When I was younger, I had great expectation of what life would be. I had hope for a great career, a great family, and a great community. And we all do… until we realize life disappoints. We can never achieve what we have hoped for. We may look like we got it, but we know we do not have what we were looking for. We do not pursue a great career, family, or community, but worthiness, safety, and significance.
“To live is to hurt” (p. 4)
So many of us deceive ourselves. We refuse to admit this truth: we cannot attain any of what we are looking for. Not permanently. We fight with the hope to get “there,” but soon life brings or will bring us to the reality that something is not right. Something is broken. Why can’t we reach what we hope? Why are we still hurting somehow?
We are all marked by suffering. Most of the time, we find ways to cope with it. We find hobbies (video games, TV, fishing, vacation, etc.) not to deal with our lack of significance. We party to forget our meaninglessness. We turn to pornography to fulfill our need for intimacy. We all try to cope with life even if we do it unconsciously.
But when the wounds are deep, those ways to handle pain are useless. The pain comes again and again crushing us, dragging us to a place of torture where tears and screams are the only option. Will we ever get better? Will we be able to live a “normal” life? Will we find hope?
In his book The Healing Path, Allender describes what pain does to us, how we usually cope, and how we can find healing. He writes with honesty and poetry. His style speaks powerfully to those who are suffering. The many stories illustrate the truth of his concepts. He walks us through the path of healing from pain to faith, hope, love, and renewed sense of calling.
“If we fail to anticipate thoughtfully how we will respond to the harm of living in a fallen world, the pain may be for naught. It will either numb or destroy us rather than refine and even bless us […] But few of us enter the tragedy of living in a fallen world and simultaneously struggle with God until our hearts bleed with hope.” (p. 5)
Suffering is a sacred journey. Healing is more than getting to a place of happiness. It is about finding purpose.
“Healing in this life is not the resolution of our past; it is the use of our past to draw us into deeper relationship with God and his purposes for our lives” (p. 6)
By default, we seek to escape pain. Allender finds four ways we do it:
- Paranoid: we live with cynicism. “Life is a long hard struggle, then you die.” (p. 8). Life has nothing to offer. There is nothing for us. “Paranoiacs predict and then create sorrow to avoid the far more penetrating sadness of unexpected and unexplained pain. […] There is no surprise, no horror. Tragedy is a familiar and comforting friend to the paranoid.” (p. 10)
- Fatalistic: We minimize pain. We know it is going to happen, so let’s focus on the good side of life. “Fatalism anesthetizes desire, seeking to rise above the desire-disappointment cycle. Fatalists may appear serene, but their stance results in distance from others, lack of empathy, and a trivialization of their part in shaping the future.” (p. 11)
- Heroic: We are master of our destiny! We do not have to be victims of the bad things that happen to us. We are conquerors, survivors – not victims. We can take the challenge. No complaint. No whining. Toughen up! However, heroes do not really deal with the true pain. It isolates them from others, and even lead them to look down on those who fall behind. And we all know this truth: heroes fall. There is so much we can bear.
- Optimistic: “Of all the other approaches, this one seems to be most in accord with living a life of faith. If we have faith in God, then we can ‘let go’ and let him work things out. And given that he loves us, we can reason, it will all work out well in the end. If we are patient and trust him, then we can expect the best. […] The fact is, God’s perfect plan might include untold suffering that has no clear purpose or meaning in this life. The optimistic path breaks down in the face of this kind of reality” (p. 13). What we do is to distance ourselves from pain. It is lying to ourselves, denying the reality of pain and avoiding the honest questions we have for God.
The problem with escaping pain is this:
“If we refuse to face the damage, the dysfunctional patterns set in motion to handle it will continue to exacerbate the wound.” (p. 15)
Not only will we be stuck in patterns of destruction, but we will not be able to experience true joy:
“If we are closed to sorrow, we will also be closed to true joy” (p. 15)
However, the healing path is not easy. It requires looking at painful past. We may feel like fleeing from those memories. Allender describes three categories of wound we experience in this journey to redemption:
- Betrayal and the Loss of Faith
“Betrayal is the experience of being set up, violated, and then discarded. It is being used by someone who violates our dignity and then is unmoved by our pain. Such betrayal, for whatever reason, isolates us in loneliness, doubt, and shame.” (p. 23)
“[Betrayal] leaves the heart sick over the past and fearful of future loss. […] The heart is robbed of the desire to trust – not only in the relationship that has suffered harm, but in all other relationships. Betrayal particularly throws into question our relationship with God. Does He rescue? Des He protect? Will He let the guilty go free? As hope is a focus on the future, faith is a reflection on the past.” (p. 24)
- Powerlessness and the Loss of Hope
We experience powerlessness “when we become aware of our inability to shape the future. […] Eventually such a sense of powerlessness results in apathy and despair.” (p. 26).
