Monday, December 31, 2012

Vision Eats New Year’s Resolutions for Breakfast

What better resolution could there be entering a New Year than simply to have a better, more thankful, year than the one just gone?
Whether it’s a health goal or better financial security or the peace of spiritual success (or anything else), we all desire to have life better than we’ve had it.  Yet, it doesn’t always work that way.  This is why many people have trepidations about the concept of ‘beginning over’.
Some people choose not to begin over; they’re resistant to the whole concept of New Year as a fresh beginning.  It doesn’t matter how people think.  Everyone wants a happy life (however people individually define it).
The New Year’s Resolution for those who don’t make them is a special one; it clinches the field as far as goal-setting goes, simply because it defeats the need to even set a goal.  This Resolution is about choosing a vision for life.  This is a broad direction to head in.  It’s a consuming focus.
Sample Visions
Here’s how a personal vision might look:
C       Rather than pick something to ‘give up,’ or ‘take up’ something new, I want to live smart one moment at a time.  For me, that is to ... ... ...
C       What makes me happiest is ... ... ... so I’m going to do more of that from now on, because I can.
C       You know, I’m sick of having regrets about family, so I’m just going to be more gracious and more forgiving, and a little more generous with my time. And, I will forgive myself when I occasionally get it wrong.
C       I can’t wait until I look into the mirror and like – no, love – what I see!  If I want something bad enough I can achieve it. Whatever happens I’m accepting who I am.
C       I see people all around me getting degrees and diplomas.  I see that for myself within five years.  One day I’ll be doing ... ... ... and helping people.  That’s my dream life.
C       Volunteering is something I’ve been promising myself for years.  I’m going to start actively exploring it.  A few years from now I’ll look back and thank God because of the people I’ve met and worked with, and the things I’ve done.
C       From now on I’m backing off on the workload I’ve been under.  I’m stressing less from now on.
C       Time to add yours ________ here!
Overall Benefits
It’s important that your vision is written in your words that have special meaning for you.  This sort of idea trumps those with detailed and specific ideas on what to do or not do.  That’s because a vision for something different is worlds bigger than the detail found in the typical New Year’s Resolution.
The idea here has been to think bigger on an overall life perspective.  And perhaps the most significant benefit is we don’t limit ourselves to one year or to one failure. Neither does one year nor one failure define us.
Vision is about the whole of our lives, and so what if we fail here and there.  It’s how we get back up that counts most.  It’s what we achieve over our lifetime that makes the difference in the final analysis.
The hare might be to the New Year’s Resolution what the tortoise is to the Vision; sure, soon we’ll have to take the plunge, but the New Year is not just about another year, it’s about the next step toward the rest of our lives.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Overcoming the Rejection-Aggression Effect

“Yet, in most of the research we reviewed, rejection was associated with higher aggression.”
— Leary, Twenge, Quinlivan (2006)[1]
BIG DISCLAIMER: the theory about to be discussed is by no means representative of all people or all situations. Many people respond to rejection by withdrawing or even placating the rejecter. That said, we can continue.
The Rejection-Aggression Effect suggests that many, indeed possibly most, people respond to rejection by varying manners of aggression. This aggression can be overt or covert, active or passive, and generally a mix of both.
What this understanding does for us is it helps us validate our fear when we do feel rejected. Knowing that anger is the likely result of having been rejected, we can explore our fear, and when we do such a thing openly in the sight of God, the Holy Spirit reveals to us how we might more effectively handle rejection. And resist anger.
The Gargantuan Negative Power In Rejection
William James (1890) was among the first to suggest that rejection in the course of everyday life may precipitate rage:
“If no one turned round when we entered, answered when we spoke, or minded what we did, but if every person we met ‘cut us dead,’ and acted as if we were non-existing things, a kind of rage and impotent despair would ere long well up in us, from which the cruellest bodily torture would be a relief.”
This Rejection-Aggression Effect is so powerful it works in us at an unconscious level. We can very well see, now, how the most pathological of people—those given to having committed the darkest of crimes—have almost certainly been rejected to the level William James suggests.
How could this not cause empathy to well up within our hearts for these?
How can we judge people for their anger, when a great deal of the time their anger may be constructed out of the seedbed of rejection?
What We Can Glean Personally
Having now had a foretaste of what life might be like for those who have never been loved—those who know nothing else but anger—we must now turn to our own anger, for we too have been rejected.
Could it be that God is issuing us a challenge upon knowing this effect?
Suddenly as we recognise our own angry reactions, and the rejections behind them, we experience God’s grace and peace as he lightens our spirit. We are not bad people for getting angry when we got angry because we were hurt. We see anger in a new light, and we are challenged, now, to deal with our anger in different ways.
When we are rejected, we are to see within ourselves the capacity for a Jesus-response. Instead of anger we can virulently forgive. We can do this because we can understand the motive behind another person’s rejection—it’s their fear talking!
Behind most anger, in the dungeons of the soul, is fear.
As we learn to train ourselves to love and not fear, under the Spirit’s guidance, we begin to respond differently to rejection. Whenever we are rejected we offer compassion, to ourselves via the Spirit of God, and to the other who as rejected us. Forgiveness is made easier.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

