At Gateway Church in South Austin we began a new series called Flourishing.
We don’t just want to survive in life but thrive! The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard University’s Institute for Qualitative Social Science has used research to determine how to thrive in our fast-paced world. What we are discovering today via this study has actually been described in the Scriptures! Discover how to flourish in relationships with God and people, physically and mentally, financially, and in your purpose. We were designed for connection. Unfortunately, division, doubt, and conflict tempt us towards giving up or isolating because “hurt people hurt people.” Even still, we can enjoy life as God intended when we foster a healthy, growing, and intimate relationship with God and with others.
Work through the following questions and scriptures on your own, and get together with your running partner, life group, or friends and family to talk through what you are learning.
According to the The Human Flourishing Program, a quantitative social science endeavor based out of Harvard University, there are three types of institutional commitments we should understand and seek out:
- The good of the person/family
- The good of the world
- The transcendent or divine
I know some of us heard “Harvard University” and we automatically think secular, not religious. But this scientific research is fascinating because it undergirds what we already endeavor to do, to have our faith community be a place where the soil is fertile and a catalyst for one to flourish.
As a matter of fact, one of the contributors, Dr. Tyler VanderWeele, emphasizes that it is not JUST being part of a church that matters, it is the frequency that one engages that community that matters.
The science shows that higher frequency overall leads to more self-discipline, social health, times of meditation and solitude, lower rates of tobacco use,etc…. What I enjoyed about his talk from a few years ago is that he distinguishes between association and causation. We can assume that these stats are there because of mere association with a church or a faith community, but in fact the stats are tied to causation.
You have to know. I’m not talking about cultural Christianity or American churchianity which can get mixed up in politics from either the left or the right. We are going for a community of people who are on a journey exploring what it means to have a deep and real relationship with God and together bringing more of heaven to earth where we live and where we work.
Only “coming to church on an occasional Sunday” will not make you a better person, we have to be “engaged” in order to experience change and growth. Even calling Gateway your faith community will not land you a better job. However, what can cause you to be a better citizen of the world bringing truth and justice to wherever you live, is the frequency by which you and I engage the God we say we believe in, and others who believe the same.
Now all of that is well and good, but we would not be leading you well if we did not spend the rest of our time diving into scripture and what God says about us flourishing.
Jeremiah 17:5-8 – 5 This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. 6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. 7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. 8 They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
I did a quick interpretation of verse 5 with a deep dive into how it would be interpreted literally with a Hebrew lens and it would go something like this:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man who draws strength from mere flesh
’Ārar geber bāṭaḥ ’ādām zᵉrôaʽ bāśār
and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
lēb sûr YHWH
We place a curse on ourselves when we put our confidence in human systems, when we stand shoulder to shoulder with other human mortals, and allow our inner selves to leave the one who caused us to exist.
So now verse 6 makes total sense:
6 That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. So according to this passage, how do we flourish in our relationship with God? How do we know if we are flourishing? Let’s read again what it sounds like to flourish: 7 “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. 8 They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
How do we know if we are flourishing?
- Where is our confidence?
- Where are we planted?
- Are our roots growing deep?
- What role does fear play in our life?
- Are we bearing fruit?
CP Note: I’ll be ending with a story of my niece and how she wanted me to be excited about her amazon purchase. Then reiterating the 5 questions before each campus pastor comes up to close.
Proverbs 4:23 – My son, pay attention to what I say; turn your ear to my words.
21 Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart;
22 for they are life to those who find them and health to one’s whole body.
23 Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.
When it comes to flourishing in relationships. One of the hardest relationships I have had to navigate in my life has been with my Dad.
In March of this year, he was playing pickleball and mowing the yard. Last Thursday we moved him into a memory care center. This weekend Deborah and I along with my brother drove out to where my parents live as we were told he only has “days or maybe even just hours.”
My Dad was diagnosed with dementia in the fall of 2019, but it didn’t seem real until fall of 2021. Back then I asked him what helped him deal with having a bad memory, he said “you just have to laugh about it.” That’s often how he lived life!
In April 2022, he seemed to decline faster than he should have. Eventually we discovered he also had cancer. Because of his dementia, he kept forgetting he had cancer. I was with him and my Mom 5 times when he discovered he had cancer for the “first time.”
Throughout this decline, my Mom has been heroic! She has cared for him so well. We are so grateful for his siblings and their spouses and their church family for also being there for my parents when my brother and I couldn’t be there.
