Time for One Thing.

by Rob Gibson   June 9, 2016

Post #7 in: Gleanings from a Sabbatical journey…

Time is limited and it’s running out quickly. Harry Chapin sung the lamentable reality in “Cats in the Craddle”:

And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon

Little boy blue and the man on the moon

When you comin’ home son

I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, Dad

You know we’ll have a good time then

I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”

He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time

The legacy of busyness is, in the end, empty and unfulfilling. He longed for a moment with his son. Our hearts were made, and long for, connection to love. That song always brings tears to me. It resonates deeply as I long for time with my dad, but time is past. I look at my children, no longer babies but budding professionals, time is passing. I see people running fast, connections lost or never found because we couldn’t find the time.

It is as Dr. Suess says:

“How did it get so late so soon?

It’s night before it’s afternoon.

December is here before it’s June.

My goodness how the time has flewn.

How did it get so late so soon?”

It’s getting late. The urgency of making a living, building a home, saving for retirement and the next vacation, making the payments, upgrading the house, running the kids to ballet, gymnastics, swim team, soccer practice and Tae Kwon Do leaves precious little time to sit at the dinner table, or toss a ball in the yard and simply breathe deeply of life together.

On our journey, we visited St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, Colorado. It is a Catholic monastery, beautifully set in the Rocky Mountains. Christ’s love was palpable in that community. I spoke with one of the monks, Brother Thomas, after service. He is an octogenarian who has given his life to prayer and living a prayerful life while working the ranch, bakery, and tending the monastery. They say: “The monks life is based more on how he lives than on what he does, and how he works more than what that work is.” The brothers breathe deeply of life in communion with God and each other.

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St. Benedict’s Monastery, Snowmass, Colorado

Brother Thomas approached and was inquisitive and full of love. He winsomely asked some telling questions seeking to connect. Then in the course of our encounter he offered, “we are depriving our children today.” I asked what he meant, wondering what a man who has deprived himself of “normal life” and grabbing the goodies of our modern world could be thinking. He answered: “When I was a boy we took time to play together and be kids and be together, even inviting our non-Catholic friends to church with us. We did life together. We were not consumed by games and videos and rushed, but had time together.”

It was more profound than these words convey. I was experiencing life with him and the very  intentional presence of his soul to mine. He was taking time to engage me with depth. His presence was full and loving and intriguing. He was joyful, warm, and his peace had weight. This senior, a man deprived of all the trappings, had a luminous presence about him. Briefly our souls connected, and that is a rare gift in this busy world.

In that moment, he was intent on one thing. He was fully present to another. Time did not stop, but the time was intentional, welcoming and rich. He did not look past me to speak to someone else, quickly dispense with superficial pleasantries, or rush to another thing; he connected and was focused on one thing, in that moment.

One thing in that moment of time. One person. One image bearer given time and focused attention. “I’d love to, if I can find the time.” We don’t find time, it is given and it is limited. My question is, what will I do with the time? I’ve left many behind in the wake of the busyness of building a profession and a portfolio. I’m certain I’ve missed profound encounters and life giving relationships. I’ve missed some of the real wealth offered in our limited time. One thing I don’t want to miss any more is time with you – every you put in my path.

A person, a relationship, old or new, a connection, before it gets too late. One thing, another soul, another heart that beats in the image of our loving God.

I have time for one thing.

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The road to St. Benedict’s Monastery, winter 2016.

 

Who Needs You?

by Rob Gibson   June 3, 2016

Post #7 in: Gleanings from a Sabbatical journey… 

As my journey began, our church family and friends purposely left us alone and undisturbed. It was a welcome restful kindness, at first. Then the silence gave way to some eerie imaginations. Like the strange noises from the basement that scare a child on a dark lonely night, my soul was hearing disturbing noise. Silence was unearthing self doubt and dark questions.

