All posts by Paul Sigafus

When You Don’t Fit in At Church

Do you feel like a stranger in the very places that are meant to provide safe havens of familiarity, belonging, and friendship?

A few weeks ago a somewhat transient-looking man stood up in the middle of the worship service I attend. My attention wandered as he told a lengthy, meandering story (I’m not clear on the details, but I think it had something to do with evil land developers, a member of congress, and a crusade to save a small paper mill on the East Coast…). But then he said something that woke me up:

“I’m not a member of this church, but I am a member of God’s family.”

In those few words, he described the core longing we’ve all felt: We yearn to belong.

Fitting-In vs. Belonging

We’re born with an inextinguishable need to belong. When you belong, you can freely show up as your authentic self, imperfections included. In communities and relationships where you belong, you feel a deep sense that you’re not only acceptable, but that you’re cherished. When you belong, others stand ready to embrace, love, learn from, and enjoy you—not only for the ways that you’re similar, but also for your otherness.

Belonging is incredibly different from “fitting in.” Where belonging encourages authenticity, space, and freedom, fitting in implies having to conceal or constrain the expression of who you really are or how you truly feel about and see the world. Referencing this wisdom from a 12 year old, Brené Brown sums up the difference between belonging and fitting: “If I get to be me, I belong. If I have to be like you, it’s fitting in.”

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When Life Propels You Into Thin Air

Life’s Thresholds

Your life is full of thresholds — moments when unforeseen circumstance, choice, tragedy, or the inescapable momentum of life propels you to the extreme edge of all you’ve known.

A critical move.
A death.
A major reversal.
A disquieting discovery.
An unfamiliar place.
A massive loss.
A diagnosis.
A fundamental shift in your relationships.
An irreversible choice.
An unmistakable wake-up call.
A courageous change, but one that terrifies you all the same.

In this very moment you might stand on the brink, teetering on the threshold of crucial change. In your heart, you know that you cannot tarry where you are — the old ground can no longer support you, and already begins to crumble beneath you. Your heart compels you to move to the edge, and to ready yourself for the leap toward new, but far distant and barely visible ground.

Suspended in Thin Air

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God’s Vigil

What do you do when the heavens seem silent?

Few challenges are so hard that they can’t be made worse by having to face them alone. When you feel bereft of God’s responsiveness to your, the painful loneliness can penetrate your bones. In this follow-up video to my earlier post about surviving my crisis of faith, I share a few hopeful thoughts that might be helpful to you in making sense of God’s silence.

I’d love to hear about your experience. Feel free to leave a comment below, or to share this on Facebook by clicking the button below!

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God’s Claustrophobia & A Crisis of Faith

This post is for anyone who feels they no longer “fit” in some vital part of their life. Even if you’re ambivalent about religion or spirituality (I’ll be relating my experience with surviving a crisis of faith)—or even if your experience of spirituality has only ever brought you joy, you can probably relate to the feeling that you no longer fit within confines that were once welcoming and familiar. 

What do you do when you realize that you don’t fit within your own life?

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You Can Do Hard Things

Oh my, my how beautiful,
Oh, my irrefutable father,
He told me:
“Son, sometimes it may seem dark
But the absence of the light is a necessary part.
Just know that you’re never alone
You can always come back home”
from “93 Million Miles” by Jason Mraz

When my oldest son was perhaps only four years old, he’d sometimes complain about how I’d asked him to do something “too hard.” To his four-year-old sensibilities, my request for him to put his toys away or to please put his pants on before going out in public must have seemed excessive. In my better moments of parenting, I’d simply encourage him by gently and confidently saying, “You can do hard things.”

One evening around that same time, my son wanted me to read five or six books to him before bedtime. “But daddy is really tired tonight,” I complained. “Can’t we just read two books tonight?”

His response came quickly: “Dad, you can do hard things.”

Gotcha. I read five books that night. :)

Developing Resilience

You face hard things in your life too—perhaps even harder (gasp!) than wearing pants in public or reading a handful of books to your child before bedtime. How can you nurture a greater sense of resilience so you can face  your challenges with hope and tenacity? Learn how below!