“Hope is by far one of the most dangerous commitments we make in life. Hope draws us to create and sacrifice without any guarantee of fulfillment. The more we hope, the more we lean into the future, risking the present to secure the dreams that entice us.” (p. 26)
“The healing path takes us into the depths of our despair in order for a new hope to be born through our walk in the desert and the valley. This hope enables us to envision a future that is full of God, thereby deepening a passion that will empower us to reach beyond deadness and the mindless repetition of the past” (p. 27)
- Ambivalence and the Loss of Love
“Ambivalence is feeling torn in two. It creates a divided sense of self that feels shame and self-hatred at once enjoying what is ultimately stained or stolen from us” (p. 28)
“Ambivalence exposes our heart’s desire for what we are no longer free to enjoy. It causes us to question the sanity of giving and receiving pleasure in our work and relationships. What if it ends? What if I enjoy you more than you enjoy me? […] Such ambivalence is the enemy of love. The core of love is the capacity to offer ourselves to others – to bless them with our presence and our gifts. The dance of love calls us then to be open to receive from others gratitude and the gift of their presence in return.” (p. 29)
So how do we embrace life in a fallen world? How can we live without denying the reality of suffering and evil?
- Opening the heart rather than cynically shutting down
“Suspiciousness is fueled by memories of betrayal or rejection. The images of past harm are applied indiscriminately to moments in the present. Often we live out our past pain and betrayal in the present by looking at every interaction with others from the vantage point of utility and cost. What do you want? What is it going to require of me?” (p. 36)
Opening the heart is dangerous because pain can be inflicted, but it is necessary to find meaning because “pain enables to discover ourselves” and we cannot find our meaning without knowing ourselves truly.
- Waiting with anticipation rather than killing hope
“Waiting stirs the soul’s deep struggle with hope. We think it pleasant to hope, but in fact, nothing is more difficult than to hope” (p. 38)
“We hate to wait. We hate to hope. […] It seems that when we groan most deeply, we most urgently anticipate resolution for our pain. But we cannot hope unless we learn to wait, and we cannot learn to wait if we have put God on our schedule” (p. 39)
“God lets us wait – not to punish us, not because he has forgotten us, but because our waiting is the crucible he uses to purify our hope for him” (p. 40)
- Encircling the other instead of standing alone
“Encircling another calls us to both receive and to give through an interplay of honor, passion, and respect” (p. 41)
“Embracing reality and encircling another requires courage – not merely to accept pain, but to risk asking, seeking, and knocking on the door of God util he answers with the bread of life” (p. 43)
- Letting go of the moment
When we experience meaningful experiences, we have difficulty to let the moment go. The issue is that we may end up destroying what we have loved whether a person, moment, idea or truth. We stop our own growth and the possibility to open our arms to the next person, moment or truth.
But we know we are under attack. The enemy is always at work to destroy faith, hope and love. The author goes back to the wounds that are inflicted to expose what is being done:
The roots of betrayal
“We absorb others, then we kill them for not providing what we demand. Ultimately, all friendships that break down are due to a friendship with the world that makes us an enemy or betrayer of God” (p. 52)
“When we demand that another person provide safety, certainty, and fulfillment of our deepest desires, we turn from God to an idol for the fulfillment of our needs.” (p. 53)
Eventually, we will betray one another because none of us can fulfill others’ needs.
The results of betrayal
Betrayal effaces, mar, mock, manipulate and ignore dignity. It leads to a vicious circle where the betrayed becomes the betrayer.
