Author Archives: RickHocker

The God Particle

“I believe that God is in me as the sun is in the colour and fragrance of a flower ­– the Light in my darkness, the Voice in my silence.” —Helen Keller.

Most of us think of God as being outside, up there, or elsewhere. “He is high and lifted up,” said the prophet Isaiah. And shouldn’t He be since He is so holy? What’s remarkable is that the God who dwells in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16) can also dwell in us feeble and broken humans and is willing to do so. “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).

One of my most life-changing insights was when God showed me what resided at my spiritual center. I had expected something dark or sinister, but what I beheld at my deepest core blew me away. It was God Himself. I already believed that God’s Spirit dwelt inside me, but I’d been taught that the Spirit ebbed and I needed to ask to be refilled every day as if my spiritual tank would run dry if I didn’t. It had never occurred to me that God was an enduring and integral part of my spiritual makeup. God is the foundation onto which my soul is built.

God Within Us

Water drops in the atmosphere, such as those in clouds, are created when water vapor condenses on tiny particles of dust. At the center of every water drop is a tiny particle. I now see my soul in the same way. My soul is wrapped around a tiny particle of God, but this particle is infinite, boundless. If I were to plunge into my innermost center, I would find God in His fullness. The deeper I descend into the ever-tighter center-point, the more spacious the view.

When shopping yesterday, I became awestruck on realizing that everyone around me was also a God particle wrapped in a soul. People have inestimable value because they carry God within them. Each of us contains a “drop of glory.”1

St. Teresa of Avila was a sixteenth-century nun and mystic who wrote Interior Castle. In her book, she described the soul as a castle with a series of mansions though which one journeys toward the central mansion. She wrote that God’s mansion “is the centre of the soul itself.”2 I interpret her statement to mean that God Himself dwells at our innermost center.

Flow From Within

In my book, Four in the Garden, Cherished learned that he could connect to Creator via a special connection found at his innermost center. This divine connection was called an umbilicore. It functioned as a spiritual umbilical cord from which he received nourishment from Creator. As in the story, God dwells inside us at our center, and His Life flows outward to nourish our souls.

God’s Spirit or God’s Life is often described as a spring of water that wells up inside us. In John 7:37, Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’” The flow of living water comes from our innermost center because that’s where God dwells.

God’s Accessibility

Having God at my center implies that God is always accessible to me. I used to view God like a switch that would get turned off if I felt unworthy or guilty. I pictured Him as moving further away depending on my behavior. Then I would have to work to close the gap between us. But, now, I only need to find God at my center, and my experience of God is almost immediate. It sounds too easy.

Believing that I’m connected to God enables my connection. Feelings of doubt will shut it down. If I don’t believe that I can connect to God, then I don’t. Unworthiness or guilt still interfere, but the best cure for those things is connecting to God. So I push past those feelings, find God, and connect to Him, then those feelings fade away.

I realize that what I’m describing is not most people’s experience of God. God is elusive or distant for most. My intent in writing this is to declare that God is not far away from you. He is closer than you think, closer than your own breath. He is at your innermost center and available to you. We haven’t been taught how to look for God. We don’t know how to look inward, but that’s where God is found. It’s also where your soul is found. Navigating the soul’s treacherous terrain requires courage. To find God, we much deal with the stuff in our souls because that stuff gets in the way.

Press in. Dig deep. Gaze into your soul. Deal with your stuff. If you persevere, you will encounter God. The goal isn’t to encounter God or to connect to God although those experiences can be fulfilling. The true goal is to fall in love with God and to nurture a relationship with Him. In the context of relationship we come to know God in a way that transcends what we read in a book. God becomes real to us, and we become a conduit as He flows out from our innermost being into the lives of others.

1 Rick Hocker, Four in the Garden, page 185
2 St. Theresa of Avila, Interior Castle, page 154

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His goal was to help people have a close relationship with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html
Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

The Purpose of Pain

I’ve noticed a growing trend in our society marked by an aversion to pain. I suspect this trend is due to the easy availability of drugs that mask pain. It seems as if pain is another malady to be conquered by science, along with cancer and heart disease. But pain is not a disease. We forget that pain is a natural and helpful mechanism meant to inform us when something is wrong. We tend to not listen to our bodies and, thus, not listen to our pain. Pain is a symptom, not a problem. When we mask our pain, we stifle the messages our bodies are trying to give us. We need to learn to listen.

I don’t intend to take on the drug companies or to convince you to not take pain medications. Instead, I want to explore the workings of pain in our lives and what we can learn from it. I believe pain can be our teacher.

Learning from Pain

At its most basic level, pain is a warning. It triggers when we touch something hot or when we injure ourselves. We feel pain when something is wrong inside us, such as a stomachache or headache. From the pain messages, we learn what behaviors to avoid, such as not touching the hot stovetop. We also learn new behaviors, such as wearing sunglasses when spending hours in the bright sun. If pain is repetitive, then we need to change our behaviors to mitigate the pain, such as not eating foods that give us heartburn. Listen to the messages your body is giving you and try to learn from them.

These principles also apply to emotional pain. Can we learn from our pain to change our behaviors so we aren’t inflicting pain on ourselves or allowing others to inflict pain on us? What is your pain telling you? If you’re experiencing emotional pain, you’ll be tempted to mask or medicate it. But sit with it long enough to understand it and to learn what you need to do to remedy it. If you medicate your pain, then you’re only treating the symptom and remain in the dark as to its cause. Seek to understand its cause so you can correct it.

