Author Archives: RickHocker

Bridging the Divide

Why are some people so unwilling to listen to the other side? It’s because they’re convinced their side is right. People won’t listen if their minds are made up. How did they become so close-minded? Entrenched thinking often results from fear. People are afraid of losing their rights, privileges, protections, and freedoms. They are afraid of losing their security and safety. Their national, cultural, and racial identities are being threatened. Fear makes us dig in and fight. When we feel threatened, we aren’t open to discussion, but we will defend or attack. We hunker down and guard our position. The side that threatens us becomes our enemy. It works both ways. The people on the other side feel as threatened as we do.

When we aren’t given to fear, our stance can be more open, instead of a defensive or attack posture. With our guards down, we’re able to listen to the other side. Alternate viewpoints won’t threaten us because they won’t be taken as personal assaults. The more we’re afraid, the more we take things personally. Fear transforms external influences into threats against our person. If perfect love drives out fear (1 John 4:18), then love for our enemies is one way to reduce our fear of them.

Humility as a Response

Humility is another way to respond to opposition. Humility, in this context, means letting go of our need to defend ourselves. When our trust is fully in God, then God becomes our refuge and protector (2 Samuel 22:3). We entrust our cause to God and rely on Him to defend us. I’m not saying we can’t take up a cause, but our foremost cause should be love of neighbor, including those neighbors who disagree with us.

Brotherhood, love, understanding, and compromise are more important than defending our personal viewpoint. Viewpoints come and go, but faith, hope, and love endure forever (1 Corinthians 13:13). We must guard against identifying too much with any group or ideology. The more we do that, the more we have at stake and the more we have to defend. The most secure person has nothing at stake and nothing to lose. The possibility of loss is real, but it’s the fear of loss that steals our peace and makes us build walls. If we have placed our trust in God, then we shouldn’t be terrified of loss because God is more than able to take care of us through any adversity.

Setting Aside Our Egos

Humility is characterized by a willingness to accept loss. Are we willing to be found wrong? Sometimes, we’re afraid of being found wrong because it suggests ceasing to belong to a vital group, rejection by our peers, abandoning a long-held belief system, or a drastic change to our way of life. Are we willing to compromise and accept loss for the sake of unity? Are we willing to put aside our egos to make room for someone else’s ego? Egos jockey for position, so it feels painful to let someone else gain the upper hand. Yet Jesus teaches us to be a servant to all (Mark 9:35). We would do well to set our egos aside and look to bless others rather than expect others to bless us.

Humility expects us to relinquish our need to be right. What does that gain us anyway, except more strokes to our egos? If Jesus is to be our example, then life is more about losing than winning. He asks us to entrust everything to Him, even our very lives. We aren’t supposed to keep our lives, but lose them. “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 16:24-25). Christians have no entitlements, although many act as though they do. We give up our rights, privileges, protections, and freedoms. The only freedom we’re offered is freedom from fear and from the demands of ego so that we can live for God without inner and outer hindrances.

Dualistic Thinking

Dualistic thinking is “either/or” thinking that reduces judgments into two simple categories: good or bad. Dualistic thinking doesn’t allow for shades of gray or for opposite sides to be simultaneously true. It’s characterized by a belief that things are either right or wrong, true or false, valuable or worthless. It’s a convenient way to judge the world without having to invest oneself in the work of discerning subtleties of variation. When fear infiltrates dualistic thinking, then it can manifest as tribalism: us versus them; good guys against bad guys; we’re right and they’re wrong.

Non-dualistic Thinking

By contrast, non-dualistic thinking is inclusive “both/and” thinking that can hold multiple possibilities. This mature form of thought can sustain contradictions and opposites. Christian theology is rife with such mysteries: Jesus is both God and man; God is both one being and three persons; God is both beginning and end; He executes perfect justice and mercy. When we move away from dualistic thinking, then we can make room for both sides to have a measure of truth. No one side ever has the corner on truth, hence the need for humility. We grip our perceived “truths” too tightly because of our fear of losing them, when Truth is supposed to make us free from such fears (John 8:32). Genuine Truth cannot be lost, no matter what may threaten it, because God, who is the embodiment of that Truth, cannot be lost or threatened.

With a non-dualistic approach to the world, we allow opposites to coexist peacefully without having to pit them against each other. We believe that unity is possible when multiple viewpoints exist. I think this is what Jesus meant when He prayed that we, His people, be one. (John 17:21). Given the enduring diversity within His church, I doubt He meant we should all think alike. Oneness is the joining together of diverse parts, as illustrated by Paul’s example of the parts of the human body working together in harmony (Read 1 Corinthians 12:15-26). Unity is more about harmony than conformity.

Being a Peacemaker

We need to be careful when taking sides. Claiming that God is on our side has often been the basis for bloodshed. Let us claim to belong to God, instead of claiming that God belongs to us. Blessed are the peacemakers, Jesus said (Matthew 5:9). Peacemakers are bridge-builders who stand in the middle to create opportunity for two sides to move closer together. Give serious thought as to what being a peacemaker means to you during this time of great division.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What ideologies threaten you the most? Why do they have such an effect on you?
  2. What advantages do you fear might be taken away from you? Can you trust God with such a loss?
  3. What is your response to groups that threaten you? Do you get defensive or do you attack? What might be a third possible response from you?

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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: rick@rickhocker.com

How to Engage your Emotional Pain

What is your response to emotional pain? Do you shove it down or pretend it isn’t there or just hope it goes away on its own? We haven’t been taught how to deal with it. And it’s scary to face it head on, so we resort to resisting it, denying it, masking it, or blaming others. I suggest trying to develop a relationship with your emotional pain. That is the only way it can be fully healed.

This article specifically addresses emotional pain, not physical pain. We usually experience emotional pain in our bodies, but its origin is in our thoughts and emotions. Examples of emotional pain would be grief, extreme sadness, regret, crippling self-doubt, self-hatred, damaged self-esteem, profound shame, overwhelming anxiety, or unexpressed rage. The resulting emotional distress and mental anguish often disrupts our lives, hijacks our thinking, corrupts our behaviors, and manifests in our bodies as stress-related symptoms. It can take a huge toll on us.

 Pain is Not Our Enemy

Our attitudes toward our emotional pain will determine how we engage it. If we view it as terrifying or unbearable, we will seek to avoid it. The reality is that we can’t avoid it since it resides in us. So we employ methods of coping such as lashing out, self-harm, retreating into ourselves, addictions, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, or shutting down our emotional nature. These behaviors are attempts to manage or mask our emotional pain because we don’t know what to do with the pain we feel. More often, we unconsciously act out our pain though destructive behaviors.

The pain itself is not our enemy and shouldn’t be viewed as such. Pain is a by-product that results from an originating event or ongoing events. We need to separate the two as cause and effect. The pain itself is a symptom of something that is wrong or broken inside us. In this regard, pain functions as a messenger informing us that something needs attention. Our bodies use physical pain to tell us that some part is hurting and needs attention, such as when we tear a muscle. In this example, the muscle needs attention and care. The pain is secondary and serves to point to the cause (the muscle tear). Similarly, we need to follow our emotional pain to its source and address the cause.

