Thursday, January 31, 2013

Commitment, Hope and Trust

“When you make a commitment, you create hope. When you keep a commitment, you create trust.”
— John C. Maxwell
The centrepiece of connection is commitment. When we have made our commitment plain, and we journey with people in realising our commitments, we hold good on our promises, intimacy is born, and relational life flourishes. Connection is assured.
The practical byword of love is connection. Where we have connection we have love, but what seems so simple rarely, if ever, is.
Connection lives and breathes on hope-inspired trust, but dies at the failing of commitment.
Recognising the Hope Created in Making Our Commitments
Whether we like it or not, when we promise something, we install hope in the hearts of others. People begin to look to us to back up what we said with our actions.
It’s not their fault if we don’t carry through. Of course, it’s so much easier to make a bold and rash promise and not fulfil that promise.
We need to recognise the hope we are creating in the making of our commitments.
It’s always good to acknowledge the power of hope we create in making promises, for the promises we make only we can keep. And it’s never good for others when we devastate the hope we create.
The Value of Trust in Keeping Our Commitments
Trust is not something to be messed with.
Once we have betrayed somebody’s trust we may never earn another opportunity at being trusted again. Bearing this in mind, we hold the trust we have on loan very preciously. We keep our commitment, or, if we must break it, we renegotiate; communication is the key as we reset expectations, always extending a healthy portion of the vulnerable authenticity in our interaction. People are happy to renegotiate with honest people.
When we recognise the value of trust in keeping our commitments, and we value our commitments, because we value trust, we never break commitments lightly, if at all. We make good on the tired cliché, “my word is our bond.”
Keeping our commitments is the final frontier of integrity.
Being relied upon as a go-to person who can be trusted is one of highest human honours. The demeanour of integrity clings to us and is recognisable through us when we keep our promises.
Promises create hope and commitment sees the promise through. Trust is the benefactor. Our integrity stands or falls on the promises we make and those we keep. Connection lives and breathes on hope-inspired trust, but dies at the failing of commitment.
It’s better not to raise expectation when there is even the remotest of chances that hopes will be dashed. But when we promise we ought to keep your promises.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

When Dark Night Brings Love’s Light

“When the soul enters the dark night, it brings these kinds of love [love of God and love of sensuality] under control. It strengthens and purifies the one—namely that which is according to God—and the other it removes and brings to an end.”
—St John of the Cross, Dark Night of the Soul
The refining fire of suffering, the dark night of the soul, brings each of us afflicted to the precipice of ghastly experience. At such a place where times are dire, and we are anxious and fearful beyond where we have been before, we desperately clamber into the arms of God.
Pleasantries of gallant and mischievous fellowship are no longer any help to us. We implicitly know the old way is ineffective. What no longer serves any good is therefore despatched. Change now becomes us.
The dark night experience has hastened us to truth; it has quickened us to salvation.
The Glorious Reality of Rock Bottom
None of us really wants to experience the rock bottom depths of the abyss—a slinking of obliteration into a graceless pit of disbelieving and stark realism.
But it isn’t until we arrive in such a place that we instinctively run to God.
God is seen to raise us, but only once we have died. It is impossible to raise the living. There must be death to self, first.
It is a wonderful reality, then, if those who reach their rock bottom, their dark night of the soul, surrender to such powerful overtures of suffering. In such vagrant incapacity and lack of spiritual agency we might be tempted to end our lives or run to God—sometimes choices are that dreadfully polar. Further options present in many levels of spiritual numbing.
Rock bottoms are never pleasant at the time, but from later aspects they are marvellous because they push us into spaces of spiritual conformity. That evening of the dark night the Spirit is felt summoning our will to join the divine will. We feel cornered and unable to go any other way. But later, we are credited for having the faith at the weakest of times to make the right choice and go that way.
Two One-Way Streets
The fact is that two loves mentioned above—love of God and love of sensuality—are totally incompatible loves running opposite ways on their own one-way streets.
We can’t go both ways at the same time. We can’t drive up a one-way street the wrong way for long before we have a crash.
In consideration of such incompatible roads we make an early choice.
Love of God or love of sensuality?
We cannot go both ways.
The dark night of the soul brings a fortuitous crossroad; one etched in pain. It strengthens and purifies our love for God. It renders void the darker, sensual way. God hones our characters no better than through the agency of loss. So often, only when we become fully enamoured to grief will we fall headlong into the arms of God.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Holding Sorrows Lightly On the Soul