Transformed by Pain

In my book, Four in the Garden, Creator said, “The soul attains full maturation when transformed by life of which pain is an integral component.” Pain has value if we allow it to transform us. Pain has spiritual purpose. The apostle, Paul, understood this and sought to partake in Christ’s sufferings as a way to know Christ better and to become more like Him. “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.” (Philippians 3:10). I admit this concept is far beyond me, but I recognize that Paul’s attitude toward suffering is rare when compared to the importance placed on minimizing pain these days. This is evident in advertisements that promote weight loss or great abs without exercising. What happened to “no pain, no gain?”

Paul believed that suffering had the power to raise us to a higher spiritual state. “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17). This power isn’t found in the suffering itself, but in God’s ability to use the suffering to our benefit when we trust Him to do so. God can only transform what we hand over to Him. During my back injury, I believed there was some spiritual purpose in it, although I couldn’t see it at the time. Nevertheless, I trusted God during that dark time and entrusted my body and soul to Him, believing He could use the situation to bring about spiritual growth in me. Had I not done so, I doubt I would have learned or grown as much as I had.

Paul saw benefits to suffering. “Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” (Romans 5:3-4). Paul lists three areas that can develop from suffering: perseverance, character, and hope. Learning to endure pain develops perseverance that helps us stick it out during long or tough challenges in life. Perseverance produces character that is more focused on others than on our own comfort. And character leads to hope that, in this context, means an abiding trust in God during times of trial where reward and gratification are delayed, but still believed in.

God’s Intention

If, during our suffering, we focus on our misery and complain, I believe we can sabotage God’s intention to use it to transform us. Even of Jesus, it is said that He was made perfect through suffering (Hebrews 2:10). If Jesus, our example, needed to suffer to be made perfect, then much more do we need to be perfected through life’s experiences. An attitude of trust is important. Can you entrust your painful circumstances to God so He can use it to deepen your character? Our transformation has paramount importance to God, more than our comfort. Our bodies and circumstances don’t last forever, but our souls do, so God is invested in developing our souls, making them ready for eternity.

I believe we will continue to grow in the next life, but this life is about developing an elasticity and humility that fosters the greatest capacity for future growth. Through life’s experiences, we can develop a spiritual capacity for partaking in God’s abundant and overflowing Life and Spirit. Without the necessary transformation to our souls, we won’t be able to contain the immensity of such abundance and Presence.

Benefits of Pain

One lesson I learned from pain is a deeper acceptance and trust. It’s natural to resist pain and discomfort. I resisted the thought that I would be permanently disabled. But God was saying to me, “What if you don’t get better? Will you trust Me anyway?” I wrestled with that question for some time. In the end, the question boiled down to, “Is God trustworthy or not?” I decided He was trustworthy and would be no less able to care for me if I were permanently disabled. What helped me was meeting a lady named Marcy ten years earlier. When I met her, she was still confined to bed because of a back injury five years prior. She radiated joy and gratitude in spite of her disability and had tremendous trust in God.

Another lesson I learned during that time was to live in the present moment. During my injury, I kept dreading the future, seeing it as an unmanageable burden. I also looked back at the many months of immobility and debt, and got depressed about the unproductive time of being confined to bed and not making income. God taught me to focus on Him in the moment and to not dwell on the past or future. He reminded me that He doesn’t inhabit the past or future. Those things are abstract and have no present reality. But God dwells in the present and we can experience Him there. When we focus on the past or future, we sever our active connection to God because we jump into our minds to obsess on past events or future worries.

One surprising benefit I discovered was that focusing on the present moment made my pain more manageable. The thought of an entire day of pain was crushing, but I found I could manage the current moment of pain I was experiencing. And I would manage the next moment of pain, and then the next. I didn’t worry about how I would get through the day or week or month. Instead, I stayed in the moment and managed that moment. This is a great way to tackle life when it feels overwhelming. Also, it keeps us centered on God who inhabits the present moment and makes Himself available to us in that moment.

Character and Maturity

Today’s society is accustomed to instant gratification. I worry that we are losing the virtues of sacrifice, denial, and delayed gratification. During World War II, when rationing was enacted, the entire country made voluntary sacrifices to support the war effort. The Great Depression and World War II taught my parents how to make sacrifices and to live on less. I see how those instilled values created an incredible generosity in my parents. Pain and suffering can do the same for us. Pain can teach us humility, endurance, willingness to suffer for others, and gratitude for what we have.

James encourages us be grateful for our trials. “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4). Our reason for joy is that when we persevere, it produces a complete maturity that Paul defines as “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:13). And that is God’s intention for our transformation, that we be filled with the fullness of God and, thus, bear His image in all its glory.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His goal was to help people have a close relationship with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html
Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

Creating Space for God

What does it mean to have a relationship with God? How do we relate to someone who we can’t see, hear, or touch? How can God be more real to us?

An Inward Experience

Sometimes, we experience God in a dramatic, physical way, but God is most often experienced inwardly. He interacts with and inhabits our inner beings. We encounter Him and relate to Him within our inner selves. I’m not talking about our minds. I’m referring to our core nature of who we are as spiritual beings, our eternal essence as unique individuals apart from our bodies, our souls.

For most of us, this inner space is unfamiliar, if not frightening. Yet, it’s within this space we encounter God. This inner space isn’t always a tranquil retreat where we hear the whisperings of God. Rather, it’s dark or chaotic or rife with painful emotion. How fitting that God should meet us there, in the midst of our confusion and pain.

