Monday, September 30, 2013

In Sadness, Hold On Tight To Your Dreams

“So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.”
When our dreams seem crushed and we feel misunderstood, life takes on a hopeless designation. Even the thought of such experience at a time of joy connects us with an irreconcilable sadness. Dreams have potency about them. They tend to be most of the reason we live for.
There are times in all our lives when our dreams appear crushed; when, for a moment, we lose sight of all hope, and we perceive a horrible perspective – that life just isn’t worth it; that life is against us; or that we don’t deserve what we hope for, etc. Such assumptions of self are, of course, inaccurate and unhelpful. These dreams just mean so much we are bound to be swayed by the hurricanes of life into harm’s way. And the danger proposed is the perception devoid of hope. At such times we will be our own worst enemies. At such times no one can speak sense into us; we are the only ones who have the right to speak and the words we speak to ourselves are purposefully negligent.
In sadness, we need to learn to hold on tight to our dreams – because the dream isn’t over.
Holding on Tight Without Holding on Too Tight
Balance is a revered prospect in all of life. Perspective will gain us so much more during tremulous seasons, in spite of the pain we experience.
At times of hopelessness borne on sadness, we may either hold on too tight or let go completely – probably more the latter. Holding on tight to our dreams is neither about holding onto too tight nor is it about letting go so another dream can take its place. Dreams don’t happen by replacement. Dreams just are. We must believe that God is in the dream – that God has purposed the dream for a reason.
Many things happen in the changing of our experience, and the shifting of our perceptions, even over one day, let alone a few. We must try not to fret too much in the burden of the overwhelming moment.
There is a purpose in this horrible experience, and, though we know that by faith, we don’t need to know what the exact purpose is; we just know there is a purpose. We leave that inexplicable purpose to God – for his purposes.
There is a purpose in horrible experiences, and, though we know that by faith, we don’t need to know what the exact purpose is. We just know there is a purpose. We leave that inexplicable purpose to God – for his purposes.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Beating the Battle of the Bottle

ONCE UPON A TIME (if that doesn’t already sound too glib or corny [sorry]), I had a serious drinking problem. I was no black-out drunk (someone who drinks to the point of not having memory of what they did or didn’t do) but I was a weekend binge-drinker and I used and abused alcohol to relieve mainly work stress, but also the stresses of home life. Drinking became a 10-year habit for me; so it delights me even more, that God has, 10-years this week, given me the ability to live without it.
Here’s how I did it.
I Went to AA
I went to Alcoholics Anonymous for eleven months, before ‘graduating’ to go with church alone – having already gotten involved in volunteer ministry. At AA I had to frequently remind myself, that, though I wasn’t a raging alcoholic, I couldn’t beat my problem alone – I’d tried so many times before and it never worked. Sure, I could go a couple of months, but, just like someone who struggles with their diet, I would eventually slip back into old habits.
But the beauty of a drinking problem is you can stop drinking altogether. People with diet problems can’t stop eating – we need to eat. But we don’t need to drink.
Abstinence, I found, was the only way. And AA helped, because that’s the Program.
There’s No Substitute for Honesty & Sacrifice
The reason AA works is because their Program guarantees success through a rigorous honesty, because it’s honesty that sets us free; that and the 100% commitment to change – nothing else – one day at a time.
One day at a time we can do anything, but we will need to make drastic changes if we’re to never (ever) drink again.
I found that, when I was prepared to give myself fully to a Program such as AA, that God honoured my initiative and courage, and he gave me strength and stamina for the journey.
We cannot have it all ways in life. God always requires us to make a choice. If we choose to give it away – the drink – I believe he can give us his miraculous powers of healing that we may find we’re miraculously healed – and never (ever) need to drink again, and are never even be tempted again.
But we must start right and continue in that vein.
We need to create new habits, a new lifestyle, mix with new people perhaps, get out of the rut we’re in, etc. There’s nothing new in this advice. But it does work.
If we’re prepared to lose our lives to save it, by losing the drink, by giving it up altogether, we may find that God will give us a brand new and better life, eventually. We must have faith that this will occur. It happened to me; it can happen to you.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