The silence became empty, lonely, and fearful. The fear was; “Am I needed? Do I matter? Does anybody care?” My imaginations stirred lies and negative answers. If the phone isn’t ringing, the calendar isn’t booked, problems aren’t seeking my solution, and I’m not fixing stuff, I don’t matter. The deeper question is: “Am I valuable?”

The young mother senses she’s needed by the sweet cry of her baby and she is loved in return. The nurse is valued in bringing relief to the wounded. The cashier serves a line of customers and is met with smiles and thank you’s. These relational experiences, someone who needs us, send an implied message of value. But in silence, no one asks. My silence, though planned for rest and rejuvenation, took me to the doubt and darkness of my soul in order to welcome greater light. Silence and solitude is a hard but necessary part of maturing our souls.

This is not the first time I’ve faced this silence, but the heart is fickle. The question of value comes to us as kids finding our place, as singles in search of companionship, searching for a job, or letting go in retirement. Attacks on human value respect no age or boundaries.

I experienced this in my first midlife change, when leaving business leadership to pursue ministry at age 40. Moving from leading 300 employees to the isolation of seminary, with a young doctoral candidate teaching me Greek, raised questions of value. I was humbled intellectually and professionally, as I struggled to learn, the phone had stopped ringing, and I wasn’t producing a measurable profit! I wasn’t making an impact, at least according to a worldly paradigm. I’ve known men and women confronted by this struggle with the loss of a job, the loss of a loved one, or as the kids leave the nest. I’ve seen it in young boys searching for dad’s approval and validation on the ball field and in young school girls who saw their value in curves and cup size.

The attacks on our value and worth come at every age, and it came to me in silence and solitude. The option was to get busy, do something, even turn the music up, or step into what seemed dark, embrace solitude, listen for God, and grow.

In the solitude I discovered my desire to be needed. If I’m needed, I’m valuable, right? I faced my narcissistic want to be desired and admired by others. If a paycheck isn’t coming, if the phone isn’t ringing, if they, whoever the “they” are, don’t need me or want me,  am I valuable?

Silence and solitude is beautiful, lonely by design and necessary for our souls to be still with the hard questions and God. I took the narcissist, the over achiever, the striving performer and the lies they scream into the silence with God.

I faced the truth: I’m not needed. I’m not needed and that’s ok. It does not diminish my value. There will come a day when each of us goes onto new adventures or glory, and our friends, family and the world will carry on, sustained by Christ, not you and me. They do not need me and that does not make me worth less. It maes me humble, expendable, and yet still valuable and loved. Worth is not determined by others opinion, need of us, or our production, looks or skill set. Worth comes from God who speaks us into glorious existence and says:

“Let Us make man in Our image …So God created them; male and female he created them…and saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Gen. 1:26-27, 31)

The Psalmist marvels at His work:

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” (Psalm 139:13-14)

And Paul reminds us of the value of His work saying:

“…because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus…” (Eph. 2:4-7) and “…together with Christ, we are heirs of God’s glory.” (Rom. 8:17)

God the Father initiates our created value, Jesus Christ constructs it in love, and the Holy Spirit confirms and seals it for eternity. Our value is inherent as beloved image bearers.

I found an answer. The answer does not stroke the narcissist, applaud accomplishment or stoke busyness, but anchors real value in our Lord and God. The answer is He doesn’t need me, but He made me with inherent value. The answer is I’m not needed and don’t need to be needed, and, you don’t need me. That is actually good news.

Everything we need we have in Christ and in Him we have immeasurable value. We are replaceable, expendable, and indeed will be in due time. But for a relatively brief period, we do have one another. We are unique gifts from God to each other. We are image bearers that bless one another, love, add perspective, reveal glory, refine one another, and, for a bit, make life richer.

You are valuable, more so than whatever someone may want or demand of you, more than what you demand of yourself, and immensely more than the sum of your parts and capacities, or the contrived standards of this world. God’s glory is in you as His beloved child. That is enough. You are enough!

Take a few minutes, be alone and be silent, and let the truth that you are His beloved touch your soul.