[1] Mark R. Leary, Jean M. Twenge, & Erin Quinlivan. (2006) “Interpersonal Rejection As a Determinant of Anger and Aggression,” in Personality and Social Psychology Review (10:111).

Friday, December 28, 2012

Where Are We At?

“Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
— Ephesians 5:14b (NRSV)
Four important questions:
1.      Where are we at?
2.      Where are we at?
3.      Where are we at?
4.      Where are we at?
This is a letter to a sleepy culture—a society having lost its way—with subjects of that society wedded sleepily to its foolish way. Jesus came to warn us to be alert, for the Kingdom of God is near. This Kingdom, an ever-present and eternal one, is certainly coming. Heaven will not help us if we are not ready.
Where are we at?
1. Where, O Where?
So, where do we find ourselves in this life? What have we experienced and what is God saying to us through those experiences? It’s not too late to change.
2. Right Now, Where?
The first question leads to the second one.
Right now, this present moment, from all we have experienced, where are we? Are we on God’s path, alert in the present moment? Or, have we fallen asleep at the wheel of life? What are we missing? Or, do we feel genuinely alert to what God is doing?
3. What About Me?
It’s usually framed selfishly: “What about me?” Not this time.
What about me—where am I at?  Am I a sleeper?  It’s a rhetorical question.  Of course I am.  The key answer is where is my sleepiness, presently and by nature?  I cannot advance on the trail of spiritual discovery unless I am roused from my slumber in this part/these parts of my life.
4. Where Have We Landed?
Where we are at is usually representative of where we are stuck.
We are all appended to ruts in varying ways through the seasons of life. Our task is to identify the rut and to break out of our sleepiness.
Where we land in life is the key stimulus to the response God is calling us to. In Genesis 39:20, Joseph found himself unjustly imprisoned. Life does not always promise a predictable and just ride.
Whenever we land in unjust places, whether it’s through sleepiness or not, it is up to us to respond in the right way. It’s all we can do.
God’s key task of us is to be awake; alert to God’s Word and what God is saying through our societal circumstances. We need to be ready, for the eternal Kingdom of Heaven is near.
When we attend to the revelation of God in being roused from our spiritual slumber, Christ comes into our lives to shine on us. We are blessed for being alert and abundantly blessed for being ready. The Kingdom of Heaven is near.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Feeling Good In Your Own Skin

