All posts by Mark

Everybody wants to leave their mark … here’s what gets in the way

     If everybody wants to leave their mark,
     If everybody wants to make the world a better place,
     If everybody wants their lives to count …
     Why aren’t more of us doing it?

Turns out it’s not so easy. Many influences in our lives, both within and without, keep us stuck in passivity. In fact, there are so many roadblocks and distractions, it’s a wonder people do as much as they do! Here’s a partial list of the things that get in the way:

Barrier 1: Fear

We’re afraid of all kinds of things, and that fear keeps us stuck.

  • We’re afraid of failure…
  • We’re afraid of what other people might think…
  • We’re afraid of change…
  • We’re afraid that we won’t have enough time to do the work we want to do…
  • We’re afraid we won’t have enough money…

The list is endless.

You might think that having more information would help dispel your fears, but that’s not how it works. Especially today. Much of the “information” we’re exposed to is in the form of sensationalist media, which preys on our fears in order to capture our attention. The more attention we give to this kind of information, the more frightening and dangerous the world appears.

It can be helpful to have vast amounts of knowledge available to us, but it can also be debilitating. For most of recorded history, people were only aware of the circumstances of a small tribe or nation of people — the people in their own immediate area. But now we have access to information about people and nations all around the world.

At any given time, somewhere around the world, somebody is going through unimaginable tragedy and suffering. And because the “news” is mostly fixated on problems, tragedies, and violence, if there are bad things going on somewhere, we’ll find out about it.

The more media we are exposed to, the more bad news we take in. The more bad news we take in, the bigger and more unsolvable the problems seem to be, and the more there is to worry about.

The result of all this? We sit behind our screens and smartphones, overwhelmed by fears of problems and tragedies that might happen to us. We stay in our own sheltered, safe environment, watching more bad news, shaking our heads about how bad things are “out there,” and repeat the process. Our fears keep us stuck. (More on this point later.)

Barrier 2: Distractions

There are so many things that pull us away from our goals: movies to watch, television shows to keep up on, social media to interact with, video games to play, web sites to surf. We want to leave our mark in the world, but then we realize there are new episodes of our favorite show, so we watch them instead of taking the next step toward our dreams.

Instead of pursuing our own dreams and changing the world for the better, we sit passively, watching other people live out their dreams in movies, reality shows, sporting events, YouTube videos, and social media posts.

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ARE YOU REALLY HAPPY
OR JUST REALLY COMFORTABLE?

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In ancient Rome, the ruling class came up with the idea of holding gladiator contests as a way to keep the populace busy and distracted. These games took up people’s time and energy, reducing the likelihood of political unrest by distracting the citizens from creating problems for those in power.

Regardless of how intentional the Romans were, you have to recognize what an ingenious and cynical strategy this is. Keep people busy and distracted watching the games, and they’re less likely to realize how empty their own lives are, and/or do anything about it. In other words, keep them so busy and distracted with entertainment that they don’t feel the need to change the world.

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It’s virtually impossible for any social movement to take off today:
there’s too much good stuff on TV, too many sporting events
to watch, and too much social media to keep up on.

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You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to see how this could apply in our culture today. This could be happening, even without a mysterious, uber-powerful group orchestrating events from their secret lodge. Instead, think of our society as a system — a system that’s too complex for any small group to control, but a system nonetheless. In our system today, one key factor keeps the status quo in place: Everybody is busy and distracted by the entertainment that’s available to them. It’s virtually impossible for any social movement to take off today: there’s too much good stuff on TV, too many sporting events to watch, too many movies to go to.

Barrier 3: Demands

It’s not simply a matter of being distracted by entertainment. We’re busy trying to make ends meet. This is where many of us get caught in the trap of overwhelm: Our lives are so full doing the things we think need to be done that there is no time or energy left for anything else. Our lives are so full of work for our career, errands, healthcare, and home management, at the end of the day we have no time or energy left.

It feels like a vicious cycle: We’re killing ourselves and getting stressed out with tasks during the week, so that on the weekend (which seems to be getting shorter and shorter), we’re too tired and depleted to do the creative and challenging work of serving others. And on those weekends where we’re not too depleted? We fill those with travel to visit extended family, sporting events for the kids, and various homeowner tasks that need to be done.

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“Normal is getting dressed in clothes that you buy for work
and driving through traffic in a car that you are still paying for —
in order to get to the job you need to pay for the clothes
and the car, and the house you leave vacant all day
so you can afford to live in it.”
– Ellen Goodman

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Stay tuned: this is part one of a two part series! Next time I’ll share four more factors that get in the way of us making our mark in the world.

