Grateful Even in Letting Go

For those of us in the States, today is Thanksgiving Day. Though its origin isn’t the cleanest story in our history, setting aside a day to remember God’s goodness despite human frailty is beautiful for all of us.

But how can you be grateful when your life is wrecked with pain or your year is full of loss?

Over the past few years, Sara and I have had significant changes in our lives, some quite painful. Almost everything about our lives has changed in the last two years—from moving homes to reordering our lives significantly to the loss of valuable family relationships to giving up writing for a while, and even the death of my dad and a few other significant men in my life. Last week, we even lost our beloved golden retriever, Abby, who had been a substantial part of our family for the past thirteen years.

Loss hurts, and changes forced upon us by circumstance or the actions of others can be so hard to bear. But that doesn’t mean they can’t lead to gratefulness. In our pain and grief, Sara and I hold the sorrow of our hearts in the presence of Jesus until the loss is swallowed up in his goodness and joy. That’s what grief is supposed to do: to replace the sting of loss with the sweet memories and gifts they instilled in us. That process can take months or even years, but if you hold it in him, his glory will appear.

A few days ago, a good friend, Dana Andreychen of Charlottesville, VA, sent me a poem called Autumn. She also wrote the poem Allowing My Past to Catch up with Me, which I shared here almost eighteen months ago. Not only was the poem timely for a story unfolding in our lives, but it also expresses what it means to love our childhood selves through the trauma they experienced.

Autumn was written out of deep grief and captures this pathway through loss to life so eloquently.


Summer makes its exit
like a treasured soul who
runs through my hands like water
which grasping cannot hold.
With tenderness, I release my grip
and watch it float upward
like a crimson leaf
on this morning’s current
toward a crisp blue sky,
then settle like Autumn
to a littered ground
of harvest color.
I lift it up, body and soul,
and treasure it beautiful,
palms open,
for what it is, for what it was,
for what it may become.
I press it between the pages
of a beloved book
relishing the stories I find there,
and put it on my shelf of favorites
whose lines I will quote from time to time.
Which has played
a part in my becoming.
At times I will reread the volume
of what has been written
in indelible ink,
while knowing that seasons change.
After musing for a while,
I close the book,
place the treasured tome
in its place of honor
and walk out into the unfolding of today…

I love the imagery here of trying to grasp what cannot be grasped and holding our loss lightly as you see how presence and loss are both part of the story God is writing in our hearts. Finally, we can honor the joy of what we lost, place it among our sweetest memories, and open our hearts to what this day might hold.

Not only is this true for the loss of valued relationships, but it is also true for loss brought on by bad fortune, betrayal, or treachery. The latter is far sweeter to process, of course, as you can be thankful for the gift those people were in your life. Nonetheless, even the brutal circumstances in our lives can write God’s story in our hearts in ways that will shape us for whatever else is to come.

Either way, letting Jesus resolve the pain in our hearts will shape us more to live with his grace in the world. In time, you will find yourself overwhelmingly grateful that he is greater than any circumstance that can befall us.

I hope you find your way to thanksgiving, even in moments of loss and disappointment. Learning how he does this will serve you well as your future unfolds.

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The Gift of Tom Mohn

When people ask me what books most shaped my life and spiritual journey, I tell them it has never been books; it has always been people. While I’ve read many excellent books and been enlightened by many of them, what has most impacted my journey is the older brothers and sisters I’ve known who have illuminated the pathway before me and held my heart in my most discouraging times.

That’s the richest treasure of the community, his Church in the world. They weren’t “like-minded people,” or they wouldn’t have been able to add insight to my journey. When they crossed my path, I recognized a tenderness in their demeanor and a depth in their soul. Many of them were 15 or 20 years my senior, not people we would typically engage. And yet, I was drawn into a growing friendship with each of them. None of them talked down to me or positioned themselves as a teacher. They accepted me as a friend and allowed me to watch their lives as they struggled through the challenges of faith in a world of chaos.

At every critical moment in my journey, God provided at least one of them to walk with me through pain and hurt, helping me understand what God might be doing in my circumstances and how I might respond in a way that would draw me deeper into the Father’s purpose in my life. I am grateful for all they added to my life and the deep friendship I shared with each of them through significant stretches of my journey.