“It begins with a failure to love that is neither confessed, forgiven nor reconciled.” (p. 56)
“The betrayed often becomes the betrayer. The one who is hurt often hurts, the one shamed often shames, and the cycle of harm continues.” (p. 57)
“Ultimately, betrayal cuts to the heart of faith. Faith is trust that comes from repeated encounters with a person who is solid and sure. Over time we develop greater confidence and rest more deeply in the care of the one we trust. […] When betrayal ends a relationship, we struggle with profound doubt about our desirability and discernment. It becomes easy to replace faith with suspicion” (p. 58)
Memories of betrayal torment us and leads us to the loss of identity.
“Betrayal sends us reeling from the past to the future like a bouncing pinball – from terror to regret. Betrayal stalks and haunts. It turns the past into a long series of questions and doubts. Betrayal isolates. It takes us to the end of a long, lonely dirt road and unceremoniously dumps us without provisions or promise of help” (pp. 59-60)
“The disruptive and abrasive surge of memory and emotion indicates our frantic effort to find solace and safety when our foundation has fallen out below us.” (p. 61)
“Memory provides us with our guiding templates for living life. When the past loses its capacity to connect us to others and guide us into the future, then we also lose confidence in ourselves. In one sense, betrayal not only disrupts our memories, but it steals our sense of identity” (p. 62)
Our first response is “What’s wrong with me? I should have know better…” Then when we reconsider the events, we seek to make someone else pay. We shut down to be able to live with our anger, and we eventually become numb. It is easier not to care than trying to trust (or have faith) again. It is possible that we feel betrayed by God when our good and legitimate desires not met, e.g. loss of a child, a marriage crumbling, etc.
“When we lose faith, we also feel powerless to change our future.” (p. 67)
“The formula for change seems to be: high cost today – no gain for a long, long time; high gain in the distant future – if one perseveres daily in hope” (p. 75)
“Evil knows we would rather delude ourselves, deny the truth, and eventually justify even harmful behavior as our only choice.” (p. 77)
“God’s desire is to use our powerlessness to send us fleeing back to him. Evil wants it to send us reeling to rely on ourselves with even greater intensity. We are unwittingly follow evil’s plan when we attempt to escape our powerlessness through martyrdom, rebellion, or disengagement.” (p. 77)
“Martyrdom, or self-righteous suffering, sighs and finds satisfaction in its helplessness. No one can, no one could help. No one cares. No one understands, and so I will bear this suffering with no complaint, which means with no desire. The self-righteous martyr suffers alone, publicly.” (p. 79)
“Belligerence creates chaos by mocking the goals we are unable to achieve” (p. 81)
“The disengaged in our world do not use their powerlessness to make others feel powerless, as martyrs do, nor do they pull down the towers of power, as the belligerent; instead, the disengaged flee this world and fantasize about an annulment of their condition.” (p. 82)
“To be powerless is to feel a constant agony of desire” (p. 82)
“Powerlessness, like poverty, steals the passion to remember or dream” (p. 83)
“The goal of evil is to destroy our future by stealing our hope” (p. 83)
“To suffer is to embrace our situation without flight, fantasy, or control.” (p. 84)
“Just as faith is necessary to forming a solid, confident sense of identity, hope is crucial for the capacity to anticipate and shape the future for good.” (p. 84)
There are three components that lead to hope: sacred discontent (=holy desire) vs martyrdom, innocent anticipation (=strength to wait) vs belligerence, and playful risk (=willingness to engage) vs disengagement
“Sacred discontent is not mere dissatisfaction that turns the heart to complain and disengage. It is a holy hunger to enter a heart or situation so that we can offer incarnate love and know the same at the roots of our soul” (p. 85)
“To continue to dream when failure and disappointment cloud the sun is the radical gift of hope (p. 87)
“Disengagement is a flight from risk. It is a refusal to suffer any more losses. We would prefer to hunker down, dull our desire, and drift into distraction that take away our holy hunger for more. For many of us, the meaning of our lives will not be found until we risk moving out of our realm of safety.” (p. 88)
“God gives us the frightening freedom to find our own way after naming the path of following him. He points us toward the way and then lets us discover through our missteps and our successes. Freedom deepens and does not ease ambivalence” (p. 94).
