Category Archives: Life Coaching

There and Back

Along the dank stones lining the subterranean tunnel that

weeps with rancid moisture even in the dry season, he

walks, stooped over, shivering, not from chill but from

fear of unknown landings. Soft cries of creatures long

dead drift in the thick air, mixed with cries of earth

herself, enclosed, choked with men’s greed …

groaning, groaning, all creation groaning.

To brace himself against the fearful shivers, he

pulls layers of ragged coats about himself, and

hides frostbitten fingers against his skin. He has

been walking these underground tunnels for 

decades, living on rat meat and sipping the moisture from 

ceilings of rock, which smell less fetid. He has not seen

daylight since he was a boy hiding in the cornfields.

When was it that he heard the song, so sweet,

so ethereal, so unique, so deceiving? Evil muses, who,

unlike their siren sisters, lure with lies not truth. Like a

moth to flame, he trudges toward the music, only to

slip on ancient worn alga-coated stone and 

plummet untrammeled into lightless depths,

down, down, always falling, never ending

This pit has no bottom, no terminal. Alone and

sliding, ever slipping, uncontrollably down, to 

where manticore, leviathan, and basilisk

writhe in frozen chains of fire, snarling,

snapping at any who would slide past,

gobbling up all but the most slippery. He could

almost wish to end his misery in their guts.

He closed his eyes and was at once transported to

airless space where the eerie silence made him

yearn for the screams of the abyss. Drifting,

drifting, untethered, utterly alone, into

absolute blackness, rip in time, a hole in space,

from which not even gravity can escape, where

molecules fly apart and reconfigure as slime.

Into the black hole he plunged, yet strangely

still intact, able to gaze in horrifying wonder at

the blast furnaces on either side that coughed and

belched as they digested their prey, and seemed to

laugh with hideous glee as he flew by.

Thunderous roars seemed to yell,

“Soon we feast on you!”

Up ahead – a brilliant light, blinding, white with

blue tint, impossible to look at directly, when,

out from the light, a Figure, glorious, magnificent,

more terrifying than anything he had yet seen,

standing, blocking the way. Propelled at the 

speed of light, he shot towards the figure, when

all began to shift and swirl, a mosaic of colors

Now, he was tumbling over and over, softly,

gently, as a baker kneads the dough. A billion

billion planets sang a low whale song, vibrations

reverberating across space-time in a light-show of

whirling beauty. He was swimming along a

cosmic reef kissed by winged and finned

creatures each with multiple pastel heads.

The music of the spheres rose to a crescendo, and

almost sang, “Welcome, Welcome, Welcome!”

And then, all was still.

The blinding Figure disrobed the light and walked toward him,

Eyes moist and kind, as he, with tender caress, whispered,

“Son.” And, with a soft kiss, 

He was home by the hearth with a hot cup of ale and his dog at his feet.

False Self?

I don’t care for the term “false self” – it sounds like something we need to get rid of. We all necessarily grow up with images of who we are. Those images are shaped first and foremost by the adults who cared for us as small children. They continue to be further shaped by culture, peers, extended family, teachers, coaches, and so on. These personas aren’t “false,” but they are closer to the surface than the true inner core of belovedness. The define us, but not completely. 

All of us have these personas. We define ourselves by gender, ethnicity, skills, careers, education, physical abilities, as belonging to a certain neighborhood or tribe. We are part of a story, shaped by our ancestors and our cultures, as well as by our genes.

There’s nothing wrong with that. My friend rightly sees himself as a Native American member of the Haudenosaunee nation with a deep love for nature and athletic prowess. That’s important. 

On the other hand, many of us grow up with personas that mask our true selves. We see ourselves as losers, failures, unlovable, fearful, timid, not good enough, super-saints, superior to others, alone, unlovable, lost, envious. Those personas need to be jettisoned. 

Deny yourself – I think Jesus means the egocentric self, those harmful personas, the superficial images we try so hard to maintain so others will accept us and so we can feel good about ourselves. 

