Letter 40: Finding Rest

My Son,

 

A counselor once gave me some great advice about rest. At that time, my thoughts were chaotic and all over the map. I was stressed out and struggling to get good sleep. Many of my thoughts had to do with trying to hear God’s voice perfectly. My counselor simply asked me, “Where is the rest in that?” He said God always wants to lead me to a place of rest. If “God’s voice” was causing stress and not leading me to experience his rest, then perhaps it wasn’t him talking.

Not only did my counselor recommend that I constantly ask myself where I was finding rest amidst my crazy thoughts, he gave another great piece of practical wisdom: the four breath rule. The four breath rule is simple; breathe in for four seconds, hold your breath for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds, and repeat this four times. In some of my most stressful moments, I’ve done this exercise and immediately felt a lightness and a peace come over me.

 

Breathe, my child… It’s all going to be okay… You are in your Father’s tender hand… Just breathe.

 

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul” (Psalm 23:1-3)

 

Selah (pause)

 

Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

 

Selah

 

“Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you” (1 Peter 5:7).

 

Selah

 

“Be still and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10)!

 

Selah

 

Pause. Meditate. Breathe. Rest.

 

God is your Shepherd and Father. He is the God of peace. In the midst of our busy society it is increasingly important for us to seek out those times of stillness. God is in the stillness. So be still, my child, and let him lead you into his rest.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 39: Pause in Nature

My Son,

 

Being still before God is a daily exercise, yet there are many times throughout the year where an extended pause on your life may be necessary for your spiritual nourishment. Growing up, I would go to camp every summer and spend a significant amount of time in nature. The main camp I went to was in the beautiful state of Colorado with its abundant mountains, trees, rivers, and lakes. At one of those camps I had a counselor who had just gotten back from a 3-month wilderness kayaking adventure. He told me something profound; he said, “You may not need to go three months, but for the sake of your soul and connecting to God, you need to make sure that every year of your life you spend at least a week out in nature.” I have since taken that to heart, and I have found my counselor to be right. The time of greatest refreshment for me comes from simply being in God’s beautiful creation.

Whether it’s hiking, biking, running, climbing, camping, backpacking, or any other fun outdoor activity, being outside where there is fresh air during the day and an abundance of stars at night, will refresh your soul. It is a way to escape the busyness and cares of this world and set your gaze on God. We can perceive what God is like in nature, for “Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely, his eternal power and deity, has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20).

Therefore, I encourage you, my son, to pause, take a retreat, and be with God in the beauty of his creation. For in so doing, you will find refreshment for your soul and clarity for your mind.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 38: Being Busy

My Son,

 

Busyness is the buzzword of our society. Busy, busy, busy! If someone asks how you have been, the common response seems to be “busy.” Busyness is seen as evidence that one’s life has purpose. This is simply not true.

Busyness is overrated, my son. Jesus taught us to rest and take time to be with the Father. He taught us to come to him for rest and to lay our burdens at his feet. He also warned us not to become tied up with the cares of this world, and thus be like seed planted among thorns. The thorns choked the seed as it was trying to grow.

I’ve noticed this tendency toward busyness in my own life. Everyone around me rushes around every day and every night. Even on the “restful” weekends, we seem to schedule so many events, or make so many commitments, that we are ensnared to a busy lifestyle 24/7.

Many also become workaholics, as discussed previously, being so addicted to work that they can never quite shut it out. I know people who check work emails even while on vacation. When will they ever take a break? I intentionally try to disconnect from nearly every form of technology and communication on vacation so that I cannot be reached while I’m gone. Gaining rest is necessary to sustain quality work over time.

Coinciding with being addicted to work is an addiction to the cell phone. People, myself included, are so addicted to looking at their phone that they unknowingly check their phones nearly every 30 seconds. They will constantly check if someone’s texted them or if they have any Facebook notifications. They will even check these things while driving!

So, how do we break free from the busyness? I think what we need to do, my son, is to use our cell phones in moderation, limit our work to the workday hours as best as we can, find times where we can sit in silence and be still before God throughout the day, disconnect from technology on vacation, take a Sabbath day of rest once per week, and go on retreats every so often.

