“The 6 Most Important Learnings From My Summer”,
#4 – PEACE
I found peace in Alaska
I must tell you about two days (or two events) that have given me a peace that I have been searching for for years. Hang with me, or just skip to the bottom. Choose your own adventure, just like the classic kid books.
I still don’t like the word divorce, but it’s succinct enough for defining what is a pivotal, painful and growth filled event in my life.
So much has been said by others as to why I got divorced (See “Pushing Reset on Instagram” for a small sampling). Some of this journey is utterly personal, so don’t expect that I am going to now give you all of those details here on a blog post. My very closest confidants know why I got divorced; they have cared enough to truly share the painful journey with me. Plus, I have no need or desire to share “my side” of the intimate relationship journey between Jen and I. What I do hope and pray for is nothing less than the best for Jen and my sons as we all live and breath in new realities. We are working our way through this new life with health and hope.
I lost peace in a time that can’t accurately put a date to.
My personal and spiritual peace eroded when my soul started awakening to the reality of the end of my partnership with my closest friend since I was 18 years old. I was coming unraveled by the fact that we had an unhealthy relationship and that we were only getting further and further away from being the partners to each other that we had dreamed of being since we were just teenagers.
I lost peace and it was replaced with pain.
My pain and my anxiety was heightened by a community induced stigma of divorce from well intentioned conservative religious folks. I chose to follow Christ’s teachings with my life when I was sixteen. I studied at a Bible college to become a pastor. I was ordained into ministry when I was twenty-three. I served in my home church as a pastor until I was thirty-five. Until someone tells me differently, I am still serving as a pastor through the work of XXXchurch.com to this day. Some of you know very well the culture of American Evangelical Christianity. Here’s a crash course on a central theme: GOD HATES DIVORCE — PERIOD. Ergo, God hates you if you get divorced. And God hates you especially if you are the one who chooses or initiates the divorce. And therefore, it’s only a logical conclusion that you (or me) will be banished in some way, both now and forever, for this eternal sin. (Read “Spiritual Evolution” for more) The community in which I am a member reinforces this stigma through silence, shunning, social media, teachings and so many more things that I care not to waste the digital space.
The Christian community at large does not broadcast, offer or afford a picture of health being found through divorce.
Through this haze of pain and pressure, I found a initial signaling of hope through a voice on the radio. I have a cultivated small set of podcasts that I listen to regularly on topics such as history, American society, science, business, life hacking and also sports. Among these voices, Colin Cowherd continues to have the courage to range off topic to distill his learnings about life. I listen with enough frequency that from time to time I gleaned small glimpses of a healthy man, who shared fractions of his own past relational dynamics that I identified I was living within. In his thoughts and conclusions I first heard something new that no one else around me, who had actually been through a divorce, was willing to share. I heard someone who is healthy, divorced, happy (not bitter), intellectually communicative and living in a peaceful relationship with his ex-wife.
Inspiration and hope can be found in the strangest of places.
When I had lost the final thread of hope with my marriage I finally mustered the internal conviction to make the most painful decision of my life. But, even as I moved forward in a new, healthier direction I was still lost month after month in the fog of “no peace”. Before, during and after the 18 month process of divorce I went to traditional counseling. I find counseling liberating and helpful, while I admit that I do not go regularly year after year. Through all of the counseling in this period of time, I continued to experience that an essential component was missing for finding the elusive internal, spiritual peace I craved. But, I couldn’t articulate what it was that I was searching for. My head and direction were not aligned with my spirit. My soul craved absolution. Forgiveness. Reconciliation with all that I have been taught, believe and have come to know. Even as life got better and even as I experienced that my sons’ lives were not going to be forever destroyed, I still had a nagging lack of peace.
My friend Craig randomly invited me to join him and two other acquaintances for a trip to Alaska to check out an off-the-beaten-path counseling / retreat center for work purposes.
