Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Not One Breath of Suffering’s Wasted

We have all suffered in this life, so nobody has been saved from pain. But then, at an appointed time, our self-concept for suffering extrapolates tenfold. Exponentially it seems we are plunged into a season of unparalleled and tormenting darkness, and down into the dungeon of despair we go—and at the time, we do not know for how long.
If we are fortunate we have not experienced such a raw suffering until we are mature adults, in our 30s—as I was when I first suffered. Many, however, are forced to endure this sort of experience of a season of pain, memories of which linger, much earlier or for longer.
But, there is a gift out of such an experience. It’s the gift of the knowledge of God; the proximity of closeness to him who heals and saves.
But this gift is only accessible to those who draw near to God, for those who run far from the only Source of true comfort will never derive true comfort.
What Purpose Is There in This Pain?
We can endure much if there is a purpose in it, but where our purpose becomes vacuous our despair reaches a whole new and unbearable level.
There is always a purpose in the suffering that God, has for this time and situation, allowed in our lives. God did not bring it, nor does he test us these ways, but the Lord has faith in our ability to contend by faith.
Not only is there strength to continue, one day at a time, but there is gain at the end, so far as character development is concerned. It takes faith to see, beforehand, that the journey was worthwhile all along. We can trust the voices of the saints, whom advise a stoic resilience to keep going along the tremulous journey with God.
To keep going is a blessing in the process and a blessed outcome.
To keep going, when we want to quit, and everything within us is saying “it’s not worth it,” is evidence of character, and character is the only thing we will take to heaven with us. Character is the only worthwhile prize this side of eternity.
We see here, that in our tormented struggle, where we are betwixt and between many confused poles, that being here is the very process winning us to character development.
When we keep going, despite the voices in our heads and heaviness in our hearts that says “give up,” we have the way for both continuing on and completing our goal. Not one breath of suffering is wasted when we consider it takes our faithfulness of trust to rightly redeem God’s faithfulness. Our Lord blesses us when we suffer well by growing our characters more in the likeness of Jesus.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Pilgrim’s Progress

The pilgrim and their passage throughout the days,   
Is synonymous with the calm ebb of progress,    
Though they cannot help but find it a maze,    
Pushed indelibly forward are they by the process.    
Overwhelmed at joy or stilted in sorrow,   
As the days attend each their way,   
Cast is mind ever forward to the morrow,    
Despite the feat and heartbreak that lay.   
Reflective sighs for better days before,
Suddenly pause’s made along life’s evolving path,
For times when things involved thrills galore,
When memory contained thought to laugh.
Then there are those hesitating to reflect,
Scared to obstruct journeying for despair,
Damage aforementioned – abuse and neglect,
Still, theirs is the passage – their task to bear.
Linear fashion is the pilgrimage’s nature,
Minute acceding to minute, time ticking on,
Participant’s vision provides their stature,
Braced to endure and matters to overcome.
Year upon pleading year breath is breathed,   
Lengthening the journey is the pilgrim’s aim,  
Until call is made, life to be relieved,  
Making the most of the God-selected game.
Commentary on the Poem
Life is a pilgrimage that requires progress; a rejection for growth just breeds misery.  But whether we’re forwards or backwards in mode—growing or receding—life is a mystery... the whys and wherefores.
Each day along the pilgrimage brings unexpected challenges and joys.  We never quite know what we’ll get.  Still, tomorrow is pilgrimage’s horizon and hopes intercede powering our means—the manner of going on.
For the many, life never quite matches what’s gone before.  The ‘good old days’ wither in nostalgic grief as they’re honoured in our memories... if only we could redeem sense of them.
Countless thousands have their stories of developmental horror.  Whether abuse or neglect; there’s an instinctive and understandable reticence to revisit sore times.
The linear fashion of the pilgrimage makes at least that one part predictable.  This helps.  With it we plan and against that backdrop hopes mount and joy features as an occasional friend.
No matter how hard life’s been or is, the myriad majority are clinging to it—rarely are the ones (though there are millions too many) perjuring life for suicide.  Everybody else it seems wants to live as long as they can, and those that do suicide found it momentarily too hard.
Parting Caveat
Beyond the expanse of a solitary person’s thought there’s so much within the scope of pilgrimage.  Only so much can be handled in one chunk.  The essence of this message is that we’re to marvel at the creative enigma that is one person’s life.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, February 25, 2013