I’m writing this to you as a warning. Be aware that the devil wants to get you ensnared into a rat race that will eventually strip away true enjoyment and meaning from your life. The devil wants to distract you from living a life of rest in God. Please take time to breathe, to enjoy, to be nourished, to love, and to laugh. Jesus came to give you life to the full, and that full life is infused with peace and rest. May you enter into God’s rest amidst our busy culture.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 37: Avoid Checking Work Emails after Work

My Son,

 

Workaholism is a dangerous sickness that must be avoided. Rhythm, rest, and balance are vital components in a well-lived life. I don’t want you to get suckered into the rat race of life and fall into the unending obsession with work. One simple rule to follow in order to avoid this snare is committing to not check work emails after work. Nearly every time I’ve glanced at an email from work on the weekends or after hours during the week I end up regretting that decision. When you see that you have a work email and decide just to take a quick look at it, you will find yourself engrossed in work for another hour or two. Your mind will start veering back into your work life and you won’t be able to rest until you have all the issues resolved. This lack of rest can easily be fixed by simply waiting until the next day to check those emails.

Do you think you are so important that unless you respond immediately to your emails all will fall apart? If so, then you need to wake up from that prideful stupor and realize that the world doesn’t revolve around you. I say this to your benefit. If you get caught in the trap of checking emails at all times, then you may quickly get burnt out. When you are able to create boundaries for yourself and rest from work, truly rest, then you are sustaining your ability to work for the long haul. Do not compromise your longevity for the short term. When you are at work, then work 110% for the glory of God. When you are not at work, enjoy resting in God and spending time with friends and family. Work hard and rest well, my son.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 36: Beware of the News

 

My Son,

 

I’m not saying that you should never watch the news on TV, but that you should beware of watching the news. There may be times when it is appropriate to watch or listen to the news in order to stay informed, but for the most part you can stay informed of the necessary information through word of mouth (and then check into the facts later).

Why am I telling you to beware of the news? Because I have seen how people act when they are absorbed in the news. They seem angry, bitter, scared, prejudiced, hateful, and altogether fleshly. I have yet to see the positive fruit of the Spirit being produced as a result of watching the news. Why is this? The news is rarely positive (though if it is positive it is usually something completely irrelevant and a waste of time anyway). The news is filled with grotesque facts of the latest murders or obscenities. News turns into arguments between two opposing parties rather than a respectful dialogue. News is biased, sensational, and rarely communicates the information you actually need to know in order to be aware of the sufferings of the world.

I’m sure there are some people out there who are trying to change the status quo with the news networks, so this is not meant to undermine what they are doing. I merely want you to be cognizant of the type of inputs you are receiving on a daily basis. If watching the news will help you abide in Christ and live a life of love, then go for it. Just be careful not to get entangled into the negative aspects of the news. Be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil (Romans 16:19).

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 35: Focus on the Positive

My Son,

 

I once knew a homeless man named Bill. Bill and I would go out to lunch frequently and I would ask him about his life on the streets. He seemed to have a certain contentment and happiness despite his circumstances. Each time we met, Bill would tell me the key to contentment is to focus on the positive. He said, “If you focus on the negative, then you’ll be negative, but if you focus on the positive, you’ll be positive.” Bill’s teaching has stuck with me all these years, and now I hope to pass it on to you, my child.

This paradigm of positivity is infectious and can inspire deep joy amidst mundane and even “negative” moments in life. As Christians, we are called to set our minds “on things that are above” (Colossians 3:2) and to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Philippians 4:4) and “for everything [to give] thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father” (Ephesians 5:20). Focusing on the positive is rooted and flows from a focus on Christ himself. He is Light and Love, which are both very positive descriptors. Thanksgiving, rejoicing in the Lord, and abiding in Christ are essential elements to producing positivity in your perspective.

Focusing on the positive doesn’t mean we ignore the negative effects of suffering and sin in our world. It means that we always come to the conclusion that God is bigger than all of that. Perhaps the negative is right in front of you. Cast your gaze on Christ and let the negative fall into your peripheral vision. Focusing on the positive isn’t a call to live in a “dream world” or a call to pretend everything is okay, rather it is a call to root yourself in the ultimate truth and reality: the kingdom of God. This kingdom consists of love, joy, and peace. As we carry the crosses in our lives, we can well up with joy when we look beyond to the reality of the resurrection. As we focus on the positive, “let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Focus on the joy that is set before you my child, namely being with Christ for eternity.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 34: Discipline Leads to Joy

My Son,

 