Holding sorrows lightly upon the soul is resting in the all-sufficient Presence of God’s grace.
But, what does this actually mean in real terms?
It’s about learning, in a way that suits us, how to hold two truths in the mind and heart at the same time—the truth of our sorrow, with the truth of God’s healing grace in our moment.
God’s healing grace really has no other basis for us, in practical terms, than how we experience it in the now.
Up till now we may have considered this sort of thing improbable, or even impossible. We may have tried and tried to do this very thing; to no avail.
Yet, there is a way—a way that works for you—it’s perfect, but only for you. God accommodates us, because he has designed us to be accommodated, uniquely, in his Presence.
Preparing to Change the Way We Think
What we need to be prepared for is that change will occur upon our desire to meet our sorrow differently; not by denying it, but by meeting it with the support of God’s Presence.
Knowing God is there in the pain with us is a great help. It seems like a cliché to say it, but it does work when we actively pray in such ways.
If we know it, God makes his Presence known in the way we feel. We discern he is there, with us, giving us the empathy we need, to the direct design we require; to our exact mood. God is in us, in this struggle, and our Lord suffers just as much with us as we suffer.
These concepts may be strange to us, but practicing the Presence of God is much more intrinsic to our beings than we could have ever thought.
This process of basking in the light of God in the midst of darkness transcends the woes of the helpless existence we have always been used to.
This way of thinking, of acknowledging God there with us, as he has always been, and always will be, is strangely surreal. More and more do we find, with stark dreamlike bliss, that reminders of God are everywhere.
Going to God in the depths is found to be the most natural of all actions we could take, and the natural consequence—a blessing—is we begin to hold our sorrows lighter. They are no less real, and, indeed, we can look at them in their reality without shying away all the more.
Holding sorrows lightly upon the soul is resting in the all-sufficient Presence of God’s grace.
God is in us, in this struggle, and our Lord suffers just as much with us as we suffer. Just knowing God is there in the pain with us is a great help.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Final Frontier of Forgiveness

“I love the Lord, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.”
— Psalm 116:1 (NIV)
It can seem so hard to forgive. We may struggle for all sorts of reasons in finding the right basis for a forgiving position. All we want to do, after all, is to feel like we have forgiven the person. Yet sometimes these feelings of peace over the situation lag.
We know that our failure to comprehensively forgive works against us. Try as we might—and we have tried numerous times—it won’t stick. Driven to distraction we continue to come back to the same point in relearning a familiar lesson.
I have often wondered why God would patiently return us to this point.
Sometimes learning and relearning the same tired lesson is the way to finally understand the issue at a deeper level. Where we fail to forgive, yet continue to try, we might just learn a much deeper lesson that few might be blessed to learn.
To forgive we must have unconditional compassion; mercy is what we need to feel.
Defining Mercy from the Theological Setting
Mercy is withholding something bad that is deserved—usually punishment. Thinking in terms of the cross, we deserved to be crucified; not Jesus. Our sins were and are forgiven. God has extended his unfathomable mercy to us. God has withheld what we deserved: eternal death.
How does God feel about us; sinners, who, having been saved, often re-crucify our Lord? God’s work of forgiveness is perfect. His mercy is everlasting. Never will we get what we deserve. No amount of disobedience will change God’s mind. That is mercy.
Mercy is similar, yet paradoxically opposite, to grace. Grace is about getting what we don’t deserve—the forgiveness of God.
Developing a Merciful Heart
And all this above merely sets forth a theological challenge to every believer.
If we would truly believe, and follow Jesus, we would pray for the emotional knowledge and peace of God’s compassion borne of mercy. When we truly believe we develop our hearts in mercy.
When we begin to consider the genuine spiritual, emotional, and mental frailties of those who transgress us, the compassion borne of mercy comes more naturally. If God can look past our every foul deed, finding room for mercy by withholding what we truly deserve, surely can’t we look past another’s foul deed, too?
The final frontier of forgiveness is the development of a merciful heart. That, and only that, is the only thing that stands in our way. When we withhold our scorn, remembering our own imperfections, and how ill-deserved of grace we are, we can forgive.
The arrangement of compassion is not a difficult task if we begin to view people as God does. Fraught with all kinds of faults, we look gentler over our contemporaries.
Oh merciful heart of God, look past our transgressions for withholding mercy. Help us instead to withhold our judgment and punishment of those we struggle to forgive. Amen.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The Best Living Purpose of All