The problem then becomes that of clutter. This inner space is full of our egoic luggage, our emotions, our repetitive thoughts, our replayed stories of regret and betrayal. This stuffed interior leaves no room for God. So no wonder why He seems so far away.

Clearing a Space

We need to create a space for God within ourselves, a space He can inhabit, a space where He can interact with us in a meaningful way. We need to clear some of our clutter. The truth is we are all hoarders. We hoard everything we think and feel, stashing it all inside. We hoard words spoken against us, negative emotions, judgments, fears, and whatever makes us feel secure. A lifetime’s worth of collecting. How then is God expected to find a place within us to meet with us?

I’m not asking you to get rid of all your stuff, although it would be liberating if you did. What I am asking is that you clear a small space within yourselves, an open space that’s devoid of ego and agendas and expectations, a space that stands as an invitation for God to come and roost for at least as long as that space exists before your internal clutter rolls back and fills it again. Find a way to create that space for God whether through prayer or meditation or long walks. Think of this space as an empty spot within yourselves He can fill with His presence.

In Revelation 3:20, Jesus says He is knocking on the door of our hearts, asking to be invited in. “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” God never forces Himself. He waits to be invited. For me, the invitation is more than setting aside time for God, but also creating a space where He can enter and feel welcome. We wouldn’t ask a guest to enter a room so stuffed with boxes stacked to the ceiling that only one person could squeeze in. I think of my interior as a room I can make cozy for God, a place He would want to visit. The aforementioned verse uses the illustration of a meal with God. A shared meal is a perfect example of comfortable fellowship, conversation, and laughter, something that God is asking us to invite Him to do with us. The Bible says that Jesus comes to dwell in our hearts through faith (Ephesians 3:17). By faith, we invite Him, but I believe He inhabits us by degrees, to the extent we create space for Him to fill with His being. A few verses later (Ephesians 3:19, also Ephesians 4:13), Paul describes the ultimate goal of attaining the whole measure of the fullness of God. My thinking is that God can only fill what has been made empty.

Cultivating Relationship

After you have created that space, spend time there. Get comfortable with it. Get to know it as you know yourself. Speak to God from that place. Be open to answers. God may point out some of the surrounding clutter and ask you to do something about it. Or you may choose to show your hoarded stuff to God and ask His help to get rid of it. The more you clear, the bigger space you create for God to inhabit.

This exchange is a conversation of sorts. You share your inner self with God. You share your thoughts and fears. You communicate with Him throughout your day. And you quiet yourself to receive His peace and comfort, to receive his Life and Being. He may even impart messages to you. As in any relationship, this exchange is characterized by quality time spent together, shared experiences, and mutual disclosures. I believe God is as real as we allow Him to be.

Over time, God reveals Himself to us in response to our risk in trusting Him. The space we create for God expands. We include God in our thought processes and decisions. We rely on God more and we look to Him for direction. Direction from God takes the form of a sense of imparted peace and presence regarding decisions and a felt assurance that God is with us and leading us. This way of relating to God needs to be cultivated and becomes a habitual practice of engaging God in our daily lives. At a deeper level, we allow God access to our inner selves and we partake of God’s life as a vital source of empowerment and nurture.

Being Real

God is most real when we are real with Him. That’s why our interactions with Him need to be honest, free from disguises and manipulation. We don’t bring to God our best selves. That doesn’t get us far with God, since He sees our hearts and knows when we are false. God desires truthfulness in our innermost being (Psalm 51:6). Instead, we bring to God our true selves. Fearful, impoverished, uncertain, wounded, we present ourselves to God, and He receives us and loves us as we are. And love is most richly experienced in the context of relationship. God desires a love relationship with us. As we allow God to love us, we grow in our love toward God and in our experience of Him.

God inhabits our inward selves. When we create space within us for God to inhabit, then we can interact with God and cultivate relationship with Him. If you want more of God, then you have to relinquish more of yourself. Jesus challenges us to surrender our entire selves when He said, “Whoever loses their life will preserve it.” (Luke 17:33)

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His goal was to help people have a close relationship with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html
Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

Sale of Newly Updated Version of “Four in the Garden”

Four in the Garden is newly updated. This week and next, the second edition of Four in the Garden is on sale in all the online stores. I spent a year revising Four in the Garden, applying what I have learned about writing in the last few years and adjusting the story based on feedback I’ve received. I added two new chapters, also. The e-book sale price is $0.99 and the paperback sale price is $7.99. The sale ends August 26th. If you have any friends who you think might be interested, please let them know about the sale. Thanks.

Here are the Amazon links:
Paperback: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0991557700/
E-book: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00POGV5F4

On August 27th, the e-book price returns to $4.99. The paperback price returns to $14.99 on September 1st.

Overcoming Fear

Addressing fear takes more than applying methods or formulas. It requires a shift in consciousness, a new way of thinking. While preparing to write this article, God told me:

“Fear has everything to do with one’s relationship with oneself.”

I’ve been thinking about that statement for the past week and will try to unpack it for you.

A Fearful Parent

How do you relate to yourself? Take time to think about your answer. Try to put it into words. Do you behave as an over-protective parent who always fears for the welfare of her child? Or do you behave as a judgmental parent who always finds fault with his child? Do you behave as a controlling parent who puts strict limits on her child? In these examples, the parent is you and the child is your life. By substituting these terms, the first example describes a fear-based person who relates to her life by always thinking of potential misfortune or harm. In a real way, we parent ourselves by encouraging or discouraging our growth by the judgments we make about our lives.

