On complaining too much and remembering home

I was hanging out with someone lately and realized that they didn’t complain about anything for an entire hour. Do they not live in Philadelphia and understand??? They didn’t point out how many times I expressed dissatisfaction but I began to reflect. I complain often. I think I complain too often. I might even be complaining that I complain so much.

I think there are lots of reasons to express concern, anger, suffering, and a host of other emotions or observations about situations. I also want to let God touch my heart in my dissatisfaction so that my expressions do not get stuck in mere smack-talking, hatin’, or complaining. I got to go on a three-night hike recently. I used it as a retreat. Here are some experience, questions, and lessons I’ve been sitting with since.

Experiences, part I:

Here were some other obstacles to overcome/suffer through/complain about during the first couple of days: My minivan (RIP Midnight Teal) broke down 15mi from the trailhead. Getting to the trial had increased obstacles besides needing to figure out how to get 4+hrs back home.The weather was wet and cold. The sun didn’t shine for more than 2min until the final morning. The temperature got into the 50s once. One day I walked slightly uphill on a flooded rocky path (now a tiny creek) for about four hours straight. The trail offered low visibility, the mountain laurels crowded most of the trail.


When is a good time to quit? It was hard going and I didn’t see any relief coming. I have several friends in the process of getting divorced right now, having quit or quitting in some way. When is it time to quit? A few tough days are hardly as bad as being conflicted for years, of course, but when could it be time to turn around and say “I’m going to take a hot bath and order pizza now” rather than doing this low tech/no tech time in the wilderness with little escape opportunities from the moment?


I think quitting can be a good option sometimes. We get ourselves unconsciously tangled up with people, ideologies, habits, economic systems, etc that harm us/community/creation. When you are digging yourself a hole, the first advice is to stop digging. Whether you are wondering about terminating a relationship, quitting a job, dropping out of school, leaving the church/faith (I’ve done all of the above at some point), you identify a point that is “too far” and press the red button.

More pics that I didn’t take at this blog http://whatwedidlastweekend.org/ourtripstonature/2016/4/7/big-schloss-hike

Experiences, part II:

Then the rain stopped. The trail opened up from thickage to open ravines and the trail went both up and down until a ridge. That became the best ridge walk of my life. During several sections, you could see both valleys – as the Appalachian mountains roll in a few lines there. I encountered Big Schloss – my favorite Schloss, I might add – one of the best panoramic vistas on the East Coast on a cool rock formation. The sun was shining when I awoke the final morning, and sorting out transport back to Philadelphia was simpler and easier than I feared.

I got back in time to do some worshipping with my congregation. Sarah White gave some inspiring invitations from Jesus as antidotes to the demand we sense. Gillian had us lighting candles and telling of how God has provided for us – another antidote to demand. Cameron’s team led heartfelt singing – holding out lines like “Let my life be a motion of love,” “All of my help comes from You,” “How great You are,” and “You remain.” We shared the communion meal and I knew then that I was at home with Jesus. I was at home with who I really am, where my deepest convictions begin, and my greatest inspiration gets birthed from. 


When we are in the stranded cold/wet/boring uphill climbs of life, our memory often gets short. Our suffering at the moment shapes our senses and changes our memories. We can sometimes hardly remember not suffering, like how I feel when I have a nagging cold (when was I ever healthy? What did it even feel like not to cough every few seconds?). When we suffer, we can allow our circumstances, our pain, and our limits to shape how we live – rather than those inspirations and convictions. We probably quit too soon on a lot of things, like flipping through the channels on cable or watching portions of 10 Youtube videos in a row. When life is hard, I need to remember how God has provided for me. When life is hard, I need to remember that circumstances will change – maybe even sooner than I expect. 

Maybe I don’t actually complain too much, but just too much to others. Maybe I should save more of my complaints for God who offers spiritual medicine. Maybe my heart will be healed enough every day to be able to fight the good fight out of my healing, inspiration, and conviction rather than get it too mixed up with my dissatisfaction. Maybe I can train my mouth to reflect the gratitude and wonder I feel in my deeper parts more and my agitations less. It might actually make me more open to joy.