Demolishing Prison Walls

by Rob Gibson   May  26, 2016

Post #6 in: Gleanings from … and everyday life. The rest of the story from post #5. 

It takes intentionality and courage to deconstruct the prison walls of our false selves. If we don’t expose and dismantle them, they become lonely prisons in which we die.

Demolition is something I do pretty well when it comes to projects at home. I get a strange satisfaction out of beating the crap out of stuff with a sledge hammer. Maybe it’s the hope of a reconstructing something better. Relationally, sledge hammers don’t work as they wound already tender hearts, but deconstructing unhealthy relational walls is still important work.

Last week I shared how my false self, the “right one” (finds value in “getting it right”), built a wall between me and two friends I love. In the moment, I was unaware my false-self was operative, but after our meeting I sensed a divide, a prison of sorts that felt isolated and cold.

I asked God, why I felt disconnected and a dis-ease with that meeting. His word back was; “you’re fighting to be right, you’re fighting for value and worth … stop fighting for what I’ve already given you!” It was a beautiful moment of God given self-awareness that exposed a wall a false-self regularly tries to build. It was redeeming because God gave me the sense I was loved and secure in him, even when I’m wrong and living falsely. It was very freeing as that awareness of the false-self opened a cell door, exposed the wall, and invited me to step into the  light of his truth and love.

Awareness necessarily leads to a choice to do something or nothing at all. Inaction is a choice to let the wall stand and stay in an increasingly lonely prison. Action for me is sharing the false-self exposed by the relational wall. Sharing my brokenness, the falseness, the twisted internal messages and fight for value with these friends. The exposure and disclosure feels risky and the false-self resists it. But the notion that exposure is risky is a lie of the false-self, because God says:

“… when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,

“Awake, O sleeper,

and arise from the dead,

and Christ will shine on you.”” 

(Ephesians 5:13-14)

This is an amazing truth; exposure to his light transforms my darkness to light! It crushes the power of the lies. So God invites me to wake up, take action, arise from death and let Christ shine. Do I dare trust him in this?

God also says:

“…if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.  (1John 1:7)

Do I really want loving connections (fellowship) with these men and other human beings? If so, I have to risk walking in the light. My false-self screams resistance: “They will judge you, reject you, and shovel condemnation on you.” They could, some have, others will and the hurt is real. Still, God will not – there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Nothing can separate us from his love. Christ has fully accepted and secured me – now and for eternity. Will I trust that and walk in the light of his love? Will you?

I decided to step into the light. I phoned one man and told him I didn’t feel good about our conversation and shared the internal battle for value I was having. I assured him he’d done nothing and I was aware this was my junk. He responded warmly; “Thank you for that. I wondered what I’d done because I felt that wall too!” It was telling, because I thought the wall was well concealed. In reality we all feel the relational walls – a wall is not easily hidden. He continued: “I appreciate your honesty and I feel closer to you now.” Amazing, deeper fellowship because I walked in the light, exposing my broken humanity and falseness. It works – God wasn’t kidding!

The light demolished the darkness and, in that moment, took power from the lies fueling the false-self. I say, “in that moment,” because false-selves are pervasive and persistent in attempting to steal the love and joy of being relationally connected. But light conquers darkness.

So if it worked with one man, do I dare call the other? I risked the action and it worked again. Now I’m writing about it in hope that the story will encourage you to walk in the light; and writing it encourages me to stay in the light and experience more freedom as prison walls are demolished.

I don’t know your internal struggle or your false-self, but I’m convinced we all have them. It may be fighting for value, security, love, acceptance or affirmation. It may stem from deep pain, depression, abuse, sexual sin, fear, abandonment, shame, or other relational wounds that make you want to hide your heart. Every situation and every heart is different, and it takes courage to begin the journey out of the prison of darkness. Regardless of the differing darkness of our particular prison, the light of Christ’s love is always the cure. Christ’s love is the way out.

The light is freeing and his love is wonderfully safe. God loves you, come walk in the light.

