Session 5: Study Guide

And if you wish to become a great saint, entreat Him yourself to give you much opportunity for suffering; for there is no wood better to kindle the fire of holy love than the wood of the cross, which Christ used for His own great sacrifice of boundless charity.
–St. Ignatius of Loyola

Self-Denial or being dead to self is the condition where the mere fact that I do not get what I want does not surprise or offend me and has no control over me. Instead, we are easily controlled by the love of God and neighbor.
–Dallas Willard
Trevor Hudson Part 12 of 14

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Table of contents

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Welcome

Welcome to session 5 of Another Kind of Life DVD Experience. Each of the six sessions in this study is designed for completion in 60 to 90 minutes, with additional activities that can be done at home.

This session accompanies chapter 5 of Another Kind of Life (pages xx-xx). Watch the video, discuss the questions, and complete the key activity as a group as time allows.

Note to Leader: You and your group will need to decide whether you would like to catch up with each other around the homework and Scripture reading experiences before you watch the video together for this week’s lesson.

Video Notes

As you watch the video, use the space below to take notes. We’ve included some key points to get you started.

  • God offers us an invitation to consider and participate in a sacred mystery. It is a mystery that lies at the heart of:
    • Intimacy with God
    • Our becoming loving persons
    • Our becoming the unique people God wants us to be
  • The sacred mystery is this: If we really want to enter the life God wants to give us, we must learn how to die.
  • Jesus offers the image of a seed that falls into the ground and dies and then yields a rich harvest.
    • This is an image that applies uniquely to Jesus’ death.
      • The cross becomes the place of real power.
    • But the cross is also an image that applies to our lives. There are two crosses in the New Testament, the cross of Christ and our cross.
      • Ignatius, in the Spiritual Exercises, invites us to enter into the suffering of Christ as a way to become liberated from a life that is curved in on itself. In this process, our life opens up to others in greater compassion.
  • Trevor’s story about his friend who was diagnosed with ALS
  • As we embrace our own personal cross, we begin to enter into the sacred mystery, and we learn how to die to self-interest in order to be compassionately present to those with whom we spend our lives.
    • We are invited to die daily; and every day provides little opportunities to practice dying so we can better enter the life God wants to give us.
  • Two groups of people: Those who live for themselves and those who have learned how to die. Individuals in this second, smaller group are filled with a “wild, wild joy.”
  • Questions for Trevor’s Small Group:
    • I wonder how the image of this sacred mystery speaks to your life today.

Discussion Questions

Silent Reflection

For each of the six sessions, we encourage you to listen to both Trevor’s talk and the interviews of the participants in Trevor’s small group. We want you to feel that you are in the room with Trevor, an extended part of the group you are watching. At the end of the DVD session, invite your group into a time of silence (at least a minute or two) to engage with the following reflection:

  1. Reflections from the Silence: “How does the image of the sacred mystery of dying to live speak to your life?”
  2. What was your reaction to Eff Martin’s reflections on there being another way of living during times of uncertainty?
  3. In what ways do you identify with Teri O’Neil’s discovery while caring for her mother? What was the “death” she experienced? What was the new life she found?
  4. How do the affirmations “God made you, God loves you, God keeps you,” impact your willingness to embrace a personal cross?
  5. How has your familiarity with the great mystery of “dying to live” changed your ability to experience: intimacy with God, becoming more loving as a person, and becoming your truest self?
  6. When we talk about dying to ourselves, what would you say it is that dies (what is the seed), and what is it that finds new life (the harvest)?
  7. Describe some ways in which you are learning to die every day.
  8. Can you relate to the “wild, wild joy” of resurrection—both that of Jesus’ and that of new life in you? How so?