Pain is Part of Life

Pain is a universal and necessary part of life, one part of the entire spectrum of the human experience. In my book, Four in the Garden, Cherished asks, “Why should I experience pain at all?” Ennoia answers, “The soul attains full maturation when transformed by life of which pain is an integral component.” Pain has the ability to teach, mature, and transform us, if we let it.

Twenty years ago, I struggled with severe low self-esteem that put me into a descending spiral of devaluing and rejecting myself, and withdrawing from others. Recognizing that I couldn’t rescue myself, I sought help. My emotional pain was an impetus to understand and address the thought patterns and triggering events that were at the root of my pain. In the end, I learned to value and accept myself more, to create better boundaries, and to look for affirmation from God and not others. I gained these benefits because I was open to learning from my pain.

Changing our Perspective

The truth is that emotional pain need not destroy you or last forever. All pain comes to an end and can be useful to make us better people. 2 Corinthians 4:17 says, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” If you want to delve further into the spiritual purpose of pain, read this article.

My advice is that we cease judging emotional pain as something unbearable or awful, when the pain itself is a neutral messenger. Instead of focusing on your pain, focus on the cause of your pain that needs attention. When we change our negative and fearful attitudes toward pain, we are better prepared to deal with it in a healthy way.

First Steps of Relationship

Emotional pain is part of the package we get, like our families. When young, we learned to cohabit with our family members along with all their unpleasant traits. In the same way, we can learn to coexist with emotional pain. We don’t lock up our siblings so we don’t have to deal with them. Instead, we find ways to navigate our relationship with them. So we don’t lock up our pain, but allow it to have room to exist. In Four in the Garden, Cherished reflects on his emotional pain: “I decided to not hide it or hide from it, but just hold it in view and allow it to be. If I held it in the open, like a ladybug on my palm, maybe it would fly away. Whereas, an insect kept in a closed container stays in the dark and never escapes.”

When we begin a relationship with our emotional pain, we start by holding hands with it. That means to engage it and not shun it. We make ourselves open to it. We don’t judge it, but give it permission to be present in our lives.

Full Engagement

 Once we get comfortable holding hands with our emotional pain, we take it further. We increase our engagement by learning to sit with it. At this stage, we allow ourselves to feel it, without judgment. The point of this exercise is to understand it. Where does it reside in my body? What is its energy, texture, and temperature? How does it affect me, and my thoughts and behaviors? We do NOT ask how to get rid of it. Instead, we study it with curiosity and objectivity. As during courtship or dating, we get to know it. One benefit of this step is that our emotional pain becomes less mysterious to us, and, therefore, less threatening. We see it for what it is, not some looming, uncontrollable, terrifying menace.

Going further, we learn to hold our emotional pain with compassion. Anything that is a part of us, including our pain, is deserving of our mercy and grace as well as God’s mercy and grace. It is the lack of mercy and grace that turns matters into monsters. When we hold our pain with compassion, we give it value and permission to engage us.

We also learn to nurture our relationship with our emotional pain. By this, I mean we give it freedom and opportunity to open up to us. To use a dating analogy, we get people to open up to us when we drop our defenses and shift our focus off of ourselves and onto the other. When we drop our defenses and give earnest attention to our pain, it will open up to us and show us why it’s there and what beliefs are surrounding it. By lovingly engaging our pain, we create a space where it can speak to us and teach us about ourselves.

This is not easy to do. It takes a great amount of courage, patience, and compassion. No less than any other relationship worth investing in.

Pain’s Journey

Although I said that emotional pain is a part of us, it is not intended to remain a part of us. Pain has a journey to make and we can assist it in its journey. I equate it to a toxin in our bodies. Our bodies’ natural defense is to expel the toxin. In the same way, our souls seek to push our emotional pain outward to exit our beings. I remember a lady telling me she had been in a horrible car accident where glass shrapnel had entered her body. Years later, tiny glass shards began coming out through her skin. Her body had been slowly pushing the glass out of her body over time. Our souls desire to do the same thing with our painful emotions.

We shove things down because they hurt or scare us. If we keep doing so, we prevent them from making their natural outward journey to exit. Instead, we can cooperate with the process and assist our emotional pain to complete its journey and exit for good. To process our pain, we allow it to emerge. This can be scary because this is when our emotional pain is most prominently felt and most real to us. The help of a therapist or counselor may be needed for this step. If we fully feel our pain, then we give it an outlet and help it along in its journey outward.

Don’t be discouraged or surprised when past emotional pain arises out of the blue. This usually is a good thing. It means that your pain is ready to begin its journey and that you are ready to engage it. By all means, don’t shove it back down. It has emerged for a reason and it behooves you to discover the reason. Allow it to remain, commit it to God, and let it speak to you about its presence in your life. It need not terrify you. Instead, prepare yourself for a journey of discovery and healing.

When Pain Gets Stuck

When emotional pain is not dealt with, it remains with us and lodges in our being, sometimes for years. I believe it gets stored in our body at the cellular level. Unresolved pain has nowhere to go, no outlet, so it gets buried in us. The tragedy is that it ends up pervading our lives. It affects our thoughts and actions. And it can make us ill because it also affects our body as well as our souls.

I vividly remember an occasion when I was doing an exercise I had been taught by my therapist where I place my consciousness into different parts of my body. When I did so with my thighs, I was overwhelmed by intense feelings of shame. Not only that, but I was bombarded by memories of being shamed, all playing out in rapid succession in my mind like a flip book. To my astonishment, I discovered I had stored all this unresolved, unprocessed shame in that part of my body. Somehow, I had triggered a release of those painful memories along with an intense flood of emotions. I had locked those memories and feelings inside my body for years. What this tells me is that we literally carry our unresolved painful emotions with us in our bodies.

One helpful analogy is that of vomiting. As for me, I hate to vomit more than anything. When I have the stomach flu, I fight the urge to vomit and try hard to keep it down, but what I need is to vomit. Our bodies have the same pressing need to expel the negative emotions stored inside us. We must stop fighting to keep them down, but surrender to the natural urge and allow our bodies to expel those poisons and bring us into health again. We don’t want to get stuck, but keep moving forward even when it’s uncomfortable.

Completing the Journey

With our assistance, God’s assistance, and the help of others, emotional pain can complete its outward journey. It will cease to be locked inside of us, but released for good, no longer to torment us. Healing is possible, but it means fearlessly engaging your emotional pain. To process your pain, you must befriend it for a season in order to understand it and let it teach you. As you allow yourself to fully feel it, you give it permission to become real to you. When our pain becomes real to us, we are able to engage it and manage it, instead of minimizing it, denying it, or antagonizing it. Once our pain has become embodied in its true form—and less scary form—we enable it to make its intended journey to exit us completely.

God’s desire is that we be clear and full of light (Matthew 6:22), not baggage carriers. Yes, you CAN get rid of your baggage, but you must release your attachments to it and release your fear of the void and vulnerability that results when you let go of it. As you shed your emotional pain, you are freed to engage life more fully and to experience God to a deeper extent, as there is less to get in the way between you and God. 1 Peter 5:10 says, “After you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” As we entrust our emotional pain to God, it may be painful, but God is committed to make us whole and more securely grounded in Him.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. How would you describe your relationship with your emotional pain?
  2. What scares you most about engaging your emotional pain?
  3. What specific request would you ask of God to help you take the first step toward engaging your emotional pain?