6 Points for Respecting God By Repentance

Recognise the lack and need of God’s power.
Earnestly seek God, surrendering up the self-will.
Promise to journey with God, one day at a time.
Engineer and carry out a Holy Spirit-informed plan.
Negotiate the moments of temptation.
Thank God continually, through grateful utterances of action.
We all need repentance as the way of improving our spiritual prospects in life. Such a thing was designed by God to reconnect us with the transforming power for life through his Spirit. Without this power, and we all know this weakness, we have no hope of spiritual contentment.
The above six-point plan is an acrostic that can help us remember the steps we might take in tackling our sin through the divine power of the Holy Spirit.
1. Recognise the Lack and Need of God’s Power
Whenever we run our own show, we have left the real power for living far behind. We thought, again, we could do this on our own. And it seemed to work for a time. Then we found we were mistaken.
But the repentance sequence is initiated when we have the volition to recognise our lack and need of God’s power. This power is given to us upon our surrender.
2. Earnestly Seek God, Surrendering Up Our Self-Will
Having recognised we cannot achieve this transformation on our own, we come to a critical step. We cannot go any further with God unless we surrender up our self-will. This is non-negotiable. We can’t have it both ways. As soon as we have earnestly sought God by surrendering up our self-will we are brought to the point of promising that we will faithfully journey with God as best as truly we can.
3. Promise to Journey with God, One Day at a Time
The majestic thing about ‘one day at a time’ is it works.
It has worked for millions upon millions, and continues to work today. Breaking our lives down into manageable one-day or part-day compartments we focus our spiritual energy on obeying God in the problem area. Praying to God, one day at a time, means that we are thankful at the end of each day for the faithfulness of God to give us the power to truly repent. One day is not too long to obey for.
4. Engineer and Execute a Holy Spirit-Informed Plan
Having made our humble recognition and having earnestly sought God and committed ourselves to a promise before God, the Holy Spirit will now give us, upon holy revelation, a plan for this process of repentance. In truth, the plan is a metamorphosis; it continues to change in accordance with our growth and changing needs over the months and years.
It is for us to listen to the Holy Spirit, take down the plan diligently, and then execute it as required.
5. Negotiate the Moments
This may be the hardest of all steps. This is when our resolve is tested, and our patience, and indeed our memory for the problems of old. We must pray to God for the strength and wisdom to get through each of our troubling moments.
Again, we can get through anything one moment at a time.
6. Thank God Continually, Through Grateful Utterances of Action
The biggest and best protection we have to firmly establish this plan of repentance is through thankfulness and gratitude, and these are augmented never better than by action.
We must ensure that our thankfulness and gratitude reaches the halcyon heights of love through action.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Where Is God In My Grief?

RECALLING A TIME when my world had simply vanished, when everything had simply become nothing – when it still meant everything to me – I remained somehow disposed to another life – not my own! My own life was gone. It had been shattered suddenly, found to be brittle beyond my own cognisance.
It’s important to capture this sense of lostness melded with pain – it was somehow incomprehensible, and, as I look back a decade on, I still struggle to encapsulate just how morbid that time was.
Feeling vulnerable and lost, tormented or just confused, we may be rallying – but for what purpose? There is something untouchable about being in a place without solid identity.
At such times we wonder where God is and what he says regarding the mess we’ve found ourselves exposed to – often beyond our own making.
When one life (ours or a dear friend’s) is shattered and the memories just don’t match up with the realities, we’re to be forgiven for thinking God has gone ‘absent without leave’.
Grief is that place where no one is welcome, least of all our old selves. The old self somehow has become irrelevant, even though it’s all we have. What was a solid construction of many years and possibly many decades of work now stands as a ruin; a requiem of something of potential and actuality that doesn’t belong where it did anymore.
Grief is the sudden intruder who has ransomed us by stealth into a locale of sheer agony.
And still we ask “Where is God?” in this mess. We have to believe in the theology of the Footprints in the Sand poem if this grief is to be any good for us. We either rescind or advance – no neutrality may be afforded in life.
There is no point to a life of despair, so that the faith-life is the only stable staple; our only true hope is that the Providence of God (his protection, care and provision) is true – that God is creating out of the mess a fresh hope for a new start and a better life.
It helps us in our grief to know God is there with us in it. Only a belief in God can transport us through such a stark and unacceptable truth as grief, where we have lost something or someone so profoundly important, and also bring us fresh and more secure identity in the process, growing us.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Bypassing ‘Religion’ for the Grace Way