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What Does Awesomeness Smell Like?

The other day, I noticed that my seven-year-old was smelling his wrist…. Here’s how our surprisingly enlightening dialogue went:

Me: “What are you doing, silly?”
Son: “Smell this.” (Offers me his arm)
Me (relieved): “I don’t smell anything.”
Son: “Dad, it’s the smell of awesomeness.


I love everything about that interaction with my son. I love that he has that feeling of self-regard — uncomplicated by comparison or arrogance, he just likes being himself. (I’m also saving this memory for when he’s a stinky teenager and needs to take a shower…)

Have You Lost Touch with Your Worth?

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Fatherhood Fraud or Bona Fide Dad?

Grouchy Dad

A few days ago my family returned from a vacation to California. Our boys are old enough now that they’re out of diapers, don’t need us to plan our schedules around nap-time, and only fight with each other, run into the street, or climb on things they’re not supposed to 47% of the time. I’ve actually felt like a real person again for several years now! Those early years were pretty rough.

For most of our vacation, we had a great time, our schedule filled by swimming in the pool, playing at the beach, eating great food, and fulfilling every young boy’s dream: going to Legoland!

But several days into our trip, the better part of one one afternoon involved me being in a pretty sour funk. Here I was with my beautiful family, but I just couldn’t handle one more hour at the zoo. 

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Wonder, Mortality, & Small Awakenings

“He said are you a religious man do you kneel down
in forest groves and let yourself ask for help
when you come to a waterfall
mist blowing against your face and arms
do you stop and ask for understanding at those moments
I said not yet but I intend to start today.”

— from What the Doctor Said by Raymond Carver

Close to Death

I woke up in the hospital.

The doctor told me I’d been in a serious car accident (“they cut off the top of the car to get you out…”), and that I’d lost a dangerous amount of blood internallyhe told me that he couldn’t predict how things would turn out. My life wavered on that fine margin between life and death. Then all went dark again before they took me into surgery.

Close to Life

I awoke in the hospital.

Twelve and fifteen years after my car accident, I again found myself in the hospitalthese times for the miraculous births of my children. I wept as a witness of the miraculous advent of life.

In the days and weeks following both my accident and the births of my sons, I saw life in a clearer way. My heart was tender, my soul was open, and I felt more intensely. I wanted to hold my loved ones more closely, to speak to them more intimately, and to appreciate more fully the wondersand the astounding fragilityof life.

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Relax—I’ve Got You

Wrestling with Elephants

We can fight so hard with our challenges. We feel an urgency to crack the code to our dilemmas, once and for all.

Our rigorous efforts have an important place—yet, sometimes we rely so much on our own tenacity that we cut ourselves off from other sources of strength, peace, and renewal. We get caught up in trying to wrestle with elephants—the unyielding difficulties in our lives.

I can relate to this personally.

For some time, I have felt troubled about certain aspects of my religious life. These tensions began to reach a critical point this past fall, and I knew that things needed to change. So I worked harder. I read a lot. I talked with people whom I trust. I wrote about and pondered di fferent viewpoints. I prayed. Yet for all of my sincere efforts, nothing became more clear. My confusion remained.

Relax—I’ve Got You

In my striving to figure things out, I had unintentionally allowed my spirituality to become defined by struggle and rigor. While caught up in “wrestling the elephants” of my questions, there wasn’t much room left for renewal or peace.

More recently, I’ve remembered that sometimes there’s a better way than to keep struggling—and that better way is to relax and to trust. When I take my kids swimming, sometimes I’ll work on helping them learn how to float on their backs. “Relax—I’ve got you,” I’ll encourage. Even when they’re afraid, I’m still there, ready to support them.

I feel renewed as I apply the same trust in my own life. Right now, I’m focusing less on “solving” my dilemmas by my own hard work, and more on trusting the Divine to hold me up in my deep waters. Although nearly all of my earlier questions remain, they’re not so burdensome right now. I’m not wrestling elephants. I’m rediscovering sources of renewal that transcend my struggles— beauty, love, friendship, patience—and I’m remembering that these things deserve my attention too.