Key Activity

Surrendering to La Storta Moments

In the corresponding chapter, Trevor describes an important “peak experience” in Ignatius’ life. It happened in a small chapel in La Storta. He and two companions were traveling to Rome. They had been recently ordained and were now on their way of offer themselves to serve their church. Ignatius was wrestling inside with how best to serve. And he still had an ambition of serving in Jerusalem. Just outside of Rome, in the town of La Storta, the group saw a small chapel. Ignatius walked ahead and entered the chapel on his own. As an act of surrender, and most likely kneeling before the crucifix of Christ, he prayed: “Please place me with your Son.”

As an answer to this prayer of surrender, Ignatius received a vision. In the vision he saw the Father and the risen Christ carrying his cross. And then he heard the Father say to the Son, “I want you to take this man to serve us.” The risen and cross-carrying Christ said to Ignatius, “We want you to serve us.”

In the book, Trevor suggests the following: “This image affirmed for Ignatius, that carrying the cross would always be central to his life of discipleship. Zoe-life would come through dying. From this moment onwards, Ignatius’ life, and the lives of his companions, became increasingly marked by the fruit of compassion, as they gave their lives away in mission and service.”

Surrender to Love

David Benner is a good friend and a prolific writer. One of his most cherished books is titled, Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality. Surrendering to love is another way of thinking about picking up our personal cross to follow the example of Jesus.

Dallas Willard has much to say about love and a wonderful way of offering both concise and comprehensive definitions. Dallas often said that to love means to will and to act on what is good for another. Jesus’ death on the cross, the alignment of his will to the will of his Father, was the ultimate expression of what it means to will and act on what is good for another.

Consider Dallas’ definition of love as you read the following quotes about “surrendering to love.”

Love reconnects us to life. The truth of Christ’s life is that life is love and love is life. There is no genuine life without love. Self-interest suffocates life. Life implodes when self-interest is at the core. This is why the kingdom of self is based on death. Ultimately, taking care of Number One takes care of no one. For the only way to truly care for myself is to give myself in love of others. There I will find my truest and deepest fulfillment.

There is nothing more important in life than learning to love and be loved. Jesus elevated love as the goal of spiritual transformation.

Far from being a sign of weakness, only surrender to something or someone bigger than us is sufficiently strong to free us from the prison of our egocentricity. Only surrender is powerful enough to overcome our isolation and alienation.

–David G. Benner, Surrender to Love

 

Discussion

After you have taken some time as a group to read through the above reflections on embracing our personal cross as a way of surrender to love, discuss the following questions.

  1. How do you experience Dallas Willard’s definition of love?
  2. If the ego were to die—as we become living sacrifices— how would you define that part of the person?
  3. How do you relate to the notion of embracing a “personal cross” as a surrender to willing and acting on what is good for another?
  4. How do you relate to the notion of embracing a “personal cross” as surrender to willing and acting on what is good for you?

 

Activity

Colette Lafia is a spiritual director and the author of Seeking Surrender: How My Friendship with a Trappist Monk Taught Me to Trust and Embrace Life1. She suggests a number of practical ways to practice surrender every day. After considering a few of her suggestions, continue to brainstorm additional ways to surrender to love.

Ways to Practice Surrender to Love Today

  1. Practice being patient with whatever is occurring in the moment.
  2. Seek moments of solitude and silence through the day, even if only for a few deep breaths.
  3. Be grateful for little things like a cup of coffee, the laughter of a child, the beauty of a flower.
  4. Suspend judgment of yourself and others.
  5. Be gentle with yourself when you sense resistance to surrender and try to learn from what the resistance has to teach.
  6. ____________________
  7. ____________________
  8. ____________________
  9. ____________________
  10. ____________________

Homework: Recognize and Respond

Becoming a Living Sacrifice

Anthony A. Hoekma begins his important book, Created in God’s Image with the following quote:

To be human in the truest sense, therefore, means to love God above all, to trust and obey him, to pray to him, and to thank him. Man is bound to God as a fish is bound to water. When a fish seeks to be free from the water, it loses both its freedom and its life. When we seek to be free we become slaves to sin.2

Dallas Willard suggests that obedience is the engine that pulls the train of spiritual formation. Obedience to God is another way of viewing the dynamic of surrendering to love (1 John 4:7–8). After all, God is love and obedience is surrender.