WHEN FACED WITH a choice to go the world’s way or God’s way, many cannot go ‘God’s way’ of legalism, moralism, and self-righteousness – as humankind within the church has bent it (neglecting Jesus’ teaching in the process). There is a third way that is the true ‘God’s way’ – the only ‘God’s way’. It is a difficult thing to explain, yet much easier to live.
The third way is the only true way. It supersedes religion because it cuts to the heart of the issues of humanity deeply entwined on our relational psyches. We have to have a model for relating with people that transcends violence – and the typical religious way is too violent, for it forces a decision-of-ethics to be made without due discernment. Besides, the religious person is typically not that well-adjusted to their own psychic processes (indeed, none of us are!).
The third way is about recognising human frailty and accepting it – in both us and others. It’s a love-never-fails approach. It’s a compensatory approach where grace just shades truth. This means, whilst truth drives us, grace is the more fundamental driver, just. The third way is about a dance between truth and grace; it’s highly relational.
Wars will never be fought over the third way, for those holding to it will never fight back. They believe the best fight is fought without fighting. Have you ever tried fighting with someone who won’t fight back? It’s difficult to maintain the conflict.
Tests of the Veracity of this ‘Third Way’
This third way is the wisest approach to life because it’s ordered by higher mind thinking; that is, adult, prefrontal cortex thinking.
Tests proving this way as the way of all ways are varied, but the truth of the matter is, as Jesus won (once for all time), when we employ the third way, we win too – and so does the other party – though it might appear initially that we’ve lost.
When we wholeheartedly look into this third way, mainly because we’ve met someone who just simply inspires us through their use of it, we begin to test its ground and the learning curve begins in earnest.
Sick of the world’s way and too scared or disgusted to go with religion, people are searching for a third way toward meaning for life. That way is the grace way – the way of the real Jesus of the gospels. Meeting Jesus for the first time is about the engagement of our hearts toward compassion, justice, and truth, because of love.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Shutting the Door on Shame

“O guard my life, and deliver me;
do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.”
— PSALM 25:20 (NRSV)
The cost of our connection with sin is inevitably shame. And in the complex world of relationships there enters a complex interdependence of shame between souls relating with one another. Sometimes we don’t know whose shame we are feeling, ours or theirs. Sometimes as we protect other people we, in fact, protect ourselves. Yet sometimes when we protect other people we are embarrassed for them, as we could imagine them being embarrassed for us in the same circumstance. Sometimes we feel shame for others’ sin—for the affect it’s had on us (e.g. abuse or neglect).
Shame is an incredibly relational subject. Maybe it’s only when we have fallen short within our connections with others that we feel emotions like guilt and shame.
But apart from a godly shame that draws us into repentance for sins committed, God wants us to shut the door on shame; to instead draw daily on the forgiveness in grace.
Grace, of course, is God’s gift to humankind so spiritual freedom is accessible. Otherwise sin would forever set us apart from God.
Overcoming the Burden of Shame
I’ve been thinking a long time now about how universal traits for shame are. And whether people consciously admit their shame or they drive it down deeper into their psyches it doesn’t really matter.
Because shame is intrinsically connected with sin — the inward and outward manifestation of the disconnect with ourselves, let alone God — we, as thinking and feeling human beings, particularly if we consider ourselves ‘moral’, struggle when we fall short. Then we experience shame.
Our consciences are implicated.
And for this, I’m sure, grace came about. Because we could never, ever, reconcile our sin, and still these days are thwarted by its presence, God stepped in and made a way for us to live, heads held high, even as we are — sinners.
Shutting the door on shame is possibly as simple as instituting habitual and instinctual repentance at the foot of our sin. In other words, immediately having sinned we confess it and step forth on the path toward repentance. Our shame is hence relieved. And in instances of having not sinned we step into thankfulness for the wisdom implicit in grace that kept us clear of temptation and kept us, for that moment at least, true.
Shutting the door on shame is as simple as honest confession and movement toward repentance. The quicker and more efficient we do this the more effective our absolution at the conscience level is. When our shame comes as a result of what’s occurred to us — beyond our sin — we confess this too, seeking God’s healing.
God wants us to live free with our heads held high, having dealt with our shame at the cross. Because shame is connected with sin we need to draw on grace, each day, in learning to live shame-free.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