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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 Silent Tomb: An Easter reflection on the coronavirus

I had wondered about the significance of the coronavirus peak happening around Easter. What came to mind was Christ’s tomb. A tomb is dark and silent and empty, except for the dead. With social distancing measures in place, we’ve been forced into solitude. We’ve been stripped of our outer lives and asked to physically detach from the outside world. Life has slowed down for most of us. The boundaries of our personal worlds have been made much smaller.

A spiritual opportunity has been presented to us. We’ve been invited to go inward, to engage our inner lives. What is the value of going inward? We can know ourselves better, our inner light as well as our shadow selves. We can know God better because God dwells in our inner being. We discover God when we probe our depths because He is found at every level. This probing takes courage because we will be required to face our present fears and unprocessed past pain.

Breath

One image of solitude is that of a scuba diver. A scuba suit and gear isolates the diver from his surroundings. His solitude is accompanied by the sound of his breath. I’m not a scuba diver, but the amplified sound of regulated breath is how the movies portray the experience. The diver’s breath is all we hear and we focus on it. Focusing on our breath is a great way to turn our attention inward, to ground us in our bodies, and to generate stillness in our minds and souls. Let us remember to breathe with intention and gratitude as those hardest hit by the virus cannot do so unaided.

In this time of forced solitude, I suggest we try to focus on God’s breath. God doesn’t have lungs, but He has a rhythm, as does everything in the universe. His rhythm is imperceptibly slow, and all other rhythms ride upon it. If a day is like a thousand years to God (Psalm 90:4) then the divine equivalent of a breath is about a month. Don’t take this literally. This comparison is intended to remind us that God’s rhythm is far removed from ours. God’s rhythm is like that of a glacier’s movement: slow, massive, unrelenting, and unstoppable. I believe that God’s breath operates as the rising and falling of Spirit, as the releasing and gathering of energy, as building up and tearing down. Like a very low frequency that our ears can’t hear, we can feel God’s slow vibration in our bones if we stop to feel it. My point here is that we should attempt to engage God in our inward being. If we slow down and listen, we might be able to hear His still, small voice (I Kings 19:12).

Death

In this season of imposed isolation, the silent tomb for us is about death: the death of what is hoped for, the death of our agendas, the death of our current way of life. We are being asked to release all these things, but it is to make way for the new. Colossians 3:3 says, “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Our inward lives are to be tucked away and made safe in God, but it requires a death of our outer lives and agendas.

Resurrection

The silent tomb is also about resurrection: a release of new life, a shedding of the grave linens that bound us, a transformation into something new. But resurrection is preceded by a season of stillness. A chrysalis is seemingly dead, but inside, the caterpillar has dissolved into a cellular liquid that is the basis for its new form. A silent transformation occurs inside. This season is meant to be a time of silent transformation for us, where we go inward and listen (to our breath and God’s breath), to disengage from our outer lives, to engage our inner lives, to lay down our agendas, and to invite God’s agenda for our lives.

New Normal

No doubt, you’re eager for life to return to normal. But it’s unlikely that will happen. You need to prepare yourself for the new normal, God’s new normal for you. The way to prepare for this new normal is to become grounded in your inner life and to become more grounded in God. Can we learn God’s rhythm and learn to live according to that rhythm? The rhythm of the world is rapid and erratic and doesn’t bring peace. That rhythm will resume when this is over. Let us not embrace that rhythm again. Rather, we want to recalibrate our souls to the slow, constant rhythm of God so that the world’s events won’t rattle us.

Inner Life

One’s inner life is supposed to be empty, so don’t be alarmed to discover poverty there. The inner life is a life of the spirit. It’s about spaciousness. Instead of filling it with stuff, we build an altar of attentiveness to Spirit. We create a dedicated space for the Spirit to make His home, a clear and uncluttered space that we invite the Spirit to inhabit. When the Spirit inhabits this space, the emptiness becomes filled, the spaciousness expands, an inner abundance becomes manifest, and we experience a richness of Spirit that fulfills our souls. We make room for inner change. Remember that “the rhythm of the universe is transformation.” (p. 72, Four in the Garden: A Spiritual Allegory of Trust and Transformation)

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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 an Opening for God

Among those who believe in the power of prayer, some seem to have better results than others. Why is that? No formula exists that can force God to do what we want. God is not manipulated. But we can take steps to make us more receptive to His generosity.

Preparation and Positioning

When God is dispensing grace, we can prepare ourselves to receive it. In medieval times, during some papal processions, the pope or his officials would throw coins to the spectators, similar to favors being thrown during Mardi-Gras parades. Those who stood at the front would be in the best position to receive a coin, whereas those who lingered at the rear would be less likely to receive. I use this example to illustrate that we can determine our receptivity by how we position ourselves in relation to God. God can and does bless us, but our ability to receive and retain the blessing is up to us.

If we find ourselves in a time of spiritual drought, we believe that the drought will end and that God will eventually send rain to our souls. When the rains come, we will gladly soak up what we can, but the wise person will build a cistern to catch the rainwater. That person will have prepared for the rains and be able to receive a greater measure of blessing. The spiritual equivalent of building a cistern is to create a wide space or opening within our souls for God to fill. We can’t predict God’s timing, but we can make ourselves ready and open for when the time does come.

A Story of Healing

When I lived in San Luis Obispo, California, I met a lady, Alice, who had MCS (Multiple Chemical Sensitivity). She had just moved from Los Angeles because her environment was making her sick. She needed to move to a more chemical-free setting. Her body had lost its ability to expel toxins, so they had accumulated in her system. The level of arsenic in her hair was fifty times the acceptable limit.

The change in setting helped her somewhat, but over time she because extremely ill, confined to a wheelchair, and hooked up to oxygen. In those days, the doctors didn’t believe in MCS and thought she was making it up. A friend relayed to me that Alice had attended a healing service. The minister prayed for her and she was miraculously healed, threw off her oxygen, and got out of her wheelchair. She now travels to educate others about MCS and works as an advocate for those with the disease.

I find this story interesting for three reasons. First, God waited until Alice was at her weakest state before He healed her. Second, God chose to heal her when so many others struggle with MCS for the remainder of their lives. Third, if Alice hadn’t attended the healing service, would God have healed her anyway? From my perspective, I consider her attendance at the service as an act of faith. Perhaps she thought that if God could heal or would heal, she wanted to be in the front row to receive it—as wheelchairs often are. She had positioned herself to receive, both spiritually and physically.

Receptivity

Each of us has a unique receptivity to God. If you volunteered at a hospital ward and went from room to room to cheer up the patients, you would meet all types of people. Some people are suspicious or apathetic or resistant or simply closed down. We can be the same way with God. If God were intending to give us something, we would do well to be as receptive as we can. I can think of five attitudes that make us more receptive to God: trust, surrender, openness, thankfulness, and anticipation.

I left out faith on purpose. I believe that most of the time, faith trips us up, primarily because we don’t understand it. We get in trouble when we confuse faith with expectation. If we expect God to do something for us, then we have shifted our faith from God onto the thing expected, a precarious situation where God is on the line to deliver and at risk of failing us. The faith of many has been destroyed because of unmet and wrongly-placed expectations on God. Our faith is best placed in God alone, not in hoped-for outcomes. Our faith and trust is in God and in His love for us. Period. That ought to cover everything else.

