Choosing New Thoughts (Day 35)

When we deny our stories and disengage from tough emotions, they don’t go away; instead, they own us, they define us. Our job is not to deny the story, but to defy the ending—to rise strong, recognize our story, and rumble with the truth until we get to a place where we think, Yes. This is what happened. This is my truth. And I will choose how this story ends. Brené Brown.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:8)


For the most part we get to choose how we use our minds. We are the director of our thoughts and perspectives. In doing so, we are influencing the stories of our lives.

How does this idea sit with you?

If you are a Christian with some Bible experience, you might be familiar with Philippians 4:8. If not, the concept is common sense: Focus your thoughts on things that are pleasant, good, just and worth passing on to others. What images does this conjure up for you? I typically picture simple blessings like my home, the beauty of creation, my neighborhood and church, my family members…

But today, I thought of something new. What if the next time something hard happens to me, I think about the rising strong process itself? What if I think about good things: like reckoning with my uncomfortable emotions; rumbling with the story instead of denying it; and the new learning that will revolutionize my life and help others?

What if I use my mind to explore how I’m feeling? What if I make generous assumptions about the people in this tough story? What if I put some thought into the boundaries that need to be in place in order for me to be consistently generous with these people? What if I think about my values and how they will help me in this tough arena? What if I use my mind to create a vision for a better ending?

I’m grateful for the simple list of good things I tend to think about when hard things happen; and maybe it’s time for that list to grow. Maybe God is calling me to a level of maturity that will change my life and influence others for the better.

My go-to list of happy thoughts has carried me through some pretty dark moments, and now it’s time to try branch out and try some new things.

What are some of your favorite, happy thoughts? What new focal points are you taking away from this Rising Strong read-along and group study?

Starter Prayer

LORD God, teach how to use my mind in ever-expanding ways.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are now in week 6, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 11 of Rising Strong. The topic is the Revolution– keys learnings and writing a brave new ending.

Just Breathe (Day 34)

Breath and mindfulness give us the awareness and space we need to make choices that are aligned with our values. Brené Brown

Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:6-7)


Church people used to have a saying: When in a fix, Philippians 4:6. It was a catch phrase to help us remember today’s verse. The idea was that when something bad or scary happens, remember to pray instead of worrying.

The catchy phrase trained me to talk to God more often, but talking-prayer didn’t entirely do the trick. Sometimes this method works, but it has limitations. Let me explain…

Anxiety has always been a way of life for human beings. In the ancient pagan world, most people were raised to worship many gods and goddesses—all of whom were potentially out to get you. In Paul’s day, even the Jews were afraid of God’s wrath. This is why Jesus labored to teach everyone a more truthful way of thinking about God—God as a good parent who is attentive, compassionate and helpful.

Here in Philippians, Paul is teaching on the same topic. He’s saying: With the Good God revealed in Christ Jesus, there is no guarantee against suffering, but we can be sure that God listens and will respond with loving help and care. Instead of worrying, pray. As you do, God will calm you down and protect your mind and heart from anxiety. This was a revolutionary thought for anyone afraid of God’s punishment, power or distance.

In chapter four of Rising Strong Brené Brown brings up the subject of “paying attention” to our anxious feelings and calming ourselves down. Another word for this in “mindfulness” and another idea for that is “meditation.”

As a person and a spiritual director, I am convinced that in Philippians 4:6 Paul is encouraging more than simply “talking prayer.” I believe in talking prayer! I also believe that some form of quiet-minded prayer is a necessary part of prayer in general. Until we learn some form of meditative prayer, I’m afraid we will always struggle with anxious thoughts.

In chapter four Brené explains the concept of mindfulness and makes several recommendations for practice. I’ll summarize them here and add a few of my own.

  1. Breath Practice. I’ve tried all kinds. Brené recommends “tactical breathing” as practiced by first responders. Read about it in Chapter Four. I mostly use a practice I learned in Svaroopa Yoga, which is a kind of therapeutic yoga.
  2. Silence. I sit in 5-10 minutes of prayerful silence each morning as soon as I finish my spiritual reading and before I plan my day or go outside to workout.
  3. Walking or running outdoors. Being in nature and moving rhythmically will change you at the molecular and spiritual level.
  4. Centering Prayer. This one is a life commitment, and it will revolutionize everything about your life. It comes out of Ignatian spirituality, which is Christian. There are numerous ways to learn and practice Centering Prayer– books, retreats, groups and with a spiritual director. If you read, Open Mind, Open Heart by Father Thomas Keating is a good place to start.