The denial of the superficial or unhealthy personas feels like a pouring out. At first, the pouring out feels like loss, a death, a loss of identity, but it actually makes space to embrace the true self, which is who I am as defined by God. Whereas the false self is who I am as defined by others (especially parents, siblings, teachers, mentors, and peers) and myself, the true self is who I am in the innermost core of my being, engulfed and embraced by God. Following Jesus is the embracing of Truth, which leads to spiritual freedom. 

Through prayer, contemplation, meditative scripture reading, silence, solitude, long walks in nature, deep breathing, stillness, service to the poor, and through spiritual direction with a true elder, who we are truly created to be begins to open up, the positive personas are refined, and the harmful personas begin to fade away.

https://www.theunstuckspirit.com

True Self

We are created in God’s image. But what does that mean? Some have argued that to be created in God’s image means we reflect something of God’s nature, like the ability to reason, the ability to develop culture or language, to create art and music, observe ourselves, or critically deduce conclusions. 

The problem with all those definitions is that they don’t apply to every person. The brain damaged person lies vegetative in a body that is breathing and with a heart that beats, but who is unable to reason, communicate, create, or observe. Is that person no longer in God’s image? If they were born brain damaged, were they never really human beings? Have they no dignity? Moreover, animals and trees communicate, apes display selflessness, and puppies are full of love.

Rather than define the imago Dei with attributes that some humans have and others do not, I prefer to define it as simply the ability to be loved by God. God loves all of creation – sea cucumbers, turtles, and willow trees. Perhaps I’m a speciesist, but it appears to me that God has a special love for humans. I say that because God became a human being, rather than a goldfish. Nevertheless, God cares deeply about goldfish and sparrows and mushrooms. It’s all good. It’s all beautiful.

God is love – perfect self-sacrificial cruciform love. God lavishes that perfect love unconditionally on everyone. Every part of creation reflects God’s love. 

Our true selves are who we are according to God. For all of us, that begins with Beloved. Every human being is beloved of God, deeply and unconditionally. Many of us affirm that truth but have a very hard time truly believing it. Voices within tell us we are only loved if we do good stuff, or reach some level of perfection. We’re reminded of our failings, faults, sins, of those we’ve hurt, of the times when we’ve been selfish and mean. At some level, we doubt we are lovable.

Your true self, the innermost you that God unconditionally loves and cherishes regardless of what you do or accomplish, is Beloved. In my experience, it takes years of contemplation, Lectio Divina, biblical meditation, prayer, silence, service to those Jesus called the least of his siblings (Matthew 25), and spiritual companionship with wise elders in the faith to begin to really believe that I am God’s beloved. 

My goal as a spiritual director and counselor is to deeply listen, pray for, unconditionally love, and walk with people as they slowly discover their belovedness. We’re all created in the image of God and beloved by God. 

Each of us is also an individual. Each of us is unique. It is that unique part that we’re referring to when we speak of finding your true path, growing into who you were meant to be. 

Finding your true path involves discovering the unique ways God created you, the unique gifts God has given you, and the unique bit of kingdom work God designed you for. That also takes a lot of prayer, contemplation, and guidance. And, it changes. Different seasons of your life open up different roles. It’s about the journey.

https://www.theunstuckspirit.com

Wounded by Life

We all take hits as we go through life. Some of them are just par for the course. Illness, minor injuries, car needs a new transmission, expensive home repairs – that kind of thing. Shit happens. We learn to deal with it. We cope.

Other hurts come from our own poor choices. We make mistakes. We mess up. If we’re emotionally healthy and mature, we own our errors, face the consequences without blaming others, and take steps (maybe with the help of a coach or therapist) to repair, reconcile, learn from and do better.

Then there are the hurts from other people – jilted, cheated, abandoned, divorced, betrayed. We enter into the long, hard task of forgiving so that we can be free. 

I’ve written a lot on forgiveness and how to do it: 

https://www.theunstuckspirit.com/post/forgiveness-restoration-part

https://wordpress.com/post/drlarrytaylor.com/1355

We get hurt by circumstances, by our own choices, and by the thoughtlessness of others. We can also be abused and hurt by systems and institutions. Those are often harder to deal with because we can’t attach a face to the abuse. 

When a woman cannot advance in top leadership because of a glass ceiling no one recognizes, she’s fighting systemic patriarchy. 