Whether it’s working our bodies, the food we eat, what we read, or what we watch, many are the inputs toward the outcome of feeling good in our own skin.
The older we get the more important it is to feel truly good on the inside.  This has both physical and spiritual connotations — and all between, to the mental and emotional also.
Lasting peace is that frank surprise of this prepared nature; to have ‘gone on in’ toward the search for contentment in the Lord, to listen and to feel our way there — to our essence.
Better to feel good in the body than to look good in the mirror (though both are better!). The former is wisdom; the latter vanity, which is sweeping itself away on a tide to nowhere.  Forgotten before long is that current which might ordinarily consume us if we’re not careful.
Feeling and learning to feel: great things are these.  This is life and hope for us, yes, today!  Feeling and learning to feel are cherished spiritual faculties honouring the truth of life by our honesty. Such honesty is blessed. Feeling good in our own skin is the best of the wisdom life.
An Intense Search To Know Our Core & Be Disciplined in Application
Feeling good in our own skin must be about knowing ourselves inside and out. Secondarily, it has to be about having the discipline of application—which is wisdom—to do what we actually can do to bring this feeling-good-in-our-own-skin experience to bear.
God has given us everything we need to determine our destinies in this way.
It’s up to us whether we will embark upon this intense search to get to know our core, and whether we will have the ongoing resolve to deploy action toward those ends.
Perhaps it is age that motivates us to want to feel truly good on the inside—in our minds and hearts and stomachs and muscles and joints. As our fitness wanes, and our memories do too, we mourn our shortening capacities.
When we are motivated we are a force to be reckoned with. And we have every good motive when we choose to do what we can do to feel good on the inside, for feeling good on the inside is God’s sign that we are on the right track of life.
If we are to manage this, however, we must agree with ourselves; it has to become the most important thing under God; it will be the actual way we will obey the Lord.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Hope When the End Comes

“Midnight is when the day begins.”
— U2, Lemon (1993)
When the end comes and all hope seems lost,
When the journey draws finally to a close,
When anticipation or shock bear their annihilating cost,
There we have it—a sense for reality beyond denial’s repose.
When the end comes and God is our only hope,
When the journey shows us from whence we’ve come,
When there’s no sense holding on, for there’s no more rope,
There we have it—a reality leaving us not doubting where life’s from.
When the end finally comes and despair’s entered the room,
When the journey stops in its tracks and all comes to a grinding halt,
When we must face and accept—a new reality to groom,
There we have it—the opportunity to trudge beyond the new day’s jolt.
How are we to endure the ending of something we cannot ignore?
How are we to get through when the only option is to change?
Change, in these parts, is the only grace afforded, but there is the blessing... no other options mean there is no choice but to break out of the midnight fight and enter the new day’s light. The midnight fight is synonymous with a life that just led us to death, over and over and over again.
If we’re wise, we’ll endure only so much death!
But the ending of things that have led us to death after death seems like a death all itself. Such change tears at the fibres of our familiarity. We feel never lonelier as we venture into the unrecognisable blinding daylight and everywhere are the reminders, not of hope but of what we’ve lost—everywhere, it seems.
Believing Beyond the Scariness
Change is scary. We could neither stay the way we were nor enjoy this new journey.
The very cool thing about such scariness, though, is the innate melancholy we are invited to engage, with God, in. God comes close in our fear and sadness; where there is no place to run or hide.
But we must believe that God is there, with us, for he is.
And because there’s no choice, God’s Presence is all the more apparent, if we trust.
Truth be known, God’s bringing us to our logical end points to things all the time. We grieve; that’s natural. But with God, a day at a time, we get through. We endure the pain, we learn, and we get through.
When we don’t give up, not turning back to a no man’s land of a time now gone, a place that no longer exists, we gain a gift of immeasurable worth. This gift is a new life in God.
Midnight is when the day begins. It’s the rock bottom scariness we sometimes need.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Beauty Beyond Sackcloth and Ashes