Trust

Let’s examine the five attitudes that make us more receptive to God. The first is trust. Trust is a confidence we place in God to carry us through the challenges of life. We rely on His mercy and goodness, knowing that life is unpredictable. Trust makes us open to God because we are “leaning” on Him to prop us up, especially when life knocks us down. Trust is a reliance on God that surpasses a reliance on oneself. It is a conscious dependence on God. We choose to entrust our lives to God’s care.

Surrender

Surrender is second and more difficult. Surrender is letting go of one’s ego and personal demands in exchange for reliance on God. We give up control over our own lives. We divest ourselves of everything we are holding on to and hand those things to God, allowing Him to do with them as He wills. Some things He returns to us. Some things He purges. In all things, He acts according to what best serves us in the long term. We learn to have a loose grip on everything. Surrender is our will “bowing” to His will. We choose to entrust our lives to God’s will.

Openness

Openness is third. Openness is a non-resistant posture toward God. We make ourselves open to whatever God has for us, whether pleasant or painful. We choose to not filter or resist what God sends our way, but give Him permission to be active in our lives in any way He sees fit. It’s an “openhandedness” toward God, a willingness to say “yes” to God no matter what. Surrender is releasing one’s ego to create a space for God. Openness is an attitude of keeping that space continually open for God to fill. We choose to entrust our lives to God’s activity.

Gratitude

Gratitude is fourth. Thankfulness keeps us positive by encouraging us to look for and recognize the good in our lives. It turns our focus off of our problems and onto God. It also keeps us humble. It’s a spiritual posture of “kneeling” where we acknowledge our dependence on God and we express our gratitude for His blessings, whether abundant or sparse. We recognize that any good in our lives comes from God and is due to His kindness toward us. It makes us open to God because it keeps our focus on Him when life’s problems beset us. As we cultivate gratitude, we learn that we can even be thankful for challenges in our lives because we see them as opportunities to grow in spiritual maturity and as lessons to teach us about God or ourselves. We choose to be thankful for what our lives contain.

Anticipation

Last is anticipation. This is an attitude of eagerness and excitement about the future, believing that God has blessings in store for us. I envision a child standing in line waiting to meet Santa at the mall, full of excitement and anticipation. This would be a spiritual posture of “upraised hands.” It’s a childlike attitude of expectancy, believing that good will come our way, that God will bless us, that the best of what God has to offer is yet to come. This anticipation is untainted and untethered from our current circumstances and tied to a belief in God’s unconditional goodness toward us. It’s not the same as expectation where we have a certain outcome in mind. Instead, it is an attitude of hopefulness in God and not in a specific result or timeframe. We choose to entrust our futures to God.

The Widest Opening

These five attitudes create the widest opening possible for us to receive from God. They make us the most receptive so that when the time is right, we are in the best position to receive the fullness of what God might give us. Our spiritual posture before God is important. To review, the spiritual postures of leaning, bowing, kneeling, openhandedness, and upraised hands all convey openness and humility toward God. A closed posture will diminish our capacity to receive. God’s timing is unpredictable, so we always maintain an open posture so we don’t miss the opportunity when it comes our way. God wants to bless us and He wants us to receive the fullness of those blessings. It pains Him when we aren’t in a position to receive them because of our pride, unbelief, or negativity.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. On a scale of zero to ten, how would you rate your level of receptivity to God? Do you believe it’s possible for you to be more receptive? If not, why do you believe you are stuck?
  2. Which of the five attitudes do you struggle with most? Why?
  3. What spiritual practice would help you most to cultivate a greater openness to God?
  4. What thought patterns make it hardest for you to be open to God? What thoughts would be a good replacement for those?

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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

Attitudes: Prisons or Wings

Our greatest enemy is our own thoughts.

Our thoughts, attitudes, and responses can imprison us or liberate us. We forget that we choose our thoughts. More often, it seems our thoughts have a life of their own. But every thought is a choice. We decide what our thoughts will be, which thoughts we keep, which thoughts we discard, and which thoughts we build our lives on. How do we choose thoughts and attitudes that propel us toward freedom?

Trapped in Obsessive Thinking

First, we need to understand how thoughts can make us captive. Have you ever got “stuck” thinking about something over and over? Do you ever get “trapped” in a worry you can’t shake off? Most thoughts tend to be obsessive. Our thoughts are repetitive because they have no outlet, so they just circle like buzzards. We believe we can “think” ourselves out of an endless mind loop, but that never works because thoughts can’t be used to combat thoughts. Only action or real change can break obsessive thinking because then the basis for those thoughts has been altered. Judgment, unforgiveness, self-hatred, worry, and regret are just a few attitudes that imprison us in that they “lock” us into a mindset with no escape.

During my twenties and thirties, I suffered from low self-esteem and self-hatred. I was convinced that no one liked me. Because I believed I was socially unattractive, I made no effort to engage people socially, but withdrawing into myself and sabotaging any attempt by others to befriend me. “Why try to make friends when they will reject me?” Because of my distancing behavior, people avoided me. This only reinforced my negative beliefs about myself. People didn’t like me because I gave them good reason not to. Thoughts drive behaviors that affect how others respond.

At the time, I didn’t have any of these insights. All I knew was that I didn’t like myself and that others didn’t like me. During this time, my negative self-talk was active and incessant. I was trapped in circular thinking that interpreted everything as further evidence of my shortcomings. Finally, I sought help from some therapists. The biggest help was attending a weekly support group where I met others I could relate to. In that affirming environment, I discovered myself beneath the layers of my self-imposed false conceptions and found something real and something I could value. Taking action and implementing real change enabled me to defeat the obsessive negative thinking.

Taking Action

If we don’t make a change, then our obsessive thinking continues unabated. Sometimes, we feel trapped because we can’t see a way out. The way out, from our perspective, involves something not under our control, such as other people needing to change or money we don’t have. We need to look for options that ARE under our control. We’re quick to disregard options that scare us, like leaving a relationship or job, but sometimes the scariest option is the correct course of action. In every situation, we always have choices. Nothing changes unless we take action.

All About Me

I’ve found that most of my obsessive thinking centers on me. “Why are these terrible things happening to me? What if the dreaded outcome happens to me?” Even when something doesn’t directly involve me, I insert my ego into the situation and make it about me. Fear is usually tied to ego, especially fear of loss or pain. Ego will do everything to avoid loss or pain, so any possible threat, whether real or imagined, will activate it and cause us to interpret our circumstances through the lens of self.

Ego is like the sun and our obsessive thoughts like planets in orbit around the sun, circling endlessly. When ego is cast down, then the obsessive thoughts drop off because they have nothing to orbit. Putting aside our ego is no easy task, especially as it never stays down, but with God’s help it’s not impossible. The first step is to recognize its influence. When you find yourself obsessing about something, ask yourself, “How am I making this about me?” Then seek to remove yourself from the equation. Try to insert God into the center of things, instead of yourself.

Recently, I was dealing with insecurity. Looking deeper, I realized that my insecurity was due to fear, fear of loss. I had nothing real to validate my fears, except my imaginative reinterpretation of events. I had taken events and made them about me, and focused on how they threatened me and how they could lead to a worst-case scenario. First, I had to remove my ego from the situation by letting the events stand on their own without my interpretation or self-insertion. It helps to ask for God’s view of things. He calmly sees things as they are, without judgment or amplification, and from an eternal perspective. When I step back and ask myself if something will matter much a thousand years from now, I can usually release my grip on it when I realize the situation will have no effect on my future life with God.

