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The Process…

 

Dear Friends,

          I was taught in seminary that in order to properly understand and interpret scripture I was to remember that “Context is King.”  Since then and primarily because of my studies in family systems theory at Seton Hall University and because of the clinical work I do with individuals, couples and families in therapy, I have come to understand that context in not king, but queen.  Context has to move over and make room for Process!!  For me, process is now on the throne reserved for the king.  By understanding process, my life and my understanding of life has been changed dramatically.  My relationship with God, my understanding of Him, how I look at Him and experience Him, and how I communicate to Him and Him to me, has been greatly enhanced.  Because I understand “The Process,” I trust Him exponentially more than I used to.

          Let me define for you what I mean by “The Process.”  By doing so, I hope that you will be comforted that I haven’t fallen off some mystical deep end.  In my training to become a Christian counselor, I was taught how to listen and how to pick up information and data from the person who was talking to me.  I was told that there was the “content” of the message and also the “process” of the message.  The content is the actual words the person says, whereas the process is how they say it.  And just as the content of what someone is saying continues, so does the process.  In this way of listening, I am able to pick up many messages coming at me at different levels at the same time by listening to both the content and the process.  The process also includes the flow and even the cadence of the interaction between me and the client.  It includes both the verbal and nonverbal communication between us.  It also includes the feel of the conversation like whether it is going well and other things like whether or not the conversation is going too fast, too slow, or just right.  As you can imagine, the skill of listening is a very difficult one to master because you have to stay on top of, and make sense of, all of this information at the same time, and as the conversation continues as well.  Once you understand the complexity behind true and more complete listening, you can begin to appreciate why I get irritated when people joke that I don’t have a real job.  Perhaps you can also understand why some people get intimidated by me when they find out what it is that I do for a living.  These people think that I have some mysterious power to see right through them.  To some extent these people are right if I decide to put my powers of listening to use.  More often, I am tired from using this skill at work and just prefer to be a “normal Joe” in social settings.

          By being able, over time, to hone and refine the skill of listening and by listening for the large number of hours, I have been profoundly changed.  For one thing, this process of listening has had the impact on me of slowing me down.  In order to hear all that is being said, I have had to slow myself and the communication with the client down in order to gather all of this information.  I have also learned to give myself the freedom to use silence and to understand the power of silence in personal interactions.  Because of this, I have become more and more comfortable with silence.  This, of course, is in total contrast to the noisy world in which we live.  Sometimes I wonder how any of us hear God’s “still small voice” in such a noisy and fast paced world. 

          This brings up a very important point: during the process of therapy, I am keenly aware of what God is saying to me.  When I learn to listen to Him during a session I can decide when and how I am to respond or whether to saying anything at all.  It is almost as if I am constantly fine tuning the dial on the radio called me in order to tune into “God’s Station.”  When I tune into God’s frequency I become increasingly aware of His presence.  I then can learn to go with His speed.  The trick is to learn to stay in and on His radio frequency and to then go His speed.  This is what I mean by “The Process.”  It is also like being in a river that is flowing at a certain speed.  If I try to swim upstream, I become exhausted and go nowhere.  But if I go with the flow, I am energized and can enjoy the scenery while getting somewhere with almost no effort.  In this river, I have learned a great deal about God because, not only did God create the river, He is also in the river with us. 

          What I have learned is that God created the process, that God is in the process with us, and that God maintains the process.  If I (or you) decide to go with the flow, we are rewarded, but if we buck the flow and wrangle against the process, perhaps wishing to control it due to our lack of trust in the process and, therefore, in God himself, we get tired and things don’t go smoothly.  Therefore, I have learned to trust God much more fully because of His showing up, time and time again, in these sessions.  Or to put it more humbly and honestly, I have learned through “The Process” just how much all of us can trust him, if we decide to show up.  He is always on His radio frequency and always in the river; we need to make the decision to find Him.  This is what I mean by us showing up.  I think this is what the writer of the book of Hebrews is getting at in chapter 11, verse 6 when he writes, “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe the he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. (Emphasis mine)  In other words, finding His radio frequency takes effort.  It’s like trying to tune in to a station on an antique radio, the one with the tubes that people used to sit around and listen to before T.V.  You have to play with the knobs a lot and keep readjusting them to hear the message as clearly as possible.  But once you find the right station you can sit back and listen and enjoy. 