The common human dilemma is purpose. We seek meaning for life and when there is no significance our motivation duck-dives and hopelessness strangles us.
Paradoxical is our fear; we struggle with enduring the length of our journeys but we never want life to end in our deaths. Both of these realities, the fact of our lives and the imminence of our deaths, are beyond our control. But there is a purpose that captures the essence of both fears, converting negativity into positivity:
“Blessed is he who keeps the moment of death ever before his eyes and prepares for it every day.”
— Thomas à Kempis (1380–1471)
When we interweave the fact of death’s imminence with the existential concern of our lives, we find the best purpose of all. This purpose as our modus operandi, provided it’s kept front of mind, will always mean our lives will have significance.
Death and Truth
Because death is inevitable and so enshrined in truth, when we refuse to deny its inevitability we stand powerfully on the side of truth. If we, therefore, envision that death may occur today, and not in 10,000 days time, we’re profitably restrained by the truth. It captures our focus. It forces us to view our present reality as all we have. It’s all we’ll want to have.
The imminence of our deaths brings the best out in us, if we can get past the morbid curiosity of how our deaths will actually occur. The ‘how’ is not important. The thought of ‘when’ is. Like we’re ever more attentive at the climax of a movie, the whole of our lives gain ever more meaning-for-context in the view of our deaths.
As far as truth is concerned death is a hard fact to beat—both for its eventuality and its vehicular ability to carry us onward in purpose. We make the most of the last minute.
When Push Comes to Shove
An awful fact of human psychology is this: unless we’re pushed, stretched by a challenge, most of us will struggle to be sustainably motivated.
We may live comfortable lives in many ways, but that sense of comfort increases our anxiety, for we know we can achieve more, and be happier, if we’re pressed to achieve our goals. The best purpose of all provides healthy motivation that has us always looking forward within the present moment.
The best purpose of all provides motive, meaning and hope. It’s stayed in efficient use of the present moment. It’s all we need. It’s all we have. When we consider the possibility of no longer having it, the present looms more awesome than ever. Carpe Diem!
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Study Tour of the Soul

Taking time out to invert the noisy plexus that is the average human life, a ‘study tour’ of the self is embarked on. What found us here is the irrefutable revelation of God—no matter how self-conceived it seems it was.
The very idea to take stock of what’s never been previously enquired of is at first strange, yet soothing, as the Lord makes known the precious vestiges of the soul’s fabric on many things.
Suddenly our minds are enlivened in a world beyond the world.
We track the light fantastic as it reveals itself on our insight. Our spirits are quickened to the reality of eternal life—even as it resides, taking its shape, in our mortal beings.
Suddenly, fresh thought is hastened and we realise how fragile, yet somehow real, life happens to be. Then we venture further inward to the quest we began with; an honest starting point, prepared to tackle anything required.
We want to know ourselves.
We want to truly experience things like wisdom, so as to know, beyond doubt, everything we can know about life so as not to miss anything we shouldn’t miss out on. Life has become more meaningful than ever, lately.
This period of self-reflection is the catalyst to something brand spanking new. We’ve never quite seen life this way before. And perhaps it is pain that has brought us here. So be it.
Taking this study tour of our souls, as we take the hand of God and journey with Divine Presence, we are edified on things very few human beings are shown.
We are shown because we are ready.
We realise it’s our open and surrendered heart, and a receptive mind, that brings us to this place of God’s blessing. And how could we not be thankful? Of course, we are!
Everything about this study tour of the soul is open-ended.
God sets the rules and we’re pleased just to walk with him on this journey of special revelation. Having once taken this journey we can take it again and again, but the real beauty of this journey is the imprint it believes on our memory.
A glimpse of eternal life is the plain knowledge of ourselves in the sight of God.  A study tour of our souls gets us closer there.
God is about transformation and a study tour of our souls transforms us, not only in the knowledge of God, but in our knowledge of ourselves in the sight of God. It’s amazing that oftentimes it is pain, burden, hardship, or difficulty which are the catalyst to the study tour of the soul. Get the opportunity—take it with both hands.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Calm In the Midst of Full-Force Assault