Facing Fear

My next step was to confront my fear of loss. The way I deal with fear is to face the worst-case scenario and tell myself that it will be manageable. I can survive any loss with God’s help. In other words, I need not fear anything because God will give me the grace to bear any challenge. “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for You are with me.” (Psalm 23:4). If I can entrust God with the worst-case scenario, then I can relax about any less terrible outcomes. I knew all these scenarios were imagined and unlikely, but unless I confront my fears, even when unfounded, they will have continued power over me. The peace I seek comes from trusting God that, no matter what, I will be okay.

Choosing New Attitudes

To end obsessive thinking, the action we need to take is sometimes internal, such as changing our attitude. In these cases, the required action is that of letting go, letting go of ego and our need to control. Here is where choice comes in. Trust and fear cannot coexist for long. The greater of the two will often consume the other. If we continually choose to entrust our lives to God instead of our egos, then trust takes root, fear loses its power, and peace can reside in our souls. We choose to release our tight grip on events and we choose to trust God. Try to cultivate an attitude of gratitude, which guards us against negative thoughts.

If obsessive thinking can imprison us, what attitudes can set us free? Attitudes that are positive, non-limiting, and hopeful give us wings to move beyond our present state. Negative and self-limiting thoughts keep us stuck where we are, but when we choose thoughts and attitudes that are self-affirming and not fear-based but rooted in faith, then our thoughts can escape their orbits and soar outward to new possibilities. Choose attitudes that give you wings and free you to expand beyond yourself.

Using the example of my fear of loss, what would be a replacement attitude that gives me wings? A belief that I can thrive regardless of any loss. Paul says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13). Changing attitudes is difficult when we are addicted to our favorite mental recordings. We have to reprogram our brains with new repetitive messages that remind us we have value and potential (read Romans 12:1-2). In verse 3, Paul says, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.” Sober judgment means to view ourselves as we truly are, not putting ourselves down or inflating ourselves. When we put ego aside and let go of control and fear, we can see ourselves clearly and love our true selves and nurture our souls to grow beyond the narrow confines of ego.

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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

Be The Light That You Are

How often have you compared yourself to others? “He’s more outgoing than me. I wish I were more compassionate like her.” After such comparisons, we judge ourselves inferior and then pressure ourselves to imitate those people. We assume we’re “supposed” to be like them.

You Are Unique

But you’re unique by God’s design. When I realized I’m not supposed to be like everyone else, I finally gave myself permission to be an introvert. Instead of resenting my differentness, I learned to embrace it, even celebrate it. I discovered I could stop comparing myself to others because they were no longer the mirrors by which I had to judge myself.

Each of us is intended to be a reflection of God, but a unique reflection of that same God. The infinite God is multi-faceted, so each of us offers a mirrored facet that reflects God through our unique personalities, all of us comprising a giant disco ball that catches the light as it spins. Our individual facet combines with all the other facets to offer a fuller picture of God. We contribute a tiny part toward the whole.

Think of the massive sun dispersing rays of light into the universe. God has given each person a ray of His light to shine forth. These rays, when unimpeded, gather together to create a brilliance like the sun. God is light and the fullness of light. The light you’ve been given by God is yours alone and has its own unique signature. My light is not your light. We don’t need to compare each other. Instead, we can choose to be the light that we are, our singular light, our unique reflection of God.

God’s Spectrum

The electromagnetic spectrum is a diverse and widely spread range of frequencies and wavelengths of energy, from x-rays to visible light to microwaves. In the same way, God has created a diverse spectrum of humanity, each person contributing a unique wavelength to the whole. Some people are conspicuously visible like the colors of the rainbow, but visible light is only a tiny segment of the entire spectrum. Humans can’t see some wavelengths of light, such as infrared or ultraviolet, so the talents of some people go unnoticed, yet they still contribute to the full expression of God. God notices these talents since He can see the entire spectrum, both visible and invisible.

In a sense, God radiates across the entire spectrum and we’re particles that emit energy, with our own unique vibration, to fill out this divine spectrum. So, be the light that you are. The more you become that light, the more you become who you are. I love this statement by Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee from his book Love is a Fire: “…each created thing glorifies Him (God) just through being itself…” We reflect God most by being ourselves, not our outward selfish selves, but by being our inward true selves. When we live out of our authentic selves, our souls shine forth and God shines forth through our souls as light passing through clear prisms.

Being Ourselves

We don’t need to try to be like someone else. The better task is to discover our authentic, unique selves and nurture that to fullness. In doing so, God is made manifest to us and to those around us. Not only do we connect to God more profoundly by being our true selves, but also we can connect to ourselves in a deeper way than ever before.

In my book, Four in the Garden, Creator told the angel Radiance that she had been given a drop of His glory. Later, she realizes that this drop of glory is the same as her inner self. In response to that realization, she says with astonishment, “So if I allow my inner self to come forth, then Creator’s glory is revealed.” Our uniqueness is the glory of God manifest and an expression of His uniqueness. Our authentic self brings glory to God as the true God is reflected through our true self.

Jesus said it well by saying, “You are the light of the world. People do not light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16).

Questions for Reflection:

  1. Describe some traits or talents that make you unique.
  2. What traits or talents do you keep hidden from others because you think they are too unusual or easily misunderstood?
  3. How might God be seen in those traits or talents?
  4. How might you offer those traits or talents to bless others?

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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

God is Beyond Comprehension

We often think of God in human terms. Since God has no equal, we fall back on describing God in relation to ourselves, which serves neither Him nor us. Yet, the eternal, invisible God is not human in any sense. He is beyond time and matter, and unconstrained by the events on this tiny speck of a planet. All things are as nothing when compared to His sublime greatness. His unbounded vastness exceeds the scope of His created universe.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways.” (Isaiah 55:8-9). God is not a human construct, not a product of our imaginations. Instead, we are a product of His imagination. He is beyond us, ineffable, too enormous to be grasped, and yet it is the quest of many to attempt to grasp God nonetheless. When we die, I expect we all will be surprised to discover how much we believed about God was incorrect. It is impossible to understand God fully or to confirm what we think we know about Him. By faith, we believe in God and, by faith, we rely on God to direct us toward His unfolding truth.

God’s Love is Not Cuddly

In this article, I wish to elevate God above those human attributes we give Him. We do God a disservice when we assign traits, such as love, and then ascribe human characteristics and imperfections to those traits. For example, people view God as a loving father—the Bible teaches us to do so—and then conclude that God could never cause pain because no loving human father would do that. But God is not human.

From God’s eternal perspective, pain is a momentary condition and is unlabeled, neither good nor bad. Pain is a triggered response to circumstance. Growth or discipline can be painful, and God is not averse to sending those circumstances when we need it and because He loves us. God’s love is the greatest force in the universe, but that force can sometimes leave ripples of pain in its wake. Just look as the immense suffering Christ had to endure in order to fulfill the highest expression of God’s intense love for humankind. The existence of pain does not negate God’s love. Suffering can coexist with love.