And now, it seems I’m here to mark their passing—men and women of whom the world was not worthy. I’ve already told you about Kevin Smith from Australia, Dave Coleman, who helped me write So You Don’t Want to Go to Church Anymore, and my father, Eugene Jacobsen. Last week, Tom Mohn, one of these dear friends from Tulsa, OK, joined Jesus in eternity. Over the past few days, I’ve reflected on what Tom meant to me and how encouraging he was to Father’s work in my heart. I met Tom later in life, but we connected almost instantly, and I remember fondly the many stories and insights we shared. You can read some of his reflections in his book, Good Morning Brother Pilgrim.

I can remember the details and laughter of so many conversations. We shared dreams, discouragements, and disagreements. Though I was with him less than a dozen times, each was rich with thoughts about God and how we engage him with growing trust and love.

He was our guest on one of the most impactful podcasts from our earliest days at The God Journey, called The Things God Uses. It is one of my all-time favorites and I have recalled his words often and shared them with others who are going through painful transitions. You can listen to it in the link above, but I want to share the high points here. He said God used four critical seasons to shape Tom’s life. Some are quite surprising, and I have also found them to be true in my journey.

  1. The first is a measure of fruitfulness that demonstrates to us that God is with us and can express himself through us in simple and mundane ways as we live alongside others. We all need that affirmation.
  2. The second is a massive dose of failure, not something we got a little wrong but a significant mistake that blew up in our faces. Most people hide such moments, but Tom spoke openly about his, for only then will we distrust our own wisdom and abilities enough that we can begin to trust God and look for his hand at work in us.
  3. The third is being part of a gargantuan heretical movement. He called it aversion therapy—to be so caught up in the arrogance of group-think that you think you have all the correct answers and everyone needs to kneel at your feet to learn the truth. When it gets exposed, you find out you were more in love with the movement than you were with God and loved the role of expert more than servant. Of course, when you realize it, you’ll want to repent and let him soften you rather than double down on your mistaken beliefs in our attempts to save face.
  4. The fourth is a devastating betrayal by a close, intimate friend, especially one you did not deserve. It can happen with a spouse, a business partner, a family member, or a ministry colleague. Only in the depth of pain that you can’t recover from alone will you discover the depth of fellowship in the sufferings of Jesus. It will mark you with a humility that will never put the lust for power over the life of anyone you care about.

Of course, we’ve all been through these experiences and others that shape us, but only if we respond to God in them. Most people grow arrogant in fruitfulness, angry in failure, defensive when proven wrong, and bitter in betrayal. That’s why I appreciate these people who have walked alongside me and pointed to a better road when sharing their own stories.

I’m convinced you have people like that around you, too, which is why I wrote this piece. You have to find them; they won’t knock on your door. But who around you knows the God you want to know and demonstrates the character you find engaging? Ask God to show you who they are, and then find ways to spend time with them and see how the friendship builds over time. Take a risk on people older than you, and don’t assume they won’t care or understand the choices you confront. In most cases, they’ve been through what you’re now facing.

Don’t look for someone to tell you what to do but those who will share their friendship. Then, you’ll glean all the wisdom God wants to give you through those marinated in his love through the most painful circumstances.

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The Trajectory of Truth

Sara and I have just begun a fresh reading through Romans to hold what we’ve been learning about trauma and sin up to the light of Paul’s understanding of redemption.

In the first chapter, Paul mentions “the righteousness that comes by faith,” which is the theme of the entire book—how God does by grace what human effort could never achieve. I’ve taught this book many times throughout my life. On this read, it became clear to me how much the meaning of that phrase has changed over time. Truth, it seems, has a trajectory. It’s not a set of facts we come to believe, as if we could clearly see all its implications from the outset. Instead, Truth is the reality we come to embrace over time as Jesus continues to reveal himself and his light to us.

Reflecting on our journey with that phrase provides an interesting roadmap for the fascinating adventure Sara and I have shared.

In my younger days, I would have interpreted that phrase to mean “the good deeds that come from ‘the’ faith.” I would have seen faith as the total of the New Testament rituals and principles I believed and tried to implement. My focus was on my obedience to a list of New Testament expectations. Looking back, I wouldn’t say it led me to more righteousness but more of an appearance of righteousness. I learned how to act better, especially when I was being watched, but doing so only drove the unrighteousness deeper as it found refuge in “righteousness indignation” or “religious arrogance.” Both can be so easily justified as they provide the excuse we need to live a loveless life.

