Friday, May 31, 2013

Making Time Work Through Margins

“You can’t do traditional work at a modern pace. Traditional work has traditional rhythms. You need calm. You can be busy, but you must remain calm.”
We are so tempted to cram more into our already busy lives we give in to such temptation eventually. We take on this thing and that thing and we wonder why we run spare on time; we wonder why we have no time for the important issues of life, like family and quality time (which always translates in quantity time at the right time in the right ways).
Time is a mathematical prospect. It is finite and logical. Yet we assume and expect it to be abstract; something that is mouldable around our priorities and needs.
We tend to make more expectations of our time than we have time.
But we can smash open the terrific mystery of time if we work against the role of our expectations; if we can build in margins into our days, like margins on a page, where there is whitespace in our lives to gain perspective and to enjoy reflection.
If we do not build time into our schedules for reflection in order to gain perspective we are on the way to crashing and burning. Only this way is it possible to be busy, yet remain calm.
Right-Sizing Time
If we are to enjoy the regular 80-year life, we need love, we need to love, and we need hope. These are philosophical and spiritual facts. But one fact of our practical lives is our need to right-size time.
First, as I’ve mentioned above, we must get our expectations right and not expect too much of our time; not be driven to achieve more than we can; to be realistic.
Second, we must build margins into our lives. I quickly learned in the secular world that three full days of appointments in a five day period was unrealistic; I just found there was not enough time to do the important work behind the scenes. I quickly realised I could do one full day of appointments per week and two half days like this. I needed margins in the other days and half days. Between hour appointments I would need at least one half hour to plan for the next one, to have time to go the toilet without rushing, and just simply to slow down and become myself again.
We find when we build margins into our busy lives that we don’t lose anything; but we do gain time for reflection and the gift, therefore, of perspective.
Making our time work for us is about getting our expectations right and then building in margins so there is enough free space for reflection and the gaining of perspective. When we achieve this, we are able to be busy and calm at the same time.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Smashing the Upside Down World of Addiction

“When you can stop you don’t want to, and when you want to stop, you can’t.”
I used to prefer the term ‘dependence’ to ‘addiction’, perhaps because to admit I had an addiction was to admit a shameful weakness. Surely dependence was a more dignifying way of describing my pattern of alcohol usage. I have been ‘dependent’ on other things as well, but it was alcohol that took me into this upside down reality most poignantly.
You know you’re addicted when you face times when you can stop but you don’t want to or when you want to stop but you can’t.
What a horrible reality it is that there are times when we have the motivation but not the wherewithal or times when we have the resources to do something yet not the motivation.
Until something desperate happens we rarely take the step we need to; as it occurs in addiction.
What we need most of all is something that will shake us to our core.
We need something that will turn our upside down addicted reality upside down. There is nothing better than the kingdom of God to provide this reverse upside down reality.
God uses rock bottom experiences in convicting us there is no other way but over and through the present weakness that has taken us to this very rock bottom.
And conviction (the Holy Spirit’s conviction) is the thing we need—to be convicted that there is no other way but to take the hardest road to the best possible vision of a new life beyond this entrapping weakness that controls our lives.
If we are one who lives with an addicted person—no matter their addiction—because the manifestation of all addictions is similar—we have gotten used to feelings of the forlorn. We have given up so many times on the distant hope that our partners would get better. They promised again and again and again, and again and again and again they failed. If they were kicked in the guts we were stabbed in the guts.
The best thing for the upside down world of addiction is the upside down role of the truth that smashes the upside down world into a billion pieces. Truth sets free, but truth requires strength and a world of faith to thrive when pitted against addiction.
The worst thing can become the best thing, but only if we surrender wholeheartedly to the God of our creation. And truth must be the form of our surrender; that we are, indeed, honest against ourselves when we need to be.
Addiction is an upside down reality, where we don’t want what we can’t stop but we can’t live without it. We need two things to overcome it: 1) for God, by our circumstances, to institute a rock bottom experience; and 2) for the sheer will to be wholeheartedly honest in tackling the truth so as to overcome this nemesis one day at a time by faith.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Healing Grief Through Repentance