I remember when I first started seriously reading the Bible when I was in 9th grade. I had gone to a camp that summer and they taught me the value of reading Scripture daily. After camp, I committed to follow a plan to read the entire Bible in a year. I began my journey with Scripture only to run into boredom. Toward the end of Exodus and into Leviticus, reading the Bible became a chore. However, since I had committed to my plan, I stuck it out. That whole year, the Bible remained stagnant to me. I then decided to read the Bible again a second year, and it was just as boring and just as burdensome to me that year. Stubborn as I was, I decided to enter into the discipline of reading the Bible a third year. Around halfway into my plan the third year, something changed for me. Reading the Scriptures switched from a chore to a treasure. I fell in love with Sacred Scripture. It came alive and my heart was set ablaze by the Word of God. Ever since then, reading the Bible has been a true joy. I tell you this, my child, because it took 2 ½ years of discipline to finally experience the fruit of that discipline. For you, reading Scripture may be instantaneous joy or it may take longer than 2 ½ years to experience that joy. Remain disciplined and form these godly habits and I believe you will reap a great reward whether in this life or in the life to come.

Being disciplined in the various practices of faith, such as praying, fasting, almsgiving, and reading, meditating on, and memorizing Scripture, is a test for genuine faith. Anyone can start a race, but how many can finish the race well? I’ve known many people who will make New Year’s resolutions to read the Bible in a year and when they hit Leviticus in the second or third month, they will give up. I know that when I had hit those books the first and even second year, I wanted to give up. If I had not remained disciplined, I would never have experienced the joy of Scripture reading. Honing your ability to maintain the disciplines of our faith is like starting a fire the old fashioned way. When starting a fire you take a couple of sticks and methodically move your hands to cause friction between the sticks and, eventually, the wood will start smoking and then a fire will form. It takes a while sometimes to start a fire this way and the only sure method involves time and discipline to move your hands in the right way. In the same way, it may take you years to see the fire of your faith set ablaze by the disciplines you’ve formed. The Holy Spirit will one day ignite the kindling you’ve invested in the fire and it will be all the more glorious.

We are in the “Church Militant” my son. Being a soldier of Christ requires discipline. There is wilderness before the Promised Land, there is crucifixion before resurrection, and there is discipline before joy. Stick with it! Do what others fail to do, and run the race in such a way as to win the prize.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 33: Pavlov and Virtue

 

My Son,

 

I think about Pavlov’s dog experiment nearly every week. That sounds strange, and you probably think your ole man is crazy, but let me explain.

Ivan Pavlov pioneered research on how people learn through classical conditioning by experimenting with dogs. Dogs naturally salivate when food is brought to them. Food is an “unconditioned stimulus” and salivation is the dog’s “unconditioned response.” Pavlov would feed his own dogs each day, and each time they would see food they would salivate. Eventually, whenever Pavlov would simply walk in the room, the dogs would salivate. He was curious about this and decided to do some experimenting. He gave some dogs their food, but every time the food was given he would ring a bell. The dogs eventually learned to associate the bell ringing with food being brought to them, so even if the food didn’t come the dogs would still salivate if they heard the bell ring. A natural response could be triggered by an unnatural stimulus by having that stimulus associated with a natural stimulus.

Why am I sharing this with you, my son? Although people are more than mere animals, we often learn in a similar manner when it comes to classical conditioning. If someone has a flood of positive associations with a given activity, they will probably be more inclined to do the action. For example, if you were given a cookie while you did homework, you could associate your enjoyment of the cookie with your homework. Maybe you would get to the point where the original stimulus of enjoyment, the cookie, could be taken away and you would be left with the sheer enjoyment of homework (a somewhat unnatural stimulus for many kids). This was a very basic example, so now let’s turn our attention to how we can use classical conditioning to aid in our journey of godliness and virtue.

I was once told that virtue is a habit of doing good. Faith, hope, and love are chief among Christian virtues, and there are many others. How do we live a life of virtue? The key is habit. How do we develop habits? The key is discipline. Some basic “disciplines” of the faith include praying, reading the Scripture, meditating, adoration, fasting, almsgiving, etc.

