Saturday, June 16, 2018

Conflict is never wrong when done for the right reasons

Like many his age, BMX is a pastime my son has taken to. When we recently visited the bike tracks in our area a strange thing occurred.
There were a group of seven young youth headed our way and they were clearly in conflict. It wasn’t anything aggressive, but there was a clear difference of opinion. I was interested for two reasons. First, these were locals, and as a kind of community chaplain, I’m looking for points of connection everywhere, especially with vulnerable people, and that’s youth. Second, I wondered if I might be called upon to help.
So, as they approached close I asked, ‘What’s up?’ ‘Ah’ said one of them, a female who I mistook as a male, ‘We’ve stolen this bike because they said so’ (pointing to two who had broken off by that point). The others simply didn’t know what to say, visibly perplexed, though after a brief pause, the female said to another male, ‘I told you it was a dumb idea.’ ‘Yes, I know,’ said the one who had folded to peer pressure.
At this point I was astonished at the level of conscience that was going on. They knew what they’d done was wrong. They lamented their decision. Then I said, ‘You’re doing a good thing by feeling bad about taking the bike. What can you do to make it right?’ ‘We could take it back I suppose,’ said one of them. I immediately thought that this is a particularly vulnerable position to be in, for what if they got caught, and were punished for doing the right thing! — even though they had actually stolen something. I considered giving them my phone number as a validation should another adult challenge them, but then I thought that would only rescue them from the situation, so I remained silent. I just said, ‘It sounds like the right thing to do, doesn’t it?’ They agreed and then left.
They had benefited from my intervention, but I could tell they were holding court without it. They didn’t need to be told, just helped in imagining the natural consequences of their actions.
Conflict is not always bad. Indeed, it’s a breath of fresh air when injustice has been done. It can facilitate thought to the juncture of reconciliation, as it puts pressure on the conscience to convert dissonance to peace.
What I saw in thirteen and fourteen-year-olds was weakness of the age and circumstance, but then leadership and the ability to reflect. They knew it was the wrong thing, and even though they’d done the wrong thing, they weren’t beyond doing the hard thing to put it right.
When conflict features protagonists who can stay with the issue at hand, who resist the temptation to criticise the person, logical correctives can be suggested, agreed and implemented.
It’s better to fight for the right reasons than to pretend nothing’s wrong.
It’s better for a relationship to enter the arena of conflict when both want it resolved than to avoid it.
And it’s wonderful to watch on and see the process of conflict resolution take place when protagonists need little help.
And here is this:
what point is there to insist on winning
when you can only ultimately lose?
Those who enter the arena of conflict for the right reasons risk personal defeat but, virtuously, they seek relational victory:
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
— Theodore Roosevelt (from the speech
‘Citizen in a Republic’ delivered in France, 1910)
There is more to life than the issues. That more-to-life pivots around people and the peace they seek.
It is no coincidence that righteousness coalesces with peace. We cannot have peace unless we do right.
Peace is worth fighting for when conflict
endeavours to reconcile what is right.

Monday, June 4, 2018

Empowering and enabling functional forgiveness

Photo by Raul Varzar on Unsplash

Imagine fellow human beings not being the real enemy, but the force of disconnection they avow; forgiveness is a power we employ when it functions for us to reconnect us to what is good.
Unforgiveness is a force of disconnection.
Unforgiveness is a vacuum
where goodness seems non-existent.
Unforgiveness stifles us because it’s a taking away without replacement. It’s a void. It causes us to stumble because our thoughts and heart are dominated by that which takes energy without giving back.
Evil always takes away,
whereas goodness always adds.
We know these things in the simple act of attempting to engage in a social gathering, especially when someone is there that we have a patchy history with. If our thoughts are dominated by the fear in unforgiveness, we’re disconnected with others in a way that we let those thoughts govern our behaviour. We shrink or are moody. Yet, if our thoughts see the fear, and ameliorate it courageously with the knowledge that connection adds power and purpose, even in those moments of engaging with the person we have history with, we have the words and the poise for it. We present the goodness of God on those occasions, because God gives us the power to be straight up when we’re honestly focused on goodness instead of evil. The force of evil cannot get close. The light voids the darkness.
Suddenly there is something beyond
the hopelessness of unforgiveness.
Most people desiring peace in their heart desire a way to functionally forgive the perpetrator for the hurt they bear. They just struggle to attain the way of it. Some want that peace, but they insist on retaining their anger toward the perpetrator.
We can’t have it both ways. We will either surrender the negative energy that saps our heart at the level of our thinking or we will retain it and get nowhere.
Forgiveness literally means to let go,
yet we quickly learn that in the letting go,
we must grasp something afresh —
that is the light that Christ alone
offers us via the Holy Spirit.
Forgiveness is about seeking connection
to that which brings goodness and life,
whilst binding and breaking those bonds
of disconnection that bring only death.
Forgiveness, for it to be what it is, and that is a process of letting go, needs to be functional — something we can do, and actually do.
Do not simply disconnect from the person who hurt you,
but find ways to reconnect to the goodness in life.
None of us ought to imagine that any of this process of letting go is easy. It can be the hardest thing we ever do, but there is a way that works, and that is what I term ‘functional forgiveness’, in that it is something you do and not simply think about.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Finding poise in the overthrowing moment

