Why Following the Rules Didn’t Bring Me Closer to God

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Up until the last few years, a major theme of my spirituality has been rule following. I learned and have always believed that while God loves you no matter what, God will not completely accept or bless you if you consciously sin over and over again.

The problem was this thing called “sin.” When we did bad things, we hurt God and ourselves. God didn’t like it when we did this so he would discourage our behavior by withholding good things from us. I liked good things, so my focus quickly became defining and avoiding sin. I didn’t drink, smoke, curse, go to parties, or hang out with the “bad crowd.” I didn’t even listen to non-Christian music, just in case.

While there were always hints that something was off, I felt pretty good about my life. While my friends were out sinning, I was home, reading the Bible and thanking God I had made good choices. Teachers, parents and virtually every adult seemed to agree; they were constantly telling me how good I was and how God was pleased with me.

This continued until my mid-twenties when I went through a major shift in how I related to God. I had just started to meet with a spiritual mentor, and immediately I could tell that something was different. Instead of praising me like all other adults had, he challenged me:

‘In the Bible, there was this group of people. They were known for how good they were at following God’s commandments. Everyone looked up to them. But then Jesus showed up. He said that the rules of following God had changed. It was no longer about righteous living. The emphasis was no longer on the effort you put forth – it was now on the effort God put forth. This group – the Pharisees – didn’t like this. They saw Jesus as playing fast-and-loose with the rules. So they started to plan to kill him.”

Under the pretense of trying to do what was right, I had allowed myself to fall into the dangerous trap of legalism. And when I saw it in the plain light of day, I realized that my focus on rules had not drawn me closer to God. On the contrary, my legalism had drawn me into one of the most infamous camps of people in history – the ones who regularly spoke out against Jesus and the people he loved.

Looking back, my legalism wasn’t fueled as much by my opposition to grace (like the Pharisees), but as a means of getting what I wanted from God. In his book, Hearing God, Dallas Willard expands on the idea of legalism as a means of control:

“Legalism is superstition. The legalistic tendencies found throughout our religious and cultural life also thrust us toward superstition. Legalism claims that overt action in conforming to rules for explicit behavior is what makes us right and pleasing to God and worthy of blessing. Jesus called legalism “the righteousness . . . of the scribes and Pharisees” (Mt 5:20). Legalism, superstition and magic are closely joined by their emphasis on controlling people and events.”

It took me several years to begin to seriously work my way out of legalism, but in the time since, I have found the ability to live more in the life that Jesus offers: grace and peace.

Here are 3 insights that I have found helpful to have a healthier relationship with God and “the rules” in general:

1: Learn from the “Tax Collectors” and “Sinners”

One striking thing about the Gospels is that the group of people who you think are doing everything right are actually doing everything wrong. The groups of people who do everything wrong, we are told, are actually doing everything right. On paper, the Pharisees were closer to Jesus. They knew the Bible and they were good at obeying the rules. And yet, this is the group that regularly fought with Jesus. Jesus said that even though they were close to God on paper, they were moving away from Him.

If there was one group that Jesus went out of his way to love and spend time with, it was the “sinners.” People who broke the rules. People who were excluded and avoided because of how far away from God they were. And yet, Jesus said they were coming in ahead of the Pharisees (Matt. 21:31).

Jesus came to say that God’s favor was no longer equated with obedience as it had been in the Old Testament. The most important thing was himself. Whether you followed the rules or couldn’t stop breaking them all, as long as you focused on moving towards him, you didn’t have to worry.

2) Boundaries are useful but are best when they are created with Jesus himself

As I began to escape my life of legalism, I saw just how much freedom I had. This was liberating but scary at the same time. “If I’m not blindly following arbitrary rules, how do I make choices that are healthy?” I might have been misusing good behavior to get God’s favor, but that doesn’t mean that I was supposed to avoid good behavior. I just needed a better relationship with it.

Thankfully, before Jesus’ ascension, he spoke about this. He said that he would send the Holy Spirit would who would “teach you all things” (John 14:26) and “guide you into all truth” (John 16:13).