Craig and I have been friends for twenty years. He’s a faithful, brutally honest, quirky, absolutely irreplaceable friend. (I am not kissing his ass just because I happen to work for him.) I read his recap of our time in Alaska. It’s hilarious, accurate and uniquely him. I trust Craig enough to know that when he said ahead of time “this might be crazy” then, well, what I was in for next was certainly bound to be nothing short of crazy. You’ve been patient enough to read this far, so I must skip over many of the zany details of the weekend at the retreat center. But I must tell you about the first of two events that have lead to my peace.
By my own definition of things, traditional counseling methods attempt to address personal healing by engaging your brain.
What I experienced in the counseling process in Alaska was a methodology of bringing an individual healing through an engagement of your emotions. They call it “processing”. I call it a tad bit weird. Let me try to explain. I know it’s going to sound fairly strange, cause it was a very strange thing for me to watch others do and it was equally strange for me to do it myself. The “processing” required me to lay down on the floor, blind folded, covered in a blanket while a counselor / guide lead me in what could be loosely called transcendental meditation with expression. First, I was lead through a heavy breathing technique that assists in clearing your mind of extraneous random thoughts by focusing entirely on your breath. I found this most easily achieved by visualizing myself running up a very hard hill. Next the counselor verbally lead me to tune into what my moody was feeling. “Notice your breath. Concentrate on your hands.” And a series of other called-out instructions to become fully aware of my physical body. From there, the counselor prompted me through questions about the trials of my past two years of my life. Much of what she asked me about was information that I voluntarily provided on an intake form. Some of the things she lead me to share were intuitive promptings given her background and experience. What she helped me to discover were emotions that I had shoved down and not yet actually released. She guided me to express the true emotions of things that I before had only thought. The result for me was like releasing a backed up geyser of raw and intense feelings. Things I never dared to share fully with anyone. It was powerful. It was freeing. It was truly therapeutic to release and express so, so much of what I had stored up and never truly let out with anyone. It’s weird, cause while I consider myself plenty manly, I also rarely shy away from expressing what I feel, even if that feeling is sorrow leading to tears. Going through this process was like a slow revitalization of my soul. When I was done it felt like waking up from a very long nap becoming completely rejuvenated. And as more time passed that day and the following week the energy and refreshment in my soul continued to grow. And this was just the first experience.
My day with the white sherpa of the far north.
Enter my new friend David Taylor. Dave is the brother of Seth and a new friend of Craig’s and XXXchurch. We are partnering with Seth to release a new book on recovery. Since I had gone to Alaska for work, I had decided to stay a 8 days more to explore a small bit of the wild. I like to hike, run and be just outside. Explore. So I connected with Dave to get a local guided experience into the mountains for a day. He laid out for us an incredible 18 mile route near Anchorage the week after I had been to the counseling center. Originally when making plans with Dave I had no thought of talking through my experience in counseling. But Dave had context for what I had experience and been through since he also has done work at the retreat center himself. Another bonus for our day of conversation together is that Dave also shares my faith heritage and is keenly versed in Biblical scriptures. So for me, he served as an excellent translator of what I had experienced and was still wrapping my mind around. So we hiked, over one modest peak and then onto another. We crossed a river and enjoyed the mountain lakes formed from melting snow. We continued to talk and the rain came down. The wild places of Alaska were the perfect backdrop to a profound nine hour conversation. Dave asked some of the best questions that could’ve only been received after I had been able to release all of my backed up emotions. We talked through scripture, we talked about divorce, we spoke of the nature of God’s love. We even talked about the stigmas and teachings of our shared religious culture. Dave honestly helped me and is continuing to help me re-frame so many passages of scripture that have been like anchors on my feet dragging me to the bottom of the ocean… those things that had been taking me further and further away from peace.
I have found the missing peace.
Certainly my life story is not yours. I know that we all have our unique challenges in life. I also know that peace and wholeness for me is an ongoing process. Frankly this whole blog post is slightly out of character given the nature of most of what I have written on here. But here are my takeaways:
1. May I always be willing try new things to live and experience a healthy life.
2. I hope that I will continue to practice this new “process” / meditation.
3. While I am flawed, the creator of the universe has a never ending capacity to demonstrate his grace.