Photo by Jose A.Thompson on Unsplash

The stories that run through our unconscious minds are captivating and powerful, and they always involve some graphic form of deliverance, like the moment and way God will redeem for us some promise He’s nestled in our heart.
We plan for those moments with incessant regularity.
And the hard truth about this is that those stories built upon the promises pregnant within us will probably never materialise — certainly not in the time and the way we imagine them coming to fruition.
Largely, they’re myths.
But some moments we don’t plan for do come.
I recall a few of these moments in one twenty-four-hour period when our son was stillborn.
The first of these moments lasted about two hours, and truly the emotional experience of wondering whether I had what it took was poignant in and of itself. The moment Nathanael was declared as passed away, by the nurse, then later the doctor. Their reactions. Attempting to console an inconsolable wife. Sitting there as minute-by-minute she went downhill spiking a fever. Being told there would need to be an emergency delivery. Feeling angry that our son hadn’t been monitored; that we hadn’t been granted a C-section in the first place. Wanting to protect one of the midwives who seemed to be really struggling with what had happened. Waiting there in the room before we were wheeled into theatre tracing the bodily outline of our son on my wife’s abdomen. Wondering at this point whether we had what it would take to encounter our deceased son. The music of Bethel’s ‘It Is Well’ playing as he was delivered. Experiencing with shock the elements of his delivery. Not being ready for his facial expression. Not fainting. Being present there with him and everyone else. Bathing him. Weighing him. Then later, having those bare and raw moments when all was quiet, when distractions could no longer rescue us from the full emotional response that needed to be let out. The commencement of that grief. Having to insist a social worker come back at a more appropriate time. Having to stand our ground when others should have known better.
A day full of moments like this; a week of them. And months beforehand and months afterward. And yet we survived.
Life is a tricky juxtaposition of moments we think will occur at some point, but that never do with the moments of paroxysm that leave us confounded, unable to find sense for what has happened.
Finding poise in the moments I’ve described above was a matter of acknowledging how bizarre the reality really was; with a faith that is willing to stay in the moment; with a trust that shows up.
We always wonder if we have what it takes in an overwhelming moment. And in such a moment we prove we can simply in the act of keeping on going. We don’t stop. We don’t reflect amid the pressure to perform. We do that later. We go through the motions the best we possibly can, and God gets us through them.
There is always plenty of opportunity for reflection.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The husband I was, the husband I am