Part 2 – The Patience to know myself

by Rob Gibson   May 19, 2016

Post #5 in: Gleanings from a Sabbatical… and daily life.

Inward Discovery: Illusive Patience part 2  … The Patience to know myself and God, deeply. 

So I’m not fixed and that tests my patience. I want to have it all together, not be broken, make mistakes, hurt others, sin, feel like an idiot, need to apologize and, basically, experience my humanity. Pride is at the root of my impatience, but it’s not so easy to unroot pride. It is coy and often covered in false humility, especially as we learn appropriate Christian behavior.

The question for me is deeper than pride. Where is my pride anchored? The anchor I believe is a distorted sense of value and worth – a worth tied to “getting it right,” getting everything right!

Intellectually I know it’s impossible, but the heart is not easily convinced. I know my value and worth is rooted and anchored in Christ, because we are made in His image, made new in Christ, claimed as His own and given His glory (Gen. 1:26, Eph. 1:3-14, 2 Cor. 5:17, John 17:22). I get it and I don’t. I’m better at explaining it to others than living out of this truth myself, because I want to prove my worth by getting it right!

If I did get it right, I wouldn’t need Jesus. I’d be independently OK, not dependent on Jesus forgiveness, love or the sustaining power of the Spirit. The strange blessing is my brokenness cries out, becomes too obvious to conceal, and the elephant in the room is revealed.

I bumped into one of the elephants this week. Our Elders were together planning a worship service. I offered a part. It was thoughtfully received, and given a massage in order to improve it. The idea was supported, I was supported, and offered helpful enhancement. This is beautiful collaboration, unless subconsciously my pride, my sense of worth is perceived to be under attacked.

The false-self appears, the “right one” who must get it right (I’d call it the “prideful one” but it is deeper and more nuanced than pride alone). The “right one” screams “your value is at stake, you must be right Rob.” This unconscious voice was playing. So very subtly, with good behavior as a cover, the false self was fighting for worth, my way. I was fighting for acceptance and value, because the story in my head is I’m not acceptable or worthy if I don’t “get it right.”

The reality is these men do accept me, not as a perfect man, but as a broken man who gives it a good go. It’s the false self, the lies within, that say otherwise. But the false self is never satisfied, never accepting of our humanity and brokenness and consequently, will never get for me (or you) what I really want.

Others joined our discussion and agreed with the modifications, so now it’s obvious, the changes are good, the fight must be forfeited for the moment, externally. I kindly agree and it’s resolved, right? No, the false-self isn’t satisfied. I leave disturbed, unaware the false self has been so impatiently active. I also sensed a dividing wall coming up between me and these men. I hate barriers, especially with brothers I deeply value and love.

So I leave to participate in a prayer meeting with 40 other pastors, feeling this dis-ease, feeling some conviction of internal hypocrisy and a disconnection from my brothers. So I ask, “God why am I feeling crappy about that meeting?” The inaudible answer comes, “you’re fighting to be right, you’re fighting for your value and worth, you’re fighting for something I’ve already given you.”

Unbelievable, an unnecessary fight! An internal fight had not gotten what it demanded, but rather had distanced me from trusted friends and constructed a relational wall. That’s what false selves do, they build walls that too easily become prisons to die in. There is a way out.

A way out is patience with my humanity. That means the patience to be wrong, patience to be a man with limits, patience to be in process, patience to be molded by the voice of the Spirit and God’s goodness to me from others. Patience to know and accept myself, and accept God’s redeeming love in my brokenness.

Next week, a few more thoughts on the imprisoning false self, the way out, and the really redeeming way the walls came down in this story.

Inward Discovery: Illusive Patience 

By Rob Gibson  May 12, 2016

Post #4 in: Gleanings from a Sabbatical. My hope is my journey, potholes and flat tires included, will help you on your journey too.  