God’s love is not protective like the human variety of love. It is more concerned with deeper, spiritual goals like character development and transformation of the soul into something that more clearly reflects God’s image. Scripture is full of examples of those loved by God who were not spared suffering, even martyrdom. God allowed his beloved people, the Israelites, to be oppressed as slaves by the Egyptians for generations. He expressed his deep concern regarding their misery and suffering in Exodus 3:7-8. From a human perspective, it makes no sense that God would allow that calamity to continue for so long. Why didn’t He rescue them sooner? Yet God’s higher purposes were at work and required delay until He had prepared His chosen prophet, Moses, to lead them out of slavery with an amazing demonstration of power.

God’s Priorities

We have to be careful not to judge God by human standards or to think that a loving God would never punish or destroy. In my book, Four in the Garden, Creator says, “I create. I destroy. In all I do, I love. My purposes encompass joy and pain, life and death, growth and decay. You can’t comprehend all My ways. I only ask that you trust.” It takes faith to believe that God is always acting according to His best intentions, especially when we can’t understand outcomes.

Unlike humans, God doesn’t give priority to preservation. From God’s eternal perspective, nothing endures forever except Himself, so He doesn’t strive to make anything last. Even heaven and earth will pass away (Matthew 24:35, 2 Peter 3:10). Psalm 103:15-16 says, “The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” Nothing lasts. Everything comes to an end, sometimes sooner, sometimes later. We can be grateful, however, when something does last and we are able to enjoy it. Besides God, one thing that endures is our souls, and God promises to preserve our souls (Psalm 121:7).

God’s justice is unlike human justice. His punishment is not swift, but can be deferred, even after a person has died. We humans prefer swift judgment and immediate punishment. 2 Peter 3:9 says, “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” God delays so that people have a chance to change and turn to Him. This doesn’t mean that God won’t execute justice. Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.”

God tracks time differently than we do. “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” (2 Peter 3:8). From that point of view, the oppression of the Israelites in Egypt wasn’t long when considered in light of eternity. Our lifetime is but a quick blip on God’s radar, so it’s amazing to me how much “time” and attention He give us. God created time and lives outside of time, so His touch on your life is timeless and eternal. We have to be careful with timetables when it comes to God. His “soon” is not our “soon.” Two thousand years ago, Jesus said He is coming soon.

Bigger Than We Can Imagine

In Isaiah 6, the prophet describes his dramatic vision of God. “In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple.” The concept of a king seated on a throne is a human invention. God appeared to Isaiah in a form he could understand in order to illustrate His ultimate sovereignty. Yet God is so much greater than a king on a throne, but that illustration is the best we have to describe His supremacy and power. He is far beyond what we can imagine and without equal (See Isaiah 46).

In the forward to my book, Four in the Garden, I describe God as “transcending our understanding, the inscrutable God who defies our man-made definitions and imaginations. We do not capture and subdue God for purposes of study or control. Rather, we gaze and marvel so we might be changed. From that place of awe, we approach God and find the meaning and connection we long for.” The main goal for us on this Earth is not to understand God as much as to be transformed by His love. As for understanding God, we will understand more when we see Him face to face. “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.”(1 Corinthians 13:12). Until that day, let us remain in awe that we have such a wondrous God that created this amazing universe. And let us be ever thankful that such an awesome God loves you and me.

Questions for Reflection

  1. God is always bigger than the mental container in which we try to hold Him. How can you expand yourself to allow God to be bigger in your life?
  2. If God can’t be fully known because He is beyond our comprehension, then what value can be found in seeking to understand Him?
  3. What is your response to the knowledge that God is vastly superior to you? Does it help or hinder your relationship to 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

When God Disappoints Us

Have you ever trusted God and been disappointed? You placed your trust in God and He let you down. After many such disappointments, we can lose hope. When we lose hope, we are tempted to despair or walk away from God. If we manage our expectations at the start, we spare ourselves a lot of anguish.

Faulty Expectations

We must be careful when we place our expectation on God. God isn’t manipulated. Yet we try to manipulate Him by our actions and words. We believe if we say or do the right thing, we can get Him to do what we want. That may work on people we know, but it doesn’t work on God. God is sovereign and He operates outside of cause and effect. He behaves in line with His will and purposes, not ours. Jesus taught us to pray for God’s will to be done (Matthew 6:10), so it’s foolish to try to get God to align with our wills. Don’t expect God to do what you want Him to do. That kind of expectation will lead to disappointment.

Many years ago, when my boss invited me to start a software business with him, I prayed about it and felt I got God’s approval and blessing. So I sold my half of my house to fund the business. After a couple years, all the money was spent and the business failed. I couldn’t understand how God could have misled me. After much prayer and reflection, I realized that God never promised success. In retrospect, I learned more from the failure than I would have from success. My biggest mistake was having placed faulty expectations on God.

Misplaced Trust

Our trust is often misplaced. We believe we are trusting in God but don’t realize we are trusting in a substitute. We’re trusting in a specific outcome or desired result from God. We’re trusting in our knowledge of God or doctrine. We’re trusting in a message delivered by a person or by God Himself. We’re trusting in our pastor or priest or spiritual director. All these things can be replacements for trusting in the person of God.

In my book, Four in the Garden, Cherished declares he will trust in Creator’s help. Creator responds by saying, “In your time of need, look to Us, not to Our help. If you expect the help We aren’t intending to give, then you may lose hope when your expectation isn’t fulfilled. Our help will come, but We are more apt to give you endurance than rescue you. Endurance creates more character than rescue.” Like Cherished, we need to learn to place our trust in God alone, not in His help or rescue or answer. When we look to the latter, we envision how the answer will appear and set ourselves up for disappointment when God doesn’t deliver our imagined answer.

Don’t misunderstand. It’s okay to ask God for specific things, but we don’t place our trust in the answers. We place our trust in God, believing He hears us and will act according to His mercy.

God’s Promises

We trust in God’s promises, but even that can be misplaced trust. The Bible declares that God’s promises are sure, so we do well to believe them, but we shouldn’t pin our hope on them. Our trust ought to be in God alone. We pin our hope on God. Some people regard God’s promises as an ace up their sleeves, something they can pull out to save themselves when needed. God is the one who saves us, not His promises. Trusting in promises can lead to disappointment when we misinterpret them. Instead of trusting in a promise, it’s better to trust in the One who made the promise.

Many of God’s promises are spiritual and conditional, but we can twist them into false expectations. The benefits God promises are often spiritual blessings, such as contentment, wholeness, inner abundance, or joy. Earthly blessings like prosperity aren’t guaranteed, so expectations of earthly comforts or rescue often go unfulfilled. The conditions attached to these promises usually involve putting God or others first, so selfish interests tend to invalidate the promises. I believe God’s promises are not intended to be enticements for reward. Rather, they are statements of consequence. Our motivation shouldn’t be to gain reward but to live with integrity as its own reward. By doing so, we discover that God’s blessings will follow (consequence).

Our focus needs to shift from God’s promises onto God Himself. These promises are statements that reflect God’s nature and character. Our core trust is in God’s character, God’s person, not a collection of promises. So we believe in the promises, but we trust in God. Promises give us something firm to hang our hopes on, so it will feel less substantial to trust in God only. We may feel more insecure trusting in God alone, but that is the nature of true faith and will keep our expectation centered on God, not outcomes.