Greeting my son at the airport on return from a trip

Oh, if I think of the kind of man I was compared with the kind of man I am now there are sharp yet subtle differences. Significant changes took place, yet I am ostensibly the same man. And still, today I have an ability to overcome abusive patterns of behaviour simply because God gave me the power to be honest. And the most important change I have received is the conviction of the Holy Spirit that compels me to confess my wrongdoing, and in telling the truth, that same truth sets me and others I love free.
I write this to honour my former wife.
I write also to honour the love of my life, my wife.
Fifteen years ago, I lived a life on the edge, though for all intents and purposes my life was grand. Materially, things were fine, and the financial struggles of early marital life were behind us. Yet, more sinister problems lurked beneath the facade; ambition leading to compromise for career leading to family neglect, occupational stress leading to escapism leading to addiction, and an anger borne of fear leading to a pattern of control leading to verbal abuse of my then wife.
It was my destiny that I lost that first marriage. I couldn’t see it coming, but I should’ve seen it coming. I was satisfied that as a husband I was ‘good enough’, but how flawed that perception was! No I wasn’t. And if only more of us would see that we’re not good enough it would convict us to be better, or certainly more, so far as love is concerned.
The first time I was able to publicly decry my performance as a marriage failure was in a sermon in July 2006. I recall seeing a man from the congregation leave in tears. I knew what was occurring in him. The elders followed him and prayed with him. The Holy Spirit had convicted him of his abuse because I spoke poignantly of mine. I was sad, yet happy. It needs to be called out. And it’s the power of the Holy Spirit to convict us of sin enough to lead us to repent so we might be delivered and saved.
Back then I was a perfectionist, and I expected that standard of my wife, and sometimes even my children. Today I live accepting my imperfection, and don’t expect myself or anyone else to get it right all the time. Back then anger was never too far away. Today the anger is still there, but it is a tenth as potent as what it was, and it’s oriented toward better reasons, not usually to control others. Back then shame was the hidden puppeteer. Today’s puppeteer is the Holy Spirit. Back then I was a husband who could be terse with his words and mood. Today I’m a husband with potential. Back then I couldn’t have admitted I abused my wife. Today I know how not to be, and there but for the grace of God, go I.
I’ve been two types of husband, both for over ten years now. I have something to say to the man who doesn’t want to abuse his wife but does. Break the cycle. Confess your sin. Seek your recovery. Find your help. Discover God’s Presence. Realise honesty’s power.
Not many weeks go past where I don’t wish that
I could’ve been a better husband in my first marriage.
At least I can release that legacy through the few dozen marriage counselling relationships I’ve had the privilege to provide. I share my failures in those sessions and it always adds power to people’s stories of redemption.
Get it right; I still make so many mistakes. Most days. But I’m not ashamed, because I know God knows who I am. I’m not ashamed because those mistakes bring out into the light the act of my wrongness. And then I can be responsible for myself and honestly hold myself to account.
The most obvious thing I can say about the contrast of the husband I was in comparison to the husband I am is this: it’s only by the power of Christ and through belief in His name to follow Him. There would be no difference otherwise.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The Meltdown

Me pictured on my last delivery day.

This is one of those vulnerable articles. It’s hoped that as I share about my/our weaknesses you too will be encouraged to own and accept your weaknesses, defeating any perfectionistic stride that tends to disrupt and even destroy relationships.
Meltdown: think nuclear plant meltdown where the nuclear core is severely overheated and catastrophic damage results.
We have a five-year-old, and very recently something happened that often happens at his age-and-stage. He had a meltdown. The process normally goes like this. Creative idea, build something, doesn’t work, frustration sets in, destroy the creation in anger. Not all the time, just occasionally. Dealing with pre-school children all the time, and having had another three children who are now adults, there’s nothing alarming in it. Besides, our five-year-old has witnessed us having meltdowns — and I can speak only for myself here.
There are all sorts of meltdowns, not just the angry ones, but also the teary ones, the anxious ones, the prideful ones, and the panicky ones.
I want to share with you the kind of meltdown I’m capable of; this would happen occasionally in 2016 when I was thrust into an occupational world that I did not want any part of, but had to engage in just to support my family.
I was very blessed to be offered work — two separate part-time positions — through friends, one of whom was my ex-wife, when pastoral ministry work went belly-up.
Meltdowns occurred because of both jobs, but the case in point here centred around my job working with my ex-wife. These meltdowns never had anything to do with her — we, her and her husband and I, had a very good working relationship, always trying to outdo one another in what we gave.
But it was the nature of the work that had me positioned like a fish out of water. I was packing chilled meals for home delivery, and so regularly my mind was doing backflips, that at times, my head was saying, ‘I cannot do this… it’s too hard… my brain is wired to work with people, one person at a time, not five or more tasks held in the mind at any one time, with noise, with pressure, with interruptions. (I need to say that since I burned out in 2005 my brain has some kind of permanent disability in managing many tasks simultaneously.) I was always fine when I got out on the road to do the deliveries, other than the times I had meltdowns. And this happened on a half dozen occasions.
Here is the nature of that kind of meltdown. I would call my wife and say, panicked and in tears, ‘Darling, I cannot do this anymore… it’s too hard… my mind can’t keep up… I’m useless.’ After 10-minutes of hearing me out she would usually help me accept that I could get through the delivery run. I was usually fine after this. The inner meltdown in the presence of others manifested in an outward meltdown when it was safe with my wife.
There was nothing wrong with the delivery driving job, and in fact it taught me important skills, helped me master a new degree of patience, gave me empathy for those in that kind of work, and it showed me what I’m not good at. And it showed me how, all through my life, I’ve had the capacity for this kind of depressed meltdown that comes straight out of my wounded child state.
We all have meltdowns, even those who seem to have perfect lives, and especially those who look like they’ve got their lives under control.
I don’t know a single person who hasn’t had a meltdown. So, what do we do with this?
We stop feeling ashamed of them whilst we do all we can to limit the kind of damage meltdown can bring.