A primary focus of the journey was to meet God deeply in my soul. That may sound godly and pastor-ish, but it was a selfish want. I wanted God to fix me, fix my frustrations, fix my brokenness and do it quickly. He is God after all, so he could “Git Er Done” if he wanted. I wanted it now, because my patience was tattered and frayed. I learned that I’m in a big hairy hurry and God is not – he wants a relationship, not a quick fix. 

I thought I had learned (past tense, done, nailed it) patience at a deep level 18 years ago. I was fired three times in two days by my business mentor, friend and man my kids called Uncle. My career, business investment, close family friendship and a lot of money painfully vanished. We fought a costly legal battle over honoring your word, doing what is right, and not hurting innocent people. The battle scars challenged and taught me forgiveness and patience. Patience with believers who act badly, patience with my wife as she hurt over lost trust, patience with friends who stop caring, and patience to trust God to do justice his way on his schedule. I learned patience as I fought to restrain myself from condemning him (he is a sinner like me, his sin just hit me head on) and resisting the urge to beat the fool out of a someone I trusted and hurt me. 

That was a lesson in patience, but I wasn’t done yet. It fueled a desire to fight against the immoral and unjust, to make things right. You know, there is a lot of wrong stuff in this jacked-up broken world! So it can be an endless, exhausting fight. 

One big broken thing, though I didn’t immediately focus here, is ME. It’s always easier to focus on external problems than look into my own soul. So I took the fight to the world through ministry. However internally my impatience and dis-ease was deeply fueled by a battle against my own brokenness and inability to get it all right, be really good one, the way I expect the world to be. All have sinned and fallen short, got it, but I can fix that!  

Now my head logically gets that I can’t “fix” everything and make everything all right, but logic doesn’t fix the pangs of our heart. As the Troll in Frozen (Disney, 2013) says, “the head can be persuaded…the heart is not so easily changed.” See my heart impatiently wants everything to be right, especially with me. I am a perfectionist by nature (and that’s not a virtue). On the Enneagram (a nine point personality profile) I am the “moral Reformer/Perfectionist who strives intensely to get it rIght and make the world a better place. Not necessarily vices, except when my heart says my value, worth and well being are intricately connected to being right and getting it right. 

The result is a touch of craziness – because value, worth and wellbeing are out of reach in this paradigm. The internal drive to perform, reform and perfect torches the impatient fuse. When it blows the dynamite is demanding intensity, criticism and seething anger as I doggedly seek to fix stuff so the world and I will be ok, meet the (my) standard, be above criticism and have it right. The problem is a perfectionists standards are never met … it’s never right enough and perfect is allusive in this broken world.

So my selfish demand was for God to fix it all, especially me. The challenge is God said that won’t happen till Christ returns and that exacerbates an inward groaning for the day of redemption (Romans 8:23). God is trying my patience and taking me deeper into a perfectly secure relationship with himself!  

Next week I’ll talk about patience in brokenness and receiving God’s love.

The Journey Inward to Find God

by Rob Gibson   May 5, 2016

Post #3 in: Gleanings from a Sabbatical. This is my real and often messy personal treasure that I want to share with you, in hopes it blesses you too.  

I know of no better way to put it, one of my goals was to find God. He wasn’t reported missing, but I knew parts of me were sorely missing him. I prayed that he would search me and show me the inward places that needed him (Psalm 139:23-24). I don’t mean the places that I know are dark and need reformation, you know, the sharp words, the angry act, the selfish choice, the covetousness and lust of the flesh. I see that ugly stuff, want it fixed too, but I know there are deeper roots. I mean places that exist subconsciously, the blindspots. Spots we may really not want to see. Places that are part of the broken subconscious matrix of attitudes, thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that prop up my identity, defend my ego, and fights for value.

This is hard territory. It is the core that God wants to occupy, and must, to become more whole.

Let me back up and tell you my experience of God missing in a deeper part. It is an internal emptiness and hunger that will not be sated, even by God’s word (more on this another time). It isn’t merely emptiness, but a feeling of inner space noxiously filled by a demanding intruder. The intruder is busyness, ceaseless strivings, unattainable standards, endless “shoulds” and a droning “do more, it’s not enough.” It’s a dis-ease that makes Paul’s words maddeningly real.