“Some common life experiences can lead to ambivalence. Three in particular seem to pave the way: We are likely to feel ambivalent when we attain our dreams, when our gifts are used, and when we’re called to suffer.” (p. 98)
“When our fulfilled dreams fall short of our expectations, we feel ambivalent – we lose hope and in turn lose the energy to love. […] Ambivalence can lead to a jaded, cynical view of love. Love is work; it pays little and requires everything.” (pp. 98-99)
“Gifts, abilities, and past accomplishments are both a curse and a blessing. We love the attention; we hate being wanted solely for our gifts. We would feel lonely if we were not needed; we feel pressure when we are expected to provide for others. […] If we fail to embrace our gifts and their consequences, then our ambivalence will turn to hate, both for our gifts and for the people we are called to serve.” (p. 100)
“If life is predictable, lacks complexity and ambiguity, and requires little of us, then we are bored. If life requires us to enter too deeply into the mystery and muck of life, then we feel overwhelmed. More often than not, we attempt to calculate the ideal point between boredom and chaos but have yet find the safe or thrilling spot. We are destined to feel ambivalence when we recoil from suffering.” (p. 101)
Ambivalence leads to shame whether desiring something bad or not desring something good.
“Shame is the silent killer of intimacy. Like carbon monoxide, it is usually undetectable and deadly. Shame comes one and accusation exposes a dark inner world to others. Shame makes us feel unlovable and unable to love.” (p. 105)
So how do we move toward redemption?
- The Wager of Faith
How do we not lose faith when our experience have been marked by betrayal? Allender lays two truths: (1) we cannot live without trusting someone, and (2) we cannot live without being betrayed. So we make a wager of faith whether it is about getting in an airplane or trusting God:
“The ultimate wager we make each day boils down to God. Is there a God? And is God good?” (p. 113)
Having faith in God is more than believing in His existence. It is trusting that He is “good and just, to reveal himself to us as we seek him.” (p. 114). For that, we need to recall the times when He was there.
“My faith in God’s character grows to the degree I remember God” (p. 114)
“Faith grows as we name the moments in which God appeared and rescued us and then gains a sense of the meaning of those moments for the rest of our lives. Memory is the key to faith” (p. 115)
“We suffer when we remember. And as we suffer, we doubt. It is doubt that sends us on a search to comprehend God. And it is that search that leads us not so much to God as much as it brings God to find us.” (p. 115)
“Because our past, especially our pain, holds the key to our future and to the joy set before us. Our past is a treasure map that, read well, can lead us to vast abundance.” (p. 116)
“Disruption of shalom is the soil God uses to grow us to become the people we are meant to be. When we are disrupted by illness or death, the goal of spiritual maturity is seldom at the forefront of our thinking nor much comfort in our pain. But God knows that joy – real, succulent pleasure – is being like him.” (p. 123)
The way to play this wager is to recall (naming the memories) and recollect (order them by discovering their meaning).
“Which story would claim his heart? The wager is won only when even the smallest story of redemption means more to us than the greatest betrayal and loss” (p. 131)
“What then is faith? It is the childlike wonder in a story so good it can’t be true, but deep down to our toes we know if it is not true then we don’t exist.” (p. 133)
- The Dream of Hope
Powerlessness kills hope: “once we relinquish desire the loss does not seem so severe. But resignation is always a betrayal, not only of desire but also of hope.” (pp. 136-137).
“Hope is the dream of shalom, the anticipation of joy that courses through us and prompts us to rise and rebuild, to envision and risk for what is not yet. Hope takes the experience of loss and powerlessness and uses it as the raw material for writing a new and unexpected story.” (p. 137)
We lose hope when we stop remembering the good stories and our mind focuses on our bad experiences. Faith and Hope are linked together.
“Only the lenses of faith can put suffering into perspective. When faith enables us to remember how God has redeemed portions of our past, our anticipation of when and how he will redeem us in the future increases. Faith is the foundation of our hope; hope is the wind in the sails that takes faith forward into the future.” (p. 139)
In some sense, suffering is necessary for hope to be real. We start to yearn for what is coming, the Day of the Lord, when we will be home.
“If we are not angry, not full of holy fury for the harm evil does, then biblical hope will seem distant and tepid.” (p .142)
“Hope also grows when we experience the best of what this life has to offer and end up hungry still.” (p. 142)
Hope is not wishful thinking, but certainty about the things God promised. It is centered “on the Day of the Lord” (p. 140) On that day, darkness will be destroyed, and those who live in the light will be restored and reconciliation.