When fear is active, then our response to life will be to protect, resist, or contract. We focus on ourselves and on what we risk losing. This focus on self creates a climate of fear within us. In this mindset, we see ourselves as threatened and powerless. We perceive our lives as small bubbles, and everything that exists outside our bubbles are a potential threat. Because we view the world as a threat, we take an oppositional stance against life. We resist all intrusions, both real and imagined, against our protected bubbles.

Moving Beyond Fear

To move beyond fear, we need to change how we see ourselves. Instead of regarding ourselves as tiny bubbles of existence fighting to survive, we choose to view ourselves as part of a larger whole, where we and the whole are not at odds with each other.

What is this whole? The whole is everything that comprises the universe. It is God who holds it all together. The whole is the greater Life that encompasses your life. It is the continuous flow of creation, decay, death, and transformation in which we all take part, whether consenting or not.

When we focus on the whole, we find it easier to trust because our stories are recognized as part of a larger story. This larger story is about the inherent goodness of God and the constancy of God. When we fix our attention on this overarching theme, what happens to us matters little because we’re more focused on participating in God and less focused on preserving our bubbles. We cannot do both. So we entrust our tiny bubbles to God—they were never really ours in the first place—and now identify with the grander, all-encompassing bubble that is God. We overcome fear by entrusting our fragile lives to God and choosing to not focus on ourselves or on what may happen to us.

Moving Away from Self

When we shift our focus from our tiny selves onto God, we learn to trust that God is bigger than our little stories. We take on a new story that is no longer about us, but about God’s activity in us and through us. The larger story of God’s sweep across all lives subsumes the smaller stories of our single selves.

We learn to trust the flow that carries us from event to event, from change to change, through difficulty and pain. We entrust ourselves to the whole, to the flow that is Life. We entrust ourselves to God, believing He will bring us to our destination. Our destination, in case you wondered, is God Himself.

How do we do this when we’ve spent our entire lives focused on ourselves? It means laying down our stories and our control over those narratives. It means giving God control over our stories and letting Him direct them. When we don’t like the direction He is taking us, we trust instead of resisting.

Trusting Life and God

Because of this new identification with the larger story, we can learn to no longer fear life, but trust it, even embrace it. From this new vantage point, we can define life as participation in the flow of God that requires our willingness to be transformed. If we’re to trust life, then we need to accept all stages of existence, including decay and death. Pain and suffering are an unavoidable part of life. Instead of resisting them, we learn to accept them as part of the whole, no longer judging them as needless or terrible. God inhabits both suffering and joy. He inhabits the entire spectrum of life.

When we resist life, we won’t grow. In my book, Four in the Garden, the Teachers tell Cherished, “Nothing is ever annihilated. When Creator destroys something, its substance is merely transformed. The rhythm of the universe is transformation.” Natural phenomena demonstrate this principle of transformation. Since this principle is elemental to life, then we ought not to resist it. When we accept change and hardship, then we move through life with grace and peace, and are transformed by it. God’s purpose is that we be transformed more and more into His image (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Connection

When we perceive our connection to this larger whole, then our lives have greater meaning. We see ourselves as an integral part of things rather than separate from them. When we’re connected, we don’t feel as threatened, so we have less reason to resist or fear. Our little self becomes hidden in God (Colossians 3:3) and embraced by God. Life is less scary because we are in God and with God. We choose to believe in the goodness of God to sustain us along the journey, no matter where our journey takes us.

A focus on self reinforces our perception of separateness. Separateness creates isolation. It’s the sense of isolation that creates fear. We believe we are alone and must fend for ourselves. Thus, we must protect and defend our tiny bubbles of existence. That’s why we need to shift to a viewpoint that is larger than self. We can enhance our sense of connection by reminding ourselves we are not separate and by telling ourselves we are already connected to God. We can’t grow in our relationship with God if we believe we are always disconnected from Him.

A Larger Vision

A larger vision of connection to and participation in God frees us from fear because we no longer have to worry about our bubbles. God invites us to share in His being and to let go of our tiny self-bubbles, to join Him in the flow of His Spirit. Our focus shifts from our little lives to the greater Life that is God. We move from a self-centered focus to a God-centered focus. When we fear, we focus inward and contract. When we trust, we focus outward toward God and expand.

When we’re connected, God ceases to be “out there.” We become joined with Him in relationship. Our life becomes connected to His Life. When God interacts with us, it will be from the inside out, not the other way around. He meets us at the intersection where spirit touches Spirit, where deep touches Deep.

The Trusting Parent

At the proper time, a parent gives up control over her child when her child has matured. When this time comes, the parent allows his child to make mistakes and learn from them, to experience the world without parental supervision. She entrusts her child to God, believing that God will take care of her child. Like a trusting parent, we need to give up control and entrust our lives to God. We transfer our parental rights to God, allowing God to be the parent over us, a parent more patient and loving than we could ever be. We release our tight grip on our lives and choose to have a loose grip, instead, allowing God freedom to have His way.