Grief, at its source, is a challenge to the identity.
The very matter of loss is the phenomenon of challenge to the person we have become. Loss requires us to change. Loss takes us into a bout of grief that seems unending. Loss pits us against ourselves. For a time we feel like nobody and we struggle in the friendliest of circumstances. Loss takes us away from ourselves into a world ever more unknown.
All we want in our grief is for the pain to stop; to once again enjoy things the way they were; despite our logical minds understanding that things will never be that way again.
With loss, we have the antecedent for transformation without the motivation to change. We need to manufacture the enthusiasm for that latter thing; we need to repent—to turn back to God.
Reframing Repentance
Most of the time, from our Christian worldview, we have seen repentance as the necessary response to sin. But that is a limited and punitive-only theology of repentance. Of course, it’s the most important one, but with repentance there is much more than turning from our sin back to God.
If we take repentance in broad terms it is turning back to God.
Utilising this broader facility of repentance, we can take the challenge to our identity—because of our loss—and come back to God, to find a place of encompassing sanctuary beyond the limited sanctuary of our contingent identity.
When we repent we no longer require the solidity of our human identity. The trouble is we have become so entrenched in that identity that it is a barrier in turning back to God.
If we were to risk, even for a moment, jettisoning our identity—the old self—we might have a new world opened up to us: the world of identity in God alone.
From this vantage point—because we have turned back to the Basis of Life itself—we see a huge vista open up before us. Suddenly we see suffering all around and empathy becomes us. We see God everywhere, especially where God appears nowhere in a particular scene. The eyes of our hearts are opened up.
Because we have turned back to God, our Lord has gifted us with an understanding very few people come to know.
Then we understand an incredible reality: this loss that sent us into grief has been the very road upon which has taken us to true salvation—yes, upon Jesus’ name. We had to come to the end of ourselves before life truly began.
Loss can be a good thing, because, in our grief, we turn back to God and allow our Lord to refashion our identity. Although loss is nothing about sin, we use repentance (to turn back to God) as a means of forging a new identity; through which we can be healed. What was the worst thing that could happen, can sometimes mean the best.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

It’s All About Communication

MY WIFE was casually talking about contracts—the legal document—when it suddenly occurred to me that everything legal, and every agreement, is rooted in communication: agreements between parties. Indeed, relationally, we are worse than nothing without communication, and undeniably there is conflict abounding when we communicate poorly.
But communication is like the Tower of Babel.
We all tend to ‘talk’ different languages to each other; we have different love languages, different languages of apology, and different needs. We think differently and then we imagine the variety of moods we find ourselves experiencing. We don’t always feel just exactly the same as the person we’re communicating with. Actually, it is typically to the contrary.
So when life is all about communication—from the most informal means of relationship to the out-and-out legal—and we cannot escape the need to communicate—we best fashion ourselves in ways simplistic enough to get our communication right, most of the time. And when we get our communication wrong we need to know, immediately, so we can admit it, to ourselves and repent before God and the other, bringing us back into a communicative harmony—as much as it depends on us.
Language of Agreement
We all need bases of agreement in life.
If our worlds within do not agree, we experience anxiety. If we cannot gain agreement with another we also have anxiety because of the conflict.
A lack of agreement is really the base for conflict and we are not designed to endure unnecessary conflict without attempts at reparation.
We were designed with thinking minds and feeling hearts with the capacity to negotiate a conflict and to make disagreements, either within or without, palatable toward agreement for both parties, whether ‘both parties’ are within ourselves, or relationally with others, or with God for that matter.
And at our deepest level we seek agreement within. Our souls want to agree with our external environment. This is how we feel safe. Communication is central.
Communication is the language of agreement. It helps us to determine where we are in our world, and how we are relating within it.
Agreement, in the broadest sense, is a feeling of peace, from which joy comes, from the ability to love. Indeed, the Fruit of the Spirit—and all virtue—all emanate from the outcome of agreement.
Once we have integrated our inner world with our external world we have found Heaven on Earth. We have come to a place that the Lord’s Prayer calls for: “On earth as it is in heaven.”
Communication is how we bring this reality to bear within our worlds.
Communication is the sacred wisdom of God for a life of peace, joy, and all other virtue and fruit of the Spirit. We could pour ourselves into being better communicators and we would never ever be anything other than blessed all the more. It’s an investment worthy of all our time.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Going to the God of All Comfort