In my twenties and thirties, I would have interpreted that phrase as “the perfection that faith should produce.” This meant the perfection of my actions was the tool I used to evaluate the quality of my faith in God. In my more honest moments, every sin or failure became a source of condemnation and the constant demand for me to try harder. In moments of cognitive dissonance, I would find comfort in the fact that I was working harder than most other Christians I knew as if Jesus were judging on the bell curve. Again, the fruit of that was not righteousness but simply me trying harder to meet God’s standards.

In my mid-forties and early fifties, I would have interpreted that phrase, “Trusting God is the righteousness he seeks.” Some of what Paul says elsewhere underscores this. “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” So that was better but still not complete. While there was no shame in it nor any call to perform better, it still didn’t allow me to recognize the transformation God wanted to do in my heart. My alleged faith became a cheap substitute for how he invited me to live rightly with myself and others instead of being the source of that transformation.

For the last twenty years, I have come to interpret that phrase as, “the whole-hearted living that results from my growing trust in Father’s love.” Rather than being an oppressive obligation God puts on us, righteousness is the essence of the freedom to be all God created me to be. I make my better decisions in his wisdom when I am at rest in him instead of striving. Growing trust does produce growing freedom. It not only seeks to untwist me from the distorting of darkness but also engages me with God’s purposes unfolding in the broader world. In my struggles, I’m less bogged down by my well-being and am increasingly aware of how he is loving me and the people around me. Though his way may mean greater pain in the short run, it leads me to a better way to deal with the uncertainties of life. It reminds me that my work is not trying to act more righteously but to find rest in his love and his work in the situations that confront me each day.

In each case, I would have used the exact phrase but applied it quite differently. Those who say, “I just believe what the Bible says,” don’t realize how often they interpret its words. We all do it, often in the vacuum of religious biases or our comfort. They can easily distort its meaning even as we claim to hold fast to the truth of Scripture. What we take Scripture to mean is always an interpretation. In the Jesus Lens, I said the most dangerous Christians in the world are those who don’t know they are interpreting the Bible and assume their interpretation is the only right one.

I have found that my interpretations of Scripture continue to change under the increasing light of his Spirit as he intersects with the reality of my life. How I have come to see “the righteousness that comes faith” in sharper focus over time has clarified its meaning for me. I can only wonder what insights this next decade might bring.

I love that my life is still being shaped by Paul’s words, confirmed by the continuing work of his Spirit in my heart. Seeing how those two line up has provided me the adventure of a lifetime as I awake each day with anticipation as to what he is still refining in my heart and mind.


Also of note— 

The next gathering of the He Loves Me Book Discussion, which will take place on Saturday, November 11, at 1 p.m. Pacific Time. You can find the link for this conversation on the Group Page on Facebook, or if you are not a member of Facebook, you can write me for a link. These conversations are held and recorded on Zoom. We stream them live on my Facebook Author Page for those who don’t want to be in the Zoom discussion, and you’ll find our previous conversations there.

This week, we’ll cover Chapters Six and Seven: “The Tyranny of the Favor Line” and “What Shall I Give to God.” Each of these further breaks down the futility of trying to earn God’s favor with our good works or gifts and invites us into the depth of his love that overcomes all our need to perform.

If you’ve missed previous chapters you can find them here:

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You Have No Idea

It’s never a bad day to put some generosity in the world.

A good friend wrote me this week to let me know how the October 31 reading in Live Loved Free Full inspired an act of generosity that lay before him on the very day he was reading it. The reading encouraged him to give beyond what he was already planning to give to someone in need.

You can’t do generosity out of guilt; it will never end up in the right place. But if you walk through your day with a generous heart, God may just show you someone who could use some financial help, a gift of time in a meaningful conversation, or some practical help with a difficult problem. Generosity changes the world; it is the antidote to violence and vengeance so prevalent in our day

Here’s the reading for October 31 and reading it again warmed my heart with the possibilities that each day presents if we can look beyond ourselves to a world in need around us:

We were just finishing our meal with my daughter and the grandkids at Bandit’s, my favorite BBQ restaurant, when I noticed a young couple sitting at a table behind Sara making goo-goo eyes at each other and doting over a one-year-old sitting in a high chair at the end of the table. I was touched by the sweetness of that young family.