As we relax our grip, we release fear. At the same time, releasing our grip is terrifying to our egos. It’s illustrated by the difference between clutching the side of a deep swimming pool or floating in the middle. We fear the depths may swallow us, so we clutch something for security. We will never learn to trust if we never let go. God coaxes us to release our tight grip on life and trust Him to keep us afloat. Real trust clings to nothing, but believes God is our life-vest each moment.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His goal was to help people have a close relationship with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html
Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

When God Feels Far Away

In my book, Four in the Garden, the protagonist, Cherished, loses his connection to Creator. Because of this loss, Cherished feels as though Creator has abandoned him. In the story, I had neglected to show that Creator stayed close. I recently revised my book and added this missing scene. In this new scene, Creator kneels next to Cherished as he weeps. We see Creator’s pain and emotion regarding the damage to their relationship. We see Creator’s longing for the relationship to be restored. Cherished can’t see or hear Creator, but Creator has not abandoned him.

We all have experienced times where God seemed absent, not listening, or uncaring. During those times, our prayers feel empty and futile. We can’t connect to God. It feels as if all lines of communication have been cut. It’s tempting to give up on God when He seems unresponsive. But God says that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Deut. 31:6, Hebrews 13:5). So in spite our perceptions, God is not far from each one of us, according to Paul (Acts 17:27).

Pain and Fear

This perceived distancing from God has many possible causes, but I want to discuss two of them: pain and fear. Pain or fear blocks our experience of God. Think of them as loud noises that drown out all other sounds, including God. They steal our attention and focus away from God and onto ourselves.

When I was dealing with back pain, it took all my energy to manage my pain. When my pain was severe, I could barely carry a conversation or watch television. The pain pulled all my attention inward. I found it difficult to focus on anything except the pain because it was intense and constant. Because of that, I found it almost impossible to connect to God or feel God. The pain was much louder than God. We believe we need God most when we’re in pain, but our pain hinders our experience God during those times, so God may feel far away. Nevertheless, when we suffer, God suffers with us (Isaiah 63:9).

Love is Greater Than Pain

During my back injury, God did break through on rare occasions and remind me that His love was no less real. Some of you may see a contradiction between God’s love and pain. One might ask, “How could God be loving if He let you suffer such pain?” But I was able to embrace the paradox where love can coexist with pain, even excruciating pain. I think the best example of that is Jesus hanging on the cross and forgiving those who condemned Him. God’s love supersedes our pain. My pain did not negate God’s love. Instead of turning from God, I entrusted my pain to Him and entrusted my body to His care, because I believed that His love was greater than my pain.

If you are experiencing pain of any kind, whether physical or emotional, don’t be surprised if God seems far away to you. Your pain acts as a veil that blocks or hinders your ability to access God. Pain is a primary, raw sensation that overrides our subtle spiritual senses. Pain has that effect on everyone. But don’t assume that God has abandoned you. God is with you. Joshua 1:9 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Moving Through Pain

My advice is to entrust your pain to God. Don’t hold it close, but keep a loose grip on it so God has ready access to it. Secondly, try to move through your pain. Pain has stages, and we tend to emotionally resist the intense stages, so we get stuck on one side of the valley and never complete the spiritual crossing because we’re afraid. As we give God access to our pain, we give Him permission to heal us and transform us. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” We may never understand why our lives have pain, but we trust God with our lives and with our pain, believing He can create something good from it.

Fear is Self-Centered

Fear is the other state that blocks God. It operates the same as pain in that it steals our attention and focus. When we are afraid, we pull inward, our body constricts, our thoughts center on self. By contrast, trust is characterized by relaxing and reaching outward. If we trust and relax, then we can float during stormy seas. If we fear and panic, then we fight and resist the waters, and cause ourselves to sink. When we fear, we close ourselves off from God because we curl up like a pill bug, shielding ourselves from everything outside of our vulnerable self. When we choose to trust, entrusting our fear to God, we make ourselves open to His activity and peace. “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you,” says Isaiah 36:3.

Many years ago, I struggled with low self-esteem. I was convinced that no one liked me. I carried a continual fear of rejection. Because of my fear, I behaved in ways that gave people more reason to keep their distance. Their behavior caused me to withdraw more, to be more insecure and awkward, which pushed people even further away. One thing I learned from that struggle was how fear draws energy from self-focus. My need to be liked put my focus on me. Fear centers on ourselves, what we risk losing. When we focus on ourselves, we can’t receive much from God. When we trust, we shift our focus from ourselves onto God and open a channel for Him to help us. If your fear is active and God feels far away, it may be that your fear is blocking His ability to comfort and help. Next month, I will write about ways one can overcome fear.

God can do so much more for us when we trust Him. When we fear, we make the situation about us and keep God at a distance. If we want God’s involvement in our lives, then we need to learn to trust Him.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His goal was to help people have a close relationship with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html
Website: http://www.rickhocker.com
Email: mail@rickhocker.com

Accepting All Outcomes

Life rarely turns out the way we prefer. Someone hurts us. We get sick. We suffer loss. If we believe in God, we turn to God for help. We pray for reconciliation, for healing, for provision. Sometimes, our requests aren’t granted, even when our requests are legitimate and sincere.

One reason people lose faith is because they relied on God to help them, but God seemingly let them down. They asked for something important, but God didn’t give it. Their conclusion is that God doesn’t exist or God doesn’t care. In either case, they lost faith.

Foolish Expectations

It’s foolish to expect God to grant our every request. What I mean is that we need to be careful with our expectations. It’s virtuous to ask God to meet our needs and to trust Him to do so. But His answer to our need may not align with our desired result. If we expect a certain result, then we set ourselves up for disappointment. God is not obligated to deliver the result we want.

When I was bedridden with a back injury, I prayed for healing, but I got worse, to the point where I was in too much pain to move. I was trusting God, but it wasn’t working as I expected. Eventually, I realized that I had misplaced my trust. My trust was in getting healed, not in God Himself. Notice the difference. I was putting my faith in a specific outcome, not in God’s care for me.