In practice, this means that as I regularly interact with Jesus’ Holy Spirit, He will guide me in how to live. Sometimes this means that we create a boundary together. This boundary might not be “sinful” or “immoral” to break, but life is easier if I respect it. Sometimes we decide that a behavior is allowed, but best experienced in moderation. Still other times we decide that I have the freedom to do something that other people do not have. (E.g., I have the freedom to drink alcohol while an alcoholic interacting with Jesus may create a boundary that restricts this behavior.)

I have found that living this way has many benefits:

  • I don’t have to do as much wrestling in figuring out if something is right or wrong. If I’m curious, I take it to Jesus and we figure it out together.
  • The Bible can be used for connecting with God since I rely on it less to define what is and what is not sin.
  • It’s easier to stick to boundaries that Jesus and I create vs. strict rules other people create.

I’ve come to understand that this is a radically different way of living from using Jesus’ own words as a new set of rules. It’s no longer about guilt, shame, and judging because my relationship with God is no longer based on “righteous living.” That was the Old Covenant, not the New.

Whenever I feel myself slip back, I remember: Jesus didn’t give us a better way of living by giving us a new set of rules. When Jesus talked with sinners, he didn’t encourage them to be better rule followers. He encouraged them to connect with him.

3) Help Someone

One of the problems with focusing on the rules is that you are often focused on what to avoid. “Don’t do this or this or this.” I had focused so much on avoiding sin that I regularly missed opportunities to connect with God through action.

There’s a story in the Gospels where Jesus talks, rather harshly, about how we will be rewarded or punished when we die. Surprisingly, he doesn’t mention anything about avoiding sin or having the correct theological beliefs. Instead, he says that if you want to have eternal life you should 1) Feed the hungry, 2) Give drink to the thirsty, 3) Invite strangers into your homes, 5) Give clothes to those without clothes, and 5) Visit people who are sick or in prison. (Source)

In many respects, Jesus seems to care more about the good you can do than the rules you follow or the sin that you avoid.

In his book, Echoes of the Soul, John Phillip Newell pursues this idea further:

The early Celtic teacher Pelagius makes the point that love does not just restrain us from stealing, for instance. Much more importantly it inspires us to share our possessions. ‘I do not wish you to suppose that righteousness consists simply in not doing evil since not to do good is also evil’, he says. ‘Indeed, you are instructed … not only not to take bread away from one who has it but willingly to bestow your own on one who has none.’ Pelagius indicates that the person who is rich and refuses to share food with the hungry may be causing more deaths than a terrible murderer. Jesus’ judgment parable in Matthew 25 is a story of condemnation not against those who actively have broken the law but against those who passively have done nothing about sharing themselves and their resources.

Are there any areas of your life which you have bought into “Old Testament” living? Maybe you were like me and assumed that following the rules (legalism) or always improving your behavior (moralism) would make you more loved or accepted by God. What ways have you learned to combat these areas? How will you grow in these areas moving forward?

Why Jesus Is Bad News For A Lot Of People (And What We Can Do About It)

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And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people.” (Luke 2:8-10, emphasis added)

If there’s one thing I was taught as a kid about Jesus, it was this: Jesus is good news for everyone. Jesus is so loving, so peaceful, and so happy, that the natural response to him is joy! But as I grew older, I was taught about a new Jesus. This Jesus wasn’t happy as often. This Jesus was always getting upset at something or someone. Sure, he was peace and love, but this new Jesus taught that:

  • If you weren’t willing to surrender your life the very moment you heard about him, you were a heathen and should prepare yourself for hell
  • If you weren’t willing to become a more moral person by stopping drinking, smoking, and having premarital sex, God would have nothing to do with you
  • If you had an abortion or were pro-choice, God saw you as a murderer and would punish you
  • If you were attracted to people of the same sex or thought that you were born with the wrong sex (or no sex), you were breaking the natural order of creation and would suffer consequences all of your life
  • If you weren’t comfortable in a church, there was no possible way for you to connect with God
  • If you found Christians to be hypocritical, ugly, and boring, you should have realized that you were just as bad or even worse than they were
  • If you cared about the environment or animals, you had backward priorities and needed to start prioritizing humans
  • If you were a woman and wanted to fill a leadership role, you needed to see understand that your place was submitting to a man
  • If you believed that human beings evolved over millions of years, you were ignorant and rejecting the clear truths in the Book of Genesis
  • If you thought people were poor or oppressed for any other reason than laziness, you were promoting socialism and rejecting the Bible’s view of hard work
  • If you called Jesus by another name or if you elevated other great thinkers like Gandhi or Confucius, you were lowering God and over-elevating humans