Saturday, May 26, 2018

Please Lord, break me so You can make me

Photo by John Hult on Unsplash

We never know this truth until we’re stricken with it, and the very thing that smashes us apart is the putting of us back together. But oh, how rare it is that we’ll be broken to that point of submission to God. What sounds sadistic is actually the polar opposite.
Only when life leaves us with no alternative
but to go to God — when He is our only refuge —
do we truly begin relying on Him and knowing Him.
Only when life breaks us
does God begin to make us.
When life breaks us
we only have to be honest,
and God will pour His mercy
into us, and then we will know Him.
Below is a poem that puts it a different way:
When life leaves us
feeling short-changed,
when life as it was
has been rearranged,
we’re left with a situation
only we can own,
all be it that God means
it so we can be grown.
Of course, there’s the reality
we hate this cup!
to drink from it now
leaves us feeling all mixed up,
but that cup’s ours
unlike the one Jesus drank,
Because He drank that cup
we have Him to thank.
Nothing did He gain
as a reward,
apart from being risen
to a life Father restored,
so that’s our hint
to enjoy the Spirit anew,
from our heart comes a glint
when our resurrection’s true.
Rearrangement is for growth, when we can go only one of two ways: bitterness or betterness.
All we have to do is be honest about the situation we’ve been dealt. Healing is the sure transaction of God as we courageously do what any third party would commend, and that’s because they don’t have to enter the cauldron. Get on with the work of reconciliation, which is always a personal transformation through God well before it’s a transaction of reconciliation with fellow human beings.
We never pray, please Lord break me so you can make me, beforehand. Only afterwards are we given the wisdom we could assuredly not have otherwise.
We hate the cup of rearrangement that has been placed into our hand. But as we grip it we’re faced with the glaring disparity that Jesus too held a cup, and that cup was our sin, and He died that we might be saved. And now He offers us that death to have, so His resurrection life might too be ours.
We don’t seem to gain much in being broken by life, but afterwards we’re resurrected through the chastening of discipline — a blessing we would never have sought out.
We can never quite believe how God makes us through the process of breaking us, but having experienced it, we know unequivocally He ordains anything we suffer to be for our benefit.
And having experienced this miracle of resurrection once breeds belief in us that we’re no longer afraid to be broken again and again, because through brokenness is incomparable gold of connection and intimacy with God.
Only what is derelict commands restoration.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

How do I know I’m doing God’s will?