Trust in God, not Outcomes

God wants me to put my faith in Him and not in an outcome. I had to be willing to trust God with permanent disability. That required a much deeper trust than what I was exercising. I needed to entrust God with my life and my future. This was the level of trust that God wanted from me, trusting Him with any outcome, believing He would take care of me no matter what the circumstance.

So when you pray, be careful with your expectations. Don’t “expect” God to meet your desires, although you can still ask God to meet them. Rather, expect God to work in your life or the lives of others according to His good purpose. His purpose for us isn’t a trouble-free life. His purpose for us is to know Him and to grow in love and trust. And those things only happen when life challenges us. So rely on God, not outcomes. Learn to trust God with those outcomes. Believe that His love is enough to carry you through any trial. Allow His purpose to transform you into the person He wants you to be, a reflection of God Himself.

We Decide How Bad Things Are

One way to accept undesirable outcomes is to realize that things are only as bad as you judge them. Your response to circumstances depends on what you tell yourself about them. We decide how bad something is. Then we respond according to our judgment. Imagine that you discovered the word “bigot” spray-painted on the side of your car. This would trigger many feelings for most people. If you tell yourself this is a terrible and unbearable situation, your emotions will escalate in response. You will be more upset and angry. If you tell yourself this situation is manageable, then your emotions will be more tempered.

You think you respond to situations. The truth is that you respond to your “thoughts” about a situation. If you think something is horrible, then you will act as though it’s horrible. If you think something is not so bad, then you will act accordingly. So, be careful with what you tell yourself about your circumstances. Your thoughts determine whether your life is awful or manageable. Your judgments can create more stress for you.

Resistance Versus Acceptance

A situation has no inherent emotion. It’s neutral. It’s just an event. We decide what emotion to attach. We decide how upset it should make us. We make a story out of it. “This terrible thing happened to me and I freaked out because it messed up my plans.” An alternative narrative for the same event could be, “This thing happened, and I accepted it while learning how upset I still get when things don’t go my way.” We can choose to accept a circumstance or resist it. When we resist it, we make it our enemy, and our fight instinct kicks into gear with all the accompanying stresses. Resistance takes a toll on our bodies. When we accept it, we place our trust in God and try to enter His peace, at the same time asking for wisdom for what we can change about the circumstance.

Release your judgments about your life and entrust your circumstances to God. “With God all things are possible,” says Matthew 19.26. “Surely God is my help. The Lord is the one who sustains me,” says Psalm 54:4. With God, all things are manageable. We have no reason to tell ourselves that our circumstances are intolerable. If we can learn to avoid judging our circumstances so harshly, we will be more at peace and will find it easier to trust God. God wants us to trust Him more, and He is willing to help us do so.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html
Website:
http://www.rickhocker.com
Email:
mail@rickhocker.com

The Insidious Self

Our greatest enemy follows us wherever we go, and yet we consider it our best friend. It is our self. Time and time again, our self gets us into trouble because it’s insecure and fearful. In spite of this, it gives us our marching orders, setting the direction of our lives. And we listen to it, allowing it to control us.

Because our self is insecure, it worries about anything that might threaten it. It worries about instability, loss, rejection, betrayal, and its ability to cope. Much of our insecurity arises from the fact that we can’t control these things or entirely protect ourselves from them. Our predisposition to worry affects our everyday choices.

Fear Controls Us

We make decisions that mitigate our fears. We stay in the abusive relationship because we are more terrified of being alone or because we think no one else will have us. We don’t speak up because we’re afraid of confrontation or retribution. We stay in our hated job because we can’t see how to provide for our family any other way. We let people take advantage of us because we’re afraid of offending them, hurting their feelings, or them rejecting us.

Much of the time, we don’t realize how fear drives our choices. We act and react without introspection. We don’t examine our decisions to see if fear is at work. Is fear causing us to rule out available options? Do we shrink back from taking risks because of fear? What are we telling ourselves to justify our choices? What we think is a wise course of action may actually be a strategy to keep us safe from what we fear.

My major insecurity is fear of rejection. From the beginning, I felt different from the rest, out of place, unable to relate to my peers. As a result, I kept aloof, thinking that people wouldn’t accept me. In high school, I ate my lunch with the outcasts. I hardly spoke, even to them, because I feared saying anything that might cause people to reject me. In P.E. class, a budding friendship with a classmate encouraged me, but when he suggested we practice throwing and catching a baseball, I knew our future friendship was doomed. Sure enough, once he saw my ineptitude at sports, he never interacted with me again. Years later, I wrestle with this insecurity on a regular basis. What I have since learned is that the presence of fear doesn’t mean it has to control me. I acknowledge the fear, but empower myself to take risks, believing I can survive rejection because I know I’m accepted by God, myself, and others.

Guilt Trips Us

Another weakness that trips us up is guilt. Whereas fear is focused on the future, guilt finds its focus in the past. Our decisions are tied to what’s taken place in the past and our judgments of those events. We make guilt-induced choices because we feel indebted to others or bad about our past behavior. We overcompensate for our failings by going the extra mile and allowing others to take advantage. We may even be aware of this dynamic but tell ourselves that it’s a necessary penance for our sins.