By the way … this is an excerpt from my forthcoming book,
“Leaving Your Mark Without Losing Your Soul.”
Look for it later this year.

What Followers Expect from Spiritual Leaders

People today have profoundly mixed — and dysfunctional — views about leaders.Especially spiritual leaders. On the one hand, we idealize them. We project onto them qualities of wisdom, spiritual zeal, and impeccable morality. We really want them be close to God, to exemplify the virtues that we struggle to live out. We want them to be uber competent in their role, but we also want them to exemplify all the virtues and character qualities that we deem to be important. We want them to be larger than life! To think about them struggling with the shameful things we struggle with robs us of the hope that we can “get over” our problems.

There is a word for this: childishness.

This is what kids do. They adore the adults around them, assign them magical qualities, and feel the need for the adults around them to be all-knowing, and completely virtuous. Part of the process of growing up involves becoming disillusioned about our parents and teachers … discovering (often to our great dismay) that they are human and flawed, just like we are. After recognizing this, we learn to come to terms with it, and begin to relate to them in a more mature way.

But there’s another side to our view of spiritual leaders, which, by the way, is the inevitable consequence of idealization and projection: we are quick to judge and condemn them when we see their flaws. There is a secret part of us that loves to read about the downfall of people in high positions. We naturally resent hypocrisy, so when people in positions of moral or spiritual leadership are found to be lacking in the very qualities they espouse, we have no mercy.

We want our leaders to be air-brushed models of morality and spirituality. We react strongly when we see their flaws. More than once I’ve heard the truism stated: “If you want a spiritual leader you can admire with no reservations … make sure that person is dead.” That way, you don’t have to worry that you’ll find out things about them that let you down.

But wait! That’s not even a safe strategy: I’ve found out things about Gandhi, John Wesley, and Martin Luther King, Jr. that I sort of wish I hadn’t known.

Maybe we should amend the saying: If you want someone you can admire with no reservations, make sure that person is dead … and then don’t study their life too closely. Learn too much about them and you might just discover that they were human after all.

I have a better idea: how about we adopt the perspective that the writers of the Bible seem to have adopted — stop making human beings the heroes of our stories, and let them be flawed characters. Let Jesus be the hero and model, and be okay with flawed human leaders like the confused disciples, pricklish Paul, wavering Abraham, prideful David, and so on.

How about we give our spiritual leaders — and ourselves — an important gift: the gift of humanity. We still hold them to standards of teaching and living; but we let them be human, with strengths and weaknesses, with admirable qualities and limitations.

Several years ago I was invited to consult with a church whose pastor had been accused of misconduct. The pastor went through a process of repentance and restoration (which unfortunately was cut short, but that’s another story). In the course of this work, I preached a message to help people come to terms with his leadership and teaching, in light of the knowledge of his struggles and sins. You can see the video above.

I hope this sermon can help you — and others, if you share it — develop a more spiritually-mature, discerning view of spiritual leaders.

Before watching, note this important qualifier: By giving a message like this, I’m NOT intending to give leaders a “pass” on the need to exemplify what they teach.Far from it. One of the foundational principles in the Thriving Leader Blueprint program I run is that the power of our influence comes from our being — our very lives — not our words. You can read more about this in my article: “Spiritual Leadership: What it is and Why We Need It.

The message above is for the rest of us, for those on the receiving end of spiritual leadership and influence, who are trying to come to terms with the humanity of those leaders, when they (inevitably) fail to live up to this.

Spiritual Leadership: What it is and Why We Need It

We are in desperate need for spiritual leadership. We need religious leaders to be spiritual leaders. We need parents to be spiritual leaders. We need teachers, coaches, therapists, managers to be spiritual leaders.

The term “spiritual” and “spiritual leadership” mean different things to different people: let’s not get hung up on various definitions. Here’s what I mean when I use the term: “Spiritual leadership” is leadership that emerges from the heart and soul of a person who has done the hard work of inner transformation through spiritual connection. It is based on that person’s attunement with the Spirit of God, and therefore it flows naturally from who they are.

Spiritual leadership carries a certain authority, but that authority emerges organically. It flows from the respect we engender when people see our integrity and feel our love. It is not about how we project our strong personality to others, how we charm, flatter, or impress them. These are all stratagems of the ego — projecting the strength of our personality, our confidence, enthusiasm, intelligence, persuasiveness, or appealing to the ego of the other person through charm and flattery. It’s not about crafting a certain kind of persona that is calculated to get people to like us, or want to be on our side, because they only see our strength and cleverness.