When Native or African American children have no access to nutritious food, safe housing, and quality education, they are crippled by systemic racism that dates back to the founding of the nation. 

When a man works for a corporation for 35 years and then is tossed aside with less than adequate pension and benefits, he’s being damaged by corporate greed. 

Religious institutional abuse may be the worst of all because religious institutions are where we’re supposed to find grace, acceptance, and salvation. When a clergyperson uses their position to sexually assault someone, they victim has been hurt not only by the perpetrator, but also by the institution that trained, ordained, and installed the perpetrator in that position of authority. Maybe the institution also protected the perpetrator, minimized the hurt, or denied it and sept it under the rug.

Racism, misogyny, nationalism, institutionalized religion, consumerism, toxic capitalism, and militarism consume multitudes. People are used, used up, and tossed out. Human beings created in the image of God are trampled underfoot. 

There is healing for all the hurts. Deep wounds take a long time to heal. We need the skills of soul doctors, spiritual guides, loving souls who can point us to the ultimate Healer.

https://www.theunstuckspirit.com

Don’t Ignore the Past

I believe that anyone who is in Christ is a new creation and that old things have passed away and all things have been made new (see 2 Corinthians 5:17). I believe that there is no life so ruined it cannot be redeemed by the Spirit of God. There is no sin so great God won’t forgive it. 

Baptism symbolizes a cleansing, a death, a burial, and a resurrection. Our sins are washed away; off the table; gone. The old self died with Christ and is buried with Christ. We are connected to a new humanity as we rise with Christ.

However, ignoring the past is unwise. We are forgiven, true. Yes, we are new creations. We are also, all of us, the sum total of the experiences, influences, and genetics of our past. To one degree or another, we’ve all been wounded by life. We live in a fallen world. All of us grow up having developed an outer shell to protect us from the world. Those experiences, wounds, that shell of ours, needs to be explored, understood, learned from, and integrated into who we are. We need to enter the heart space of our true identity as beloved in Christ. We cannot do that without fully owning our past. If new creation in Christ is used to avoid working through the past, we will never enter into the newness of the gospel.

Spiritual formation, discipleship, is the process of being molded increasingly towards the image of Christ. We never fully arrive in this life. Perhaps the process goes on for eternity. Perhaps the journey rather than the destination is the point. Regardless, we all know that we are not suddenly zapped into perfection by our baptism. We are forgiven. We are new creations. We are justified. Now begins the process of sanctification, of formation. To be formed into the image of Christ requires deep digging into the past. Before we can do that effectively, we must know that we know at a heart level that we are unconditionally loved by God. 

There the journey begins.

https://www.theunstuckspirit.com

Everything in the Universe Changed. Audio on Mark 15:38-47

Gently Drawn By Love

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any wish to come after me, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” (Matthew 16:24 NRSVUE)

I hear the gentleness of the call. “If you wish to follow me…” No pressure. No coercion. No psychological or emotional manipulation. The call to spiritual formation, to discipleship, to true worship (which is simply doing what Jesus said to do, as unpopular as that may be) is given in freedom.

Deny yourself – I think Jesus means the false, egocentric self, the false personas, the superficial images we try so hard to maintain so others will accept us and so we can feel good about ourselves. Deny, set aside, the ego-driven self that cares about success, achievement, reputation, legacy, and honor.

Denying ourselves feels like a pouring out. At first, the pouring out feels like loss, a death, a loss of identity, but it actually makes space for to embrace the true self, which is who I am as defined by God. 

The true self is soul-drawn. It is not driven. It is beckoned by grace. It is invited into wholeness by Love. It is free. It cares nothing for accomplishments or prestige. Drawn by divine love, it loves to serve, to take up the banner of justice, to be identified with the weak, rejected people on the margins. It cannot be offended because it has no ego to offend. It joyfully takes up the way of the cross, the way of cruciform self-sacrificial love. 

The Most Important Prayer in the Old Testament

Shema Yisrael is the most important and central prayer in the Hebrew Bible.