As hard as this has been, there have been some sweet moments. Several months ago, Deborah and I started going out once a week to be with my Dad while my Mom ran errands. We’ve had lots of fun driving, going out to eat, and sharing stories with my Dad.
This diagnosis is called “the long goodbye.” It seems to be going faster than we want it to go, but I am grateful for these moments with my Dad.
My Dad taught me how to be faithful, to work hard, and to bring humor into life. My parents introduced me to a life of faith and serving others.
It’s so hard to see his health fail him. Even still as he’s walking to his new room, he cracked a joke that made the caregiver meeting him laugh.
I will be forever grateful for my Dad!
But it wasn’t always this way.
I’ve shared some of this before, but my Dad and I have had a love/hate relationship. I love him, and he hates me.
That really sounds harsh, but the issue is I didn’t understand my Dad or how he shows love or how he experienced love from his Dad.
When I was about 10 years old I went to hug my dad goodnight when he stopped me and said: “You’re getting too old for hugs.” He then extended his hand for a manly handshake. I remember walking to my room so sad that night. The good news: at least I now have a very firm handshake.
When I was in high school we got into a huge argument. I wanted to grow my hair out and he wanted me to keep it shorter. We would get into loud shouting matches over my haircut. Now if he had only known that my hair would be gone by the time I was 27, I would like to think he would have given me more freedom.
When my wife Deborah and I were engaged, Deborah called my mom “Mrs. Bryant” as she always had before. My mom looked behind her thinking her mother-in-law was in the room. When she realized Deborah was talking to her, she laughed and said: “Well, now that you and Eric are getting married, just call me JoAnne.” My Dad was sitting next to my mom and didn’t offer the same sort of friendly gesture. There was a long awkward silence before the subject changed and the conversation continued.
Later I saw my Dad alone in the kitchen and asked him: “Dad, why didn’t you tell Deborah to call you Pat?” He responded with: “I don’t want her to call me Pat. I want her to call me Mr. Bryant.”
I was dumbfounded. “You want my fiancée, the woman who will soon be my wife to call you JoAnne and Mr. Bryant?”
He said: “Yes, I figure eventually she will just call me whatever your kids call me.” So for the next 6 years until we had our son, unsure of what to call my dad, Deborah would just wait until she had eye contact with my him before talking to him. Now, he is PaPaw and my mom is “Grandma Honey” or just “Honey” for short.
One of the worst fights we ever had was the night before the rehearsal dinner for our wedding. I had been out of the house for four years, so I was used to coming and going whenever I pleased. Since I was staying at my parents’ house in Bedford, TX the days leading up to the wedding, they didn’t like my late nights. The night before the rehearsal dinner they had hoped to talk through the logistics of the event, but I was out with my fiancée. My parents decided to wait up which is a ridiculous idea since they would usually fall asleep watching Matlock at 8pm. When I arrived at around 11pm the lights were on, and they were still awake. I knew this was not a good sign.
My Dad jumped up and started yelling at me. He was upset I didn’t tell them when I would be home and that I had hardly been at the house the entire time I was back in town. As he was yelling at me, I had this interesting thought. To show him how ridiculous he was acting, I would start yelling at him at the top of my lungs so he would stop.
Well, obviously this thought was not from God. It was not selfless, courageous, nor consistent with God’s character, but I did it anyway.
So I started yelling at him. The problem was: once I started yelling at him, I couldn’t stop.
“How am I supposed to know what time you want me home. You never told me!”
“That’s your problem: you didn’t even care to ask!”
Ever been in a fight because of unspoken expectations and wrong assumptions?
The yelling continued as we got closer and closer to each other. Spit was spraying and our voices were getting louder and louder. It was then that my mom who stands at 4’11” tall jumps in between us.
My dad and I were yelling and she was yipping!
Finally, in a huff we both went off to our rooms. My parents had turned my old bedroom into a shrine in my honor. It was weird sleeping in there. There were posters of me playing baseball and all my trophies from elementary school. I just laid down in bed, and I was so angry! I was thinking of all the meanest ways I could respond. I could cut him off. We were about to get married and move to Seattle, so I would never allow him to visit. Once we had kids, they would call him Mr. Bryant or nothing at all!
Well, I have this annoying habit: I try to pray every night before I go to sleep. It is actually a good habit, but on that night I didn’t want to pray. I just wanted to stay angry. So at first, I prayed a very angry prayer. The Bible does say that we can trust that God will avenge us! Eventually, I prayed God would forgive me for my part in the argument even though my Dad started it, and I was just protecting myself.
