Beginners Mind

At the beginning of July, I had the opportunity to spend two days at a retreat with one of my favorite authors and speakers, Rob Bell.  

There were only thirty of us at the retreat, and the idea behind it was to bring something that you are working on, a problem you are trying to solve or to bring with you the fact that you are stuck and trying to figure out which direction to take in life. 

The weekend was a combination of inspiration, coaching, and group therapy, and it was amazing. 

Not surprisingly, every person that attended had some background in the Evangelical wing of the Christian church, and every single one had been wounded by it.  Some had been so wounded that they wondered if they could ever identify as Christian again. 

After the first day, I went out to dinner with several group members and deeply conversed with one woman who wanted to know about the kind of church I served. 

She was curious because she and her husband had stopped attending church some years ago. They discovered could no longer affirm many of their church's beliefs and practices.  "Tell me more about your church," she told me, so I did. 

"I've never talked to a pastor of a church like that," she told me.  

"You mean one where you don't have to check your brain at the door?" I asked her. 

She laughed, but I could tell she was hurting inside about it.  

She told me that their church had been their community, and they were still friends with many of the people who still attended, but their friendships were strained because they'd left.  It was disorienting and awful. 

They had built an entire life grounded in a way of belief that fell apart and were reeling from its aftermath.  

Afterward, I reflected on our conversation and remembered something Rob Bell had said earlier that day.  He said it after another group member expressed a similar sentiment about leaving behind their former life of faith and struggling to know where to go next with it. 

Rob said, "You built an intellectual framework to protect you from the former life.  Then it overheats and falls apart in proximity with uncertainty."

The person he addressed replied, "It's like I'm starting all over again."  

Then Rob replied, "Beginners mind is the only game to be playing."  

I've been thinking a lot about that whole exchange, especially in light of my conversation with the woman at dinner that night.  

Sometimes you find yourself in a space where all of the old paradigms, the ways you set up your life, beliefs, and all the rest of it just don't work anymore.  You outgrow them, perhaps.  Or maybe you changed so much from when you first held them that they no longer feel the same. 

Life is life-y. It can turn everything upside down in a moment. 

And sometimes those moments leave us feeling raw, wounded, and even hollow inside.  In those moments, we can wonder what our next steps will be and if we even want to take them at all.  The uncertainty can be more than we can handle. 

But those same moments can also be a gift if we are willing to employ what Rob called a "beginners mind."  

Starting over with new perspectives and surrendering our desire to be in control is often the very thing we need to find our way forward.  It can be an invitation of sorts to a different way of knowing and being.  

God finds us in the uncertainty.  In fact, that's where God seems to be most often experienced because we shed all of our resistance when we let go of what was, and discover that what is to come may be unknown to us but aren't unknown to God. 

You are not alone if you find yourself in between what was and what will be.  

We all experience this.  We are constantly in flux, forever in the liminal, in-between spaces of what we thought we knew and what we will come to know.  

As the poet Wendell Berry once wrote, "We are either beginning, or we are dead."  

Let your beginners mind be your guide, and trust that the One who loves you beyond all love will be with you as you step forward into the unknown.  May you find peace in it and new life.  

And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen. 


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