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.”
How do we unpack this package of consolation in the matter of affliction?
We go to God. But then there are those of us who have no idea on how to go to God, but then there is a second element we need to consider; a second element that helps with the first element:
As we help those with the help we have received from God, God helps us all the more.
The second element—that of helping—augments the first element. It gives the first element traction.
It is a simple matter to go to the God of all comfort; we go when we are weary, when we are estranged to hope, and when matters of life are beyond us. As we draw comfort from God, God shows us how to comfort others in their distress.
But first we must learn to go to God; it starts from us. This is the practice of repentance; this is about going to the spiritual location of Faith Central.
Pulling into Faith Central
As if steaming into a station, a locomotive with a consist of wagons, a rake of railcars carrying the burdens of life, we pull into Faith Central, and we slow down... and stop. We have made it to the station. We are home. We have made it back into the heart of God. And God will meet our needs there like absolutely no other.
The moment we are stopped all passengers disembark, alighting for their individual journeys; these passengers are our burdens. We are in the practice of seeking consolation for our afflictions and we do it best in silent contemplation.
Having pulled into Faith Central, having stopped and allowed the burdens of life to disembark, whilst praying diligently, in moaning and tears as and if necessary, we draw close to the comfort of God—to the God of all comfort.
Having pulled into Faith Central we have practiced the ancient art of repentance.
Those who routinely repent know precisely how to encourage others to repent without mandating it. They encourage others to pull into Faith Central, where the God of all comfort will comfort their friend, by the comfort they themselves have received.
Once we have drawn comfort from God in our affliction we seriously want that comfort to abide in others. The God of all comfort will console us in all our affliction as we draw close. He is drawing us into Faith Central—a train station of spiritual locale where we can stop, contemplate, and receive the comfort we need. It is Safe Sanctuary. Go into the Heart of God.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

On Becoming and Being Genuine

“When we are genuine, people meet us in a human way and get a glimpse of our personal life of faith.”
There is a gift we can give another person; every other person!
This gift is a gift to ourselves as much of the other person, but the other person benefits in ways that are quite rare. They get a real person. And when we are genuine, we also gain by being that real person.
We shouldn’t assume that being a real person is an easy thing. Most people have to spend years of their lives undoing the vast tapestry of falsity they have learned serves them well in a world valuing duplicity, partiality, and quirkiness and the like. Most people have learned to wear their masks, and they choose a different mask according to the situation. At the end of the day most people have learned to be anything but genuine.
I want to devote the rest of the article to how we become and be more genuine.
Becoming and Being Very Real Despite the Costs
There is certainly a cost of becoming and being real. It has to become the most important thing otherwise we don’t stand a chance.
First of all, we must get to a position where we like ourselves; where we accept who we are and what we have become and what has made us who we are. Again, we may think this is easy. In reality it will take years, but because most of us have years to invest we would be mad not to invest.
Secondly, it helps if we identify the costs and agree beforehand we are willing to pay. Whenever we think of costs we always underestimate the level of sacrifice required, whilst we overestimate the value of the realised goal. But if we have agreed beforehand we will remain committed and we may succeed.
Thirdly, we must appreciate the value of being genuine, to the point that sometimes being genuine means we shouldn’t defend ourselves, even if to save ourselves from embarrassment. Being genuine means being seen as weak as well as strong, and as wrong as well as right. We shouldn’t manipulate situations to make ourselves look better than our acknowledged or the collectively accepted reality.
Fourthly, nothing helps us more than to appreciate the benefit, personally and interpersonally, of being real; where others can rely on us as safe people, whilst we can rely on ourselves to be that safe person.
Fifthly and finally, when we get past our fear for being vulnerable, when we feel safe enough to risk, we know we can trust everyone with ‘who’ we actually are. Guards are dropped in the knowledge that there is no better strength to show than the strength in humble authenticity. Fearful people—people who may be typically untrustworthy regarding our vulnerabilities—tend more to shy away from direct conflict with people who are bold enough to be real.
Becoming and being a genuine person is the greatest gift we can give another person, whilst it is also the greatest gift we can give to ourselves. Being real has as its process the honouring of truth at all times. Being real is also the best way to honour God.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Continuing On In the Godly Way