Would you like to learn more about mindfulness, breath practice, meditation or centering prayer? If so, post your questions as a comment to this thread. I am passionate about this topic, and I’d love to help you learn more.

Starter Prayer

LORD God, teach me new ways to pray.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are now in week 5, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 9-10 of Rising Strong. The topics are: rumbling with failure and self-worth.

Let JOY Live (Day 33)

JOY is the most vulnerable emotion we experience. Brené Brown

Celebrate joyfully in the Lord, all the time. I’ll say it again: celebrate! Let everybody know how gentle and gracious you are. The Lord is near. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:4-5)


Over decades of research, Dr. Brené Brown has discovered that vulnerability is not weakness—in fact, it is the source of human strength. This aligns with what the Apostle Paul discovered in his own spiritual journey. Paul talks about his weaknesses and how human vulnerability is actually the pathway for union with God as well as our most blissful experiences of love, creativity, JOY and belonging.

Dr. Brown also found that JOY is the most vulnerable emotion we experience. No wonder Paul urges his community to be vulnerable and let JOY roam free. The ability to do so is key to spiritual transformation.

According to Brown’s research, 90% of us have a type of “armor” we use to protect us from the powerful emotion of JOY. She calls it “foreboding joy.”

Since JOY is the most vulnerable emotion we experience, if we are not emotionally capable of tolerating joy, we try to protect our hearts by “dress rehearsing tragedy.” That is, imagining something bad is going to happen, when in fact, nothing is wrong.

It happened to me often when my girls were little. Five of us would be piled up on our king-sized bed for story time, my newborn baby snuggling in a proud sister’s arms. Then suddenly a dark feeling would wash over me: What if one of them dies?

‘Foreboding joy’ still happens to me these days. I’ll wake up in the morning and think: I’m so excited about our house remodel, the church is thriving, our parents are doing well… This can’t last. What hard thing is going to happen next?

“What wrong with that?” you say. “I do it all the time, and I think I should! It’s one of the ways I stay realistic and ready for life’s hardships.”

Well, during her research, Brené Brown met people who don’t rehearse tragedy. These people had profound capacity for JOY. When something glorious was happening to them, they felt happy. Instead of practicing disaster, they use JOY as a gentle reminder to practice gratitude. These same people do very well when hardship hits. They have strong skills in empathy, practicing values, withstanding criticism, rumbling with their tough stories and Rising Strong after a setback.

One more thought: How many of us use “foreboding joy” to control others? Parents, maybe you’re afraid that celebrating your child’s success today will cause them to stop trying hard tomorrow. Or at work, do you ever withhold a celebration, because you want the team to keep on improving their performance?  

The capacity to be joyful without engaging in self-protection is exactly what Paul is encouraging here in Philippians Chapter 4. He is urging us to fully feel our JOY and celebrate with others.

How would today be different for you if you let JOY roam free in your heart and home and workplace?

Starter Prayer

LORD God, make me brave enough to be joyful.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are now in week 5, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 9-10 of Rising Strong. The topics are: rumbling with failure and self-worth.

Worthy of Love and Belonging (Day 32)

I define wholehearted living as engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion, and connection to wake up in the morning and think, “No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough. It’s going to bed at night thinking, Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am brave and worthy of love and belonging.” Brené Brown.

But our citizenship[l] is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 20-21)


In Philippians 3, Paul is comparing and contrasting the power of God with the power of earthly rulers and systems. He is admitting that even faithful believers can get confused and put our faith in the world’s survival tactics. He is urging us to think of ourselves as ‘citizens of heaven’ instead. For Christ’s followers, the faith community (church) is a ‘colony of heaven’; and we are responsible for bringing God’s rule into our homes, churches and the spaces where we daily live.