Photo by Felix Russell-Saw on Unsplash
It’s a question every ardent follower of Jesus must surely ask, and therefore it’s a question worth exploring. Just what kinds of situations are indicators that we’re doing God’s will?
I’d venture some of the following:
When we’re finding it an uphill struggle to love people, yet we’re persisting, we’re doing God’s will. When forgiveness is near-on impossible, but we keep repenting before the Lord, we’re doing God’s will. When we’re slandered, yet don’t give in to slandering back, even in our heart, we’re doing God’s will.
When we’re finding it difficult to rationalise the kinds of sacrifices we’re needing to make, yet we continue to sacrifice faithfully, we’re in the lap of God’s will. As we recognise that the best sacrifices are those that actually cost us, our sacrifice must be closest to pleasing God.
When we’re grappling with the folly in people’s decisions, yet we overcome impatience with a reminder of God’s grace toward us, we’re operating in the motivation of doing God’s will. As we’re quickly reminded of our own slow progress, and as we thank God for such a reminder, we’re doing God’s will.
When we’re working hard yet are often tempted to feel that we’re wasting our time we’re doing God’s will. Yes, as we throw ourselves into a work that has little immediate reward, the littler the better, faithfully doing it without resenting it, we’re doing God’s will. Perhaps we can take Jesus at His word (Matthew 6:4).
When things are easy for us, and blessings seem to be pouring in, and we take the opportunity to be positively grateful, we’re doing God’s will. But not just that; when we take the opportunity to see those at the opposite end of the blessedness spectrum — those who feel cursed — and yet have empathy, which is the heart to stand in their gap, we’re doing God’s will.
When we sin yet bring ourselves to immediate account by the repentance of apology, having been prompted by the conviction of the Holy Spirit, we’re doing God’s will. Blessed are we all the more to be so self-aware as to be doing this daily and more often.
When we’re tempted by a thing to conceal or withhold a truth, yet we ensure the truth can roam free, no matter the cost, we’re doing God’s will. As we venture through life this is the key test we face every day. And given the opportunity to manipulate and coerce, that we don’t!
When we’re given the position of power, yet diffuse that power in the discharge of our function, yet take hold of the seriousness of responsibility of the role, we’re doing God’s will. As we deal with others, being patently aware of the temptation to abuse power, yet we give the other power, we use that power to enable and empower others.
When we’re emasculated in grief, powerless over the forces that overwhelm our feelings, yet keep, in our stronger moments, searching out the heart of God in the matter, we’re doing God’s will. It’s just so important to know when it honours God to rest and not berate ourselves, just as it pleases God to walk ahead at the surest sign of ease.
When we take regular moral inventory, yet aren’t sacked by the weight of our wrongdoing, and are able to look up and thank God for His mercy and grace, we’re doing God’s will.
When we don’t know what to do, yet we resist forging ahead anyway, and take the time to seek wise counsel, we’re doing God’s will.
When we see someone hungry or thirsty or tired or lonely, and we give them what they need, without condition, we can be sure we’re doing God’s will.
When we’re tempted into favouring one kind of doctrine over another, yet we see how incompletely we actually see (1 Corinthians 13:12), and still don’t judge others for falling into error, we’re doing God’s will. None of us can be assured of not falling into heresy at one time or other, yet we’re so quick to judge. The paradox of that, of course, is Pharisaism.
When we’re shamed by our sin, and we fall into the quickest judgment of character by onlookers and are condemned out of hand, yet we look high to God, and see our sin is covered by the blood of the Lamb, and are convicted to live fervently for Jesus from now on, we’re doing God’s will.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Men, speak up and feel better

Photo by Max Sandelin on Unsplash

I was at a family get together of a close friend some time ago that featured a conversation that left several of us uncomfortable for what was said by one of their number. There was nothing aggressive said, nobody was attacked, other than one family member in question. Their attitude to their own life left us with nothing to say. They were vocal, and it was clear we were all stumped.
They simply said it was none of anyone else’s business
how long they lived and how they died.
Their immediate family was present. They heard it said. In their demeanour, they accepted that they couldn’t change the attitude presented. I’m not sure what each individual thought, but I was thinking, ‘Don’t these people mean enough to you for you to not harm yourself?’ Even if I’d vocalised it I doubt it would have made any impact. And how can you say something like that without saying, ‘You’re selfish!’ So desperately sad!
We’ve all faced such moments, lost for any hope within us to share, and certainly as a counsellor I’ve had more than my share. But I left that occasion feeling surely there was something more I could have said or done.
Many men seem to be resistant to talking through their problems. Perhaps most. And certainly, those who might venture into self-harm, and euthanasia — if it is legalised — are disproportionately featured.
In some men there is an impenetrable veneer where a fraction of an inch below their exterior lurks dangerous thoughts that coalesce with a stubborn and perhaps fearful heart. No matter how much we say, ‘Are you okay?’ there is an iron curtain raised — ‘Yep, I’m fine… I’ll let you know if I’m not…’
It’s particularly disturbing when we know
there are issues but the man there before us
fears feeling weak. All men can relate.
Many men fear feeling weak.
Ironically, it’s when we’re honest about feeling weak
that we begin to feel stronger.
He might be saying to himself, ‘I feel like a sissy,’ or he is probably patently aware that he’s hardly ever (if ever) had the kind of conversation that involves vulnerability. He’s probably had more conversations of the nature of, ‘harden up’ or ‘Here, have a cup of concrete with your whining.’ None of that is ever helpful, even if it does pretend to be funny (which it is not!). Perhaps he’s thinking it’s not bad enough yet. The problem with that is how bad does it need to get? When it’s too late? Maybe he feels he has to be the strength of the family.
But… we are all frailer than any of us realise.
Anyone who has fallen into serious depression knows this. Many people who have never had mental health issues simply have no idea, even if they have witnessed a family member inconsolably lost in fragmented identity. It is incredibly stark, the difference between the mentally ill person and the family member trying to help. One is frustrated by an incapacity to help themselves or receive help, the other is frustrated by an incapacity to help their loved one when they would give anything if they just knew what.
What can we do? Well, we can raise awareness and be part of ‘being the change’ we seek to see in our world. We can be social media warriors and share posts like this one, and anything that connects men not talking with trusted others when they could and should. We can begin praying for the men we know, especially brothers, sons, fathers, uncles, cousins and friends. You know, the funny thing about prayer is the more we pray the more God works in our subconscious mind to generate creative ideas for action. Pray and we become activated advocates.
For those who are tempted into self-harm, the lives of all they love depends on them. Act on the temptation and soon multiple lives plummet into an abyss of grief that has no return to what was.
Yet there are many who cannot and will not help themselves.
It doesn’t mean we ought to accept defeat. Care comes in many forms.
But we also have to accept we’re doing and have done our best.
We need to start the process of education earlier in boy’s and girl’s lives. Young lives need to be exposed to vagaries of the mind and be taught that these whims of self-destruction can germinate in any of us anytime, but also be taught the essentials beyond such wisdom, like mental self-awareness and the power of safe identity.
If men, or women for that matter, will only speak up, they will feel better. Even if mental health does not markedly improve, there is a companionship on offer to those who will open up and remain open.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