Challenges to our time, resources, progress and sanity come and go through our days. Some days are especially marred. Other days we efficiently get on with our God-willed work and there is nothing but strength. The other days are forgettable, lamentable, and despicable—or, at best, plain boring.
Yet God encourages us eternally with this battle charge:
“Stay with ME, and I will provide grace for your journey, peace for your presence, my Presence for your hope, and faith enough to secede the doubting.”
This is what I imagine God saying, urging us on, strengthening us by his Almighty voice that pervades all creation in the deafening sounds of silence.
Continuing on in the godly way is a noble task, yet many things of the world will interrupt such work at the very whiff of a divine undertaking. Tall poppies are slayed because they stand out. Yet we stand out in very ordinary and limited ways if God’s will is known. We would have nothing of the glory if we were to see the glory manifest in God.
Still, we must note, we are positioned and placed as comparative tall poppies—threats for many who are ruled by fear, whether within the church sheepfold or not.
Let us not be afraid, or even the slightest bit distracted, by the noises of the vocal minority as they intend to knock us sufficiently off course as to limit our effectiveness because of their reigning fear.
We are to continue on: humbly, patiently, quietly, gently, compassionately... unswervingly... as a friend to all, higher than ourselves.
Let’s consider ourselves slaves to God, servants of the Saviour who won us all at Calvary. When one is bought for a priceless sum, to be set free, eternally, then that one is won to such a freedom as to give their lives away so they might gain their very selves.
The more we give ourselves away, the more we reconcile the wondrous essence that abides within; the Holy Spirit who lives in us.
There are many and several discouragements every day; distractions intended to sway us from the good way. God’s will is met with all kinds of ungodly resistance. Ours is to see it; to acknowledge what must be done from what needn’t be done. Ours is to continue on the godly way, despite every raucous voice and inflated image to the contrary.
God says, “Stay with ME.”
It’s the Divine code and the very purpose of our existence.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Enjoying the Solidity of Focused Direction

“A life lived in the light of God’s love and surrendered to him in faithful service is pretty hard to knock off course.”
— Monica O’Neil
When I first read this quote I was struck by the stability and strength in its truth. Wow, God really has given us the key to life. The solidity of focused direction is grounded in such simple wisdom...
But of course this truth will be tested. Or, better put, we will be tested by the very way we apply this material that provides such solidity for focused direction. We will be found wanting by the manner of our being. We will be challenged to grow through vulnerable standpoints of weakness and to steel, otherwise, those parts of us that only show up as flimsy in the milieu of the present challenge in its vagaries of surprise.
There are many twists in the average day.
Yet again, we face this truth: living in the light of God’s love, surrendered to him alone in faithful service, totally committed to those ends, we have the key to life. If nothing else is as important as that mission we will have the solidity of focused direction; a spiritual rigidity that is malleable enough to remain on course.
Let us dig deeper into the simplicity of this wisdom:
The author of the quote impels us to know what really matters to us: best if it is Jesus Christ.
Life is queer that it requires us to live many boring and busy days, yet we are swept uncontrollably down a torrent on the odd day when we least expect it. At 4 PM on an idle Tuesday we are numbed by news so starkly apparent we are backwashed and busted. There are so many experiences of life that find us wanting; so many times when we are pushed off bearing.
Now these times are all tests of our character, and the depth of our character is known by the responses we have during such times. But character is not a fixed entity; we shift with the shape of our spiritual tide. Inwardly towards the shore to nestle for a time with God or outwardly into the seas that rough us up and may even spit us out.
We are known by what defines us. By what is observable in the poignant time; that is how we are made, both by the material of our making and by the making upon another person’s mind of whom we are.
There is simplicity and strength in the solidity of focused direction. To be centralised upon Christ is to be grounded upon a firm foundation that is not easily shook. We are both what we are and what we do and what we do informs who we are. If the best thing we do is surrender to God, then the best and worst of a topsy-turvy life is enjoyed for what it is, nothing more and nothing less, but in the unfazed knowledge that God is good all the time.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Brokenness and the Blessings of Realism and Joy

“We are all wonderful, beautiful wrecks. That’s what connects us—that we’re broken, all beautifully imperfect.”
There is the wonder-filled presence of majesty in the fact of our brokenness. The more we magnify the grace that holds us up, eyes raised to the sky in awe, the more we know it’s okay to be the way we are.
We are mistaken, fearful, foolish, frustrated, fatigued, ignorant and arrogant people—and many more. We are more the same than we are different.
And besides all this God loves us.
Think about that for a moment: God loves us. The verb in that sentence, “loves,” commands our attention. One single word tells us graphically and never more understatedly what God does and what God has done, from eternity to eternity; eternally.
God loves us. Despite our junk, all the vain propriety we bring to life, and the hurts we either deny or make much of, God loves us.
God may not want us wallowing in our brokenness, but we do ourselves a service when we regularly reach into such a fact of being, because it highlights just how magnificent God’s grace is that he loves us.
We are, again, most similar—by the facts of our commonalities of failing.
But that isn’t the best news, not by far!
Freedom from a Thing that Promised Bondage
We could be really forgiven for thinking that sowing into our brokenness would depress us and take us into a netherland far from home.
But precisely the reverse occurs. The more we establish space for ourselves in being acceptably broken, the more we realise how wonderful it is when we achieve something. We start from a low base and are easily satisfied. Our expectations are right-sized. We thank God more willingly for the simple things.
These ideas of life are the marrying of realism with joy: realism because we are suddenly not afraid of the truth—indeed, we are glorying in it—and joy because we faint with glee at just how good God is that he, an utterly holy God, loves us.
Realism and joy. Does life get any better? And it comes from a truth that sinks so many; the source of our despair. It’s a great thing that we’re so fallible.
Only God could use our brokenness and turn it into the blessings of realism and joy. God loves us—unconditionally. Accepting our brokenness welcomes this truth without fear: realism. Our joy abounds that nothing we can do would make God love us any less.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Patience for the Process of Healing