“ …we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children…” (Rom 8:22-23 NLT)

So what is this groaning deep within? I think God’s answer is the old man (Romans 7:19, Eph 4:22), the grappling with disconnection from God, or what some call the false self. The false self is that often unconscious part of ourselves that strives to be its own god (Gen 3;5). It takes the bait, like Adam and Eve, and choses autonomy, hides from God (Gen 3:6-8), and attempts to thrive independent of God.

Conversely our true self is found in deep relational union with God. His desire is to be at the very core of our being, and of course we have no being without him (Col 1:16-17). The true self thrives in oneness with Jesus (as he prays in John 17:20-23), in the mystery of a life hidden in Christ and Christ alive in us (Col 1:27, 3:5). Where disconnected autonomy is present, there is falseness.

My false selves are the critic, the joker, the judge, the analyzer, the perfectionist and the performer, just to name a few. These are learned ways to defend, protect, fight for wholeness, seek worth, and attempt to survive apart from God. They are born out of a broken connection to God and fractured identity. False selves alway operate out of a primal fear. Mine is the fear that I won’t be ok unless. I won’t get what I need, unless. I won’t be valued, unless. I will be rejected, unless. Adam and Eve feared so they blamed and played the victim. This is the deep junk I needed and still need God to excavate in my soul. It’s not easy work and I often avoid it.

So on my journey, driven by the groaning and burnout (the false selves use a lot of energy), I got to work. I was resting and reading in solitude to create space to find God. What I found was a layer of fear and a false self that I thought was adequately contained. Instead, the sneaky performer was there in my sabbatical work. The performer works to be approved, to be loved, to be accepted, to be secure, to be valued, to be enough. It was working to have the ideal sabbatical, to achieve a successful sabbatical. My performer is an over achieving workaholic, even when he isn’t working! It’s never satisfied and it is intense.

The intensity of my false self is deadening and oppressive. It’s deadening because it is a facade and unsuccessful at getting the acceptance, love and value my soul needs and desires. It ultimately fails because it demands what only God can give.

I’ll unpack more in future posts, because I believe this is big for me and maybe for you too. But let me close with four critical awarenesses from my journey. First is the willingness to face the false self and understand why it’s operative. Awareness is a first step to healing and taking action. Second is the reality that it is more ubiquitous than we believe. Third is finding the one thing, one transformative truth or virtue, that confronts and depletes its power. For me that is patience (more on that next time).Lastly is continually turning over the false self to death and welcoming the cure. The cure is Christ more fully alive within (Gal 2:20). The risky vulnerable journey continues daily, but the reward is a growing wholeness, change, depth, and peace that come from a more real union/connection with God, and you.

The Value of Vulnerability

by Rob Gibson

Post #2 in: Gleanings from a Sabbatical Journey: Chasing God and finding me

The dictionary defines vulnerability as: “capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt; open to attack, criticism, assault etc…”  Yikes, that sounds like something to be avoided!

Maybe, but vulnerability is the pathway to knowing, loving and receiving love. I know this because Jesus came to us vulnerable, to be known and to know and love us. He risked coming as a vulnerable human to the jacked-up, deadly world of ancient Israel. No doubt he knew it would be tough living with messed up humans and that our love would be fickle at best. Still, he vulnerably showed up and opened up. I get this intellectually, but is vulnerability worth the risk, for me?

On my journey I had a lot of opportunities to risk relational vulnerability. I think it’s always there, but I was more aware, maybe because I prayed the end of Psalm 139 and God gave me what I asked for.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!

Try me and know my thoughts!

And see if there be any grievous way in me,

and lead me in the way everlasting! 

(Psalm 139:23-24)

The search revealed hidden treasure in my heart and others. It happened with my wife as we read The Relational Soul and together answered challenging heart questions. I learned beautiful and tender new things about a women I’ve lived with for over 28 years! It happened with old friends who wondered how in the world Rob Gibson (hear that with astonishment) became a pastor, and I shared my story. It happened with family who wondered if I was loosing it and we talked about the struggle. The opportunities are abundant, but scary, because it involves heart exposure.