I pointed them out to Sara and suggested we pick up their check. It’s something we do occasionally ever since I was involved in a fight for the check at an ice cream parlour in Framingham, Massachusetts, twenty-five years ago. When our hosts pulled rank, demanding to pay it, I picked up the check of a young couple on the other side of the restaurant as an act of surrender.

Since then Sara and I occasionally pick up a check for random strangers. So, I told the waitress I wanted to pay the bill for the family near us. She asked if I wanted to keep it anonymous, which we usually do, but this time it didn’t seem important.

When they finished, they got up to leave and walked by our table without a glance. They didn’t know. They must have sought out the waitress, however, because two minutes later someone tapped me on the shoulder. I looked up, startled, and immediately the young mother broke into tears.

I stood up and introduced myself, and she hugged me while barely able to whisper in my ear, “You have no idea! You have no idea!” When she collected herself, she said, “That little boy was in a hospital Sunday night with a 105-degree fever. We almost lost him.” She broke down again. Now I was tearing up. “You have no idea what this means to us, that Someone knows.”

Sara and I left the restaurant with our hearts soaring. How fun was it to be part of something like that and watch someone be loved by God without us having to tag it with our own graffiti? And Julie said her kids talked about it all the way home, wanting to know what we did and why that woman was crying on Grandpa’s shoulder!

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people,
especially to those who belong to the family of believers.
Galatians 6:10


You can order your copy of Live Loved Free Full here. I designed this book to help people have a relational thought every morning that would draw them inside the Father’s heart and set a grace-filled tone to the day. It also makes an excellent Christmas gift for someone looking for that kind of encouragement.

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The Thrill of His Presence

It’s one of my favorite epigraphs in He Loves Me. At the beginning of Chapter Five are these words:

The great danger facing all of us . . . is that someday we may wake up and find that we have been busy with husks and trappings of life and have really missed life itself. That is what one prays one’s friends may be spared—satisfaction with a life that…has in it no tingle or thrill that comes from a friendship with the Father.

Phillips Brooks (1835–1893) in Sermons

Those seasons where I gave into distractions of life or let my spiritual journey slide into keeping up with the disciplines I’d been taught are the emptiest seasons of my life. Like most in such seasons, I accused God of going quiet as punishment for my waywardness or to try to make me work harder. I know better now; I had settled for something less than Presence. I had enough of God’s things in my hands that I thought I could move forward on my own.

This quote from Phillips Brooks touches something deep in me—the reminder of the tingle or thrill that comes only from his Presence. He shows up, often when I least expect it, with an insight, a connection with someone else, or a sense of serenity in the midst of a howling storm. Suddenly, my heart or body comes alive, knowing someone Greater is here—in me. The Presence is greater than any sorrow or uncertainty. It is comfort beyond description and joy unspeakable. When he shows up like that, I am confident that there is a way through anything that will lead to his life and light.

I don’t chase the thrill; that, too, can be a distraction. Instead, I relax into his reality, where I can recognize him. That’s the thrill!

Chapter 5 in He Loves Me is titled “Welcome Home” and will be the subject of a Zoom conversation this Saturday morning (October 28) as part of our continuing conversation through the themes of this book. You are welcome to join us at 11 a.m. PDT. You can find the link for this conversation on the Group Page on Facebook, or if you are not a member of Facebook, you can write me for a link. The conversations are held and recorded on Zoom. We stream them live on my Facebook Author Page for those who want to listen in. You’ll find our previous conversations there.

Being welcomed home is what Sara and I experienced this week from our seven-week trip. What a joy to be at home again in an environment that is warm and comforting. That’s what Jesus offered us with his Father in John 14—to be “at home” in him! You need not be intimidated or fearful in the presence of Jesus’s Father. You can be at rest in him even as he helps you negotiate the most painful realities of life in this broken world. You can’t learn this on your own; only Jesus can teach you how to be at rest in his love and goodness.

But don’t settle for anything less; it is the best part of living in this age. It may take a while for you to learn how to recognize the way he touches your heart and invites you into his household, but it is well worth learning. All of life pulls us away from that reality, but the invitation is always there. “Come to me, my beloved, and be at home in my heart.”


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Love Is a Pain

Sara and I are set to arrive home today from our seven-week trip across the middle part of the United States. This trip has been remarkable and challenging in so many ways, but in all, well worth it. We’ve shared the ups and downs with our podcast audience in the last few weeks and won’t reiterate them here. Sara joins me for the podcast coming up this Friday.