Spiritual leadership emerges when we drop our pretense, and dial back the tendency of our ego to dominate. The focus is instead on the Spirit, on the True Self that is touched on through our soul. Some might call this “leading through soul.”

It’s hard to define this, but you know it when you see it.

Spiritual leaders have authority, but that authority coincides with a certain tenderness and vulnerability. They have enough humility to not need to be the center of attention, and not to project certainty when there is not certainty.

Spiritual leadership involves a blending of qualities that might seem opposed to one another. For example, spiritual leaders are often characterized by humility and openness to others and other ideas … while also exhibiting a steely resolve. There can be a sense of urgency, but without the accompanying anxiety that often dominates high-energy organizational cultures.

“He who has found authentic peace within himself is in a position to assist others who are still seekers, but he who has not yet transcended mere theories and erudite studies about peace can only give them some more thoughts to add to the burden that they already carry. … He who is unhappy in himself, or whose home is discordant and unhappy, can show the way to happiness only out of the intellect, not out of experience.” – Paul Brunton

The influence of spiritual leaders flows from who they are … not what they say, and not from a few selected behaviors designed to “make a statement.” This is the heart of what Gandhi was offering to the world when he said, “My life is my message.” This is the heart of what Martin Luther King was offering to the world when his speeches calling for civil rights were clearly emerging from his own pursuit of civil rights, and his own sacrifices and willingness to face risks and dangers. This was what gave Nelson Mandela the authority to speak and influence people … because he had lived what he talked about.

None of these leaders were perfect. They all had their flaws, as does every human being. The point is that their power emanated from something within them that was deeper than skill or personality. They were able to motivate and encourage others on a path because it was a path that they themselves were taking. In that sense, they were offering moral leadership … leading by example as well as by words.

But spiritual leadership encompasses that, and goes even deeper. It involves having strong character, and leading by example, but there is something more. That “more” is the leader’s understanding of of spiritual realities, experience of personal transformation as these realities are lived, and the ability to articulate them to others. People around the leader, who themselves are seeking to live in attunement with the Spirit, as opposed to the ego (what the apostle Paul called “walking by the Spirit” or “keeping in step with the Spirit”), will recognize and resonate with the leader whose own life manifests that attunement.

“If we merely repeat the words of our teachers, we become like parrots and our own teaching will be empty, without direct experience.” – Frans Stiene

People in our time are desperate for these kinds of leaders. This has been true since the beginning of time, but it seems especially important now. I don’t have the interest or ability to diagnose what’s happening to churches in our culture, or with followers of other religions, or the “spiritual but not religious” crowd.

But I fervently believe that all people have a spiritual core, and when political, community, or religious leaders fail to recognize and develop this core within themselves, they will fail to nurture it in others, and the culture will be impoverished. The religious organizations will diminish in power, and eventually in size as well.

New Free Teleseminar: Living a Balanced Life in a Chaotic World

Date: 03.08.18

Time: 8:00 pm (central)

Join us for an important conversation about how to handle the stress of changes and transitions, in our personal lives, careers, and the world in general.

What is the format?

This event will be conducted in the form of a teleseminar. Just call into the number you’re given and listen to the audio. Registrants will also be given access to a recording.

Here’s what you will learn:

  • The main life transitions, and how they create stress and challenges for peope.
  • What the differences are between people who handle these transitions well and those who struggle
  • Observations about the difference between how people in modern society deal with stress, and the wisdom of ancient societies (especially Native American)
  • The core questions / issues that, when settled, clear away much of the stress we feel
  • Specific, actionable strategies you can put into place to help you prepare for changes that will (inevitably) be coming in your life
  • The four things to keep in mind for people who are undergoing major life changes / transitions
  • About a new program that can help you maximize your impact and minimize your stress

Who is teaching this, and why should you care what they have to say?

I (Mark Brouwer) will be interviewing Belle Berg and her husband David Burkhart. Belle is a speaker, coach, and author of “Best Seven Skills to Live By the Native American Way.” David is a corporate trainer who focuses on leadership and managing stress in the workplace.

Belle, David, and I will be hosting an upcoming retreat in Sedona, AZ.

Why WE Need YOU to Have More Solitude and Quiet

We need more solitude in our lives — not just for our own well-being, but for others. Talking about this is tricky today, because many people struggle with loneliness and isolation, and the pursuit of solitude could make things worse for them.