When Life Dances Lightly On Life

“Let your life dance lightly on the edges of
Time like dew on the tip of a leaf.”
— Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941)
Life provides much stimulus for busyness, concern, and discomfort, and rarely do we escape from the heaviness of life. It seems dark and twisted from within the scope of our minds, and our hearts are betwixt and between myriad stations of emotion.
We typically dance between modes of felt reality, where our mental, emotional, and spiritual faculties are tested in maintaining any semblance of consistent balance.
Life is a series, a constant stream, of tests.
When we acknowledge that reality and cater for it, we stand blessed for the application of wisdom of vision—to anticipate, to accept, to explore.
Within life, as we take it as it comes, we are still presented with possibly the greatest of all challenges: to dance lightly upon life.
Dance in Lightly upon Life
Because time is the only tangible way of gauging life—a series of happenings; experiences known to us as real—we imagine it to be somehow a little too real sometimes.
Time can be harsh, just as time can be a real blessing.
We possibly need to soften the hands of time as they brush over the skin of our felt experience of life. And the image of a dew drop on the very tip of an innocuous leaf stands metaphorically as unopposed beauty.
As we take in this tremendously majestic image of a life beautifully poised, we begin to imagine the possibilities of dancing lightly upon life—despite the tumultuous challenges within the moment and ahead of us; notwithstanding those behind.
Dancing lightly upon life is a concept with unlimited potential. God never limits our experience of peace; only we do. We need such peace to enjoy an oft-stressful life.
God honours every movement we make toward peace, and such peace begins within, first as an effort to instil change, and then, finally, the commitment to sustain it.
Dancing lightly upon life must surely be what we are called to do, such that life is cherished, but not to the point of casting us headlong and uncertainly into fear.
The beauty of dancing lightly upon life is the internal interpretation: we make of it exactly what God gives us to work with; it is up to us how it translates within the colours, weave and texture of the fabric of our lives. Each is unique. And each knows, having earnestly spoken to God, what dancing lightly upon life might require.
It is a journey without destination; a never-ending process of taking life as peacefully as it comes.
May you go well, and be blessed, on this journey!
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

4 Ways to Mental Health

Mental health can be described as:
“... a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”
—World Health Organization
Besides this rather succinct definition, we all have our times of madness—where our mental health runs astray. We don’t have to be neurotic or psychotic to have mental health challenges. This is good news as it makes us feel less isolated when parts of our lives don’t go according to the plans we have of them and we respond poorly.
These following are four areas of focus to promote our mental health.
1. Actualising Our Abilities
We all need to feel capable to do things. Having a good understanding of our abilities and our capacities is a true blessing, for through such a position we have a platform for continued growth.
Our abilities are connected with our dreams. We all want to reach for the sky in some areas of our lives. Having the opportunities to actualise our abilities is what we all richly desire.
Let us be courageous enough to chase those dreams.
2. Coping with the Stresses of Life
Stressors come in all shapes and forms, and there is a time for every one of them.
If good mental health is about coping with the normal stresses of life, we are allowed times when we do not cope—when there are stresses abnormal to life.
Our ordinary goal in this area should be to build resilience. The ability to bounce back upon setbacks will characterise us as able to cope with the normal stresses. But because stress is an abstract concept we shouldn’t get too hung up about coping and not coping, what we can endure and what we can’t.
Instead, we cope the best we can. We allow God’s grace to permeate our lives.
3. Achieving Purpose in Our Vocation
Many, many people in our world live for a purpose that pivots on their vocation. When we work and we gain meaning for our work and we can see we are productive, and our work bears fruit, we gain a great deal of satisfaction.
This proves that work—paid or unpaid—is a blessing.
Our identities are sewn into our vocations. When we are dissatisfied with our work it may have an eventual impact on our mental health. Vocational dissatisfaction will place our identities in crisis. The way to better mental health is to create alignment.
We need work that satisfies us.
4. Contributing to Our Community
Volunteering is a healthy trend in most areas of the world today. Contributing within our communities not only aids others, there is a personal payoff too.
But still too many people are isolated, safely cocooned in their own lives. Having no outlet of contribution within the community is one mode of mental health starvation. This is one reason why belonging within a church framework is good. Church more often than not facilitates work that might be done in the community.
Sound mental health is of prime concern to all of us. There are four things we can do to nurture our mental health: 1) utilise our abilities; 2) cope with stress; 3) gain meaning from our work; and, 4) make a contribution to our community.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Practicing Everyday Repentance