One of the things we’ve been doing during our long driving days is to discuss putting a book together with our story of the last year and a half. We hope to encourage people who navigate some dark waters to find Jesus there and let him reverse the effects of the trauma or sin that has overwhelmed them.

To help with our recollection, we began to listen to our original seven Redeeming Love podcasts, where Sara and I tell that story close to the time those events unfolded. It’s been a bit surreal to hear us talk about events that shaped our lives in ways we could not have foreseen and now enjoying the fruit of all that pain and the joy that has come of it.

In the first, I tell a story that I had forgotten. It was in the earliest days when my agony was almost unbearable. My friend Luis saw me at my lowest, in those moments of hopelessness where I had no thought Sara would return, and I would somehow have to craft a life without her. Though God had seemingly promised me otherwise, the visible evidence was overwhelmingly against that happening. He sat with me through many tears and painful silences.

One morning, he came to my house, deeply touched by a dream he had the night before. In the dream, he sat on a park bench with Jesus, asking Jesus if he could take my pain away. “I could,” Jesus responded. “but I can’t take his pain away without taking his love away.”

I was blown away when he told me. I have never wanted to embrace pain or love more than I did at that moment. I wanted both. I wanted to love Sara deeply and, simultaneously hold the agony of missing her as the circumstances would still unfold. Avoiding pain would not help me love her. And I discovered that God’s love is bigger than my most hopeless moments and can hold me in the midst of them.

If there were ever a prayer I am glad God did not answer, it would be the one. I wouldn’t have volunteered to give up my love to save me that pain. Today, it makes me wonder how many prayers I have offered to God that, had he answered, would have had unforeseeable consequences. When we pray for things we want, we are often clueless about the harm doing so might cause for ourselves or others.

It also appears we are saying goodbye to our beloved golden retriever, Abby, after nearly thirteen years of enjoying her presence in our family. It will hurt deeply when she leaves us, but the depth of pain only testifies to the extent of love we have for her. I wouldn’t have skipped those thirteen years not to feel the grief that will come with her passing. I will embrace that grief as a testimony of the love and life we have shared.

Love is a pain. But knowing it is even sweetens the pain it causes. And having God’s comfort inside that pain makes the unbearable bearable.

C.S. Lewis said, “If you love deeply, you’re going to get hurt badly. But it’s still worth it.”

That it is.


A reminder:  Chapter 5 will be the focus of our next gathering of the He Loves Me Book Discussion, which will take place this Saturday, October 28, at 11 a.m. Pacific Time. You can find the link for this conversation on the Group Page on Facebook, or if you are not a member of Facebook, you can write me for a link. The conversations are held and recorded on Zoom. We stream them live on my Facebook Author Page for those who don’t want to be in the Zoom discussion, and you’ll find our previous conversations there.

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How Do You End Your Day?

At day’s end, where does your mind wander?

As you assess your day, do you predominantly contemplate the places you fell short or the moments that made you grateful?

When I was pounding the religious treadmill, I always found myself far more aware of my mistakes than my joys. I’d go to bed aware of my deficiencies and promise God I’d do better the next day. But then I was right back there the next night doing the same thing. Perfection is an impossible standard.

One of the most significant changes I’ve noticed as I learn to live loved is that I’m much more focused on ways I saw Father’s hand in the day than on the disappointing moments or my failures. And I’m pretty sure I miss ninety percent of that as a barrel through life, but I am treasuring those moments I do see.

If you’ve been schooled in religious performance, it will be far easier for you to believe that God is disappointed in you rather than to believe that God is delighted in you and your desire to know him. That’s especially true when we are aware of our doubts or failures. The religious mind can’t comprehend God’s delight unless we are perfect. So, every failure is more evidence that you’re not good enough to have God’s pleasure, even in the process of him changing the waywardness of your desires.

We discussed that Sunday in our He Loves Me Discussion of chapters 3 and 4. It’s a great way to remind ourselves to stay off the religious treadmill and shift our attention to how his Spirit works in us and around us.

Paul warned us in Romans 8 that the mind focused on the flesh is death. Looking at your performance and feeling shame or frustration for your failures will literally kill you.

But he also encouraged us that when our minds are focused on his Spirit, we will experience his life and peace. So, that’s where we want to look. Don’t assess your failures every night; instead, look for ways God was involved in your day—his fingerprints, winks, whispers, nudges, encouragement, and blessings that were part of your day.