The Strength of Relationship

Promises also have an unspoken condition, that of relationship. Promises are usually given within the context of relationship. What weight does a promise have if we have no relationship with the person who makes the promise? The strength of a promise is often tied to the strength of the relationship. If you are relying on God’s promises, make sure your relationship with God is active. “Not everyone who says, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus says in Matthew 7:21-23. After these people give noble reasons why they should be accepted, Jesus declares to them, “I never knew you.” God will not reject those who have nurtured a relationship with Him. In these verses, Jesus says that the one who does the will of His father will enter the kingdom of heaven. The way we learn God’s will is through having relationship with Him. Relationship is the basis for receiving all the promises of God.

In the end, it is relationship that saves us, not our knowledge or doctrine or good deeds or church attendance. It is whom we know, now what we know. It is whom we trust, not what we trust.

What Can We Expect of God?

So, how can we insure that our expectations are sound? What can we expect of God that won’t leave us disappointed? We can trust in God’s love and His ability to guard our souls. He doesn’t protect us from lack, but He can protect us from want. Those who trust God know they will be okay, no matter what. In this sense, we will be okay in that we are taken care of by God within our present circumstance, even when our resources are completely gone.

Don’t confuse the loss of resources as God abandoning you. God is present in loss and can inject His love and care when poverty visits us. At such times, God’s provision is most pronounced because that’s when it’s most needed. When I was without food and had no money to buy it, I rejoiced and told God I relied on Him to feed me. That day, a classmate brought donuts to morning class, a stranger gave me his extra sandwich for lunch, and a friend treated me to dinner. God’s care was never more real than that day.

In summary, we trust in the person of God, not in what we want Him to do for us, believing He is trustworthy and that His will is good. If we trust in God’s love and maintain relationship with Him, we won’t be disappointed.

Reflection
  1. Identify one thing you are trusting God for. How might that one “thing” distract you from trusting in God Himself?
  2. Revisit a situation where God let you down. What was your expectation at the time? What was your expectation based on? Looking back, how might you have changed your expectation to be more God-centered and less outcome-centered?
  3. Identify one way you can strengthen your relationship with God so that it might be easier 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

A Deeper Relationship

A “relationship with God” sounds like a lovely thought. But what does it look like? Has anyone defined it for you? How does one have a relationship with a being whom we can’t see or touch? Seems ridiculous, doesn’t it?

A healthy relationship is interactive. Giving and receiving must be present. So what do we give to God? What do we receive from God? I will answer these questions by the end of this article. First, I plan to describe one’s relationship with God by defining stages of increasing depth.

Trust

In my book, Four in the Garden, Cherished asks, “Why should I trust Creator if I don’t know Him?” The answer given him is, “You come to know Him by trusting in Him.” This is a paradox, yet we start the journey toward God by trusting Him. We trust in something we can’t see in the hope that the invisible will make itself known. Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” So we start with a simple belief in God, even though we don’t know or understand God.

Humility

Humility is the first step in one’s relationship with God. We set aside our ego and our ego’s demands when we approach God. We acknowledge that we aren’t as smart or powerful as God. In truth, we know little when it comes to God’s inscrutable ways, and what we think we know may be inaccurate. Humility requires a willingness to be wrong and an openness to correction. A relationship with God is not based on doctrinal certainty, but a readiness to engage mystery as this relationship is mutable and dynamic. No real relationship starts with certainty or expects fixed responses. James 4:6 says that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. Humility opens the door to relationship, but if we are proud before God, the door remains closed.

Authenticity

When we approach God, the masks must come off. We can’t have lasting relationship with anyone if we pretend to be something we are not. Authenticity means we are honest with God about who we are, how we think, and what we do. No excuses, but brutal honesty. I think God can handle it. We come as we are, not hiding anything or making ourselves more presentable. We bring everything into God’s light: our shame, guilt, despair, self-hatred, and doubt. The important thing is that we come, regardless, instead of staying away because we have judged ourselves unworthy. If we have soiled our diapers, then we come to God with stinky diapers believing He will clean us up as any loving parent would.

The goal here is to be real and authentic before God. We are not putting our best face forward, but putting our real face forward, warts and all. When we are real before God, then God makes Himself real to us. Said another way: if you want God to be real to you, then strive to be as real as possible with God. As we drop our masks and defenses, then we remove one more barrier between God and us.

Mutuality

Psalm 18:25-26 says this about God, “With the kind You show Yourself kind; With the blameless You show Yourself blameless; With the pure You show Yourself pure, and with the crooked You show Yourself contrary.” This suggests a mutuality that describes our relationship with God. This same mutuality is reflected in the verse (James 4:8) that says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” This is a dynamic relational dance with God. We bow and He bows in return. We approach and He approaches. We withdraw and He withdraws. He meets us according to our invitation and posture, reflecting back to us a corresponding posture and spirit in response. So it’s up to us how we want to dance with God, but realize that you lead and He follows. God waits for us to make the first move, to draw near before He draws near.

Transparency

Transparency is similar to authenticity, but it goes further. Transparency is more than dropping our masks and defenses; it is an intentional disclosure of our secret selves. It’s noble to be honest in a relationship. It’s far harder and riskier to divulge our deeper selves. We’re bringing out the monsters from our basement, the critters we don’t want others to see or know about. Of course, God knows all about them, but He waits for us to be ready to bring them out into His presence. He waits for us to trust Him with our secret shadow selves. In essence, our relationship with God is all about stripping away the layers that exist between God and us. God doesn’t do it. It is our task. I liken transparency to nakedness before God. Even though God can see us, we invite Him to do so. We invite Him to peer as deep as we can tolerate. When we allow ourselves to be seen, we also allow ourselves to be loved at a deeper level.

When I invite God to see me, I feel exposed and naked. It takes effort to stay still and not retreat. In some ways, I feel like a vampire being burned by the sunlight. But I know if I stay put, then what can’t be burned away will remain. So I allow God to burn off my shame, guilt, and self-judgment. After the ashes, I find my heart malleable again and a renewed tenderness in my relationship with God.

Intimacy

Mutual self-disclosure is the definition of intimacy. When we disclose ourselves to God, God does the same with us. This sharing of selves creates closeness, trust, and affection. God discloses His nature or character to us, some aspect of Himself we can lay hold of. He chooses how and when. His disclosure usually reveals an aspect of Himself that will enable us to become closer to him and to trust Him more. God doesn’t rely on formulas and no two people have identical experiences of God. So be open to anything and everything in your interactions with God. I see no limits in our relationship with God as Christ has removed any barriers on God’s side. The only barriers are on our side. So, we can draw as near to God as we dare. Ephesians 3:11-12 says, “In Christ and through faith in Christ, we may enter God’s presence with boldness and confidence.”

Self-Relating

Our relationship with ourselves has much to do with how we relate to God. If we don’t know how to relate to our inner selves, it will be hard to relate to God. If we don’t know how to nurture our inner selves, then it will be difficult for us to receive nurture from God. It’s within our interior space that God interacts with us. This inner realm serves as a landing pad for God. If we have cultivated an inner life, then we give God an ample place to land. Take time to discover and explore your inner person and learn how to relate to, listen to, and love that person. As you do so, you will develop the capacity to receive those same things from God. Refer to my article on Cultivating an Inner Life.