I followed this Jesus for many years and, in my defense, I thought that this message was what people needed. This Jesus was an angry, judgmental, legalist, but I just figured it was one of the “hard truths” about following God. Whenever someone told me about just how bad my Jesus was, I would feel offended. I would tell myself that I was being “persecuted for the truth” and move on. I never stopped to question whether or not I was promoting the same Jesus from the Bible whom I had fallen in love with as a child.  

When I started to encounter Jesus in recent years, something inside felt “off”. I would later discover that his feeling was due to a conflict: the Jesus I believed in was different from the Jesus I experienced. My Jesus was more like a Western, middle-class, White, American who was more comfortable with super-religious Pharisees than the poor, the immigrants, or the Samaritans.

I’ve come full circle: I believe again in the same “peace and love” Jesus I did when I was a child. Now, when I talk to people, I feel like I’m proclaiming the same message that the Angels did 2000 years ago: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all people.”

What if we’re on a journey to continually conform our message to that of the Angels? How would this change how we preach, teach, or talk about Jesus?

What would it mean to us if we actually believed that, like the Angels said, there was no fear in connecting with God, only joy? Do we have pictures of a God in our mind who is always angry, looking to punish us or our friends? What if we could partner in turning away from a bad-news-Jesus and accepting the good, true, beautiful, joyful-news-Jesus?

How to Press On When You Continue To Fail

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It’s always fun to write about something you have accomplished. You wanted something, you faced an obstacle, and you found a way to overcome it. But what do you do when you’ve been struggling in the same area for years and just can’t seem to make any progress?

Every once in awhile, I am reminded of how much I struggle with jealousy. I am fortunate to have a lot of amazing friends, but my cardinal sin has always been to compare myself to them. To me, the fact that we’re around the same age tells me that we should be in similar places in life. This obviously isn’t true, but it’s been hard for me to accept. If I see or hear about someone I know succeeding at something I failed at, my insecurities light up like a Christmas tree.

I haven’t solved my jealousy yet, but along the way of continuing to fail, I have learned two important lessons:

Lesson #1: The goal of life isn’t to be perfect

One of my fundamental goals in life is to grow. This has served me well, but it also has a side-effect: I’m regularly tempted to link my value in who I am with how much I grow. If I’m not growing as fast as I want, I feel guilty. Over time, however, I’ve realized that the true reason I’m suffering this guilt is because I am trying to be perfect. I don’t want any part of my life to be less than perfect, so when I’m not improving, I get upset.

I now think it’s all fake. I think we get into trouble when we assign impossible standards to ourselves and then beat ourselves up for not hitting said standards. I now believe that our value as humans doesn’t lie in our ability to produce, but to exist. No matter how much or little we do, we are accepted and loved. Our value is built-in, it is not based upon what we can accomplish.

Lesson #2: I’m probably making progress, even if it’s not obvious

This summer I took an interest in live theater and started to go to plays at our local park. Theater is interesting to me, not only because of the number of things happening the background – actors moving around or changing costumes, stagehands preparing props, directors/producers giving the next steps – but the amount of preparation that has to take place for one show to be successful. It can take from several weeks to months to prepare for a production and yet we, the audience, only see the final result.

What if through some magical device, we could see behind the scenes of our lives? Would we not see so much action and activity that we could not help but be filled with hope? True, our obstacles may be difficult to overcome, but what if we are constantly overcoming them, little by little? After all, in virtually all other areas of life, growth happens so slow that it is not noticeable.

How would our lives change if we became more accepting of ourselves, realizing that our value doesn’t lie in our ability to grow? How could we be more patient with ourselves, understanding that long-lasting change takes time?