For many, including myself, these disciplines do not involve positive associations and seem quite unnatural at first. How do we get an unnatural stimulus to bring about a natural enjoyment? Pavlov’s dog experiment! If you naturally find enjoyment in eating chocolate, then perhaps you should eat chocolate while reading Scripture for a while until you can have that same enjoyment with only Scripture. If you naturally feel peace wash over you when you light a candle, then light a candle before morning and evening prayer; you may find yourself feeling that same peace through the natural rhythm of prayer with or without the candle. Experiment with this yourself. Find out what seems to naturally give you those positive feelings and add a discipline to make the discipline enjoyable. Your enjoyment of the discipline could be key in you sustaining the discipline for the long haul. Vices (those things opposite of virtue) are normally practiced because they “feel good.” Vices can be destroyed by negative association and virtues can be established through positive association. I myself am still learning how to use this method of classical conditioning to form virtue and destroy vice in my life.

May we, as creatures of habit, learn to practice the good and shun the evil. May faith, hope, and love become our knee-jerk reactions in every situation. May we become more and more like Christ as we learn to enjoy the virtue-forming disciplines he has given us.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 32: Sowing and Reaping

My Son,

 

“Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will, from the Spirit, reap eternal life” (Galatians 6:18).

You will reap what you sow. This language may be unfamiliar to you since we didn’t raise you on a farm in the country. Let me explain. Every year, farmers sow seeds into their fields. If they plant corn seeds, then at harvest time they will have corn (barring a terrible drought). If they sow seeds for wheat, then they will reap wheat. What you put into something is what you will get out of it.

What do you invest your time and energy into? If you do your homework, then you should get a good grade. If you spend your days watching TV instead of doing your homework, then you probably won’t get a good grade. If you play video games, then you will become good at video games (but what value is there in that?). If you spend hours playing the guitar each week, then you will be able to play the guitar better. This principle applies especially to your spiritual journey. If you invest your time into reading Scripture, then you will become more knowledgeable about Scripture. If you pray every day, then you will become better at praying and opening yourself up to hear God’s voice. If you focus your attention on things that are pure, then you will reap pure thoughts. If, on the other hand, you invest your time into watching pornography, then you will reap a life of perversion. If you wake up late every day and neglect the disciplines, then you will reap a life of laziness. If you focus your energy on just making money, then you will reap a life of greed. What you sow is what you will reap.

Sometimes people I encounter are surprised that their life is a spiritual and emotional train-wreck. They are surprised when they find themselves eating out of a pig-trough, even though they were the ones that turned their back on the Father and spent their inheritance on sinful living. They are surprised when God feels distant after sowing years of watching TV rather than praying. They are surprised that they always feel anxious, when in reality they are constantly busy and never take the time to rest on the Sabbath. Why are people so surprised when they finally get what they’ve been investing their lives into? We must not be a people who are surprised, but a people who own up to our sin and zealously repent. Repentance means that we stop sowing into sin, and start sowing into the Spirit. Give, pray, fast, meditate, read Scripture, spend time in adoration, and practice other such disciplines. The disciplines of the faith are good ways you can start sowing in the Spirit.

This is my appeal to you my son: sow in the Spirit! Draw near to God and he will draw near to you (James 4:8). My hope is that you will live a life filled with love, joy, peace, and all of the fruit of the Spirit. Now is the time for you to plant seeds of the Spirit so that you may enjoy a fruit-filled life.

 

Love,

Dad

Letter 31: Entering into the Larger Story

My Son,

 

The grand narrative of humanity is centered on Jesus Christ. You and I get the chance to participate in this larger-than-life story about his work of redeeming the world for God the Father. When Jesus started his public ministry two thousand years ago, he proclaimed, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). Jesus inaugurated the reign of God in his ministry and opened the door for humanity to participate in this new government of God through his death, burial, and Resurrection and by sending the Holy Spirit upon his Church. Renewed by God’s grace to sonship, and filled with his power, we are able to proclaim Christ’s message and follow Christ by carrying our own crosses daily in hope that we too may attain the Resurrection from the dead. Jesus is the Forerunner into the Resurrection and we get the privilege of participating in his way of doing things; namely loving God and loving people with sacrificial and hope-filled love.

When we begin to understand that God’s story of redemption is ongoing and that we have the ability to participate, then our lives are filled with purpose. We aren’t just here to get an education, find the perfect job, make money, retire, and die. We are here to declare the kingdom of God is now here, and show others the Way to eternal life through the Way of the cross of Christ. In each stage of our lives, we point others to the greater reality that is still yet to be fulfilled in the New Heavens and New Earth. Each day, we have the opportunity to grow closer and closer to God, until one day we see him face-to-face. We get to co-labor with Christ through his Church to renew this world for the glory of God!

 

Love,

Dad