If you’re not used to doing this, don’t be surprised that it will take time to shift your focus, but doing so will bring you great joy. You’ll see that you don’t have to be perfect to have God interact with you and that he is always involved in your life, inviting you to greater rest and trust.

That makes sense, doesn’t it? Since we are helpless in our doubts and sin, we can’t change that without him inviting us into his light and equipping us with his strength and wisdom. “Be holy as I am holy” is either the most frustrating command ever given or the greatest invitation ever made. He wants to come alongside us as he shows us how to live.

So, at the end of your day, when brushing your teeth or laying your head on the pillow, ask Jesus, “How were you with me today?” Don’t hurry the moment. It may not come easy, but wait until your eyes begin to see how he walked with you through your day.

It’s like going outside to look at the stars. Initially, you’ll only see a few, but the longer you stare at the sky, the more your eyes adjust, and you’ll see more and more of its glory.

Your eyes will adjust to match your focus. Look for his delight rather than his disappointment, and you’ll find a trajectory that will rewrite your life.

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Life on the Narrow Road

Sara and I visited the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois, last week as part of our RV trip around the heartland. One room in the museum included scores of cartoons published upon his election, scorning and mocking him for his physical attributes and ideals. President Lincoln didn’t pay them much attention, though his wife, Mary, was angered by them.

The next day, Sara asked me if cartoons like that were to be published about me, would they bother me? I thought for a long time.  As a younger man, they would have. I guarded my reputation and took it personally when anyone criticized me. I would have found cartoons like that demoralizing.

But now, it has happened so often, especially by people who make up lies about me to marginalize or discredit me, that I’m well-practiced in negotiating angry people and the lies they tell to make themselves feel better or justify their destructive actions. So, I told Sara I suspect more people in the world hate the things I’ve written, especially about the church Jesus is building, than those who love them. The religious crowd can be relentless in defending the status quo, especially when it is built on so many fears that considering any other option is unthinkable.

Is that why Jesus said his way is a narrow road? Follow the crowd, and you’ll end up in a ditch somewhere with a lot of company. Pursue “likes” and clicks to monetize your thoughts, and you’ll end up bartering in half-truths and distorting the Gospel to offer people false security.

I can’t tell you how many people write me to say that the more freedom they have discovered, the less some of their old friends want to hear about it. Sounds strange, doesn’t it? The more love you have to share, the less people are willing to share it. That’s because while his love is the greatest prize we could ever discover, it does upset the applecart of our illusions.

Jesus knew the truth wouldn’t always be popular and that some would consider love a threat. He warned us that those who would persecute you would think they were doing God a favor. Those who embrace his truth and love would often be mocked and demeaned for it.

It’s not easy staying true to his work when others don’t beat a path to your door. That’s why I have treasured every email, phone call, and blog comment that lets me know people have resonated deeply with things I’ve written or recorded.  Each one is a powerful encouragement to stay the course Jesus has laid out for me.

It’s also why I write and travel to converse with hungry people. I know for every encouragement they get, they probably get twenty discouraging things said or done to them. The narrow road can get lonely sometimes, but truth and love will always be more valuable than a host of friends hoping you’ll stay stuck in the old ways.

But in the end, we dare not look to the crowd, especially religious ones, to affirm his work in us. We live to an audience of one, and while encouragement from others is significant, it is not essential.

Following him is its own reward, and when you no longer need the validation of others to be true to him and his work in you, you’ll find the narrow road a joyful place to be.

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Your Silence Was Not Absence

“I’ve never heard him speak to me or felt his love for me.”

Unfortunate words! And I’ve heard them a lot over the years, the frustrated feeling one has when they feel that God is silent. David expresses that pain well in the Psalms, saying he would be as one going down to the pit if God remained silent.

Sadder still are the conclusions people reach about themselves and God from this observation.

  • He isn’t really there.
  • If he is, he doesn’t care about me.
  • He doesn’t talk to people like me.
  • Obviously, I’m not good enough to hear him.
  • I’m not worthy of his love.

Of course, all of those are untrue, no matter how much our perception may argue. All of us have considered those things at some point, but when we can find some humility to reconsider our conclusions, admit to God that we cannot do this without him, and shed our expectations about what God should do, only then will our discernment of that voice grow. We get a glimpse here, a thought there, and begin to discover that he has been there all along.