          My experience with God and the process that we are all in (I suppose in some ways we can just call this “life” because we are all on a journey, all in a process, all going somewhere whether we realize and are aware of this or not) is that God’s speed is much slower than ours.  Finding His radio frequency requires us to slow down.  This is probably why meditation is such an important spiritual discipline.  And, I believe, one of the reasons I have become more aware of the process is because doing therapy and Christian counseling requires intense focusing on the information that is shared.  This intense focusing is much like meditation.  So doing therapy forces me to meditate, not only on what the person is saying (and not saying), but also on what God is saying to me while the person is talking.  I can take this skill outside of the counseling room and probably should a whole lot more than I do, but it is a lot of work to focus this intently.  And this is also why I have to go back to what the book of Hebrews says about this work and effort when it says, “that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.” (Emphasis again mine)

          This understanding and experiencing of the process has also radically changed my prayer life.  In the past, I didn’t count it or call it a prayer unless I was saying words to God, either in my head or out loud.  Now, I understand that through meditation, and listening, and getting in touch with God in the process (or in the river if you will), that prayer is more listening than it is talking.  In this way, prayer becomes less work.  I don’t have prayer lists and acronyms on how I am to pray any more.  I now realize that that kind of praying is rather superficial, quite a bit more selfish, and childish, and possibly, even narcissistic in that it becomes too much about me and what I want and need, and too little about what God is saying.  The great thing about this is that His radio station is playing 24/7 for 365 days a year.  We never have to be out of touch with Him and Him with us.  This is the way He set it up.  Because of this, we can be relating to Him on a constant basis.  We never have to be out of touch.  He is always there and this is what the Bible, in so many places and in so many ways, has told us.  This also has given me a better appreciation and a better understanding of Paul’s instruction that we should be “praying without ceasing.”  I can’t think of another way of interpreting this command, if it is to be taken literally, and I do think this is the way Paul comes across when he said this.  He is not just trying to sound pious or sadistically telling us to do something that is impossible.  It is very possible to stay connected and in constant communication with God if we are willing to listen more and talk less. 

          Jesus was also a process guy.  This is clear to me when I think about the way he handled all of the disciples, but especially the way that he handled Peter.  He understood Peter and accepted all of the overt mistakes that Peter made in his life and, in spite of this He still told Peter that He was going to be the rock upon which He was going to build His church.  Just a quick scan of Peter’s life can be helpful and even comical in some ways with regard to what I am saying.  Remember, Peter is the one who walks on water with Jesus and then falls in.  He is the guy who can’t catch any fish until Jesus tells him to throw the net on the other side of the boat at which time he caught more than the boat could hold.  He is also the guy who defends Jesus by stealing a sword and cutting off a soldier’s ear only to have Jesus miraculously put the ear back on.  This is the same Peter who then later that night denied that he ever knew Jesus 3 times while Jesus is hanging, dying on a cross.  In spite of all these blunders, Jesus keeps believing in Peter.  He understands that Peter was in process, that Peter was on a journey, that Peter was going to make mistakes, but, that also, Peter would one day refuse to be crucified right side up because he didn’t want to diminish Jesus’ death by being martyred in the same way.  Instead, he requested to be crucified on a cross up side down.

          When we look at life like Jesus did and does, we are much more patient with each other’s mistakes and rough edges.  None of us has arrived yet, we are all in process and a part of a larger process.  When we slow down and listen more, we can get in better touch with the process that we are in.  I encourage you to speak less and to listen more.  And in your listening I encourage you to listen for that “still, small voice.”  Tune your radio to God’s channel and learn to trust it and Him from what you hear.  Go with the flow in the river and learn to trust God’s pace.  Earnestly seek God in this way and He will reward you with increased understanding and knowledge of Him.  Make your prayer time an all day affair of listening and meditating on what is going on in the processes that God is putting you through.  Finally, obey what that “still, small voice” is telling you and you will be surprised how much more peaceful your life will become.

 

                              In “The Process” with you,        

                              Paul