The hunger we experience now points to that Day, whether it is food, sex, and vengeance. We desire that now and we want more of it because its function was meant to point to that future when we will experience a full redemption: peace, satisfaction and justice.
“Hope focuses not on circumstances, but on Christ’s coming and the redemption of our character” (p. 146)
“As I become more and more molded by the far future, the now becomes both more bitter and sweet. Bitter in that it is not enough; sweet in its foretaste of what lies ahead.” (p. 146)
“We are meant to sensualize heaven, not spiritualize it with images that bore us to tears.” (p. 146)
So how do we grow in hope?
“We move into the future not with a map, a plan, or a clear structure but with the whisper of a story that reminds us we will again see the goodness of God in the land of the living. The whisper is the voice of God’s Spirit reminding us of the cross and our individual moments of exodus. The whisper is also our own voice that mimics the Spirit by calling our memories to the stage and seeing the themes of redemption time and time again in our lives. God reminds us, we replay the stories, and then we move into the future with the confidence that God is good.” (p. 147)
Hope does not grow naturally. We are required to take risk, to struggle with God’s silence, to surrender to Him and to wait while investing in the present.
“We can’t grow in hope if we are committed to comfort. We must set out for a city we can’t see with no promise of how our journey will progress or end on this earthly plain.” (p. 149)
“Hope is not docile, anemic patience that serenely waits with hands folded and eyes closed. Instead, hope cries to God in despair and protest. Hope cries out for God to turn from his silence and speak.” (p. 150)
“Hope is not an absence of sorrow but a refusal to allow powerlessness to silence our cry or to shake our confidence in God. Instead, we are to call on God to be God – to protest his silence and anticipate the day when he speaks.” (p. 151)
“Surrender is turning over all that we are to God’s mercy. […] Even more, surrender confesses that our deepest desire is not to succeed in business, to marry, to have kids, to be well or simply happy; instead our deepest hunger is to see him. […] surrender frees us to admit our powerlessness, our emptiness, and our hunger for glory.” (p. 153)
“Surrender is holding reality firm in the grip of unflinching honesty while also seeing every moment in the light of the invisible, eternal, and redeemed.” (p. 155)
“Hope wait, but does not sit” (p. 155)
“Hope invests the present with the teeming, brimming abundance that is our promise of glory not only in heaven but now” (p. 157)
“Hope compels us to live for the future by pouring ourselves out as offerings to God in our relationships with others. The primary way we give God glory is through loving others.” (p. 158)
- The Dance of Love
Faith leads to Hope which leads to Love. The experiences of the past shape our perspective of the future which in turn presently invests in loving others.
“Love is the fruit of faith’s memory and hope’s desire. […] It is not possible to love others unless our hearts are growing in faith and hope. Faith and hope birth love as we live out our calling in anticipation of his coming.” (p. 164)
Faith reminds us that we are loved. We can love because we have been loved. God’s grace though is the demonstration of His love for us. Remembering His grace, and therefore love stirs up to a hunger for more. And as we experience love from others, we grow in a desire for being loved and love God more.
“The powerful weight of grace is so great that even an ounce of kindness challenges a ton of neglect and shame. It does not take away the damage nor neutralize its effect, but it does draw the heart to more. The haunting, comforting memory of being loved is the North Star that guides us forward on this odd journey” (p. 165)
Hope dreams of future love.
“It is desire that draws us to love – not only other human beings, but God himself.” (p. 168).
How we love is through “[opening] our ambivalent hearts, [waiting] in desire, [embracing] others for a time, and then [freeing] them to follow the calling of God in their own lives” (p. 169). Opening our hearts is to hear others and to make ourselves available to others. It moves us toward ongoing commitment to them despite the possible disappointments. Suffering pushes us back into a bubble where we feel protected, but isolated. But if we remember the love we have received, we can keep our hearts open to love others.