There comes a time when the pain is gone,
But it’s just as true that truth you bear,
What was that’s now lost can make us strong,
By the softening of our hearts to simply care.
Although anger is a most necessary part of grief—a principal component toward true healing—it may be an antecedent or precursor to a better thing: patience.
Healing from grief may be defined as that state where we know the fullness of truth about what has occurred, but we feel little or none of the pain anymore.
Such a thing is not a denial of the truth. We honour the truth. We honour who we were. We honour the past and those people or situations now gone or transformed. And we may occasionally lament life because it involves loss; this is merely a wrestling with the truth.
Patience is what this journey is all about.
God will teach us how to be gentler with ourselves, with our circumstances, with our recovery. But we must learn, first of all, to give ourselves over Jehovah Rapha—God our Healer (Exodus 15:26).
Such a place of having been healed—which is a landmark of healing in no ultimate sense—because there may still be tinges of pain occasionally—mandates we hold two tensions simultaneously: we are open to our pain as we are open to the truth, and our pain dissipates because that truth we have we are not afraid of anymore.
That truth has helped to define us. That truth has been central to the forging of our new identity. We honour that truth, tough as it is. Courage has become us.
Meeting Pain in Truth and in Gentleness
It would be no good to meet the pain in our grief without gentleness. Both are needed: to approach the truth, yet in gentleness. This is where others play a role; caring others.
We need space to repeat ourselves. We need a compassionate space. We need a space where there is space to simply ‘be’ without judgment—heaven knows we will be judging ourselves enough as it is.
There is only beauty in truth and power for healing when we are gentle, being patient enough to care for ourselves and to allow others to care for us. When we come about grief like this we can find someone who will care, despite how lonely we may be feeling.
There is only beauty in pain when we have hope for healing. We need to be patient and continue to wrangle with our truth, knowing that patience is helped by gentleness. Anger is understandable, but patience is by far better. Foster gentleness.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, May 13, 2013

How Do I Number My Days?

Moses prayed to God:
“So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.”
— Psalm 90:12 (NRSV)
In the rat race that is life in this modern-day world, we find ourselves possibly wondering “How does eternity get a look in with all the worry and fuss going on in me and in everyone else?”
Well, eternity is eternity and it has everything waiting on ‘it’ not the other way around. We would be fools not to acknowledge this truth. Life is a bequest of God and we don’t get one single breath that is not willed by the Lord and bequeathed directly to us.
And still, we waste our time on things of no importance when the things of eternity stand there shouting, “Be of me!” We are forgiven this folly. God knows how broken of sense we are. We are bound to get many details of our lives absolutely wrong.
But overall we can go easier on ourselves by simply noting that numbering our days gives us some sense of perspective.
We cannot achieve what we want to achieve in the day and we push too hard, but we tend not to see how very much can be accomplished over the longer frame of time. But we can be like ants; purposefully believing in and doing a huge legacy of work. And we can imagine ants not being bothered about the day-to-day things that don’t go right—theirs is a longer goal.
Why Settle for Less Than Wisdom?
Wisdom—without sounding narcissistic—should be our very objective, goal and prize. What better theme of our lives is there than wisdom to get the days of our lives right in the general sense.
This is to acknowledge, beforehand, many days will be wasted; many days we’ll feel we’re heading backwards.
It’s also about acknowledging that some days—and some entire seasons of bliss—we will think we’ve got it ‘all together’ before our pride is crushed and we’re brought back to earth. Most days, however, will be replete with the ordinary—we may doubt our very affect in this life. We endure much disillusionment.
Numbering our days is getting their apportionment in perspective.
It’s dropping all sense of ambition, to simply know that the next breath could be the last one, whilst also—at the same time—understanding that our lives (and the effect of our lives) will probably extend far longer than we currently anticipate.
There is a great need these days of life perspective. When we contrast life and our lives with eternity we stand awestruck at what we commonly and mistakenly prioritise. Coming back to the things of God helps us to number our days—in order that we don’t miss the truth that God impels us to know. Numbering our days is the grasp of perspective we all need to live life well.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.