In my life, I allowed guilt to have power because my soul was too fragile. The most effective manipulation was for someone to say, “If you were truly my friend, you would do this for me.” I had no choice but to comply. The alternative was to be rejected as a “bad” friend. I have learned a lot about boundaries since then. “No” is not a bad word and can be used with grace and respect. In addition, maturity must make room for self-nurture, which can’t happen when we allow others to direct our lives.

Transferring Control

When self is in control, then ego sits at the steering wheel. We are driven to and fro by our fears and insecurities. If we can recognize how counterproductive it is to allow self to be in charge, then we might be ready to set self aside and rely less on our ego. By this I mean we reduce the influence of fear, guilt, and insecurity in our lives. We move away from trusting in ourselves to trusting more in God who is more reliable than our feeble egos and who can empower us to push past our fears.

It’s not enough to identify our fears if we can’t overcome them. As one who has spent time in therapy, I recommend it for everyone, but therapy can only take us so far. God can see deep into our souls and uncover those wounds that impair us. Not only that, but God can mend those wounds as no one else can. Fear is not a wound. It is a weakness, like bad eyesight, that handicaps us if we let it. With the help of eyeglasses, we can clearly see. So with fear, we can overcome it with God’s help. Fear doesn’t go away completely; it still whispers in our ears. But we can learn to ignore its threats and take risks and live the abundant life that Jesus spoke about (John 10:10).

In my book, Four in the Garden, Creator tells Cherished, “When fear is strongest, you won’t trust. When trust is strongest, you won’t fear.” If we can learn to trust in God, then fear will have less hold on us. People who have great trust in God fear nothing. That’s because they know that God can take care of them in any circumstance, no matter how terrible. They rely on Him for strength and peace that will sustain them through any adversity. But even during times of contentment, they still rely on Him knowing that living for Him is far better than living for their egos.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist, and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html
Website:
http://www.rickhocker.com
Email:
mail@rickhocker.com

Willfulness

In my book, Four in the Garden, I avoided the use of the word “sin” because it’s such a religiously-loaded and off-putting word. It conjures feelings of shame, guilt, and condemnation. Rather than driving us to God, it generally has the opposite effect. Sin is often used to describe “bad” behavior or to describe the lifestyle of “bad” people. The traditional view of sin is that it makes us the object of God’s anger and subject to His judgment. In some unenlightened circles, we’re told that sin is sin because it’s “wrong.” Or sin is wrong because it’s sin. This shame-inducing mentality doesn’t lead us to experience the abundant life that Jesus talks about: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.” – John 10:10.

So I chose the word “willfulness” in place of sin. I think the word willfulness more aptly describes the true nature of sin. When we are willful, we insist on our own way, we resist authority, and we are unyielding. From a relational perspective, willfulness pushes others away and doesn’t take into account their thoughts or feelings. When we are willful, we push God away, we reject His participation in our lives, and we refuse to listen to Him.

A Meaty Example

Let’s suppose I’m on a road trip with friends and we stop for dinner. I suggest we stop at In-N-Out because I’m in the mood for one of their hamburgers. Others weigh in with their suggestions, but I insist on In-N-Out. A friend says, “You had a hamburger for lunch. Don’t you want something different for dinner?” I say, “It wasn’t an In-N-Out burger. It’s not the same. It’s In-N-Out or nothing.” Another friend says, “Eating hamburgers isn’t healthy. Shouldn’t you have a salad instead?” I say, “I don’t want a salad. I want an InN-Out burger. I won’t change my mind.”

The above example illustrates how willfulness behaves. Willfulness is usually expressed as “my way or no way.” It’s stubborn, doesn’t listen to reason, doesn’t consider consequences, and doesn’t make room for the will of others. It’s an energy that asserts its will and resists or discounts any opposing forces. We use it to justify our unhealthy or addictive behaviors. Can you think of situations where you were willful? In what ways have you been willful toward God?

It’s About Relationship

We need to discuss the effects of willfulness in light of our relationship with God. Jesus died to make relationship with God possible, so sin (willfulness) is defined in terms its damaging effects on relationship. The wrongness of willfulness is due to the relational harm it causes. When we are full of our own will, we disregard others and disregard the interdependence we have with others. From the beginning, God wanted relationship with us. When willfulness enters, we set ourselves as independent of God, severing our relationship with Him. That’s why God abhors willfulness. God hates anything that damages our relationship with Him. His primary concern is our relationship with Him and how our behaviors affect that relationship. Some people think His main concern is whether we are “sinning” or not.

God can’t work with willfulness because it’s oppositional. Willfulness resists God. And God resists willfulness. Willfulness can be subtle. It manifests when we rationalize our behavior, when we make excuses for our faults, whenever we shove God aside or ignore Him.

Laying It Down

When we recognize willfulness in our lives, we have a choice between holding on to it or to holding on to God. We can’t do both. True spirituality is to lay down our willfulness and submit to God’s will instead. It’s a choice between our will and God’s will. The humility God seeks of us is to lay down our will and to choose to trust Him, believing that His will for us is good. The hard part is doing this on a regular basis. It’s a daily practice to recognize willfulness within our hearts and to intentionally lay it down every time. In doing so, we make ourselves open to relationship with God. Instead of resisting Him, our humility invites Him to take residence in our hearts so He can engage us daily in ever-growing relationship with Him.

In my book, Four in the Garden, the protagonist, Cherished, chooses forbidden knowledge. This act of willfulness is seen as a declaration of independence from Creator. In effect, Cherished chooses knowledge over having to depend on Creator for guidance. His willfulness has shoved Creator aside, thus destroying his relationship with Creator. Self-rule becomes the norm for Cherished, but he learns that being master of his own life isn’t that great.