·      Deuteronomy 6:4: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 

·      (Or, The Lord our God is one Lord; or, The Lord our God, the Lord is one; or, The Lord is our God, the Lord is one)

·      Hebrew: YHWH ‘elohenu YHWH ekhad

·      English: Lord our God, Lord one.

There is no verb “is” in the original. It must be supplied by the context.

Deuteronomy 6:5: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Leviticus 19:18b: you shall love your neighbor as yourself

Which commandment is the most important, the one that ties together all others?

Mark 12:29-31: Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Love YHWH our God with all your:

·      Heart = kardia = center of being, that which controls everything, the drive behind all thoughts, feelings, and actions

·      Soul = psyche = breath, life-force

·      Mind = dianoias = thinking, reasoning, logic

·      Strength = ischuos = anything that gives us agency, free-will, power, choice, such as physical ability, talent, position, privilege, reputation

In other words, love in four directions:

1.     Love the God of Israel with your whole being

2.     Love others, all others

3.     Love yourself

4.     And, from Genesis 1, Love creation

Love is cruciform, self-sacrificial, altruistic. It involves loyalty, justice, doing what is right and best for others. It looks like Jesus on the cross forgiving his enemies as they were torturing him to death. 

I came across a sermon recently in which the preacher was giving examples of loving. Among them, mow your lawn, go to church, be on a church committee, use whatever skills you have in a church.

That kind of preaching makes me want to scream. There were no church buildings for the first 300 years of church history. Christians loved God and others by taking in orphans, tending to the sick, visiting and advocating for the incarcerated, refusing military service, eschewing weaponry and violence, and forgiving their enemies. 

As a result of their cruciform love, multitudes were attracted to Jesus, and through Jesus they came to know and love YHWH, the God of Israel. They loved God with all their beings. They loved others – all others, no exceptions – with self-sacrificial love. They loved themselves, not egotistically, but by recognizing their belovedness to God. They loved creation by caring for natural world.

There are a lot of such folks around today. You can find them in hospitals, nursing homes, hospice in-patient units, prisons, among the homeless, in soup kitchens, shelters, mental health agencies, visiting the sick, frail, elderly, and broken. You can find them standing firmly against racism, antisemitism, homophobia, xenophobia, and misogyny. You find them adopting babies, welcoming immigrants into their homes, and disobeying unjust laws. 

You’ll find them caring for the environment, never exploiting it.

These people come from all backgrounds, are of all nationalities, and speak every language. They identify as citizens of the Kingdom of God, not any particular earthly nation or kingdom. They are pro-life, opposing war and capital punishment. They fight poverty, disease, and addiction. They see every person as created in God’s image and deeply loved by God.

There’s a lot of good in church history. Christians invented hospitals, science, charity, hospice programs, care for widows, orphans, poor, the marginalized and displaced, etc.

There’s a lot of bad in church history (empire-embracing nationalism, violence, wars, crusades, inquisitions, support for despots, greed, etc.)

I choose to identify with those, then and now, whose lives reflect the self-sacrificial, cruciform love of Jesus, regardless of denominational affiliation, ethnicity, culture, gender, nationality, or sexual orientation.

Historically, they were the Christians persecuted by other “Christians.”

We Need to Doubt

Based on my reading of scripture, I’m convinced that God doesn’t mind doubt. In fact, I think doubt is an essential part of faith. The opposite of faith is fear, not doubt. That’s why perfect love casts out fear. Almost everybody in the Bible doubted. Eve doubted God’s goodness. Abraham doubted God’s ability to protect him, so he threw his wife under the proverbial bus (twice, no less). Job, David, Peter, Jesus’ mother Mary, Peter – they all had times of major doubt. Even Jesus himself expressed doubt on the cross.

It seems that every dedicated follower of Christ doubted. St. John of the Cross had his dark nights of the soul. Mother Theresa (now St. Theresa of Calcutta) had extended periods of doubting even the existence of God.

I’ll go a step further – doubt is essential for spiritual growth. The person who never doubts is thinking very superficially, living on the surface. The thundering, self-confident preacher who exudes certainty does us no favors. Arrogant certitude is the opposite of humility. Certitude is judgmental and unteachable. Humility admits I don’t know it all. I can learn from everyone and every circumstance. I may be wrong about things I believe. Honest doubt is a part of being poor of spirit. Honest doubt makes me teachable. 