Of course, we’re not very good at this! Plus, things often go wrong, and as Brené Brown puts it: You’re going to stumble, fall, and get your ass kicked. And sometimes we simply find ourselves weak and helpless, because our minds and bodies are subject to sickness, aging, fatigue and all that fun stuff.

Even if we have turned our lives over to the saving grace of a higher power (in the Christian sense, Christ Jesus), we still have climbing to do and falls to rise from. In the words of Robert Frost, I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.

Nevertheless, we hope and trust that Christ Jesus himself will keep on transforming our hearts, life circumstances and relationships. And much of our hope is in the long game—that better days are coming when Christ will thoroughly transform creation.

I believe that the concept of ‘wholehearted living’, which came out of Brené Brown’s research, is similar to what Jesus called ‘choosing the narrow road that leads to life’. I also think it maps with Paul’s idea of ‘being transformed through the renewing of our minds’ rather than ‘conforming’ to the world’s ways.

In Rising Strong, Dr. Brown talks about living wholeheartedly from the starting place of worthiness. How does your faith in God (Christian or other) help you establish and maintain a sense of “worthiness” each day? What difference does “worthiness” make in your ability to live a brave and joyful life?

Starter Prayer

LORD God, help me begin and end each day grounded in worthiness.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are now in week 5, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 9-10 of Rising Strong. The topics are: rumbling with failure and self-worth.

No Greater Threat (Day 31)

There is no greater threat to the critics and cynics and fearmongers than those of us who are willing to fall because we have learned how to rise. Brené Brown.

Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us. For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 3:17-18)


The critics and cynics and fearmongers…

As we read the Apostle Paul, we see how he had people problems. Does anyone reading this have a people problem?? Think: controlling parent, angry teen, uncaring boss, competitive co-worker, mean teacher, emotionally detached partner, betrayal by a friend… Or what about a problem in our culture?  Corrupt politicians, mass incarceration, illiteracy, toxic social media, neighbors threatened with deportation…

Some people read today’s passage and assume Paul was calling everyone outside his group an enemy. To many vocal Christians in today’s world, an “enemy of Christ” would be anyone who does not share that Christian’s view of the Bible and brand of morality.

Paul was referring to something else entirely. Here’s the background: Philippi was a Roman Colony. And naturally the citizens of Phillipi resented some of the tactics used by Rome to keep the colonial citizens in line: Violence, control, unjust economic practices, ethnic persecution. And! The oldest trick in the book: “Bow down to our emperor, or off to jail you go.” Furthermore, Paul had trouble with people in his own religion—fundamentalists who were pushing a purity agenda over and against the actual Good News of Jesus.

So, Paul is sick and tired of the cynics, critics and fearmongers of the day. And he is beseeching his little group to discover (and use) their true power. Paul knows he has discovered the secret of contentment and actual influence, and he wants to empower his listeners to follow his example in dealing with both petty and life-threatening challenges while remaining hopeful and full of faith.

Chapter 11 of Rising Strong is about pulling together the key learnings of the rising strong process, and beginning to apply them faithfully. The chapter ends with The Manifesto of the Brave and Brokenhearted—a celebration of those who choose to work through life’s challenges with True Power. The manifesto is an apt summary of what Paul has in mind when he says, “imitate me and people who live out a good example.”

Tomorrow, we will continue into the high-point of Philippians, where Paul describes the place of belonging for everyone who chooses life along the Jesus Way.

Starter Prayer

LORD God, point me to the people worth imitating and following. Help me be a good example and lead the way for others.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are now in week 5, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 9-10 of Rising Strong. The topics are: rumbling with failure and self-worth.

Resurrection Hope Happens (Day 30)

Hope happens when we can set goals, have the tenacity and perseverance to pursue those goals, and believe in our own abilities to act. Brené Brown.

Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 3:13-15)


Have you noticed that we’ve been moving through Philippians, passage by passage? If not, it doesn’t matter. We’re here, and today is a big day! It’s time for Paul’s famous statement on perseverance. He’s using his own discipleship experience as an example—trying to explain WHY there is no person who is so mature that they have ‘arrived’. There is always more traveling to do.