THIS IS NOT about physical assault. It’s about psychological assault, no matter how overt or covert it is.
When we are threatened it’s totally normal to panic; by instinct we switch to flight or fight mode with which to combat the threat. (But there’s a middle-way, a better way, in being given to calmness.)
We feel out of control because we are out of control; someone’s trying to coerce us, or worse. We may not be able to hide our displeasure as we are forced into a mode of perpetual alarm. Our senses are piqued, awareness is heightened, and the gait within our soul is measured by stark negativity. We are teeming with anxiousness.
Being bullied is a state of war when we don’t even want to be at war.
Taking Back Control by Calm
Some may insist it’s impossible to remain calm in such circumstances, and, to a degree, that’s correct.
But as we counter the threatening event by trying to remain calm, we attempt courage, and even if it only partially works we can feel more in control. And we won’t appear so panicked.
Such a practice as calmness in response to a threat is made easier and more effective with practise, so being bullied in an ongoing fashion can be seen as an opportunity to grow in the practical application of courage. God can turn a bad thing into a better thing.
We are blessed to grow, also, in wisdom in countering bullying by calmness.
We shouldn’t expect to become perfect at this overnight, but just trying gives us some control back, something positive to focus on, and it may even cause the bully to rethink their approach when their tactics suddenly appear a little less effective.
The Practiced Art of Calm
A practice blessed in myriad ways, calm is strength for the moment to think and to stand detached of emotion. It’s a true sense of momentary control over our faculties.
We are encouraged to picture a role model; one who is, for the most part, rational, reasonable, realistic, responsible, and logical. It’s who we want to be like: the person calmly in control, not swayed too much by others’ ructions.
We meditate on their example. And we master an attitude based on the imagery our minds paint. Suddenly we are empowered.
The best response to the fear of another person’s attack is calm—the courage to play the ball coming our way on its merits.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Reminders of Our Worth In God

We may all have worth issues; times when, for high ground or low, we find we have no place of spirit or identity in the world; where we feel unworthy, for no want of external reminder that we are. We may be told, “You are worthy,” but we can’t quite believe it—our instincts tell us something quite remarkably different. We feel isolated, confused, alienated; abandoned perhaps.
But for many people the subject of worth is not really a concern at all; they may feel more worthy than they ought to, like they have a safe mortgage on life or something like that.
So a safe sense of worth—one rooted in truth—where our worth is founded on Jesus, and the Saviour alone—is not so straightforward.
Being Reminded of How Good God Is
When we understand the cost wrought by the Father in sacrificing his Divine Son, and understanding it has its human limits, we begin to comprehend the imputed worth God has invested in us by his Son.
We shouldn’t doubt our worth, but it seems wired into many of us to do just that. Those straining goals we have, the unrealistic ones, indicate how conditional our acceptance of ourselves is. In some ways these goals are good; they push us. But we are cautioned, especially regarding how unreasonable these may be on us.
Sensible goals are good in that they help us regulate our lives; we become disciplined.
The unrealistic goals are an indicator of worth issues.
Offsetting such issues of worth (and the indication of unrealistic goals is but one example) is the discipline of being more constantly reminded of how good God is by his gift of grace—the Salvation of the Lord.
That Sense of Intrinsic Belonging
Why would we doubt our worth? At a practical level, why? At a sensible and fair-minded level, why? It seems we may still do, at a felt level.
It’s a tried and generally worn out idea, but just as novel anytime: the embryo that was once us was conceived out of a race. The sperm that our father contributed—that one in several million that won the race, entering our mother’s ovum—was special enough to cause conception. That we developed through gestation for those nine months, and grew steadily to adulthood, despite the accidents and all the ill-health we survived, all this, is nothing short of a miracle.
God has been faithful and we are worthy to him.
Maybe the only way we can feel more worthy is to continually remind ourselves of how worthy we are to God. The Father gave his Son for us. All our worth begins from there. We are just as biologically and psychologically worthy as the rest of the 7,000,000,000 people that populate this planet.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Truly Enjoying Safe Identity