My Best Secret For Connecting With Kids

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When I was in college, our family lived next door to a couple who had a 4-year-old son named Aaron. There weren’t any other kids on the block so Aaron would regularly come to our house and try to play with me. We almost always foolishly left our doors unlocked, so Aaron would let himself in and walk up to my room. I was usually watching a movie or playing a video game and would not want to hang out with him. He would stand there talking and asking questions until I would finally give in and go play.

My feelings toward Aaron reflected my feelings towards most kids: they were needy, annoying, and overall hard to relate to.

A couple of years after I graduated, I was asked to help out with a youth group during an event at our church. Despite my attitude toward kids, I decided to go, and to my surprise, I had an absolute blast. The kids were easy to talk to and so much fun play with. It was the opposite experience from before. “What had changed?” I wondered. As I reflected back, I saw that I had done one big thing differently:

I treated the kids like they were my equals.

Consider how children are used to being treated by adults, specifically by their parents.  In his article, Why You Should Treat Your Child Like an Adult, Brian Davis suggests that some of the common ways parents deal with their children are actually condescending. For the more daring among us, he suggests you try this experiment with your significant other:

  1. Give seemingly arbitrary orders without any context or reasoning (“Don’t touch that.”)
  2. Ignore feedback (“Do you want to go to the park? No? Well, we’re going to the park anyway.”)
  3. Ask rhetorical questions in a passive-aggressive fashion (“Do big boys cry?”)
  4. Respond to frustration with more orders (“Stop pouting.”)
  5. Deny autonomy at every opportunity (“Let me do that for you. You’ll hurt yourself.”)
  6. Impose arbitrary punishments (“Keep that up, and I’m taking away your car keys.”)

Be serious about it, just as if you were talking to a child. If, after a week of this treatment, you and your significant other haven’t had at least one bitter argument, then you are either extremely lucky or already mired in a dysfunctional relationship.

This helped explain why I had such a hard time relating to my neighbor Aaron (and other kids for that matter). I wasn’t his parent, but I treated him as if he was below me. If he asked questions I didn’t want to answer, I would dismiss them. If he wanted to understand something, I would ignore him. But when I started to treat kids like they were smart and important, the connection was instant. Instead of being ignored or talked down to, they felt highlighted and elevated.

Bringing kids up to your level may seem difficult at first but it is possible. Here are some practical ways that I have seen done this with children:

  • Intentionally go and sit or stand next to them. In a large setting with other adults, children are often “tagging along” and will likely be ignored unless others go talk to them. Moving yourself to their area shows purpose.
  • Introduce yourself and convey an interest in talking with them.
  • Ask for their name and make it a point to use it and remember it.
  • Ask them questions that you might ask a college student (how was your day, what do you do for fun, what classes do you like at school?)
  • Offer to do something fun together (play a game, go somewhere nearby)
  • Take an interest in whatever they’re interested in. Kids love to show you their favorite toy or something they created.
  • Look for and highlight ways in which you’re similar. “I love that […] too!” “I feel the exact same way!”

As you can see, you don’t have to change much when you relate to children. If anything, you just have to refrain talking to them in that annoying, high-pitched voice that makes them feel like they are 3. Obviously, it helps if you can simplify your language and use clear concepts, but overall you can treat them like you would anyone else.

You also do not have to be “good with children” to talk with them. No child has ever been upset because I tried to get to know them. Even if I wasn’t particularly good at it, they didn’t care. They were just happy someone talked to them.

I’ve come to believe that human beings have needs to be seen and heard and understood. These needs seem almost as important as food, water, and sleep. I’ve found that children have these same needs, but are chronically being overlooked and ignored, especially by adults who are not their parents.

What if we applied the golden rule – treating others as you want to be treated – to children as well as other adults? Could it mean the difference between connecting with kids and alienating them?

Why Negative News Is Stealing My Empathy

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Do I really need to know every bad thing that happens in the world? Do I gain something by being more “aware?”

I used to think so, but now I’m not so sure.

This year has brought so many terrible things into the public conscious. Racially motivated shootings. Terrorist attacks. Military coups.