No, this isn’t easy, and it takes some time, but that’s what his Spirit wants to do in each of us—to teach us how to recognize his whispers in the wind and his nudges on our hearts. It’s a process. Don’t be afraid of it, and don’t be discouraged when it seems you’ll never get it. He’s leading you anyway, even if you don’t recognize it yet. How do I know? Because many of the people who tell God doesn’t talk to them are following his wisdom and leaning into his character, though they may not see the source of it, many of them far more so than those who claim “God told me” to do such and such.

Maybe these words from Sheltering Mercy: Prayers Inspired by the Psalms by Ryan Whitaker Smith and Dan Wilt will help you:

I see now that Your silence was not absence, that my desolation was not my undoing.
In Your time-
(why must long-suffering be such long suffering?)
You plunged into the darkness that held me.
Raised me from ruin.
Reclaimed me.
Restored me.
Rooted and established me in love.’
Just when I had lost the will to sing, Your mercy became music to me;
an old song-

older than this tired earth-and yet, somehow,
as fresh and new as the morning.

It is not your will that any should perish,
but that all should repent and enter Your rest.

God is not silent with any of us. He doesn’t go unspoken. I’m convinced he goes unrecognized. His words are there, his wisdom is there, but we miss them because we are looking in the wrong places. Learning to listen to God is learning to rest and not strive, in growing confidence in his ability to communicate with me rather than my ability to discern him.


Sara and I left Denver yesterday on our travels and headed east. Next stop—Wichita over the weekend. A group of us are getting together on Saturday in Newton to celebrate God’s work in these perilous days. You’re welcome to join us.

After that, we will go through Kansas City on our way to the St. Louis area for the following weekend. We have nothing planned there yet, but we will have some personal connections if no one wants to offer a place to gather and meet others.

Then, we are headed down to Little Rock, Arkansas, to a farm where we will hang out for a weekend of conversation and discernment about God’s work in our day. Others have talked about joining us there from nearby states. If you want to, please email me for details.

Your Silence Was Not Absence Read More »

Where Freedom Grows

For frequent God Journey listeners, you’ve heard Sara, Kyle, and me discuss the possibility that God may look at our sin quite differently than we do. Even mentioning the word ‘sin’ in a blog post is a risk since most people will tune out at the mere mention of the word. Especially in religious settings, the word itself conjures shame, failure, and impossible demands. Could this be that we don’t look at sin the way God does? I may have had this wrong my entire life.

I was taught that fallen humans are co-conspirators in sin, choosing evil over godliness and that our bad behaviors offend God, meriting his anger and vengeance. As the story goes, however, Jesus came to save us by taking our punishment on himself. So now, we can be forgiven of sin by the work of Jesus. At least, we assume that’s true when we “get saved,” but most traditions have us shifting to personal performance the very next day. So, most of us have wrestled against sin by our self-effort, having limited success and even more failure and increasing guilt. No wonder no one wants to hear about sin.

What if all of that is slightly off-kilter? What if God doesn’t see sin as something we chose but as something that happened to us? We were born into a fallen world with a self-preferring nature, and our shame made us feel abandoned by our Creator and thus unable to see him or trust him. That cannot be healed by guilt, condemnation, and better performance, but only through a love powerful enough to find us in our brokenness and walk us out with his grace.

What has opened the door to this way of thinking? It’s all Sara and I have learned in finding freedom from her trauma. The environment she needed to find healing from the horrible things that happened to her as a young child was the exact opposite of the religious climate we both grew up in. My old view of sin saw it as bad choices we make. We need to be confronted with our sin, confess it to God to be forgiven, be educated on right and wrong, and obey God by our strength of will. The problem with that is it doesn’t work. Even Paul said that he put “no confidence” in the flesh. Strength of will might carry you for an hour or two or even a few days, but eventually, temptation sidetracks us again. But now that we are supposed to “know better,” the guilt is multiplied exponentially. So, we have to go back to confessing and trying harder, and the cycle continues, all driven by the fear of God’s displeasure and judgment.

None of that would have worked with Sara’s trauma. The environment of God’s expectation and human effort strong enough to meet it would only have driven her deeper into the darkness without ever exposing its cause, which is why most traumatized people have walked away from religious settings. The tactics only make them feel like even worse failures.