Take 15 to 20 minutes to become quiet and then slowly read through the Alpine passages of Scripture; each is about radical obedience and surrender to love (Genesis 22:1–14; Luke 1:26–38; Matthew 26:36–42). Wait a few minutes before you return to your day and ask God if there is anything He would like to share with you concerning the meaning of these passages to your life and how you live the rest of the day.

Allow this devotional time to inspire you to return to the key activity above. Practice the different ways for surrendering to love that you and your group developed.

 

An Additional Homework Suggestion: A Meditation on Baptism as a Form of Death

Reflection

One morning while half of the sun was still sleeping, I was sitting on our back porch. I had closed my eyes to be less distracted from the peaceful sounds of the small river that babbles behind our house on its way to the Savannah. In my imagination, I pictured myself standing in the river facing Jesus. The water was hitting us about waist level. It was a beautiful day. I asked Jesus if he would mind baptizing me. In my daydream he eagerly complied. As he held me under water, I imagined that all the darkness, sin, and separation inside was being washed from me. It traveled downstream as he spoke: “That’s gone now. It’s in the past. Let go of everything that is flowing down stream. There is no need to revisit anything in the past.”

I continued to stand in the river, looking into the eyes of Jesus. Then I asked him, “What about the future? How do I keep from being distracted by what I need to do, by the rest of this day, by tomorrow and the next?”

He looked up stream and I followed his gaze. Then he said, “The future is all upstream. But you don’t have to swim to get to it. It’s on its way right now. Just stay here with me until it arrives. When it does, we’ll deal with it together.”

There was a freedom in that moment that is difficult to describe. There was peace in that moment that causes me to want to re-experience it as often as possible. The primary activity of living as an apprentice to Jesus is to be with him in the river that is our life, accepting the relationship, enjoying the relationship, allowing the past to be downstream, waiting with him as the future flows into the present moment. I try to return to this image as many times a day as possible. I try to return to it so often that it becomes the day. And as I do, I feel baptized into a whole new way to live.

 

Activity: Being with Jesus in the River of [Your] Life

Find a quiet place where you’ll not be interrupted by anything ringing for your attention. Allow yourself the luxury of focusing your breathing for a few minutes. In your imagination, step into a river and stand beside Jesus. If you are willing, envision that you are being baptized. Consider that the current is washing you clean as you are under the water. When you emerge be in the present moment with Jesus. Remind yourself that everything down stream is in the past and avoid allowing your mind to entertain anything from your past. Remind yourself that the future is being brought to you; you do not need to swim upstream, it will arrive in good time. Then as you remain relaxed and quiet, simply be with Jesus in the present moment without giving any thought to the past or future. Ask for nothing other than for his companionship and help in each present moment that flows your way.

Scripture for Reflection

The following passages of Scripture were either referenced by Trevor in his talk or suggested by Dallas Willard to help us focus on some aspect of God’s offer of another kind of life. As your read each passage this week, notice if there is a word, or phrase, or sentence that connects deeply with you.

 

The Seed that Dies Bears Much Fruit (John 12:20–26)

Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the festival. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir,” they said, “we would like to see Jesus.” Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.

Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.”

 

Become Living Sacrifices (Romans 12:1–8)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

 

Take Up Your Cross and Follow Jesus (Matthew 16:24–26)

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?”

 

The Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17–21)

As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”

“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

 

Boast only of the Cross of Jesus (Galatians 6:14)

May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

 

Come and Follow Me (Matthew 4:18–22)

As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him.

Going on from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John. They were in a boat with their father Zebedee, preparing their nets. Jesus called them, and immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.

Footnotes
  1. Colette Lafia, Seeking Surrender: How My Friendship with a Trappist Monk Taught Me to Trust and Embrace Life (Notre Dame, IL: Ave Maria Press, 2015).
  2. Anthony A. Hoekema, Created in God’s Image. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1986.
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