow and become more than he was at the beginning?

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What is it to “have heart”?

It is the passion, the faith, and even the stubbornness to stay in the game even once it seems certain that all is lost. It is the resolute refusal to ever quit or give up, regardless how grim the outlook or how certain the defeat. It is to believe beyond all hope or reason for a turning of the tide ~ what J.R.R. Tolkien called a “eucatastrophe,” a “sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears.” (He believed there ought to be a word equal in strength to catastrophe, but opposite in effect. So he coined one. Gotta love that guy.)

To have heart, then, is to never stop hoping for the eucatastrophe to come, and even if it does not, to rip and tear at the darkness until the very last drop of blood drains from your body.

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Simpson Web Friendly-6I’m honored to welcome my friend and former coaching client Amy Simpson to the blog this week. Amy is the award-winning author of Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission and Anxious: Choosing Faith in a World of Worry (both InterVarsity Press). She’s also a certified life and leadership coach and a frequent speaker. You can find her at AmySimpsonOnline.com and on Twitter @aresimpson. Welcome, Amy!

Schizophrenia was a member of my family before I was—but while I had a name from the day I was born, my mother’s illness went unnamed for decades. In fact, it went largely undetected until I was 13. A year later, at 14, I made my first visit to see my mom in a psychiatric hospital. At 18 I still thought Mom was simply going through a rough patch. At 22 I began to understand a bit about what I, and the rest of my family, was going through. At 30 I realized my mom’s illness still had the power to hurt me. At 35 I realized it would always hurt. I’m still learning that God can heal us without closing our wounds. And I have begun to understand how much God can use pain when it’s placed in his hands.

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True vs. Fake Freedom

January 18, 2016 — Leave A Comment

“The truth that makes men free is for the most part the truth which men prefer not to hear.” ~ Herbert Agar

I used to suffer over the question, “What is it to live free?”, primarily because for most of my life I certainly was not. From early on I was bound up in brokenness, first by the deep damage and shame I experienced through sexual abuse as a child, then in later years through the abuse I visited upon myself, colluding with shame to keep my true soul sealed away in a prison of fear and pretense. I lived in those days a kind of projection of life, but not life itself.

Thanks to God’s presence and work in my life, I have over the years learned the answer to the question ~ that to live free is to live in full alignment and integrity with your Truest Self, where “Self” is that pure and sacred expression of the fullness of all you were created to be.

In this process I’ve also discovered that the freedom to do anything you want is not freedom at all. While it may look like freedom at the outset, the end state of such a path is always anarchy and chaos, like a body with no bones. Just as the bones of a skeleton limit the shapes my body may take, they also give it form and identity, and power to move the world.

So a man is truly free to the extent he is able to live in accordance with his truest and highest identity. And he is enslaved to the degree and in the specific ways he is unable to do this.

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Everything is Veiled

January 10, 2016 — Leave A Comment

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“The sweetest thing in all my life has been the longing — to reach the Mountain, to find the place where all the beauty came from — my country, the place where I ought to have been born. Do you think it all meant nothing, all the longing? The longing for home? For indeed it now feels not like going, but like going back.” ~ C.S. Lewis, Till We All Have Faces

It’s insane to me how little we know or understand ourselves. Why would God design us such that the larger portion of our true self lies hidden away beneath our conscious mind? Perhaps it is a result of the Fall. But maybe not. Maybe it’s just another example of the veiled nature of life we find everywhere.

Evil is veiled. God is veiled. Beauty is veiled. Goodness is veiled. Love is veiled. Intimacy is veiled. Glory, in all of its expressions, is veiled. So is darkness, and all that is profane. Nothing either brilliant or utterly desolate is ever really fully “there,” completely revealed or laid bare in its manifestation. It’s always a glimpse, a peak behind a curtain, quickly lost, a projection of something that holds a taste of the real thing, but isn’t that real thing itself.

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I’m going to try something different this year, and I’m not at all certain how it will go.

I’ve long understood that personal meaning & fulfillment in life largely consists of two key skills & practices:

  1. The skill & practice of courageously moving toward a noble goal, where “noble” means a goal that compels you to become something more than you are and/or to serve a Good Purpose that is larger than your life alone, and
  2. The skill & practice of fully experiencing your life as it is right now, of being fully present to, and fully connecting with all the beauty & love in your life as well as all the angst and sorrow, all from a stance of wonder, grace & gratitude for the miracle of being alive.

These two principles guide much of my coaching work, and by them I have often evaluated my own journey of becoming a whole human being. But of the two, I have always favored the first, believing it to be the more powerful. While I have enjoyed the practice of Presence & Acceptance of my life as it is, I have never really thought of that practice as particularly transformative. That is, I haven’t really believed that the practice of Presence actually changes you, at least not in any significant way, and certainly not in the measurable way that actively pursuing a noble goal does.

Even as I write this, I can see my thinking on this has been pretty far off the mark. There is ample evidence in the contemplative traditions that the simple practice of being present to your life is massively transformative. Meditation, which is in essence simply an exercise in being present to your life, has been shown to reduce stress, increase mental acuity and resilience, and strengthen the body in numerous ways ~ and it is just one expression of Principle #2 in action.

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“Where, except in the present, can the Eternal be met?” ~ C.S. Lewis

Some coaching friends and I have lately been exploring the transformational aspects of Presence and Attention. We’ve been studying the skills and practices one needs to develop in order to be fully present and to bring your full attention to a person, a situation, or to life itself.

It’s amazing how Being Present seems so simple on the surface, but can be so elusive for us, and so rarely experienced from others in our lives. And yet, when it happens, Presence changes everything. It opens the Way for connection, wisdom, love, healing, transformation, for God himself…just to name a few. Like the wardrobe in the Chronicles of Narnia, without Presence, you never really get to Aslan’s Country.

As the holidays are often a time when we wish we could slow down and be more present than we are, I thought I’d share a couple of quotes for you to ponder as you go into the holidays, and also a simple practice for increasing presence that you can do anywhere.

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