Are You Wrestling Elephants?

Maybe you find yourself caught up in what feels to be an urgent struggle. Maybe you’re trying to prove something, to figure something out, or to change something that seems immovable. Or maybe you’re just trying to cope. Under any of these circumstances, chances are that just trying harder on your own won’t solve your problem.

“But I can’t just blithely set this aside,” you say. I hear you: sometimes there’s great purpose in staying engaged.

Even so, couldn’t you benefit from taking at least a half-­step back, and allowing a little more room for love, beauty, time, friendship, or grace to support and nourish you? Trusting in anything outside of yourself can feel scary and unfamiliar—but while swimming in the deep waters of life, we all need to be held up; you are no exception. So please consider the invitation to grow in trust, and to relax a little—and then wait in patience to discover the loveliness of being held up by power that is not your own.

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Expanding Your Open, Broken Heart

“My prayers are prayers of earth’s own clumsily striving (finding and losing and laughing and crying) children whose any sadness or joy is my grief or my gladness.”

— from i am a little church by e.e. cummings

As I explored in my previous post, opening yourself to resonate with another’s pain is a risky endeavor—when you stop avoiding or fixing, and really open your heart to someone’s pain, you’re going to feel it.

You’re going to hurt too. But as you courageously open yourself to resonate with another’s pain, your humanity, your emotional presence becomes an empathic space where you can hold another who is in doubt, grief, or pain. This open-hearted courage to just be emotionally present with someone in a dark place is often the very best balm you can offer. Opening your heart to another is a holy work, and all of us are needed to do it.

So, yes, opening your heart does mean that your heart is going to hurt—and even break—from time to time. You know this to be true, as a parent, a lover, or as a friend. Loving your children means you will feel some pain when they experience rejection or disappointment. Loving your spouse or a friend means that you’ll carry some of the heaviness when he or she is shouldering a burden.

Open hearts grow stronger 

Here’s a beautiful truth: opening your heart to resonate with another’s pain also opens your heart to healing, joy, and expansion.

Sitting with someone in suffering offers the opportunity to tear down walls and to really commune with your fellow sojourners in life. As you allow yourself to connect in this deep way, you’ll feel humbled and grateful for the privilege of being trusted, for the honor of listening and connecting. You’ll feel joy as you experience yourself becoming a true friend—one who is willing not only to celebrate successes and good times, but also to remain close and loyal during times of heaviness. With an open heart, you’ll feel your own capacity for love and life expand. Having extended compassion to others, you’ll be more able to extend that same loving kindness to yourself when difficult times come. You’ll remember more easily that you’re not alone. Open hearts grow stronger—because open hearts grow together.

An invitation 

If you’d like to increase your courage to be open-hearted with others in pain, you can access a reservoir of strength by remembering times when you’ve received that same sort of gracious presence. Take a moment to remember an instance when someone was there for you, at a time when you really needed help.

Recalling your own experiences of having felt someone’s support, care, and solidarity can give you courage to pay it forward.

I’ve been on the receiving end of this open-hearted courage just recently. Although I’ve always been a deeply spiritual person, in my adult life I’ve been startled by a decade-long struggle with parts of my faith. Surrounded by a family of very devout believers, I’ve sometimes felt a little isolated. While on a recent trip to visit one of my brothers and my parents, I shared some of my struggles with them. Although their experiences with belief are quite different from mine, both my brother and my parents had tears in their eyes, and each of them expressed their love for me, and their desire to support me, no matter where my honest searching leads. They opened their hearts to me, even though they don’t struggle in just the same way. They allowed their own hearts to break with my own. And although their loving response didn’t erase the poignancy of my pain or answer my questions (which I didn’t expect from them), their open hearts were big enough to take me in. And in taking me in, my hope grew a little brighter. As Neil Maxwell has expressed, “Small lights have a way of being seen in a dark world.”

Who could benefit from the light of your emotional presence? Who could be comforted by your emotional responsiveness and empathy? As you open your heart to others, you’ll experience your life expanding.

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