As my prayer continued, my heart rate began to slow down to a normal rate, my head began to clear, and then it was in that moment I knew what I needed to do. I didn’t want to do it, but I felt like God wanted me to go and apologize for my part in the argument.
The lights were off and it was dark in my parents’ room. I then came alongside the bed where my Dad was sleeping and just owned what I could have done differently. “Dad, I am sorry I didn’t set aside time to talk about the rehearsal dinner. I’m sorry I came home so late, and I’m sorry I yelled at you.”
Not expecting a response, I was about to get up to walk back to my room when I heard a strange sound. A sound I hadn’t heard too many times before. It sounded like my Dad was crying.
It was then that he said these words: “I’m just having a hard time saying good bye.”
Back behind his anger was hurt. We were experiencing conflict not because of too little care but because he cared so much.
Hurt people hurt people. Behind our anger is an unmet need or a wound that has never quite healed.
I have to tell you that night changed my perspective. I could have easily gone through the rest of my life focusing on all of the worst memories. I could have held my Dad hostage to his worst moments. Instead, I began to look backwards with different eyes. I had a different perspective.
Behind that anger was pain.
My Dad may have had a short temper, but he also had one of the most stressful jobs on the planet. We all make mistakes at work, but our mistakes don’t put the lives of hundreds of people in peril quite like his job. My Dad was an air traffic controller.
My dad also comes from a different generation – one that was not encouraged to show emotion or express feelings. I found this old book at my grandmother’s house (my dad’s mom). It is from 1967 and talks about all the types of love we experience. For many of us, our Dads were raised by men who showed even less emotion than they did!
As I looked backwards at my life and remembered the best moments with my Dad, the worst moments didn’t seem to matter so much. The way he coached my little league baseball team even though he didn’t like sports. As a coach he had to take his turn as an umpire, and I remember a specific moment when his pants split when he bent down to call the game. The way he challenged me when I was dishonest or not trying my best. When he encouraged me to try out for things I thought I had no chance making. When he drove me to the airport in the midst of an ice storm so I wouldn’t miss getting back for my job.
Some of us have relationships that have been broken over misunderstandings, unexpressed expectations, or with wounded people who don’t know how to love us the way we want.
Even still, when you look back at your life – are you focused on the results of the painful moments – the good that came out of those moments or are you focused on the pain?
Do you have grace for those who have hurt you?
Daniel Kahneman won the Nobel in Economics for his pioneering work in behavioral economics. Daniel Kahneman reveals how our “experiencing selves” and our “remembering selves” perceive happiness differently.
The idea is that “being happy about one’s life” is very different than “being happy in one’s life.” We can remember the results of the painful moments or focus on the pain of the experience. For example, if a woman focuses on the results of pregnancy, labor, and childbirth, then she is likely to have a child. She is happy about the memory. If she focuses on what she experienced in labor and delivery then she may never have another child again.
Is it possible you can shift your perspective and see that some of the people who hurt you were hurt by others, and you may be the one who experienced their displaced anger.
Now that I am a Dad, I realize how challenging it is.
I also realize how much grace I have needed extended to me.
My daughter and I have worked hard at getting on the same page. When she was 16 I started a journal so that we could write to each other what was on our hearts. Whenever we tried to talk, we would both get too triggered so reading and writing to each other helped.
With my son Caleb, I’ve noticed that I’m so much less patient and so much less engaged than I have been with my daughter. She kind of forced me to be more engaged because she has always been more outspoken whereas Caleb is much quieter.
Recently, Caleb recorded some songs he’d written. In those songs there was a lot of hurt and anger. I’ve felt convicted that I need to work on making sure Caleb knows my love for him in the way he appreciates and experiences love rather than in the way I realized my Dad and I connected.
So what about you? Are you flourishing?
We want to create some time to let you reflect on what Carlos shared and the example I shared from my own life.
Consider these questions from gatewaychurch/diggingdeeper, a resource I encourage you to download every Sunday. It’s a great way to discuss the message with your family, your roommates, or your community group. There are also questions and passages of Scripture that help you spend time personally with God each day.
- Where in life are you flourishing? Where in life are you bearing fruit?
- In which areas of life are you not flourishing?
- Right now, where are you planted? Where are you finding spiritual community?
- What do you sense God wants you to do to trust Him more?
- What do you sense God wants you to do to flourish more?
If you haven’t already, you could also use this time to reflect on where you are in life by going through the survey. No need to do it again if you already have.