“You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy.”
— Psalm 30:11 (NRSV)
There are varying levels of depths in life, from the banal to the downright tragic. What a wonderful irony it is that we are afforded the privilege of complaining about the banal when, in fact, the real complaint is justified only in the place of aberrant rejection and loss.
Yet, there is still complaint. And none of us are foreign to it.
The well-reasoned and due-in-season complaint—one of Job-like proportions—is one where we experience such grief worthy of sackcloth and ashes; an entire self-loathing in the Presence of God, despite thought for disobedience, regarding the apparent captivation by misfortune. Life is such a thing that compels us beyond belief for what sorrowful things are endured. Only something so real as life could do this.
But sorrow is not the final word, as the millions who have been saved will attest.
The Hope Beyond the Pain
If truth were to be told I can recall just one noteworthy memory where I experienced such beauty in sackcloth and ashes—totally rejected I felt, but surreally not by God.
We know, in reality, that the experiences of sackcloth and ashes press us in and about and nothing can be conjured besides that faint, though never weak, Presence of the Lord in the languid horror of the moment.
The hope beyond the pain is a strange one; we feel the full force of such pain but we are enabled to endure it where previously it would overcome us. At our lowest ebb, with rejection biting, or a sense of loss so unprecedented and unrequited, we are being carried through. But that isn’t the best of it.
The figurative morning is still yet to come.
Rising from the Ashes
Psalm 30 speaks a lot about the pain of the night which precedes the joy of morning.
And whether this morning is the actual morning or not is of little consequence, because we can know, in faith, that not only will God deliver us, a beautiful reminiscence will be held by us, of this event, forever.
Life takes on such super-significance as we rise from the ashes of our despair; if pain clings just now, God has so much more in this for us than we can foresee just at this time.
Out of the calamity comes peace; from despair, hope. The beauty beyond sackcloth and ashes is the recognition of deliverance—the faithfulness of God to wrest us from death to life.
We are privileged to be found in the state Jesus found familiar; as our Messiah suffered and was resurrected, so will we be as we practice the Presence of God at agonising times.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, December 24, 2012

You’re a Good Listener, Really?

“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.”
— Jimi Hendrix (1942–1970)
Another legend to have died at 27 years of age, Hendrix had the rare talent for communicating with the masses. And his legend endures. We can only wonder, though, four decades on, what was behind the mind of such a learned young man, as far as life experience was concerned. What was behind this five-worded quote?
These five words, in symphony, provide us a very profound and enduring wisdom. This is because no matter how good a listener we think we are, the reality is likely to be opposite.
How Good at Listening Are We, Really?
As I reflect over my life there are many more examples of my failures to truly listen than my successes. That’s got to be true of most people, surely. Failed relationships and conflict within the relationships that go on are evidence enough that more often than not I find myself listening to myself and not others.
Listening is a peculiar thing like that. We may think we are good listeners, but we may be better at listening to ourselves and our own inner worlds than we are at listening, truly, to others—their challenges, needs, frailties, and concerns.
Listening, from this viewpoint, is much more an internal motivation. Our God-anointed opportunity is to become more externally motivated—to develop a sincere hunger for understanding regarding the lives of others, their troubles, and listening not just to the words they say, but also to the words they don’t say.
Listening, like humility, may be something we will always need to be mindful of; for the development. We have more problems with pride than with humility, just as we have more speaking problems than listening ones.
A Test of Honesty; The Veracity of Our Relationship with God
This subject is about honesty. How honest are we being when we think of ourselves as good listeners? If we were to be fair, in the sight of God, we would acknowledge how far we fall from God’s ideal, so far as listening is concerned. The more honest we are, the more we will recognise our need of God in the precious moments of our relationships—with every ‘neighbour’ (every human being).
The more front-of-mind we make Hendrix’s words the better it is for all we relate with; not least ourselves.
We could make a lifetime study of listening and still have much to learn. The better we listen the better we love. Our challenge is to listen to others, and not just to ourselves. Listening to other people has the blessings of wisdom written all over it.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Accessing the Spiritual Gift of Faith