Like Cherished, we struggle with the tension between depending on ourselves and depending on God. Depending on God seems fraught with uncertainty. Depending on ourselves feels like the more reliable option, but it fails us when life gets difficult. In my experience, depending on God is the better option because God has shown Himself faithful to those who trust Him.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html
Website:
http://www.rickhocker.com
Email:
mail@rickhocker.com

Cultivating an Inner Life

For most people, life encompasses external things such as events, activities, people, and possessions. But another life exists for us that is inward and reflective. This inner life is what we experience when we are alone. For some, this life is rich and deep, and these people seek solitude in order to experience the wealth of their inner abundance. For others, their inner life is shallow or non-existent, because they don’t know what an inner life is or how to cultivate one.

It’s difficult to describe an inner life, but I will give it my best try. An inner life is our relationship with ourselves. It includes how we relate to ourselves, how we talk to ourselves, and how we spend time with ourselves. It’s what we do to nurture our souls. It isn’t what we think about ourselves as much as how we treat ourselves based on what we believe. An inner life is a series of experiences we have with our own being or soul. These experiences include moments of positive self-regard, exploration of one’s internal makeup, self-discovery, contemplation, or conscious acts of being present with oneself.

When we have an inner life, we are more comfortable with ourselves, so much so that we enjoy our own company. I’m not saying we become reclusive, but we learn to regard ourselves with the same love and interest as the other people in our lives. Self-interest propels us to learn about and appreciate our uniqueness, rather than despise it. It manifests as a healthy curiosity and fascination toward ourselves. Over time, we come to know and value ourselves. This pursuit translates into an ever-deepening relationship we have with ourselves, characterized by a genuine desire to nurture the spirit within us.

Starting with Self-Love

When we extend compassion to ourselves, we are more likely to nurture our inner life, our relationship with ourselves. We make a mistake when we think we have to like ourselves to start our journey. If that were the case, most of us would never start. Instead, we must start with compassion, the same compassion we would give someone who doesn’t appear to fit in.

With grace-filled kindness, we invite ourselves into our inner circle of friends as someone deserving of equal attention and worth. We need to learn to love and accept ourselves because withholding love stunts our emotional and spiritual growth.

Finding the power to love ourselves rarely comes from within. We discover this power by looking to God and allowing Him to love us. It is His unconditional love for us that frees us to love ourselves unconditionally. An effective prayer would be, “God, help me to experience Your love so I can love myself as deeply as You love me.”

We invest ourselves in what we value, so if we don’t love ourselves, we won’t invest any energy into cultivating an inner life. We’ll neglect or abandon our inner needs and fail to nurture our souls. Without an inner life, we will look for happiness and fulfillment in external things. When external things fail us, we will have no inner well from which to draw strength or sustenance. When we have an inner life, we can draw from our core from which springs an outflow of God’s graces, such as peace and joy. God isn’t outside of us where we climb a mountain to find Him. Rather, we dig a well inside ourselves and find Him when we dig deep enough. The Bible says he is not far from any of us (Acts 17:27). It’s within this inner life that we often encounter God.

Knowing Ourselves

After we have learned to love and accept ourselves, the next step is to learn to be present to ourselves. This means we are consciously attentive toward our thoughts and feelings, without judgment or fixing. We choose to enjoy our being outside of labels or performance. My therapist used to encourage me to be always curious and to channel my curiosity toward exploring my inner landscape. In those days, exploration of my inner self brought up panic and paralyzing fear. I was certain that what lurked inside me was monstrous and terrifying. After many forays into that dark place, I discovered that the things I feared were vapors without substance. They dissolved when I faced them head-on. Later, when I wondered why that inner realm was always dark, God explained that it was dark because I hadn’t invited Him there. When I did so, light illuminated that inner place for the first time. Afterward, God and I could explore the visible terrain together.

One obstacle to getting started is having to admit we don’t have an inner life. We fear looking inside and finding nothing. The sad truth is that we don’t know our own souls or the importance of knowing them. Our souls are beautiful beyond words, having a richness, depth, and mystery that rival a nebula in space. If we beheld our souls in their full magnificence, we would respond in awe and come to treasure them as they deserve.

The Basis for a Relationship with God

An inner life is the seat from which we can experience lasting joy and peace that are not attached to externals. More importantly, it is the seat from which we can have a relationship with God. Our relationship with God is between our spirit and His. God interacts with us within the realm of this inner life. These spiritual experiences and events comprise our personal history with God, a real relationship marked by meaningful interactions and deepening intimacy.

I suggest making time for solitude where you learn to be with yourself and to know yourself. Invite God to show you what He sees. Invite His love to touch the areas you are unable to love and to illuminate those areas that are in darkness. Allow God to ease your fears and coax you to become a fully spiritual being with whom He can have a relationship.

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Rick Hocker is a game programmer, artist and author. In 2004, he sustained a back injury that left him bed-ridden in excruciating pain for six months, followed by a long recovery. He faced the challenges of disability, loss of income, and mounting debt. After emerging from this dark time, he discovered that profound growth had occurred. Three years later, he had a dream that inspired him to write his award-winning book, Four in the Garden. His intent was to illustrate one’s growth toward deep communion with God and to share the insights he gained from the personal transformation that resulted from his back injury. He lives in Martinez, California.

For more articles, visit http://www.rickhocker.com/articles.html
Website:
http://www.rickhocker.com
Email:
mail@rickhocker.com