When the first mass-shooting happened this year, I was outraged. I read articles. I had conversations with friends and family. But then another shooting happened. And then another. Then a bombing. So many things happened so quickly that I couldn’t keep up.

“Didn’t I just get emotionally wrapped up in [the previous thing] … and now this?!”

It seems that now, more than any time in history, we can be easily informed when horrific things happen. News no longer takes days or hours – it takes minutes or seconds, and often is even seen live as it unfolds.

And bad news sells. Whether it’s 24-hour news networks, newspapers, or even blogs, everyone is trying to get the most readers so that they can sell more ads.

Let’s not forget that news outlets and websites are businesses. Their main purpose is not to inform us, it’s to convert us into advertising revenue.

People say that you should consume the news so that you “become more informed,” but when is enough, enough? How many murders, thefts, or kidnappings do I need to hear about before I can count myself as “informed?”

It all just seems so arbitrary.

I’m being told I should be upset and angry, but it seems I should only be upset and angry at the news stories that make headlines. What about the 5-second story where a woman is raped or a child is abused by an alcoholic parent?  Who chooses what will be important to the public and what won’t?

As I’ve become hyper-aware of what is going on in the world, it seems I’m now left to one response: I’m tired. Seeing all of these things happen has drained me of my frustration and empathy.  There’s only so much I can do – so much I can feel without becoming numb. Jumping from one event to another just isn’t good for me.

Aside from being drained, I’ve even seen the effects on my outlook on life. Even though statistically, the world has become safer and healthier than ever (link), I have started to believe it’s getting worse. Even though amazing things happen every day, I never hear about them.

We’ve passed over the threshold of being “aware,” and have crossed over to the realm of perpetual pessimism and outrage.

There has to be another way. I look at friends who choose not to follow the news and to not be on social media. They don’t feel out of the loop (how many mass murders do you talk about at the office water cooler?). They’re really “uninformed,” but they actually seem happier.

I think it’s time for a change. While it’d probably be much harder to cut out news and social media altogether, I do think we’d benefit from some boundaries in this area. Here’s what this might look like:

  1. Putting local community first. When problems happen in other states or even other countries, our issues seem less immediate and less glamorous. As someone who has done several “missions” trips, it’s often easier to help with problems when they are far away. They’re easier to grasp. They don’t require me to change how I live. While I think helping in other places  is necessary at times, I think it’s often best to prioritize issues what is immediately around you: your family, your friends, your neighborhood, and your city. 
  2. Restricting news intake and social media use. Choose not to open the app or click on the headline. Choose selective ignorance! Remember, it’s not practical to know absolutely everything that goes on in the world. 
  3. Offsetting negative news consumption by reading positive news. Here’s a list of websites focused on good news.

What could we change by turning off the network and digital news more often? What if we set some boundaries on what we consume? Could it improve our happiness and restore our empathy? I think so.

How I Came To See Atheism As a Natural Part Of Spiritual Growth

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‘Atheists are typically selfish, angry, and immoral people. They don’t realize that, deep down, they’re miserable because their false beliefs have given them no basis for meaning in life. Even so, they pose both an external and an ideological threat to Christianity.’

This was the common narrative that I held through most of my life. Even after I began to meet actual atheists and see that I was wrong, I still held on to parts of the story in the back of my mind. Maybe atheism wasn’t bad per se, but it was still dangerous and something we should help people avoid.

The remnant of my beliefs would finally be challenged when I was introduced to a concept called Stage Theory.

Formulated by author and psychologist M. Scott Peck, Stage Theory posits that healthy individuals tend to go through four broad stages of spiritual growth: chaotic, formal, skeptic, and mystic.