A naked pastor’s honest truth

Photo by Teddy Kelley on Unsplash

I’ve had people say to me that they appreciate my vulnerability and that is nice. Some people think it’s too much, even a sign of insecurity in me. That’s fine too. But the honest truth is I’m nowhere near vulnerable enough yet. I’m nowhere near comfortable calling my sin for what it is. And, amazingly, due to God’s astonishing favour, that’s mine undeserved, that’s okay too!
God is calling us to be self-aware and courageous enough to know who we are from what we think, say and do.
This is not about identity in Christ,
even though we may identify as His.
This is about knowing and accepting
my identity as a sinner,
before God and all His creation.
This is about dying to self,
tearing the veil of secrecy down the middle,
leaving shames exposed,
so that the Lord might work.
Here below, in the tradition of Step 4 of AA’s Twelve Step Program, is a healthy look at the sin I can disclose about me:
I sometimes feel I don’t get enough and want more attention. I hate being misunderstood. I loathe being disrespected. I’m prone to feeling insecure. I’m quietly critical of others at times. I only sometimes enjoy imagining others thinking they’re ‘one up’ on me. I abhor the misuse of power so much that I can attempt to overpower people through advocacy, in turn disrespecting boundaries. Occasionally, based in pride, I overvalue and overestimate my abilities. Sometimes I wonder why God chooses to use others more powerfully than He presently uses me. Many times over the years I’ve prayed like the psalmist (Ps. 13), ‘How long, O Lord, will you hide your face from me?’ I have the propensity to completely negate how God is already using me powerfully in His Kingdom, not being grateful for what He’s given me. I often fall into the trap of wanting to do things for God rather than be with God. I’m a different person at home as I am out in public, and some people I know may think more highly of me than is true. I have the capacity to talk harshly to my loved ones. I’m not as good as some think I am, but at times I’m also haunted by how bad some others may think I am. There is a litany of sin within me. I prioritise comfort, privilege and pleasure. I often procrastinate when it would be wiser to do what God has called me to do. I worry too much about the state of my body, but do not do enough to maintain my body. I’m often tempted to get out of doing what I discern to be God’s will. Though I believe I’m regenerate of spiritual nature, there seems so much of the unregenerate nature still within me. I have a covetous way about me that I cannot seem to escape from. Time is often a god to me; an idol that controls too much of my life. I realise that I’m sometimes manipulative in my listening as I’m often formulating responses in my mind before I’ve truly understood what the other person is saying. Sometimes I linger on inappropriate things and rationalise them as ‘not being too bad’, the sorts of things ‘many people do’. I often feel I have much more head knowledge about God than a fire for God shut up in my bones.
With such a cacophony of sin you could be mistaken to think I were not Christian. Certainly, I’m comfortable that God has already transformed me so very much over the years.
Do I publish this with any sense of safety? No, it’s a risk. Do I feel vulnerable? Yes, now I do. It’s a different and deeper kind of vulnerability.
But these are the kinds of truths that will be known about me when I meet God in heaven. It does me no good to pretend I can keep them to myself. I must look within, get beyond the shame, and allow God to sanctify me afresh, knowing I enjoy His full acceptance.
Lord, help me not pretend I have this life all together.
Help me not propagate that kind of self-deceit.
Help me to be honest and stay honest.
Help me lead out of humility.
Help me see you!
Part of me imagines that there are leaders and followers of Christ who are ready to reject me and my ministry because I declare how specifically rotten of heart and mind I am. I do fear that — another sin. But I give it to God! Whatever. So be it. I just want to be better.
I do hope you’re comfortable with my public confessions. I hope they help you in your frail humanness.
I hope you can also identify some of your own sins within the descriptions of mine. We are not that much different. We all need God.
I hope as you read this list, that some of your sin would come into view, but that you wouldn’t feel judged by it, but empowered to turn, again and again, with momentary passion, to the Lord.

