Seeking Emotional Sobriety in Times of Change

blogpic.shoesIn two and a half weeks—17 days to be exact—I will leave St. Louis, Missouri and move to Frisco, Texas. As you can imagine, October has been fraught with more tasks to accomplish than are humanly possible in this short time, each one evoking a whole new curtain of feelings—grief, gratitude, anger, fear, hope, melancholy, happiness, nostalgia, and all their many variations.

The hardest part is giving myself time and space to experience these feelings, to express them in a healthy way, learn from them, and release them. That’s what emotional sobriety is—the willingness to acknowledge our emotions, positive and negative, and to actually feel and experience them.

“Sobriety” is a good word for this process. It is so tempting to bury our feelings and opt for familiar, potentially addictive coping strategies—strategies that are readily available and even encouraged for making ourselves feel better—like eating chocolate (or too much of anything, really), drinking alcohol, over-functioning to the point of exhaustion, shopping, Netflix-binging, or using prescription or recreational drugs. These can create a new set of problems with the power to wreak havoc on how we behave and what we say, while the feelings are still there, buried under all the muck.

Yet when we allow ourselves to just experience them, those feelings often dissipate more quickly. I still find this surprising. I’m afraid if I actually feel them, my emotions will be erupting all day, getting bigger and never going away. But what really happens is the opposite: When I just have a good cry, express my fear and anxiety surrounding these changes to a trusted friend, yell at God in the shower, and say “thank you” for the beauty (that I will miss) in the backyard, the intensity passes and I am freed to move on to the next task (and the feeling it will evoke)!

Richard Rohr offers The Welcoming Prayer as a guide to safely experiencing uncomfortable feelings and suffering. Briefly, the steps he identifies include the following:

1. Identify a hurt, offense or negative emotion. Remember the feelings you first experienced with this hurt, and feel them the way you first felt them.
2. Notice how this pain shows up in your body. Paying attention to your body’s sensations keeps you from jumping into a dualistic, analytic mind.
3. After you identify the hurt and feel it in your body, welcome it. Stop fighting it. Stop blaming. Welcome the grief. Welcome the anger. It’s hard, but when we name it, feel it, welcome it, transformation can begin.
4. Stay present in the moment. Any kind of analysis will lead you back into your ego. When you welcome your own pain, you will in some way feel the pain of the whole world. This is what it means to be human, and also what it means to be divine. Remember that you, too, are being held by the very One who went through this process on the cross, when Jesus held the pain of the whole world.
5. Now hand all of this pain—yours and the world’s—over to God. Let it go. Ask for the grace of forgiveness for the person who hurt you, for the event that offended you, for the reality of suffering in each life. The pain may or may not leave easily, but letting go frees up soul-energy that liberates us to move toward our True Self.

Truth to tell, my own emotional sobriety and welcoming prayers during this moving process have been a mixed bag. I have accepted some feelings and welcomed them, acknowledged the loss or the truth that accompanied them, let them go, and moved forward. Other times, not so much. For example, I have been projecting my mixed feelings about moving onto my sister who lives in Dallas, as though she didn’t want me moving nearer to her. The truth is that I haven’t wanted to move away from my two adult children, who are remaining in Missouri. Oh! And did I mention that I’ve bought four pairs of new shoes in as many months?

Which reminds me—a part of achieving emotional sobriety and the forgiveness we seek in The Welcoming Prayer is finding self-acceptance and self-forgiveness. I am not doing any of this perfectly, and that’s okay. And, yes, I did apologize to my sister!

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A Prayer to Savor the Moment

blogpic.prayerbeadsGod has made everything beautiful for it's own time. God has planted eternity in the human heart.   ~Eccl 3:11

At the "Savor the Moment" Women's Retreat I mentioned two weeks ago, we made prayer beads to go along with the prayer I wrote below.

Why beads? As our fingers touch each successive bead, the physical action helps keep our mind from wandering, and the rhythm of the prayers leads us more readily into stillness. They are a way to help us enter into meditative or contemplative prayer by using our mind, body and spirit. 

A Prayer to Savor the Moment

O Holy God, Loving Jesus, Blessing Spirit

You have made everything for its own time.

Help me open the gift of this moment,

A present from your heart to mine.

Draw my soul to your presence,

Grace me with acceptance for what is,

Bend my will to be present in the present,

Release my urge to control,

Unclutter my mind, quiet my spirit.

You are all I need in this moment.

As I see your beauty in this time,

I feel your eternity in my heart.


Thank you to Brenda Blight and friends, who edited this prayer to a manageable length, and to Carol Ruppar for designing the prayer beads, and teaching us to make our own strand! Thank you also to Cher Stuewe-Portnoff, my new blog editor!

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The Hokey-Pokey of Ministry Today

blogpic.HokeypokeyCharge to the Congregation for the Installation of The Rev. Dr. Daniel R. Anderson-Little as Pastor of Legacy Presbyterian Church, Frisco, Texas; October 1, 2017

Ministry today is often more about asking good questions than providing answers. Recent research says that congregations who, like Legacy, want to reach out to Millennials and their families need to ask themselves some good questions—questions such as:

• Is our church authentic? Younger generations are looking for transparency and honesty.
• Does our church embrace social media and communicate digitally? Another good question.
• Does our church create space for rest? We love to get stuff done. Feeding the hungry and building habitat houses is wonderful and important work. But in our fast-paced, fragmented culture, people are equally in need of spirituality and a space to let go of their burdens and stresses.