“Love begins when we ask, seek, and knock. It grows as we commit ourselves to respond to the signs of abundance with an open heart. But shame warns: ‘Don’t be a fool. Don’t get involved. Don’t risk, you will only be sorry.’ And shame is often superficially correct. Desire, when allowed to grow, will inevitably meet disappointment. Love that gives will inevitably get us in trouble. But shame is ultimately a lie. It says we are nothing, no one; being awake and involved will never pay off. The truth is, however, that when we love we discover that one set of kind eyes can boldly face the harsh eyes of a hostile crowd. One kind word can outmaneuver a hoard of hatred. The promise of abundance mocks the illusion of shame’s power.” (p. 173)
As we open our hearts to others, we may not see the fruits of our love. “Love is exhausting,” but it is “sustained by hope.” (p. 173)
“Hope enables us to give and receive while waiting for the fruits of love to grow.” (p. 174)
“Waiting is a bold surrender to desire. […] Waiting requires the discipline to set aside short-term pleasure or quick satisfaction for a greater fulfillment. Waiting is sustained by anticipation of fullness; therefore, it is sustained by dreaming. A believing heart dreams through prayer” (p. 174)
Through desperate and bold prayer, we can wait in hope despite difficult circumstances. In prayer, we refuse to harden our hearts and become cynical. We cry out to God and anticipate His answer.
“Love is the most profound risk of life. We open our hearts and then refuse to harden our hearts or trivialize our desire for full, glorious redemption. We wait without time limits. We anticipate that God will arise and our shame will be averted when he hands us our three loaves of bread” (p. 177)
When the wait is complete, we can embrace others as God embraces us.
“Love is joining God, waiting and looking for the prodigal to return. It is running every time someone we’ve waited for returns, holding them in a jubilant embrace. And then it is shouting: ‘Quick, quick, quick!” Love is knowing our God feels the same and more toward us.” (p. 181)
We embrace but we do not imprison others. Instead, we let them go to fulfill God’s purpose for them.
“Love does not grasp and hold on to others, compelling them to live for us. We care for, provide for, instruct, and rear our children. And then they leave. The same model applies in mentoring relationships.” (p. 182)
The healing path leads us to renewed faith, hope and love. It ultimately leads us to God and his specific calling for us through faith, hope, and love in service to others.
“The healing path takes us beyond self-discovery to God-discovery” (p. 185)
“Faith, hope, and love free us (to a degree) from the regret of the past, the fear of the future, and the emptiness of the present. Our growth inevitably draws us to ask questions about our purpose and calling. […] The healing path does not lead directly to healing, but to engagement” (p. 189)
We are called to a radical life which means to be more like Jesus and to love like Jesus.
“Our calling is to be more in awe of, more willing to risk entry into the stories of others.” (p. 196)
We love like Jesus when we disturb, draw, and direct others to Him.
- Disturbing others
“God disturbs us. And he calls us to disturb and disrupt one another. Otherwise, why are the wounds of a friend considered a sign of faithfulness (Prov 27:6)? Disruption stirs the pot of complacency and brings to the surface the burnt pieces that we would prefer to sink to the bottom” (p. 199)
“It is not difficult to see areas of failure in others, but it requires a kindness and a depth of participation that may cost us the relationship if we speak. The difficulty is rarely in knowing what to say, but in saying it with a heart that grieves for the other’s pain and depravity and dreams for their freedom and glory” (p. 200)
- Drawing others
“Jesus also gave us each other; we are all members of his body, and we are called to draw each other forward on the healing path through courage-giving care. We know the word as ‘encouragement,’ but often that word is merely a synonym for a nice compliment. Encouragement – the drawing forth of another’s courage, strength, resolve, and passion – comes from offering him a glimpse of God’s delight” (p. 201)
- Directing others
“A radical life is willing to be directed and also to direct others on the healing path, where they will grow in faith, hope, and love” (p. 203)
“Most of the time directing comes through asking questions that expose the state of the heart” (p. 204)
“When we are directed, we follow the brilliance of God, who reveals our nakedness, sometimes simply by asking which bush we are hiding behind. To be directed and exposed by God is to discover how he would have us live out our unique calling” (p. 205)
So what is our unique calling?