I want to be vulnerable with you and share my story, but it is hard. It’s a risk to expose my heart and let let you peer into my life and feelings that are real, sometimes raw, and deep. I’m trying to do this without posturing, posing or defending (more on my false selves another time).

I have one older brother and three older sisters. My brother is thirteen years older. When I was 5, he left for college and then the military, a natural progression for him. But that departure hit me hard, because I lost the presence of my big brother and I loved him deeply and likely idolized him at that age. When he left I felt very sad, abandoned, alone, and I didn’t have the capacity to put words or understanding around the loss. That began a journey to shut out sadness, the risk of relational pain and lonliness. More of each was coming, life brings it, but also all four siblings would leave home before I was ten. I entered life in a big family and by eleven I am essentially an only child. That was sudden sad aloneness in a family system that expected happiness (more on that in another post).

I became guarded, emotionally distant, subconsciously suppressing sadness and anger over the aloneness. As adulthood came I was physically distant from my brother and became emotionally distant from everyone, subconsciously protecting my heart. As grown men my brother and I were generally kind and enjoyed some superficial laughs together, though we had occasional fireworks as suppressed hurt would come flying out sideways. We were generally superficial, never really sharing the depths of life – at least I wasn’t. But this journey, which gave us a bit of time together, provided an opportunity to be vulnerably real.

One evening he asked me, “what is the purpose of your sabbatical?” Well, I said, “a part of this is rest from ministry and heart work” trying to give a pastorally abstract answer and move along to the chips and guacamole. “What will rest look like,” he says, “Gibson men don’t do that well? He continued, “And why are you going back to Wellsville and Canister (I shared I was taking a trip to our and my dad’s childhood homes in New York) – what is there for you?”

We were sitting at the bar in the kitchen in Colorado when the risk presented itself. I chose not hide the truth of the ache that was stirring in me. I skipped the logic of a sabbatical, which might have satisfied his sharp intellect and kept him distant. I risked exposing my burnout, my relational pain, the sense of loss, the deep sadness I felt in my soul. I told my brother that a lot of pain and sadness was behind me in Wellsville, a lot of loss and that a piece of it was connected to him.

“To me, how so” he asked. I told him how sad I was as a little boy and how hard it was to loose my big brother. My tears began flowing. I said “you meant a lot to me.” Grown men now in our 50’s and 60’s, tears filling our eyes, and he said, “I meant a lot to you? I had no idea I meant a lot to you.” I thought are you freaking kidding me?  I said, “You’ were my cool big brother, you were supposed to show me the way as a  boy – and then poof – you were gone and that left a huge hole in me.” We wept together. Our daughters eased away and looked on wondering what’s happening with our dads right now?!

Vulnerability sparked a deeper connection to love. It was a connection the little boy in me subconsciously longed for, but I couldn’t imagine. A couple steps on the path of vulnerability ignited a depth of love, care and connection that had been plowed over and buried for years. As I write this I’m crying again, because it was such a gift .

We have both been reasonably successful and have comfortable lives, enough toys and distractions to amuse ourselves regularly. We could have gone on existing in the status quo of superficial engagment. But I risked, actually we risked, and we experienced something tremendously more valuable than all the toys and success the world offers. I think deeper love awaits us in almost every human relationship, if we’ll press into it.

I know it doesn’t always work. Sometimes vulnerability will leave us hanging, exposed and unknown, uncared for and feeling unsafe. That possibility tempts me to hide at times, even though God is there for me. But sometimes I don’t hide because I want to experience more wholehearted love, God’s love, and I’m convinced it comes through sharing my story, my heart, my pain and my joy with other human beings. Maybe you long for wholeness, love and connection too?

Vulnerability is a pathway to life and love in the likeness of Christ – I’m growing at it.