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Welcoming Prayer and Leadership

Posted on November 22nd, 2011

When we are forced to acknowledge our very limited real control over what happens to us, a “thin” place opens up – one that is filled with spiritual possibilities and gifts. David Benner says it well: “Surrender is simply inner acceptance of what is. There is probably nothing more difficult for humans. But there is also nothing more freeing.” While many demands scream for our attention, I remain convinced the most important thing we do, especially as pastors and leaders, is to surrender our will to His. Towards this end I have been experimenting with a well-known practice known as Welcoming Prayer. It provides a framework for how to respond to something emotionally upsetting with a spirit of surrender. Cynthia Bourgeault describes the three simple movements or steps as follows: 1. Focus on the difficult emotion (e.g. anger, fear, depression, shame).  Face it directly and feel it in your body. Don’t try to change or repress it. Simply be present to those feelings. 2. Welcome these unpleasant emotions. Instead of treating these feelings as enemies, welcome them as friends with hospitality. This grounds us in the reality of the present and in our bodies. This doesn’t mean we welcome the circumstances that surround us (e.g. being robbed). We welcome our inner response at the moment. 3. Let go and surrender. In this final step we release more than simply the negative feelings. We release the assumptions behind the feelings that we need control, approval or security to be happy.  This is not true.  We don’t need any of these three things to be happy. We need Him.  What we are releasing is our attachment to the assumption that we need these things in our lives. The more I meditate on Jesus “being handed over” and of letting go to the cross, the more I am convinced how central this is to genuine Christian spirituality.  I am finding, however, this takes much practice and grace. Geri and I were talking recently about a couple we know who is in deep pain over one of their children. They are broken and mourning (Matthew 5:3-4).  God stopped me when she casually mentioned to me, “Do you realize, Pete, they may be closer to life in the kingdom of God than most of us?”   According to Jesus’ teaching in the first two lines of the Sermon on the Mount, this is very true. How much do you need to release your desire to change the circumstances in your life over which you have no real control?

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