“Our general calling is to be human and bring glory to God – to delight in good food and be in awe of the rumbling thunder, to glory in what both point us toward. But what is our unique calling? It is to use (and be used by) our stories to tell the story of God” (p. 205)
“To respond to our individual calling is to live out the themes of our stories – themes that fill us with sorrow, anger, pleasure, and joy – for God’s glory” (p. 206)
“A burden is a passion that typically arises from the mesh of our story. As a result, to neglect our burden is to lose our soul.” (p. 207)
“Calling is often thought of as what we do – our occupation. There are times when a calling is also an occupation, but more often than not, calling is how we live out our burdens in conscious and committed use of ourselves for the glory of God. […] I’m called to live out the gospel in whatever sphere I wish to enter that enables me to use my gifts, talents, and skills to bless others and glorify God.” (p. 208)
We bless others by inviting them to live: “to expose depravity and draw forth dignity.” (p. 212). Our conversations must have a flavor of redemption. We do it by following these stages:
- Present to the Past: “The past clues us in to the ways a person has tried to make his life work apart from God” (p. 214). The present issues often reflect the past issues.
“One of the best ways to find the door is to notice how the person draws you in or keeps you at a distance. The people who draw you in often fear loneliness more than shame. Those who keep you at a distance usually fear shame more than loneliness. Most people will draw and distance simultaneously.” (p. 218)
“Curiosity and vulnerability are our best tools for entering a person’s heart. Once the door is open, then one must find the ‘tension point’ or plot that is the current matter of concern to the other.” (p. 220)
“It is God’s passionate business to send us into the stories of others” (p. 222)
- Past to the Future: “Understanding what a person desires and what she fears gives us a deeper sense of what controls her heart” (p. 214)
“There is an ache in every soul. No matter how good life has been to us, we want what only heaven can provide” (p. 224)
“Resistance comes in too many forms and shapes[…], but three primary types usually emerge: abstraction, dismissal, or contempt” (p. 226)
“People in pain want to talk. They are very forgiving of our errors as long as we are neither pushy nor arrogant.” (p. 231)
- Future to the Present: “Reflecting on the future invites a person to consider his unknown, unformed potential to give and receive love. Movement from the future to the present challenges him to change and face whatever keeps him from loving and being loved” (p. 215)
- Present to Eternity: “By returning to a person’s present struggles we can open the door for her to understand her need for deeper relationship with the eternal God” (p. 215). In other words, a person who seek love seeks perfect love: being loved unconditionally and love unconditionally – which is possible only through Jesus.
“A person’s standing before God is never my personal burden; it is God’s. My calling is to intrigue, disrupt, and invite the other person to consider his own heart.” (p. 235)
Allender ends the book with how a community of sojourners would look like. Indeed, we are sojourners on earth. We long for home, but heaven is home. Therefore we ought to live this life as Abrahams.
“A community of sojourners must leave the land of comfort and walk the healing path toward a better city than we enjoy now.” (p. 237)
“We are to be in the world, but not wage life according to the basic human principles that determine good and bad, in and out.” (p. 239).
“We should strive to ‘fit in’ almost every way that gives us access to those we are called to love, but without every buying into the basic rules required to be a full-fledged, 100-percent, card-carrying member of a particular group. […] There is something wrong with every culture and group, and to affirm any as the basis of identity and the substance of life is to find a home rather than to live as a sojourner.” (p. 240)
So where do we start? We are called to be a “church without walls.” We start to be the church where we are. We redeem the places and activities (called “Agora”by the author) what we love to the glory of God.
“We cannot do so (and were never meant to do so) as a building that unbelievers occasionally visit or as a protest movement that merely lobbies for a Christian world-view. Instead, we are meant to be in the midst of society, conducting business, writing plays, selling paintings, drinking coffee, and infiltrating the world with faith, hope, and love.” (p. 241)
“We are to create agoras not merely for the sake of evangelism, but in order to celebrate the glory of the place, to fill it with life and delight that draws others to frequent it. […] The agora is wherever your heart says, ‘Yes, I love it here,’ and ‘No, I won’t let evil win. I will stand and fight the effects of the fall.’ ” (p. 242)
“The healing path is first and last about engagement. It is through engagement with you that that I learn to hope more deeply for us. It is through hope that God slowly heals past brokenness on the basis of future promise.” (p. 243)
We are not meant to be alone in this task. We are called to be together with fellow believers as “apostles” sent in this world. We encourage each other not to let sin harden our heart. We go together in the places where we are called to glory in Christ. We share our skills and gifts with each other to build up the body of Christ.