God’s Glory From A Hurt

A HURT, a significant part of our emotional history, is more likely to take us away from God than to God, because of pride. The truth is, at this time, we cannot handle the truth – to coin the Jack Nicholson phrase out of A Few Good Men (1992).
A case in point from my own life: at an inappropriate time in my life, having just married, and having also recently dealt with a brief bout of depression, I distinctly felt what I thought was the call of God prompt me to apply for a ministry position that I was actually already involved in. When my application wasn’t considered I became quite instantly resentful. Even though it wasn’t the right time for me I was insisting that it was the right time – actually because of other fears. What I felt was the call of God wasn’t actually the call of God at all – though I couldn’t see it at the time. We know it is the work of the enemy when we begin to see things purely from our own viewpoint. During this time I felt no one supporting me, because, quite frankly, it was plain to the people closest to me – it was wrong for me; the situation, my mode of operation, and even the thoughts I was thinking. It was all about hurt. I became consumed by it. “How could they not see it,” was my prevailing thought.
But God always has something better in mind if we are even vaguely looking to cooperate with his will. And I was.
Out of such a season of being hurt was birthed the writing ministry that continues today – and, to this point, this latest article. God used the situation of my hurt, and, in allowing me to remain involved in active Christian ministry, I was given the opportunity to come around to the truth that I once just could not handle. God’s grace was gentle and generous in helping me to a point of recognition. God created something that I hadn’t even dreamt about beforehand. God actually used my method of writing to help me, by his Spirit, to heal myself.
God’s glory is made manifest out of the processing of a hurt in the honesty of our courage and God’s grace as we overcome our pride. Grace helps us approach the truth we previously could not handle. Grace facilitates healing, because he gifts us enough courage to be honest about our human weakness.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Rock Bottoms and Miracles

Rock bottoms can be good – it’s up to us whether we believe God is all-Provident or not – it’s up to us if we believe or not that God is all-Sovereign – that God is in control of everything and controlling everything. We stand or fall conquered by what we believe or don’t believe.
What sense is there in believing that God is cruel in putting us through ‘unnecessary’ pain? There is no sense in such a belief. It not only takes us against God, but it reduces our lives to misery, for we resent God – and there’s no contentment, ever, in that. There’s no viability in such an attitude.
No, it is right for us to think that pain has a purpose; that there is a divine reason for it. It’s no romantic sadism. We can know that pain has a purpose wherever we respond the right way; whenever we continue to sow in faith, despite the rock bottom experience in the sheerest loneliness, disappointment, and betrayal.
We become vindicated by what comes after the suffering; the ‘children’ of truth is wisdom as it’s revealed. No one and no thing can stand against those who are anointed by God to simply obey. By simple responsive obedience, we allow the miracle to arrive in the fullness of the Spirit’s power.
A Miracle – the Advent of Grace
Any time a miracle happens it’s a sign of a massive portion of grace – as God would release his favour in response to that which might so severely discourage us we would fail for life.
The advent of grace is the gift of God at a time when we have never needed it more.
Grace kicks in, effervescently, when we have been taken too far in our pain; to the point where we would not cope.
Our God of compassion is not slow in revealing his mercy, and it always seems to occur that he has responded already in the corner of our need.
Rock bottoms seem senseless to a world seeking anesthesia for its pain. God, however, has a bigger picture for us through the rock bottom experience; plans for his Providence, Purpose, and Power through a miracle of divine design.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Defining Role of Hurts

“The swamps and marshes won’t become fresh. They’ll stay salty.
“But the river itself, on both banks, will grow fruit trees of all kinds. Their leaves won’t wither, the fruit won’t fail. Every month they’ll bear fresh fruit because the river from the Sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will be for food and their leaves for healing.”
— EZEKIEL 47:11-12 (Msg)
As it stands, life produces the circumstances where we will be hurt. There will be times, in a broken world, when we will feel justifiably transgressed. But it isn’t what happens to us that defines us; we know this. It is how we respond, as if we need reminding, which is how we are refined by God toward greater levels of human capacity toward healing.
The vision cast forth in Ezekiel involves a man approaching a river, stepping into it, wading, then fully immersed. The man is being carried forth with the flow of the river, but as he looks to his side he sees evidence of death – tributaries where virgin growth has been stagnated by a corrosive saltiness. There is no life there. But on the banks on the side of the river it is lush and teeming with life.
Likewise, in the midst of our lives, if we get stuck in a salty tributary rather than staying with the flow of the river, we don’t get to enjoy access to the life-giving nourishment on the banks – we get stuck where there is no life.
Hurts evolve into resentments and resentment takes us further into the salty tributary.
The Opportunity at Character Refinement
Hurts are an opportunity at character refinement. There is no other purpose in dealing with a hurt, other than the purpose that the enemy as for it; to dissuade us from good action, to discourage us, and to push us ever closer toward entering one of those salty tributaries.
We need to know that character refinement is the defining role of a hurt.
God would not have us suffer these hurts for any other reason than for the opportunity to learn through the hurt. So when we are hurt, for any reason, there is the ability to see beyond the hurt toward a response that trusts God.
There is the opportunity to respond as Joseph responded. He didn’t react at his brothers or Potiphar’s wife. It was almost as if, to the observer, he didn’t respond at all, almost submitting. But he waited on God. He had faith that God had a better plan than he could conjure.
Character refinement is the defining role of a hurt. It is a God-appointed opportunity to respond wisely, in a patient expression of faith, rather than react. When we wait on our response, trusting God by prayer, we also allow God’s Spirit to heal us, by helping us understand we are dealing with a broken world – with broken people, who are just like us.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Finding Sunshine in the Rain