Our lives revolve around two poles: community and solitude. A healthy life includes both. Let’s be clear about that as we begin. Rabbi Eliezer Shore describes this balance:

“Most true spiritual seekers, at some time in their journey, must struggle with the dilemma posed by these two opposites [community and solitude]. While personalities differ, tending some towards solitude, others to community, most of us waver uneasily between the two, constantly searching for the proper balance in which we might best serve God. … An emphasis on community in no way denies the validity of solitude, rather it seeks to engage the contemplative in an even higher purpose, namely, that of bringing the entire community into an enlightened relationship with God.”

Some people tend toward isolation, and their need is to nurture more healthy relationships. Several years ago I wrote an article in Leadership Journal about this need for spiritual leaders. What’s true for spiritual leaders is true for many others as well: we struggle to develop healthy relationships, which creates challenges in our pursuit of healthy solitude.

Then Why is Solitude so Important?

For many reasons, but here I am going to focus on just one: we need solitude in order to know ourselves, to come to clarity about what we think and believe; so that, as we move out to relate with others, we can bring our thoughts and perspectives into the relationship, and not simply be absorbed into the thinking, relating, and value patterns of those around us. This allows us to be interdependent without being codependent. Continue reading Why WE Need YOU to Have More Solitude and Quiet

Why “Simplifying my Life” sounds like a good idea … but probably isn’t

 I love the idea of people simplifying their lives. I read a lot of books and websites about minimalism. I know that living a complicated life is part of our problem today, and so we should simplify whatever we can.

Most of us have too much stuff and try to do too much. Simplifying can lower our stress. If we’re in recovery, simplifying life is important, because stress and chaos lead to relapse. If our lives are too full and overloaded, it only makes sense that cutting some things out and simplifying will be part of the solution. They will help us have happier, more fruitful lives.

But if simplifying becomes our ultimate goal,

we’re never going to be happy,

and we’re going to miss out

on opportunities that make life meaningful.

Anything worthwhile is likely to be stressful, time-consuming, and will complicate our lives. If simplifying and lowering our stress is our primary goal, we will have to stop doing many important things, because they make life complicated.

What do you cut?

Here’s a scenario that has played out many times in my work as a pastor: A person in the church is volunteering in a ministry and doing a great job. But they are feeling too busy and overwhelmed and feel the need to simplify their lives. Guess what is the first thing they cut out of life in order to “simplify”? Of course: their volunteer work in the church.

Meanwhile, they’re working at a job they hate, with working conditions and expectations that are out of control, and/or they are caught in demanding, dysfunctional relationships where they spend inordinate amounts of time trying to please people who are perpetually unhappy, and/or they are gone many weekends pursuing sports and other activities for their kids, and/or they’re watching a ton of TV.

But when they realize that they are too busy and stressed out, the thing they pull back from is the volunteering they do to help other people. They let go of the thing that is easiest to step away from, but it is also likely the key area that has the potential to make their lives fruitful and fulfilling.

We all know that we need to simplify our lives. The real challenge is to discern what needs to be cut and what should be kept. If you want a simple life, just sit at home and watch TV. Do the minimum for your job. Limit how much you socialize. Do minimal shopping to get the necessities of life, and then go home and relax. No responsibilities, no difficult relationships, no complications. You can have a simple life. But it would also be a boring, depressing, and spiritually empty life.

Engaging in service doesn’t simplify life, but makes it meaningful

If we really want to change the world, to leave the world a better place, we have to realize that doing so is going to be challenging and time-consuming. It is absolutely not going to simplify your life. It’s going to complicate your life.
By the way, that’s true of many important and meaningful things. Having a child will not simplify your life. Getting a pet will not simplify your life. Falling in love with someone will not simplify your life. Having a meaningful career will not simplify your life. Recovery will not simplify your life. But any one of those things might be a huge blessing and pave the way for great joy and fulfillment.
Kept in its proper place, simplicity is a key goal and value. Elevated to an extreme, simplicity is an illusion and a barrier to true fulfillment. The real issue here is: What is your priority? We need to build our lives in such a way that our key priorities get done, and we can only do this by making room in the other areas.
Only you can determine your priorities. Make sure that “having a simple life” is not the main one.

Free Online Training Event: “Helping Others Without Harming Yourself”

Date: 09.28.17

Time: 7:00 pm (central)

  • –If you are seeking to do important work in the world, but feel overwhelmed by it, this is for you.
  • –If you are challenged by anxiety and stress, and struggle to balance your service with the rest of your life, this is for you.
  • –If you are wanting to deepen the impact that your life makes, but need help doing so in a way that works for you … this is for you.