When I first met the members of the Nominating Committee last May, we went to Babe’s for dinner. The family-style meal embodied the characteristics found in these three questions. It gave us a chance to build authentic relationships and to communicate our needs, as we decided upon and shared our food. We took pictures so we could connect with others on social media. The occasion provided a respite from the stresses of the job interview and our respective daily lives, as we got to know one another at a deeper level.

At one point, I excused myself to find the restroom. On my way back to the table, a whole line-up of waitstaff were doing the Hokey-Pokey. Not realizing that this was a staff-only performance, I jumped onto the end of the line and joined them in singing and dancing the Hokey-Pokey. You remember that last verse, don’t you, put in your whole self in? I need you get up and sing it with me!

You put your whole self in, you put your whole self out, you put your whole self in, and you shake it all about. You do the Hokey-Pokey and you turn yourself around, that’s what it’s all about!

This begs one more question as we engage in the mission of the church: What if the hokey pokey really is what it’s all about?

• You’ve gotta put your whole self in, Legacy, your whole, authentic, transparent and honest self—successes and struggles, hopes and fears, convictions and questions.
• You’ve gotta put your whole self in, Legacy, with social media, creating multiple points of connection throughout the week rather than just on Sunday mornings.
• And you’ve gotta put your whole self in, Legacy, with being as well as doing, engaging in your own spiritual growth, and creating space at church for rest and sabbath.
• Most of all, you’ve gotta put your whole self in, Legacy, and shake it all about—shake out and shake off what doesn’t work, learn from it, move on, and try again. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), but everything else can be reimagined.

For we believe in a turnaround God who turns blindness around into sight!
We believe in a turnaround God who turns sinners around into disciples!
We believe in a turnaround God who turns death around into resurrection and new life!

So my charge to you is simple, Legacy Presbyterian Church of Frisco, Texas: Do the Hokey-Pokey—because today, that’s what ministry is all about!

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Getting in the Flow of Eternity Now

blogpic.EternityHeartGod has made everything beautiful for its own time. God has planted eternity in the human heart. ~Eccl. 3:11

This past Saturday I led a Women’s Retreat called, Savor the Moment. We talked about our need to re-imagine time. Since God has “planted eternity in our hearts,” by creating us in the beginning of time through the Word (John 1:1-3) and redeemed us through the resurrection of Christ for eternal life (John 3:15-16), why are we always so pressed for and boxed in by time? Can we re-imagine how to think about and use time in a way that frees us to be in the flow of eternity?

When I was in high school and college, I sincerely believed that the fuller my calendar, the better person I was. A calendar with no free spaces meant that I was accomplishing a great deal, having an impact, being a “good” person. Perfectionism. Ugh--what an awful way to live! I thought it was what I was supposed to do to be a “worthy” person, deserving of love and good things. That is, until I ended up with stage 2b cancer followed by chronic migraines. Our bodies don’t think that perfectionism and over-functioning makes us morally good; in fact, I have found out the hard way that my body doesn’t like this life style at all.

How then do we choose what to do and what to set aside? What to commit to and what to pass up? What gets us in the flow of life and frees us up to savor the moments? I learned a terrific discernment tool from a 12-step cassette tape a friend loaned to me several years ago. I have used this rubric many times to help me figure out what activities/hobbies/volunteering to do (or not do) as well as bigger decisions, like vocation and calling. It’s helped me say, “no” to requests and commitments without guilt! Just imagine!

You can use this tool to decide what activity to begin, or what activity to stop doing. You can use this to discern what relationships are healthy and which ones suck the life out of you. It works best if you make a “date” with yourself and God to reflect, pray and journal about these four areas:

Desire--God works through our desires—what is it that I really want to do, that tugs at my heart, that excites and interests me?
Ability—Do I have the ability and skills to do this activity/job, or do I need additional training? Ability can also relate to aging—is this something I can physically do without causing harm to my well-being?
Time—Do I have the time for this activity, and if not, is there something else I am ready to release to make time?
Energy—Do I have the passion to sustain this activity? When I imagine myself engaged in this activity, is it life-giving or energy-draining?

Only when we have all for elements of DATE—Desire, Ability, Time and Energy—do we have a calling from God or a “great fit” for us. It’s hard to savor the moment and be mindfully present when what we’re doing is life-sucking, and not deeply satisfying.

I used this tool when I felt led to go back into parish ministry after spending nine years at home with my children and running a home business. When I refelcted on DATE in my prayers, I realized I no longer had the passion/energy for my business, but when it came to imagining being a pastor again, I had all for qualities!

There may be a reason or a value we hold that leads us to continue in a job or activity in which we do not experience all four qualities. For example, we may continue in a job we don’t have the passion for because we provide our family’s health insurance. We can bring that experience to prayer as well, and ask God how we might receive all four qualities in that job or activity to which we need to remain committed. And, it becomes even more important, then, to have our other activities be something in which we experience all four characteristics of DATE.

What does life feel like when you have the Desire, Ability, Time, and Energy to engage in something you love? We’re more focused, more alive and in the flow of life when we do those activities. We have the mental and emotional freedom to savor what we’re doing, to re-imagine time and to be fully present in the moment. We can experience a bit of that eternity God has planted in our heart. Give it a try and leave a comment below (email or FB message) and let me know what you discover!


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Linda Anderson-Little

Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.