Yet, we’re attracted to certitude. We like the feeling of having all the right answers, of having life and God figured out. We enjoy the self-satisfaction of believing that me and my tribe are right and the other guys are wrong. We are attracted to certitude in our houses of worship, in politics, and in the world of business. Certitude feels very American. Certitude is essential for the fundamentalist and the patriot.

The way of Messiah Jesus requires us to jettison certitude along with the pride, arrogance, and judgmentalism that comes with it. Jesus leads us by way of Gethsemani and Calvary. Rather than dismiss doubts by plugging our ears to alternative ideas, an unpretentious disciple brings her doubts honestly to God and others. The genuine apprentice of the Master complains in prayer like a psalmist.

Bipolar Disorder

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, about 4.4% of Americans are affected with bipolar disorder sometime during their lives. PhD level psychologists and psychiatrists (who are MDs) are the most qualified to make a diagnosis. Similar symptoms can be induced by certain drugs (including alcohol), or caused by a medical condition like Cushing’s disease, multiple sclerosis or stroke. So, you need a qualified person to make the diagnosis.

Bipolar disorder was previously called Manic-Depression, or Manic-Depressive Psychosis because the illness is characterized by wild mood swings. All of us have days when we’re up and feel energized, as well as days when we feel down in the dumps. That’s normal. People with bipolar have extreme manic phases when they have so much energy, they work nonstop without sleeping, sometimes for days, followed by episodes of deep depression where they may become suicidal. Their highs are higher and their lows are lower.

Medication is needed for anyone who is bipolar because the disease is caused by an imbalance in chemicals in the brain. A psychiatrist is by far the best person to prescribe medication for any mental illness, and will also want to follow up regularly to adjust the dosage. Too much can be toxic. Too little won’t do much good. It’s very likely that you’ll need to take medication the rest of your life. That’s ok.

But medication is not a cure-all. The medicine will knock out the extreme highs and the extreme lows so that you can work with a therapist to balance and integrate the lows and highs. 

Bipolar disorder is currently classified in two types. Bipolar I Disorder is the designation given to people who have episodes of depression followed by episodes of mania or hypomania. Mania and hypomania are the same thing, except hypomania is milder and lasts for a few days, whereas mania can go on for weeks or months. Hypomania and mania are periods of over-active and excited behavior that can have a significant negative impact on your life.

Bipolar II is the designation given to people who have had at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode, but never had a manic episode. Just to confuse things further, there is also cyclothymic disorder, which is the same thing only milder still. 

The depressive stage of bipolar is dangerous because it can lead to suicide. Like any deep depression, you are sapped of energy, feel hopeless, sluggish, disinterested, and disconnected. People in the depressive phase want to get out of it.

In some ways, the manic (or hypomanic) phase is even more dangerous because you feel on top of the world. You feel highly creative, full of almost supernatural energy; you are over-confident, feel invincible, are full of swagger. You might even feel like you’re a genius. You may get narcissistic. Some people are also be highly angry and irritable. 

It is in the manic phase that people spend themselves deeply into debt, ruin their credit, destroy good relationships, are attracted to highly toxic relationships, and create a plethora of marital, familial, financial, interpersonal, and legal problems for themselves and others. People in the manic phase often love the high and won’t listen to warnings until they crash and burn.

And then the cycle repeats. 

There’s no more shame in being bipolar than there is in having high blood pressure. It’s genetics and neurochemistry, not sin or choice. You can’t just snap out of it. 

Bipolar Disorder is very treatable.

First, you (or your loved on) need a qualified person to make an accurate diagnosis.

Second, you need a psychiatrist to find and prescribe the right medication at the right dosage for you.

Third, you need a good therapist skilled in helping you recognize your triggers and bring your highs and lows into balance.

And finally, I’d highly recommend spiritual direction with an elder in the faith. Spiritual direction and therapy fit nicely together – the latter addressing emotional issues, and the former drawing us deeper into the ever-loving heart of God.

God loves you. God wants you to be whole.

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