“Depression makes everything look more depressing.”    
Faced with the confounding reality – that one of our own is suffering from a mental, emotional, or spiritual illness – we readily face a chaotic no man’s land in our own thinking.
Perhaps we don’t know what to feel, apart from what could be described as a flurry of torment that comes myriad different ways to knock us over when we are barely standing. No one seems to be able to help. Not only is this the darkest season, it is the one with least support. We find some of our friends ill-equipped to support us, whilst others become clearly disinterested. Never mind, God has a plan to help us get through; to create a tighter family bond.
Communication That Helps
Dealing with challenging times within a household scenario is best affected through effective communication – that the supporting party can arrange communications that offer grace, compassion, patience, and love.
As we commit to listening – believing in the inherent value of seeking to listen so as to attempt to understand – we open up space for the person we support. We are intentionally wearing their moccasins; feeling what it feels like as their toes press against the inside of their shoes. We are not there to give advice, unless, by chance of their expressed need, we might work allied with them on their problems.
We make time to talk with them, asking them questions that are relevant to how they feel, without asking too many questions, or asking insensitively.
We try to prove we understand by reflecting back what they have said to us, perhaps in our wording. We listen to more than the words, for some other indicators may be visible.
Maybe we know all these things. Perhaps they’re implicit. Sometimes what we need is to ensure the deep, underlying issues can be raised; in safety without recrimination. Good support means unconditional compassion, and that’s impossible to give unless we are surrendered to God – truly surrendered – to the point that it’s no longer about your life; it’s about the other person’s life – the family’s relational solvency.
Supporting people who are struggling in life is an honour and a privilege. If we are able to help them see some sunshine in the rain their struggles are less confronting. We listen to more than the words. We make time to talk. We try to listen more than we speak. We reflect back what they are saying. And we are as sensitive as we can be.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Depression In Women and Men

“Men are more likely to act out their inner turmoil while women are more likely to turn their feelings inward.”    
There is a great deal of life that can be explained if only we know what the problem is. So many times relationships are compromised because we don’t detect the presence of depression in one or both partners. Many times people of both genders do things that don’t help, but hinder, their progress in life, simply because they don’t deal with the causes of their problems. Very often we can be in a state of depression without knowing it. Acknowledgement is the important first step in grappling with an issue that can be resolved to a great extent.
Below I will explore some of the generalised patterns of male and female depression manifesting behaviourally or attitudinally.
The Character of Male Depression
When guys get depressed they externalise their feelings, but often in unsafe and unconsidered ways. Anger becomes primary and control becomes a tool to wield when he is threatened. He turns to sports, sex, alcohol, etc, in trying to feel manlier. But these are vacant escapes that prolong his unfulfilled state. He feels ashamed by his depression and terrified to confront his weakness, and he tries ever harder to be the man. He is trying to prove something. He finds attack the best form of defence. In reality, he is lonely inside and is rather desperate to find safe and effective ways of being heard. He needs to accept himself.
The Character of Female Depression
The woman who is depressed, on the other hand, cannot maintain control and she may always try to be nice. She attempts to ‘fix’ her depression by trying harder and she feels guilty for being depressed. She procrastinates and obsesses about her weaknesses, disintegrating at the slightest failure. When she is hurt she withdraws, becoming paralysed regarding the situation. Instead of blaming others for being depressed, like the man does, the woman blames herself and turns her feelings inward, destructively. In reality, she is fearful and is in need of plain, but truthful, understanding about what she is really dealing with.
Depression is such a relatively common illness; there is no shame in it. The challenge for many men is to find safe and healthy ways of acting out their inner turmoil. For women, simply expressing their inner turmoil in a safe environment, and finding validation, is often the key. Self-acceptance helps both men and women.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.