“There is no repentance where a person can talk lightly of sin, much less where they can speak tenderly and lovingly of it.”
— Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834–1892)
Meeting with a group of new friends for a cycle ride one Saturday morning recently was a delight, but more learning lay in store for me than simply meeting new people.
We had ridden about 15 km, I guess, when, in negotiating the runners and other cyclists, I came too close to a runner and startled her. She let me know vocally as I continued riding. But the Holy Spirit caused me to stop; I knew instantly that I must seek to restore her peace by making restitution. I did, in fact, need to repent. None of this was my doing. I acted on the leading of the Spirit and simply obeyed that leading. As she approached, I made sure she was okay, mentioned I was a novice (in that situation) and that I was profusely sorry and that I hoped her day would be blessed all the more. And so, as satisfied as I could be that I’d done everything I could, I rode on.
Then this incident caused me to reflect.
Waiting for her to catch up, she may have thought, “This could be an ugly confrontation,” which would have caused her quite a deal of anxious fear or even rage. Thankfully the Spirit made me aware and I was praying even as she approached.
The fact is I was in the wrong. I was the one that took a shortcut. I had transgressed her space, and, no matter what, the leading of the Spirit was right. It was up to me to attempt to make amends.
Developing a Keen ‘Ear’ for the Spirit
Everyday repentance relies heavily on having a keen ear for the Holy Spirit. Of course, this is nothing about the ears attached to our head. It is everything about the attuned valency of the ears of our hearts.
We cannot develop these ‘ears for the Spirit’ without seeking to obey the will of God. In seeking to please God, by a momentary understanding of what acts and responses are due for the discreet situations we’re in, we obey the will of God, and God blesses us by more acute sense for discerning his Spirit on matters.
Being a follower of Christ is about everyday repentance.
It is central to our discipleship. If we develop no sense, or a limited sense, for what God is saying through us and through our situations, we will not grow, as we are not obeying our Lord.
I mentioned the earlier cycling example deliberately, to illustrate what it is like to hear the Spirit. Having upset someone, which is something we all do from time to time, we can know by the fact of their dismay that God wants us to interact and make peace with the situation, and bring harmony back to the relationship. To not do so is disobedience.
But first we must hear; we must discern the Spirit instructing us to make proper amends.
Everyday repentance is central to being a follower of Jesus. The shape of this repentance is the making of amends—to bring relationships back to harmony—so far as it depends on us. Being a follower of Jesus means repentance is non-negotiable. The beauty in repentance is reconciliation, as the Spirit works to restore brokenness to wholeness.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Taking Heart in Bitter Adversity

“If for a while the harder you try, the harder it gets, take heart. So it has been with the best people who ever lived.”
— Jeffrey R. Holland
We’ve all heard the saying “the bigger they are, the harder they fall.” Much in the same way, the bigger the challenges ahead of us in our present moments, the bigger and more satisfying is the sense of victory having quashed those challenges.
It may seem bizarre to say this, but there is an irony known in the truth of life that sometimes the only way to conquer something is to meet it head-on.
This is why we can take heart in the hardest of adversities. We are strengthened by God in our weakness when we merely take heart by showing faith enough to simply persist. We don’t need to enjoy the persisting, but just continue in the doing of it.
There is no easier way in persisting than simply stepping forth, one step at a time.
That almost seems too basic. But it’s true; we often overcomplicate matters because of our emotions, because of panic; because of a lack of patience. We forget the promises of the Lord, that, in our distress we are to take courage, for Jesus has already overcome the world (John 16:33).
This is not rhetoric. It is a fact of the gospel-related life, where we employ strategies of faith—to keep persisting onward, despite these issues against us—we become ultimately blessed, at the appropriate time.
Keeping Good Company
The overall point of enduring adversity, persisting in our way in holding on with hope in our method of faith, is we are keeping good company.
We are aligning ourselves with the heroes of faith—and besides the myriad of those, there is none more we could want to identify with than Jesus himself.
Think of the veritable end-of-life torment that the martyrs endured. Or what about the great crises that cast many a person into long seasons of hopeless helplessness? There are survival stories that captivate us, but we forget that every great story of survival meant unbelievable pain in the making of legend.
If we are inspired by heroes—and none are greater than Jesus—we would have to agree that we have within us the ability to endure great adversity. We have unfathomable resources of patient tenacity when we simply step one foot after the other.
The greater the adversity, the greater we should take heart. Those very people that have inspired us have showed us the way. We are not made weaker by adversity; we are strengthened and made wiser for it.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Prayers God Honours Most