Continue reading Free Online Training Event: “Helping Others Without Harming Yourself”

Does God want you to do something you hate doing?

 

I don’t normally respond to people who comment on my writing. I used to be diligent about this, but now I don’t have enough time. However, I’m making an exception here, because the following comment from a reader of my email newsletter raises a helpful and important distinction. The reader’s comment was about a quote from Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. First, here’s the quote:

“It is very important that you only do what you love to do. You may be poor, you may go hungry, you may lose your car, you may have to move into a shabby place to live, but you will totally live. And at the end of your days you will bless your life because you have done what you came here to do.

“Otherwise, you will live your life as a prostitute, you will do things only for a reason, to please other people, and you will never have lived. and you will not have a pleasant death.”
— Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Continue reading Does God want you to do something you hate doing?

Who is your “spiritual teacher”? Do you even need one?

“The missing element in many spiritual quests is the spiritual guide. … When a person finds out that all his efforts at self-improvement are movements around a circle, that the ego does not really intend to give itself up in surrender to the Spirit and therefore only pretends to do so, he realizes that left to himself he cannot succeed in really changing his inner center of gravity. Help is needed from some outside source if he is to free himself from such a hopeless position.”
– Paul Brunton

We use different terms for it in our various circles, but do you have a spiritual teacher, or guide? Is there someone who is helping you grow in your spiritual life by modeling that kind of life (even if imperfectly), by teaching you about it, helping answer questions, and showing you things about yourself that you might not have seen otherwise? Who is the person who helps you make sense of the deeper questions about meaning and purpose in life, who helps you sort out the problems and questions that you run into?

Some circles use the language of “discipling,” others spiritual direction, still others “shepherding” or pastoring, and others spiritual teacher or master. In Jesus’ time, serious spiritual students had “rabbis” or “teachers.”

Ever since coming back into church ministry in 2011, after going through a time of spiritual disillusionment and then renewal, I’ve been reflecting a lot about the role of the pastor in churches and in people’s spiritual lives. I’ve come to believe that, all too often, what churches look for from their pastors, does not really encompass this role (of “spiritual teacher”).

Churches look for pastors to do three things: (a) provide teaching from the Bible in the form of sermons (b) provide leadership for the church organization, and (c) be available and compassionate in crisis situations, like hospitalizations or deaths. Depending on the congregation, (a) and (b) are sometimes switched in order of priority, and (c) is usually a distant third.

The role of spiritual teacher (or “discipler” to use the language some use in Christian circles) doesn’t really fit here. The “teaching” part of being a spiritual teacher — at least as I’m thinking of the term — is more than just preaching. It’s not about simply presenting concepts (like a preacher does from the pulpit) … it’s about helping people apply those concepts to their lives. If the church numbers in the hundreds or thousands, there’s no way the pastor can have enough interaction with people in the church to know what’s going on in their lives and help them with their questions and challenges.

Here’s my concern: If the pastor is not fulfilling this role, who is? Most pastors I know will say, “I’m not able to provide that kind of personal attention and care to each person in my church … that’s why we have small groups. People get that kind of care in their small groups.”

But do they really?

Let’s assume a church is divided into active small group Bible studies, or support groups. Can the small group leaders — who have other jobs, and often get very little training or preparation for their role as small group leaders — really fill this role of being spiritual teachers for people in their groups?

I’m sure that sometimes they do … but usually not. Usually the leader’s role is more that of facilitator or host. Plus, small groups shift around so much, and fizzle out so often, that the percentage of church attendees with a long term relationship in a small group — let alone one with a small group leader who functions as a spiritual teacher for them — is rare indeed.

I’m not sure what to think about this … and I really do want to know what others think. Do you think this is a problem? Do people even want to have someone who functions as a spiritual teacher in their lives? Or is it enough to have a pastor who is more of a figure-head and example at a distance? I’d love to know if it’s just me who thinks this role is really needed.

 

Free Teleseminar: Changing the World Without Wrecking Your Life: a blueprint for overcoming stress and anxiety

 

If you are seeking to do important work in the world, but feel overwhelmed by it, this is for you. If you are challenged by anxiety and stress, and struggle to balance your service with the rest of your life, this is for you. If you want to lower your stress level without lowering your performance level, this is for you.

What: Free Teleseminar / Webinar  (you can access audio only by phone, or also see video)

When: Wednesday, June 7

Time: 7:00pm – 8:30pm (central time)

(REGISTER HERE – OR AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE)

Here’s what you will learn:

Continue reading Free Teleseminar: Changing the World Without Wrecking Your Life: a blueprint for overcoming stress and anxiety