“Attachment is the great fabricator of allusions; reality can be obtained only by someone who is detached.”
— Simone Weil (1909–1943)
This article presents a simple idea: that safe identity—true peace of soul—is only obtainable when we reach a sufficient level of detachment from fear. Only in becoming detached from our fear can we go on to truly enjoy the wondrousness of reality. And this is what life—the abundant, eternal life of Jesus—is all about: living reality such that we are wedded to truth despite its personal costs.
It’s a courageous life.
Before we can venture on in the study of safe identity—detachment from fear—which leads to the capacity to live in reality, we need to explore fear.
A Study of the Sources of Fear
There are two sources of fear: fear of intimacy and fear of being abandoned (or of being dismissed). This is really an exposé of Attachment Theory 101. Its thesis is very simple:
If we’re attached to intimacy, we fear being dismissed. If, on the other hand, we’re attached to being dismissive, we fear intimacy. Most of us have a blend of both, but typically one more than the other.
So our core fears surround two things: a fear of intimacy and/or the fear of abandonment.
We can liken the goal of reconciling these two sources of fear to leaving home without concern and returning home with gladness. Both leaving home and returning home are hence safe ideas.
Unblocking the Passage to Safe Identity
Fear is the thing the blocks clear passage to safe identity—that sense-of-self which can enjoy peace, have access to joy, that thrives on hope, and is able to love.
In living the Fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control) we have wrangled with our fear and reconciled ourselves to sufficient control—with God’s abiding help—over it. This is achievable, but only within the context of dealing with our twofold fear of intimacy and of being rejected.
It is common to fear one more than the other. If we are particularly anxious by nature we fear being dismissed (the fear of abandonment), but if we are perhaps considered aloof (unapproachable or standoffish) we fear intimacy.
Unblocking the passage to safe identity is becoming aware what we fear most and finding ways to reconcile our fears.
When we fear abandonment (being rejected) our challenge is to reconcile ourselves to the truth when it does appear we are being rejected, when in fact we may not be. We are sensitive to rejection and perhaps oversensitive. Our opportunity is to become less sensitive; to enjoy more distance without its presenting anxiety.
When we fear intimacy our challenge is to desire relationships and to get intentionally closer to people more. The opportunity is to take risks in getting closer to people and situations, without fear that we will lose our autonomous control.
Enjoying safe identity—the peace of soul and safe-sense-of-self—is about enjoying reality unencumbered by fear. Two fears need to be challenged: the fear of intimacy and the fear for abandonment. We are challenged more by one than the other.
Enjoying safe identity is truly about harnessing our fears of intimacy and abandonment. When we enjoy close relationships and don’t feel prone to being rejected by those relationships, safe identity is ours at last.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

2 Ways to the Joyous Life

Many will ask, “What’s joy all about?”  Whilst it’s impossible to answer that question with perfect fit for each person and their every situation, there are two things that beg we go their way.
One is latent; the other is active.  One is a heart-thing; the other a decision of the mind.  One is trained into us; the other is a responsibility we grasp in the moment.  One is theory but fought for in practice; the latter is the practice, forging the former.
These two complement each other.
The first one:
1.      Grow a Heartfelt Faith, Deep and Underpinning
This is consistent hard work though not without reward.  It involves a commitment to training the heart so it contends faithfully as the heart can—once it’s trained.
Heartfelt faith can neither be fabricated on demand nor manufactured at will.  It’s built slowly over the years and decades.  No one gets their faith to blossom overnight.  Faith’s engorged through what is endured, hard as that is to say; difficult as it is also to achieve.
But there’s no time like now to start or continue the commitment to allow God to build faith within us, and this penetrates deep at a heart level. 
Faith goes against the flow of normality.  Always does and always will.  But what, then, is normality?  Much blessing’s to be had in searching and finding answers to this question.
Now, the second one beckons:
2.      Engage in Life with a Will to Be Happy Whatever Comes
This is equally hard work; now from the momentary perspective.
It is humility on tap to resist the poring desire to pity oneself or the urge to take heed of negative self-talk.  Sure, we’ll fail every now and again, and some are challenged so far beyond themselves and their circumstances they’re exceptional.  The principle of the will is, however, usually academic.  Intentionality and decisiveness are its bywords.
We make a choice despite what we’re feeling.  Feelings unchecked lead us to a never-land, and beyond truth they serve not our best ends, certainly with faith in view.
Can we see the expression of will requires faith from us?  Faith is an action.  This is the exemplification or evidence of the faith described above.
Number two here builds upon number one.  The former is the foundation that Jesus talked about in Matthew 7:24-27.  Foundations are crucial.
Beyond the foundation, nonetheless, we still have a choice.  We choose to be at joy.
Joy is grown through expressing faith and in being decisive in choosing to be joyful.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.