When God decrees something the planets align, so to speak.
It is very difficult to achieve anything worthwhile in this life without faith. And faith requires the truth and a vision—the discernment of the present state and the desire for a future state:
“There shall be no interpreter to a sinful nation: but he that observes the law is blessed.”
—Proverbs 29:18 (Septuagint)
What this proverb, above, tells us is, without a vision of truth the people perish; without hope of a new land there is no need of faith to get there. Without vision we stagnate, nationally and personally.
Faith and vision, therefore, are interdependent concepts. A vision cannot be achieved without faith to get there. Likewise, without faith we cannot discern a vision and we struggle for hope.
If we have no hope, we, from the spiritual perspective, perish.
We can do a quick self-audit on whether we are living hopefully or not by asking ourselves: do we have a vision?
In other words, has our vehicle of faith got wheels beneath it? Has the vehicle the ability to roll? Does it have an engine, and, as importantly, will the engine and drive-train propel the vehicle—our faith—onward toward our vision?
A Most Important Prayer – for [a] Vision
Whether we desire a vision, or simply vision, is only personally relevant. We decide having first sought God’s input on the subject.
But it is a most important prayer—an ongoing type of prayer as we journey with God. If we have no vision we perhaps have no hope, and our faith freewheels in neutral.
The spiritual gift of faith, then, is quite contingent on having vision, or a vision, for what is essentially our call from God: the direction, purpose, and meaning of our lives.
If we ask God in our prayer time to give us a vision for what he wants us to do, he will most certainly give us the faith to realise our vision.
The Inertia of Faith
For faith to be faith it needs inertia; momentum is what defines the true basis of faith.
Faith, therefore, is inextricably linked to works—per James 2:14-26. When the vision inspires our faith it literally pushes us into action. We cannot stop it. And we wouldn’t want to stop it, for this is the purpose of our very lives.
When faith has inertia it has become faith. Before faith has inertia it is simply a vision; the projection of our potential for helping others against the theatre screen of life. So when we get moving on our vision we are expressing faith; and, as the Scripture says, we are pleasing God (Hebrews 11:6).
Faith requires us to act. But we cannot act unless we have a vision for what God wants us to do. Vision is hope which propels faith. When we have a vision, we have hope, and our faith becomes action. Then God is pleased. God wants us to have a vision of how we will help others.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Being the One You Can Become

“Obsession with self in these matters is a dead end; attention to God leads us out into the open, into a spacious, free life.”
— Romans 8:6 (Msg)
There comes for us all, seasons of maladjustment and discontent. When they take hold we can find ourselves lost to the oblivion of relative spiritual darkness, even though there are brilliant shards of pervading light all around us (that we’re not seeing).
What’s most confusing is the indifference of the spiritual journey at these times. Sometimes we’re hot; other times, cold. We remind ourselves of the fellowship at Laodicea (Revelation 3:15) who were lukewarm.
Pride is no doubt part of the problem. One recent year, as I recall, was so smooth and ‘successful’ I found myself lulled into a spiritual condition bound for a fall. Such is the grace of God, however, there is always more in the learning than there is in the humiliation.
We are always stronger for the fall if we’ll only set our hearts to learn.
Recovering from Self-Deceit
Satan often gets the blame for the enticement of the flesh, and it matters little in the overall scheme of things who or how or why. The deceit into pride has occurred. As soon as it’s known it can be attended to.
Recovering from bouts of pride requires the obvious awareness—the harrowing thought and the humiliating feeling—and the resolve of courage to tackle, full-on, every potential mode of self-protection that refuses the truth.
Pride, we should know, must be purged early and fully. Our ability and capacity to do this (or not) is a direct measure of our spiritual maturity.
The Long Nature to the Short Way Home
There is no question that we ‘enjoy’ such a paradoxical life.
The quickest way home is often via the longest route, and the opposites are also true.
Being the one we can become may appear a contradiction in terms. In fact, it may communicate many things. But, it certainly means this:
God has made it possible that we might be—and therefore continually become, conditional on our will—alive in the Holy Spirit.
Understanding that a humble self-sacrifice is the way to the God-breathed-condition is not an easy lesson to listen to, abide by, or recurrently apply. The way to life is to shun the flesh-empowered self-interest, and though we may know it deep within our minds we still resist it; because it means we are missing out.
But, missing out on what? Grabbing at life, taking what we can, is to lose life.
Instead, we learn that the patient method, implicit of self-control and humility, reveals the results of blessing; only, later than we normally want or expect and manifest often differently than we expect. And yet, it’s a supremely better blessing.
Being the one we can become is reaching high, to our Lord in the sky, to obtain the inspiration and Presence of the Spirit to the negation of the flesh. Then, there is freedom. But, only to the ascension of the Lord’s will.
Being the one we can become is fulfilling our God-given potential, this moment, now. It’s then a continuous flow of choices—as best we can manage—to do God’s specific will.
The goal of life is to be the one we can become: to abide in God’s will by the choices we make.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.