“Fear not because your prayer is stammering, your words feeble, and your language poor. Jesus can understand you.”
J.C. Ryle (1816–1900)
“For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling.”
2 Corinthians 5:2 (NRSV)
It is no coincidence that the suffering the apostle Paul went through, as he shares with the Corinthians his suffering, is a shimmering testimony of the faithfulness of God to come alongside. The more suffering we bear, the more we shall be blessed by this knowledge of God’s atoning faithfulness, as strength and compassion are grown from within us, all the more, as we groan.
There are those given to all types of tempestuous longings regarding the heavenly dwelling; those, who for many reasons, that find life so tough, just now, their prayers are slinking utterances, full of numbed nothingness, with no possible words to describe what is being dealt with.
Suffering and pain are not the only states that render us ineffective to vocal prayer.
Many of us, if we were asked, would say we are woeful at prayer; that we are nervous in prayer or even ashamed to pray, especially publically. There is no sermon-preacher within, and we feel our words are useless, even a betrayal of God.
But we must remain convinced of the truth that belies these fears.
Approaching and Then Believing in the Truth
Perhaps the biggest betrayal we must deal with is a betrayal of ourselves.
We lure ourselves into a trap because we like to castigate ourselves about our inadequacies, in this case, prayer. We would rather criticise ourselves than deal with another’s criticism, but the reality is we cannot see another person’s praise when we can only see our own criticism.
As soon as we can contemplate the truth—that eloquent prayers and fine diction do not please God—and that simply being a needy human being qualifies us for God’s care—we suddenly understand what we don’t need highfalutin prayers. Indeed, such prayers just get in the way of real intimacy with God. Such prayers are motivated by comparisons with other human beings; they are not about pleasing God.
The best of prayers is nothing about what we bring to it, but everything about what God does through us in our prayer.
Fancy prayers of eloquent diction God does not desire. The prayers God honours most are those devoted to silence, the humble recognition of our need; those prayers that accept our spoken words often betray our truer hearts. In prayer, we must let the heart speak, at times, through indecipherable means.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Coping with Guilt After Irredeemable Loss

Let’s face it, most loss is irredeemable.  That’s the fact that makes it impossible to reconcile in the shorter term—that we can’t do anything to ‘fix’ this now.  We cannot go back to undo or redo what was done.  
What we have to understand, however, is this is a normal human condition.  
It’s both normal to not reach our potential, making mistakes and occasionally upsetting people, and to want to repair things post-loss.  To be left hanging and not able to do what we’d love to have the chance to do can be torture.
The Goal of Adjusting to Loss AND Guilt – Acceptance
Even though the K├╝bler-Ross Grief Cycle ends in acceptance—the person experiencing loss finally accepting life has changed—it’s not a straightforward linear process getting there.
There are shards of anger, denial, bargaining intermingled with splinters of stability, promise and testing as the process of adjustment turns cyclic—without predictability as to what’s coming next.
But acceptance is finally reached—and never before time.  We can actually become prone to thinking we’ve reached acceptance when it’s a mirage of same, particularly if we’re expecting to be at acceptance stage.
For guilt it’s the same, provided we have a logical premise to begin with: that is, guilt is not what we should be feeling, despite its presence.
Here we’re simply applying the Grief Cycle to the guilt we might feel—that is to understand a logical starting point is necessary, and then allow the mind to slowly come to accept this logic.
But sometimes we can struggle to attain an image of logic to fix onto.
Whatever Was Done Was Done With the Best We Had At the Time
Getting to a conscionable place in terms of dealing with guilty feelings is our first and biggest challenge.
This is where counsellors help.  They get you to share your story and then they apply a logical outsider’s perspective on what they’ve learned of your story.
To an outsider, we’re never as ‘guilty’ as we think we are.  Our hearts, morphed by God in love, cannot help feeling guilty, for we could’ve done better.  We can all do better.  Not one day goes past when any of us gets life perfect.  Mistakes happen, and so does sin.  Perfection is a tool the enemy uses against us.
We don’t always operate with full faculties, be it tiredness, irritability from pressure, hormonal fluctuations, adjustment to change, or simply the baggage we carry through life.
We’re predisposed to thinking badly on occasions and this ripples into the lives of others.
Accepting we did what we did with what we had at the time is the maturity of acceptance, the disposition of humility.  It’s a blessed place that everyone can inhabit.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Entering God’s Presence By Praise