Peck began to formulate the foundations for what would become Stage Theory when he began to notice the strange patterns of growth with his religious and nonreligious clients:

If people who were religious came to me in pain and trouble, and if they became engaged in the therapeutic process, so as to go the whole route, they frequently left therapy as atheists, agnostics, or at least skeptics. On the other hand, if atheists, agnostics, or skeptics came to me in pain or difficulty and became fully engaged, they frequently left therapy as deeply religious people. Same therapy, same therapist, successful but utterly different outcomes from a religious point of view. Again it didn’t compute–until I realized that we are not all in the same place spiritually. (Peck – The Different Drum, p188)

As this theory has been such a benefit to me, I will quickly outline and summarize it for you:

– – –

Stage I: Chaotic, Antisocial
Ego-driven, this group lacks basic morals and typically manipulates situations to get what they want.

In healthy groups, this Stage is the equivalent of babies or toddlers. There is obviously no expectation for them to have moral grounding; society is content to give them the strictest possible boundaries.

In unhealthy groups, adults who have never progressed forward or have otherwise fallen back can end up in this stage. If they are particularly undisciplined, they will often end up in a social institution like prison. If they are disciplined enough, they can leverage their manipulative powers to gain high status and are often preachers, politicians, and board room executives.

Stage II: Formal, Institutional
As an individual progresses, they now need foundation. They need to be given rules and to be taught that the world does not revolve around them. In steps Stage II. Aside from offering clear rules and boundaries, Stage II also teaches morality. All of these provisions combined offer the individual a sense of certainty along with security and stability. 

In healthy groups, Stage II is often represented by the parent-child dynamic. Parents set up rules and boundaries for their kids which help teach them how to be functioning members of society. Outside of this dynamic, Stage II often takes place in highly structured organizations such as churches or the military.

In unhealthy groups, Stage II is represented by “fundamentalism.” Fundamentalists are individuals who are so addicted to the laws of their system that their actions often conflict with the spirit behind those same laws.

While Stage II offers a good foundation for living, it does come with some inherent downsides:

  • It is often legalistic and hypocritical
  • It is threatened by anyone who thinks differently
  • It is insecure and is constantly seeking to convert people to its beliefs
  • It doesn’t naturally allow for discussion about the “why” behind rules
  • It wants security because it is so afraid of mystery
  • It is threatened by new forms and updates to existing beliefs

Stage III: Skeptic, Seeker
Seeing the downsides of Stage II, the individual begins to question if there is more to life. They begin a new journey that involves taking in new information and trying out new experiences. This may often involve testing the rules from their previous Stage to see how valid they really were. Inevitably, the individual will see areas where they believe their authority figures were wrong. 

Consider the scenario of a Stage II parent telling a Stage III teen that “all drugs are bad because addictions are bad.” The teen may have accepted this truth earlier in life, but as they seek more information (e.g., they read about drugs and learn that they’re are not all equally bad for the body) and compare it with their experience (e.g., they may have friends who do certain drugs and don’t seem to suffer many consequences), they may begin to test this rule. In situations where they see their parents as hypocrites (e.g., the parents are themselves addicted to coffee, eating, or working too much), they may quickly reject the “all drugs are bad” rule outright.

As more of these scenarios come into play, the individual moves further into questioning and testing the rules previously given. This is seen by Stage II as “rebellion.”

In healthy groups, Stage III is the equivalent of individuals in their late teens and 20s. They may have grown up following the rules, but over time they began to see that certain rules could be bent or broken. As people who are constantly seeking what’s true, they often end up finding truths that seem contradictory to what they’ve always believed. If they are not able to merge their new information with old teachings, they will reject the old teachings.

This group is typically non-believers (atheists, agnostics, and skeptics). While there are some churches that seem to land in this Stage, it is safe to say that the majority of Christians attempt to avoid this Stage completely.

In unhealthy groups, this stage is the equivalent of anti-theists. Seeing the legitimate problems of Stage II, these individuals seek to help people skip that Stage entirely. Ironically, they themselves become a new Stage II, complete with the exact same downsides: they are legalistic, dogmatic, intolerant, afraid of mystery, and always seeking to convert others.

Stage IV: Mystical, Communal
As the individual sought Truth in Stage III, they begin to find Truth in Stage IV. As it turns out, finding Truth inevitably leads to bigger and more open-ended questions. The individual is finally able to embrace mystery – to hold what they know in the same hand with what they do not. They are no longer afraid and are completely aware of how much they do not know. 