To admit our sin and feel convicted of heart and to draw near to God is a desire that meets with God’s will.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

When a Grief journey has only just begun

Photo by Nicholas Bui on Unsplash

As I perused my 2005 journal for something unrelated, I was drawn to the following entry from August 24:
The process of grieving has just begun
and I will anticipate its steps now.
I had an anger event yesterday.
You know, with all I have (the girls)
I still wish I wasn’t living my life right now.
I feel like a fool… let me say it again, I feel like a fool.
I read those words and I sense just how sad they are. My three daughters were the only reason I didn’t make an attempt on my life nearly two years earlier, when another season of the profoundest grief had begun. I found at the time, and even now, the senselessness and confusion of having three precious daughters and yet their presence didn’t seem enough. How on earth could that be? Who and what would I have been without them? (Of course, my daughters were enough, yet this loss was about something I didn’t have and couldn’t have at this time.) But, that is grief — a normal response to an insurmountable loss — and grief understandably involves much irrationality as we wrestle through a quagmire of confusion, guilt and fear on our way back to some sense of mental, emotional and spiritual normality.
There is an insurmountable and most daunting nature about beginning grief. And it is worse when we’ve delayed the process years only to recognise we haven’t made any progress because significantly important details weren’t catered for. We can indeed feel very foolish to have wasted those days or years!
We’ve all heard that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but the pain of grief marks such a commencement as defeat before we’ve even started. Everything is just so overwhelming, and there are levels of being overwhelmed which compound the enormity of the long road before us. And the most overwhelming thing is the present tsunami of wanting this reality to be over, now. It’s such a common thing to awaken having slept and lament the return of consciousness. The lived reality is just too hard.
Yet, still, we must start. We must turn away from the past in such a way as to acknowledge it as the launching pad for the travailing present and the anticipated future. We must believe for a future that is bridled in hope. We must begin the honest journey of suffering our feelings and all the maladaptive responses we’ll experience. We must know how messy it will feel and how ugly we will feel.
And we must have the wisdom to live life one day at a time, and know that this too shall pass.
Finally, we must gather a cavalry of support, an assemblage of guidance, a cohort of travelling companions who will help us hold on all the way through such a bucking ride.
There is one good thing about the commencement of a journey in grief. We placed the stake in the ground. Like the times in my life when I’ve wondered what was wrong and why I was in the doldrums; what a relief it was to say, ‘I have depression!’ because it meant I was starting a journey in climbing out of it.
At the beginning,
finally we have sight for the journey,
and where there is a beginning,
we believe for an ending.
When you feel as though you’re at your rock bottom worst, there is a realisation that grief is just starting. First time around it feels like a hole we cannot climb out of. But God has given it to us so we can learn, as others have, just how to do it, through the slow yet certain passage of time.
Starting the grief journey is a crucial means to an inevitable end — we do arrive, healed more then, than when we started.
I’ll never forget times I routinely awoke and immediately resented being conscious. Knowing there are people facing the same reality compels me to pray and reach out.
Share with those who care. Care so others will share.