Getting lost: four steps toward spiritual renewal

I remember the first time I went on a personal retreat. I didn’t really know what I was doing, I just knew that I needed to spend some time alone with God to get some spiritual resources to keep up with my preferred pace of life. I went to Cranaleith, and shared dinner with some of my favorite Sisters of Mercy.  My second time was actually harder. I went to the hermitage at the Franciscan Spiritual Center. I’m not sure I even had a cell phone at the time or a laptop, but there is still bad phone reception and no wifi. I was alone.

But wasn’t that the point – being alone? I took off my watch. I found time to journal, nap, drink tea, read books that I’d been putting off. There was time to walk through the forest and enough space to try to get lost. When it was dark I was a little lonely. It felt like 11pm and when I checked it was only 8:30. What more could I do? That was a good moment to get my proverbial burger flipped and find out what a deeper spirituality could mean. Spirituality is not just a collection of practices, values, beliefs, and ceremonies – it is a process of transformation. 

If you are experiencing the edge of your personal resources, if your lifestyle is outpacing your interior stuff, if you feel a longing to sharpen what you’ve got or gain some more tools – I think it might be time for you to get lost. It’s harder than it sounds, but it’s way easier to be found than you might fear.

Make a move. 

When you feel under the pile, added demand is a hard thing to accept. Other people and circumstances will make their moves, which often include you doing more. If your spiritual edges are frayed, take your self serious enough to clear out some room on your calendar. If it’s only a few hours – that’s a start. If it’s an eight hour shift, even better. I find that 32hrs away (9am-5pm the next day) is splendidly disruptive yet not too much to recover from.

For people without the regular retreating discipline, booking the time is the hardest part. Add kids and a seemingly inflexible work situation and you might have a bit of arranging to do. You are worth it.

Make a plan.

Your plan will change depending on how much time you have and where you are going. Some people are able to stumble into active rest space without much of a strategy and still get found by God. Most of us do better to have a little idea for what we’re going for.

Create some boundaries for yourself. Will the phone be off? Can you survive without internet? Do you want to fast from food or at least stimulants like candy and coffee?

When you have the time set aside, find a place to go that matches your slot and budget. We made a list of places to go on a personal retreat. You can download a suggested outline for going with another person (or a few) here. The Circle of Hope pastors have been making a list of book suggestions on Goodreads.

Take care of the path.

When Rachael was talking about our divine hardwiring for the neurobiology of spiritual disciplines at the Public Meeting last week, it was in talkback I believe when someone (probably her) brought up an image of two trails in the forest. [I’m paraphrasing and embellishing on it now] One looked like it was used only by deer. The other was well worn and maintained. Even though they both lead to fresh water for drinking, swimming, and washing – one is significantly easier to travel on. Making a new spiritual discipline is like doing some bushwhacking on the deer path. You’ll always find more opportunities for that. When you are going to live in the proverbial spiritual forest, you need access to clean water every day. Make your camp close enough so you have fast access in an emergency and easy access so you can do it a lot.

Your regular silence, solitude, and prayer habits help you get to the Living Water on the regular. Especially for the person who wants to do a lot (deep relationships, family, meaningful work, mission, service, hobbies, etc) you are going to need to do more tending to the path(s). 

Get lost.

One of my favorite retreat activities is getting lost. Whether I’m walking a labyrinth, spending more than two hours straight in a book, or walking in the woods – getting dialed in enough to the moment helps shed some of my routine anxieties and preoccupations in order to be found by Jesus in a new way. Maybe because I live in a huge city in a household that includes both children and internet I have trouble getting lost on the regular. I need to make some moves in order to get there.

I hope you find encouragement to see the opportunities that are available to you and avail yourself to God in those opportunities. May you get lost enough to be found again soon. We are getting filled with the Spirit to help Jesus with his world redemption project. Let’s be as healthy as we can.