Stage IV sees life holistically and is known for its nuanced approaches to spirituality. It understands the limits of finite and fallible human beings to communicate about a perfect, infinite God. It attempts to transcend current cultures and join a collective community of life. While sounding wishy-washy, Stage IV is full of deep meaning, sought out by contemplation, meditation, reflection, and prayer.

Stage IV also sees rules and boundaries in a whole new light. It sees the spirit behind the rules from Stage II and is now able to understand and apply them properly. 

– – –

Discovering Stage Theory finally allowed me to accept that there are typically seasons of skepticism in healthy spirituality. Instead of trying help people skip that Stage as fast as possible, I was now free to allow them to embrace it.

Stage Theory taught me that Atheism, along with its rationalistic relatives, is in large part a rejection of the unhealthy aspects of Stage II spirituality. It rejects an unloving, rules-based, God. This explained why I had always agreed with atheists in rejecting the same god they did – my God was not a Stage II God. 

Overall, Stage Theory has helped to teach me that it is perfectly fine for people to be in different places spiritually. When I see someone in a different stage than me, I do not need to fight with or “fix” them. I only need to listen to and encourage them. 

What if we decided that all stages – including the atheism of Stage III – have opportunities for good, healthy growth?

How could you begin to accept people more who are in different stages than you?

– – –

M. Scott Peck said far more about Stage Theory than I could dig into here. The section of his book, A Different Drum, which deals with this concept is available online for free (link).

For a quick and easily shareable explanation of Stage Theory, I would also recommend this YouTube Video.

The Wisdom Of Slowing Down

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How much time do we really save by rushing?

It was March of 2013, and I had finally had enough. The exact same scenario was being repeated over and over again: after speeding down a highway and passing many slow cars, I would take an exit and hit a red light, where all of the slow cars would catch up to me.

All of my “assertive driving” and “skilled maneuvering” was just not paying off. People going both slow and fast reached their destination in a similar amount of time.

I decided to do some research on just how much time I actually saved by speeding. Here are two charts that break it down:

Chart #1 – How long does it take to go 10 miles?

Miles MPH Time (in mins & secs)
10 55 10:55
10 65 9:14
10 70 8:34
10 75 8:00

Chart #2 – Time saved every 10 miles:

65 instead of 55 1:41
75 instead of 65 1:14
75 instead of 55 2:55

By going 10 mph over the speed limit I had gained a whopping 1 minute and 15 seconds. Even if I got crazy and went 20 mph over the speed limit, I wouldn’t even have saved a full 3 minutes off of my time!

And what was I getting in return for those extra 1-3 minutes?

  • More stress and frustration
  • Increased chances of causing or being in a car crash
  • Increased chances of getting a ticket
  • Paying more for gas

The act of rushing didn’t make sense in driving, and it was soon clear that it didn’t make sense in other areas either.

I thought about going to the grocery store. I would watch a car drive around trying to find a spot that would save them less than 10 seconds of walking.

I remembered a day when I went to the park. I was experimenting with running as fast and as far as I could. When I started, I passed this older guy who was slowly power walking. “Move aside, old man,” I joked to myself. But sure enough, when I was done sprinting and was doubled over gasping for breath, that same guy passed me. I ran faster than he did, but his slow and steady pace would’ve beaten me.

I’ve come to believe that rushing in any area of life will produce similar results: you use up more energy but don’t really make it to your destination much faster.

Several years ago I was at a retreat and they offered these 4 tips to slow down:

1) Deliberately choose life situations that cause you to slow down and wait.

  • Drive in the slow lane – even if it’s at or below the speed limit
  • Park farther away at work and at the store
  • Let people ahead of you 

2) Do the tasks you normally do, but do them more slowly

  • Take your time walking to your car
  • Take your lunch break
  • Eat more deliberately

3) Speak less & listen more.

  • Resist the urge to share everything you want
  • Ask clarifying questions to help the other person feel heard
  • Focus on giving to them instead of trying to receive

4) Pursue periods of solitude.

  • Go to a place by yourself and do nothing for a time

What if we recognized just how little time we save by rushing and made a conscious decision to slow down in the future?