Our teacher is gently warning against the tendency toward religious entitlement—the assumption that if we believe the right things and do the correct practices, we can have the blessed life without waiting and longing and straining for Resurrection itself.

Paul is clear. He has not reached the goal, and neither has anyone else.

We need Paul’s kind of Resurrection HOPE: We have not arrived, and we must keep pressing forward towards the goal. A true athlete knows that the race isn’t over until the end has been reached. To see oneself in front of the pack, and therefore having arrived at the finish, is crazy. (Some of us can’t even to relate to that kind of misplaced confidence, because we’re painfully aware of how much work God is still doing in us!)

What then is the goal (or the finish line)?

Paul calls the goal: the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. And some people take that to mean simply ‘heaven’ or life after death. But if we look ahead in Philippians, we see that Paul doesn’t talk about going to heaven. He speaks instead of the Spirit of Christ transforming the world and all who live here. For Paul, living in ‘heaven’ isn’t the goal we are straining for; rather, it’s living as our transformed selves in a whole new world. So, the ‘upward call’ seems to be Resurrection itself—or whole-life, whole-earth, new-birth and transformation. (This is not to say that the afterlife doesn’t matter. I’m saying Paul was not straining to get there.)

Straining forward toward whole life transformation, means living in the present with our hope set on Resurrection. (See also Colossians 3:1-4.)

And none of this means living in a joyless, earthly struggle. Paul says he is eager to ‘overtake’ Resurrection because Christ Jesus has ‘overtaken’ him. There is no English word to capture the double meaning of ‘overtaken’ here. Paul is saying two HUGE things at once, which cannot exist apart from one another: He still has work to do to catch up and reach his goal (overtake); and at the same time, the Spirit of Christ has created a supernatural drive and zeal within him, which powers him forward (overtaken by Christ).

Brené Brown addresses the topics of hope and perseverance in Chapter 9 of Rising Strong in the section about Rumbling with Failure. Her research aligns with this passage in Philippians. I encourage us to read both passages and envision how rumbling with failure is a necessary part of transformation in individuals, families and society.

Starter Prayer

LORD God, give me Resurrection Hope, and teach me how to persevere.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are now in week 5, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 8-9 of Rising Strong. The topics are: rumbling with failure and self-worth.

Going in Again (Day 29)

When I see people stand fully in their truth, or when I see someone fall down, get back up, and say, Damn. That really hurt, but this is important to me and I’m going in again—my gut reaction is, “What a badass.” Brenè Brown

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. The Apostle Paul (Philippians 3:12)


Eric Liddell was the Olympian who refused to run his preferred 100-yard dash, because one of the qualifying rounds fell on the Sabbath. Instead he went on to win a gold medal in the lung-bursting 440. The scene was made famous by the movie Chariots of Fire.

How can we talk about Rising Strong, or the Book of Philippians, without a nod to this infamous moment in the history of sports?

The stage was set, and the final sprint to be run: 440 yards. Liddell and the runners were still bunched together around the first bend when Liddell was pushed over and fell entirely off the track. In a flash, he was back on his feet, as though charged within by a divine force. At the last moment he overtook the leaders for the win in his final step.

What would you have done? I suspect I would have accepted from the moment I fell that I was out of the race, with no hope left. I would have set my sights on rising strong next year. With Liddell it was the opposite. It was as though he was illustrating this passage of Paul— or Brenè Brown on the true meaning of “badassery”.

Brenè makes a deal of that ‘term’ in the introduction of Rising Strong; because she doesn’t want us to confuse the process of rising with cultural obsessions about “grit”, “swagger” and what she terms—“badassery”.

This morning I read Philippians 3:12-16 and re-read the Introduction of Rising Strong and re-watched Manifesto of the Brave and Brokenhearted.

Together, they paint a picture of the person who is willing to live bravely—not because of grit, swagger or perfection, but because they have LEARNED how to rise strong.

More on Chasing on to the Finish tomorrow.

Starter Prayer

LORD God, teach me the difference between faking it and rising strong.

Reading Focus for Rising Strong, by Brené Brown

We are now in week 5, of this 6-week study. The focus is Chapters 8-9 of Rising Strong. The topics are: rumbling with failure and self-worth.