Learning to say no

At least once each year, I will reach a state of mental exhaustion, where I am running largely on fumes and stubbornness. I last felt that way in mid-October. I was serving as a staff member at a men’s conference in Kentucky and I had nothing left to give. I was grateful for the leadership; a few of them checked in with me, encouraging me to make sure to care for myself.

Admittedly, these times are largely the result of my own choices. In October, I chose to go to Kentucky two weeks after returning from Nashville, with intermingled ministry work in between. I choose busyness, increasingly aware of its toll. I love my day job. I work as a clinical neuropsychologist, so I spend my days helping people unravel why they think, feel, and act the way they do. I help them to understand their brains so that these things begin to make sense. But I am also a pastor, what some call a “bi-vocational” or “tentmaking” pastor. I felt called to this work before I had ever even heard the term “neuropsychology.” I serve my church with joy. Though working with the embodied brain is a remarkably unique and fulfilling career, it cannot hold a candle to helping people to know Jesus better. I am privileged to preach frequently, every few weeks on average. I just finished four weeks in the pulpit, first teaching on “daily rhythms” and then preaching one of my favorite series ever (truth-goodness-beauty). But just as neuropsychology involves a lot of “behind the scenes” work, so too does pastoring. There is preaching, of course, but also sermon preparation, spiritual direction, meetings, and prayer for the congregation.

I was reflecting with my wife this morning that each of the last four days, I have been out of the house by 6:00AM or shortly thereafter, and I am typically home by 5:00. I do not envy my medical colleagues who must do evening and weekend call. However, this time of the year, evenings are often occupied as well–high school group, life group, leadership training, and Friday church when we decide to go. Certain weeks, it’s hard to catch my breath.

Having said all that, I am increasingly recognizing how elements of my personality contribute to these patterns. I am a 2 on the enneagram, which suggests that I like to help. At its best I can be encouraging, giving, and other-centered in a way that is not self-damaging. However, I can also have a hard time saying no to people. I thrive on needing to be needed. I am a people-pleaser. When attending to the needs of others without caring for one’s own needs, a host of difficulties may arise from bitterness to physical illness. I am also sensitive to the potential effect upon family, the people lest likely to express their desire for time with me.

As I continue to learn about myself, I recognize that one of the most important spiritual disciplines I could practice would be learning to say “no,” to recognize that I do not have to be…even cannot be…all things to all people. Time is finite. If I fail to set limits if I do not prioritize my commitments, if I do not learn to say no, I fear the damage will not be limited to me alone.

Why do I share this? Perhaps in hopes that you will pray for me. Perhaps in offering me grace when I say to no to you. Perhaps it is simply an acknowledgement, to myself principally, that I too am finite.

In all things, adored

See young men enflamed
pondering God’s fame
knowing holy words
leaves them self-assured.

Fast growing knowledge
scriptural college
read theology
what the learned see.

See them equating
knowledge inflating
with godly wisdom
blind to the schism.

Knowledge, yes, is good
God’s word understood
but wisdom it’s not
they differ a lot.

Knowledge puffs us up
wisdom teaches love
Knowledge is a start
toward wisdom’s heart.

Wisdom grows from life
in comfort and strife
lived before the Lord
in all things, adored.

If God has blessed you with a gift, exercising your gift given you as a trust given you by God is the way to please him.-poet Luci Shaw

Develop interest in life as you see it; in people, things, literature, music–the world is so rich, simply throbbing with rich treasures, beautiful souls and interesting people. Forget yourself.–Henry Miller


From my book, Soil of the Divine

In God’s hand
is a chalice
full with wine
dark red
nearly black
and foaming
flavored with His wrath
poured for the wicked.

In the garden, late
dark skies, nearly black,
Jesus wept
and pleaded
with his Father,
“Let this cup pass,
there must be another way
to appease Your wrath
but if not
let me drink
to the dregs.”

And he drank it all.

He has mixed for us
a new wine
sparkling white
and sweet.
and peace
its bouquet.

Christ saved
his best wine,
the cup of forgiveness,
for his bride.

For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup
With foaming wine, well mixed,
And He pours out from it,
and all the wicked of the earth
Shall drain it down to the dregs.
-Psalm 75:8

Would you trade your eyes?

Would you trade your eyes
not for crystal blue or emerald green,
not for those with perfect acuity?

Would you trade your eyes
for those that see beneath
physical beauty and external adornment
or marital or career success,
or conversely see beneath
sin and brokenness?

Would you trade your eyes
for those that see
the beauty and goodness in another’s soul,
God’s image imprinted upon each person?

Would you trade your eyes for them?

What I if told you
they are already yours?
You have only to open them.

Image obtained from REBRN

A Thanksgiving Prayer (repost)

I initially wrote this in 2009, the year my wife was treated for breast cancer.

Cherished Father,
Thank you for creating in me a heart designed for gratitude
and this year, in particular, for reminding me
to be grateful

I thank you for the undeserved gift of your Son.
I am utterly broken whenever I ponder the cross
and Jesus’ sacrifice
and Yours
That saved me from an eternity of despair

Thank you for the gift of my wife
the woman whom you have entrusted to me
who has remained my joy
and my love

Thank you for my children
who live with vitality and passion every moment
and who look bravely to the future
casting a vision unclouded by doubt or fear

Thank you for adopting us as your children
demonstrating that we are true heirs in your kingdom
and allowing us to share that gift of adoption
with one of your precious little ones

Thank you for dear family and friends
who help us, support us, and love us
who we met on this journey
and who walk with us along the way

Thank you for secure employment
and a desire work diligently
to provide support for my family

Thank you for teaching trust
encouraging hope and
deepening faith
through Heather’s cancer

Lord, above all
I thank you for your never ending mercies
which remind me forever of your greatness
and instill hope that endures no matter what storms we encounter

A Thanksgiving Prayer

Heavenly Father,

We thank you today for your relentlessness.

As often as we wander from your presence

you lovingly bring us back.

When indwelling sin rears its ugly head,

your steadfast love never fails.

Let us live with confidence and gratitude,

thankfully remembering that your son Jesus

once and for all crushed death to death,

and with hope that one day

all remaining remnants of sin

shall one day disappear.

Let us live today

and everyday

with a thankful awareness

of your presence in all things:

the gathering of your saints,

a conversation with good friends,

the enjoyment of a good meal,

whether a sumptuous feast

or simple piece of bread.

Let us remember that all creation

attests to your glory,

raising hands and hearts

in grateful praise every moment

of every day.

To you be all glory and honor and praise.


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