“God lives in the place of praise. If we want to be where He is, we need to go to His address.”
— Nancy Leigh DeMoss
Many people are determined to never know God, purely by their utter blind rejections to not have anything to do with spirituality and the topic of God. Add to their number the perennially hurt; those who insist on staying hurt and not being healed. Completing the sample complement are those who find very little reason to praise, but find no lack of cause to complain, to moan in disdain as if everything were cursed.
But going to the Presence of God is just as much about going to the Temple of Praise as it is going the some secluded monastery where piety is supposedly never more special.
Can we encompass our minds with the cherished state of entering God’s Presence by praise?
Are we able to find room within the mental fissures of thought and the caverns of the heart that hold us open to praise and wonder, even, hazard to say, in the midst of pain?
Certainly there are limits. However, the more we praise—filling our hearts with copious overtures to the living God—the more we can receive blessings for the abundant life within the realm of the Presence of God.
Not Positive Thinking
If we were to take God out of the equation, we might see how finding energy to praise, yes even God, could be procured through positive thinking, alone.
We would do it in our own strength. Anyone can think positively and make a positive impact, achieving many things through their positive thinking.
But the practice of real Christianity runs far beyond positive thinking. It takes the sights and sounds of life, especially when we run foul of them, and it transposes a healthier, appropriately responsive pattern of thinking and, therefore, doing.
Positive thinking can work in many situations, but it never really works, without God’s help, when we are suffering or struggling or despairing.
When the rubber hits the road in the midst of life, and character tests come to the fore, testing our mettle, we have one approach that works amongst myriad approaches that don’t.
Faith works as it is applied, and it may only be applied within the moment’s struggle. We cannot take it out on loan, or save our faith up; it’s a momentary commodity implicit of truth and courage to do what must be done.
Despite the awkwardness of feeling—sorrow, anxiousness, fatigue, etc—there is a way to be with God. It is by praise that we come into the Lord’s Presence. God deserves nothing short of awe-filled respect, and when we worship these ways, through praise, we draw never closer to the Presence of God, who helps.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, February 18, 2013

When Anger May Mean Depression

“Irritable! That’s how I often feel!” And upon checking with my wife, she agreed. Strange as it might seem we both realised something was not right, separately, on the same day, after 18 months of struggle.
Such was the realisation that the consuming anger that would rise up without warning was actually a sign that I was reaching my end—I was depressed. What a revelation that was; to know there was a way out, but that that way out meant admitting my weakness. And then an irony appeared; the moment I admitted my need for help, in that moment—that very moment—hope drew near.
Irritability is a tell-tale sign of depression, especially in males.
Something would go ‘wrong’ and I would flip into a rage, even if I was alone or nobody else noticed; within me I was beside myself with fury. And at the very same time part of me was asking, in a desperate state of confusion, “What’s going on here, Steve?!”
Such fits of anger were tiring, and though fortunately there was usually no visible harm created, there was much spiritual torment that needed to be reconciled. I was out of control and didn’t know how to restore that control.
But the word irritability—or irritable—got me wondering. It hit me in a moment of openness of heart and mind. God used that word to reveal his truth. My irritability was the sign I was depressed. I had fought the best I could, in my own strength, for 18 months. Now was the time to truly admit my weakness and seek help.
Why Anger Is Often the Sign of Depression
Why would we get unreasonably angry otherwise, unless our inner world was in turmoil?
Sometimes anger is all we have left to rail against a world we can neither understand nor work with. That world, for whatever reason or reasons, has given us cause to feel rejected in some way. All we have left is anger. And self-righteousness is the driver, because justice has not been served—according to the depressed mindset.
Anger reveals sadness for the issues of contempt in our lives we have no control over. And it doesn’t take much to feel out of control.
When we admit our sadness, however, because we have realised the role anger is playing, the path to recovery opens up—despite the despair within our circumstance.
Uncharacteristic irritability can be a sign of the sadness of depression. Sometimes all we have left is anger; but upon realising our need for help, to admit that, opens a path to recovery. If we are honest about anger we may see the sadness beneath. Such sadness is an invitation to be explored, to be validated, and to be wrestled with. As soon as we do these things the door to hope swings ajar and then wide open.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.