Even though she had hurt me more than anyone by leaving the way she did, I never saw her trauma as “sin.” I never blamed her for it; she was way too young and had no agency to process what was happening to her. I wasn’t angry or offended at her, even at the things she did to me to survive the pain she was feeling. And even before I knew the cause, I only wanted her back. “Father, forgive her; she knows not what she does” was the easiest prayer to pray. This wasn’t her; it was darkness in her. I could live in forgiveness for her, even while her trauma was still hurting me. I just wanted to help her find the freedom she deserved. Whatever cost I had to pay was insignificant.

The way I treated Sara quite naturally fulfilled all the new covenant hopes for how God asks us to deal with the sins and offenses of others. Her environment for healing was to be embraced by love, even at the depth of her pain and darkness. I had to slow to her pace and offer her a safe and soothing environment. I was only trying to win her heart back, but in that space, she began to see what was true about herself, her past, her God, and even me. Some things were horribly painful; some were delightfully glorious, but there was no way to rush the process. I wasn’t focused on stopping her hurtful actions; I was only trying to connect with her at a heart level and be alongside her as God opened a path to healing. We have feasted on that process together ever since.

That’s what got me thinking that the way I saw Sara’s trauma is the way Father sees my sins. And if this is how he asks us to see brokenness in others, why wouldn’t it also be how he sees it in us? Wouldn’t that same process break the power of sin as well? As we’ve pondered these things, I have become aware that this is how God has been navigating my sins and brokenness over the past three decades as I learned to live loved. I hadn’t been on the performance treadmill, but I didn’t realize how much had been shaped in my life by the safe presence of Jesus and his Father.

Sara didn’t choose trauma; it captured her when she was too young and didn’t have a caregiver to entrust with her pain. Isn’t that like sin? We didn’t choose it; we were captured by it before we were even aware of it. And Paul said we were powerless in sin and blinded by shame to God’s presence with us.

Here’s how all of this has changed my perspective:

I no longer blame myself or others for their sin. It was never a choice but a disease.

I have given up the idea that I am a change agent for others. God has to reveal truth to them at their pace and I can be alongside them with encouragement and compassion while he does that.

We are truly powerless in sin until God untangles it from the inside.

Our sin does not define who we are; our true nature is seen where we are confident and relaxed in Father’s love.

The way to help someone grow is not through confrontation of sin, education of expectations, and accountability to help them perform better, but to be a safe place where people can know they are loved and that God is safe enough to unpack their darkest secrets.

I am increasingly trusting God to be the rescuer from everyone’s brokenness. He’s not looking to punish us for it but to untangle its hold on us.

This perspective gives me better words to navigate my darkness as well as to truly love those caught in sin while at the same time being able to help them find a path out of it in the growing confidence of the Father’s affection. And I don’t say any of this to diminish the destructive power of sin in our world or our personal well-being. Sin destroys us from the inside, diminishing our humanity and destroying meaningful relationships with others. This perspective shows us the path out—not by our performance but by your engagement with love and our willingness to see what’s true instead of seeking comfort in our illusions.

This could be crazy stuff, but I’m loving it, and it is shaping my heart in ways I never expected. I’m exploring this deep rabbit hole to see what might be valid about it and what Father might still want to adjust in my thinking. If you want to explore this more, Sara and I added another podcast this morning to the four we’ve already done on this topic, and I am grateful for the conversations I’m having with people pondering this with us. I love what Father seems to be revealing in all of it.

What if God doesn’t blame us for the darkness that takes hold of our lives? What if he knows that shame and performance will not bring us closer to him but drive us away? What if he knows that a safe, soothing relationship with him is not the reward of our salvation but where it begins? What if he always knew that self-effort would fail us and only a grace-filled relationship with him would rescue us from the darkness? What if he’s always seen us as the gift he created before darkness intruded on us?

Now that would be good news, really good news!


Don’t forget we are starting a Zoom book study this weekend, chapter-by-chapter, through He Loves Me. If you want to come with us, you can either join the Facebook Group or write me for a Zoom link. It will be at 1:30 pm Pacific Daylight Time this Sunday afternoon. For those who want to watch it live, we will also stream it on my Wayne Jacobsen Author Page.

Also, if you are in Utah, Colorado, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, Texas, or New Mexico and have anything in mind as we take our RV on the road again, please let us know. Indeed, we can’t do everything we might be asked to do, but we’ll pray with you and see what Father might have in mind. We enjoy the conversations that happen with people like you on our journey.

Where Freedom Grows Read More »