Deep Calls to Deep

In Psalm 42:6, David says, “Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls, all Your waves and breakers have swept over me.” David is downcast and disturbed in this psalm, yet he expresses his earnest desire and thirst for God by beginning with, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God.” He feels overwhelmed as if about to drown in the waters that inundate him, yet he calls out to God from the deepest place of his soul. In another illustration of mutuality, he expects that by offering his deepest self, he will be met by God’s deepest self. This is an accurate description of our relationship with God: we give ourselves to God and God gives Himself to us. We give our very being to God as a gift, a love offering, a willing sacrifice. In return, God gives us His being, His presence, His manifest love. God’s love is often preemptive and always unearned, but in a show of intimacy when we drop our guard, He sometimes embraces us with a palpable expression of His tenderness. We give God our lives, our spirits, our bodies, our love, our everything. In response, God gives as much to us, if not more.

Some of you are looking for guidance, assurance, security, or comfort. These things may result from a relationship with God, but aren’t the basis of a relationship, even human relationships. Relationship is based on the sharing of selves, mutual disclosure and commitment, and quality time spent together. When a vibrant relationship exists, then these other things often flow out of that. So, we seek relationship as the priority, not these other things that will elude us, otherwise.

The only thing that will last forever is your relationship with God. Everything else will fade away. The best description of eternal life was given by Jesus who prayed, “Now this is eternal life: that they know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom You have sent.” Eternal life isn’t living forever, but having a relationship with God, a personal experience of knowing God (not just knowing about God). This life is eternal because God is eternal and in knowing Him, there is no end.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What is your greatest barrier in your present relationship with God? Why do you think it continues to be a barrier for you? What might it take to dismantle it?
  2. Describe your relational position with God. How does this position enhance or hinder God’s ability to relate to you? What new position would you like to try?
  3. How does your relationship with God compare to what you imagine it could be? Describe one particular way in which it falls short. Name one strategy you can try to fix that shortfall. 

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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

Finding Peace Within Chaos

With everything going on in the world, people are responding with fear or anger. They don’t realize that trust is a third option. Fear or anger doesn’t bring peace to our lives. So what does trust look like? And will that bring us peace?

Crisis or chaos threatens us. It brings the threat of loss—loss of value, loss of privilege, loss of security, loss of power. Our instinctive response to threat is fear, which can sometimes manifest as anger when we push back against what threatens us. People who are angry are also fearful, though you might not see it. Something they hold dear is being taken away or is at risk of such. For example, consider those who are angry because they feel their rights are endangered. Behind their anger is the fear of losing those rights. How can we prevent ourselves from experiencing fear when world events disturb us?

Too Attached to Outcomes

Part of our problem is that we are too attached to events and outcomes. Every outcome is personal to us. We make events about us, even if they are happening far away in Washington D.C. or elsewhere. When we do this, we invest ourselves too much in external events and set ourselves up to get rattled by life’s surprises. We carry around the things that upset us, keeping them close so we can revisit them often and upset ourselves all over again. It’s best to keep a loose grip on events. When we hold too tight, we are less able to adjust to the unexpected. Strive to be unattached to specific outcomes by having an attitude that anyoutcome will be manageable.

As part of keeping a loose grip on life, we need to have a buffer, a way to filter events to keep them at arm’s length. Remember that not everything we hear is true or about us. Try not to take things at face value, but hold them at a distance and study them from multiple angles. Then, when you’re finished, put them on the shelf. If you ingest them, you make them a part of your being. Ingesting an event is welcome when you’re convinced it adds value to your life. When your wellbeing isn’t dependent on exterior circumstances, you can create it from within your interior life, deriving it from the depth and richness of your relationship with yourself and with God.

Managing Our Thoughts

We cause much of our anguish by what we tell ourselves about our circumstances. We label and judge them as bad, and thus respond to our negative assessment of them, not to the actual circumstances, all of which have no intrinsic valuation. By doing so, we believe the worst and increase our stress and worry. We would do well to manage our thoughts. Avoid labeling things as “terrible.” Instead, use labels such as “manageable” or “okay.” Conduct regular inventory of your thoughts. Decide which are worth keeping and discard the rest. Most thoughts don’t serve us. You will find yourself discarding the same negative thoughts over and over again. Stay at it, so it becomes a regular practice and your thought life becomes tranquil. One friend incorporates an action with this mental exercise where he turns both palms downward as if dropping something into a trash bin.

God is Bigger than Circumstances

At some point, you need to decide whether God is bigger than your problems or the other way around. If you decide that God is bigger, how might you change your thoughts and behavior to reflect that belief? Any problem you have is manageable for God. Not only is God bigger than your problems, but He has the bigger picture in mind. I don’t presume to know the bigger picture except that in the end, God will work things out for my soul. My soul has greater value to Him than my circumstances because it’s my soul that endures. Everything else will pass away. So we entrust our souls to God, expecting Him to keep them safe to the end. Because I trust in God, I believe I will be okay, no matter what. I have learned to not trust God for a specific outcome, but trust that God will enable me to embrace any outcome with His help. God says in Ezekiel 18:4, “Behold, all souls are Mine.” My confidence is that He will take care of me because I belong to Him.

Trust Leads to Peace

When we trust, we can experience peace. I define peace as a confidence in God that defies circumstances. We rest in God and find contentment in Him.  I believe such confidence arises from cultivating a relationship with Him, growing to understand His actions and character, and learning to trust in that love relationship. This nurturing interior life with God becomes the bedrock for our outer lives.

In my book, Four in the Garden, Creator gives Cherished advice: “Try to stay in the present. Dwelling on the past or future will steal your peace. Only in the present, where We make Our abode, will you find Us and the peace We give.” God exists across all time, but His presence and activity happen in the present moment, and that’s where we encounter Him. We won’t find Him in our thoughts about the past or future. We experience God’s peace when we stay present and focus on the reality of God in that moment.

Smooth and Heavy

Strive to be like a rock in a fast-moving river. The water rushes past, but the rock is undisturbed. Are you slippery like a smooth rock? Or do events “stick” to you? If you are sticky, then ask God to rub away your sharp edges. He may send stronger currents in answer to your prayer. Are you heavy enough to stay in place? Or do you get washed downstream? Our “weight” depends on our relationship with God. Matthew 7:24-25 describes a person who follows Christ’s teachings as like a house built on bedrock that can withstand the raging torrents. If we are centered on God, then God becomes our anchor when currents try to sweep us away.

The Role of Gratitude

Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Entrusting our concerns to God with thanksgiving is the key to peace. Gratitude is an important element as it repels anxiety. Without it, our prayers are tainted with fear and worry.

When I was bedridden after my back injury, I spent a lot of time processing my predicament, trying to make peace with it and my future, as I had scant hope for improvement. One morning as I lay in bed, I found myself thanking God out loud for “surrounding me with love and good things.” Surprised by this declaration, I stopped and considered if it were true. God had been gracious to show me His love over the course of my life and to send good things my way. I realized my injury hadn’t changed that. I still had God’s love and many good things as I reflected on my current situation, though desperate. That moment of gratitude brought me great peace and confidence that everything would be okay although I couldn’t see what that might look like.

Psalm 112 describes a person who reverences God. Verse seven says, “He need not fear a bad report, for his heart is unshaken, since he trusts in the Lord.” When we trust in God, our hearts are unshaken. All the bad reports we hear in the news need not create fear in us because God is bigger than circumstances and will enable our souls to endure. Place your confidence in God. You belong to Him. He will take care of you.

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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