“We need a diverse group of people whose life stories, burdens, and training facilitate different aspects of disturbing, drawing, and directing others to Jesus.” (p. 246)
To be able to stick together, we ought to be available, responsible and accountable.
“We may like each other and spend time hanging out, but even then our commitment will be no deeper than the sacrifice we have made for each other. It is sacrifice, sorrow, and blood that bind the hearts of warriors and lovers together, not mere fraternity. If we don’t bleed together, then when times are tough we will likely not cleave to each other.” (p. 248)
- Availability and Faith: it is opening hearts to each other. It is going beyond the superficiality of acknowledgment. It is confessing our wrongs to each other and admitting our need for grace.
“Friendly conversation can be a wonderful prologue to more meaningful engagement. It can also be a mockery of true community. Nothing is wrong with small talk as long as one’s heart is alert enough to see cracks in the conversation that may allow for deeper entry into the other’s heart”
“True faith remembers. It remembers God’s open arms waiting for us. Faith remembers the moments of embrace and the sweetness of reconciliation: As I have been loved, I am called to remain open to you” (p. 249)
“Confession remembers a day of intimacy and sees the current division in light of what was once a relationship of shalom. […] Ultimately, availability is a hunger to be forgiven, and an openness to bless and forgive.” (p. 250)
- Responsibility and Hope: Responsibility is to be “response-able,” i.e. “to have the capacity to play” (p. 250). It is listening and respond to others “with your full presence for the sake of another’s future.” (p. 253)
“To be ‘response-able’ is to live with our senses alive, to gather data given to us by others and then respond to it in terms of achieving the greatest pleasure and privilege known to humankind: growing glory. […] Hope free us to respond – to be ‘response-able’ to new data and new opportunities that lead to far greater joy” (p. 252)
“To be playful is to enter the battle of life for others just as you are, accepting your limitations while dreaming of the unlimited and redeemed.” (p. 253)
- Accountability and Love
“When we think of sojourning together for a common purpose, may Christians think only of ‘holding each other accountable’ – make sure (‘in love,’ of course) that everyone is doing their part for the kingdom. But accountability is not the process of chiding one another to be more faithful, nor is it merely encouraging others to be what they were meant to be. […] We are meant to weep together, marvel about each other, and with gratitude, let the sun set. Accountability means to recount the day together.” (p. 253)
“Accountability is storytelling in a round that brings each voice into play, ultimately forming a chorus that sings in praise of forgiveness, glories in the harvest to come, and rests in the gratitude of a day done.” (p. 254)
Lastly, we as a community weave in worship. It is necessary to look upward or the present things will continue to lead to disappointment and idolatry.
“Awe and gratitude must be expressed or they remain unplanted seeds.” (p. 254)
“We are either propelled to a vertical world or saddened that even the richness of the horizontal is still not enough. Horizontal, human awe and gratitude eventually will either become a self-indulgent demand for more or will drive us to peer into the heaves to rejoice in the invisible maker of all glory” (p. 255)
“Worship is the prize for leaving our home and cleaving to our friends. Worship is eating and drinking and dancing at the party where we are the honored guests when we ought to be despised outcasts. Worship is the rest that strengthens us to serve” (p. 257)
I was not sure what to expect from this book when I received it. It was painful to read because much pain came out. I realized how stuck I was and am. I saw my own patterns of destruction and cynicism. In some sense, I lost faith, hope and love. I felt betrayed by God and others. I felt powerless as for this life: “There’s nothing for me.” I felt the ambivalence of continuing to follow Jesus but also the risk of doing so. Will I be disappointed again? The intensity of past pains has paralyzed me more than I thought, but this book has also encouraged me to look at my past to find faith again. I saw the brightness of God’s presence through some people who have demonstrated His generous love. The book has also pushed me to look further into the future to accept the reality of the present. This earth is no home. What I crave for cannot be satisfied fully now. I am a sojourner, and there is hope for something much better to come. Lastly, the book has renewed the desire to love people despite the risk of rejection. Of course, this is a slow process. True healing takes time, but at least, I have grown a bit more in understanding what is going on within me.
I have summarized the concepts in the following diagram. I recommend reading the book to get a better grasp though.