Friday, November 29, 2013

Happiness Explained

“Joy is the feeling that arises from being happy.”
— Matthew Jacoby
HAPPINESS, according to this artist and scholar on the Psalter, is simpler and more like the world’s image of it than we suppose. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – a seemingly complex, but really an abundantly simple God – wants us to be happy. But we arrive at happiness having taken a slightly longer route. We arrive having mastered an understanding of life that leaves us balanced and replete with perspective.
Happiness is no dirty word. We just have to understand it in context.
God wants us to be happy, but not at his expense. And that’s crucial. Happiness finds its basis and purpose in God. To see it from such a vantage point we can’t help know the general direction to head in for getting there.
Not Guilt, But Acknowledgement
Thanksgiving is a time we take stock of the truths in our lives that intuit thankfulness – and many are those. The simple things, as we take stock, cause us to swell from within in being happy. God is good. God is a thoroughly good God. Never was there a truer statement, but there are a million and more statements just as true.
Happiness – the need of it – is explained in this: it serves no purpose to resist happiness, as if it were some entirely selfish endeavour. Yet, equally, it serves no purpose to chase it in its own right.
Happiness is to be received, as a gift from God, not out of guilt, but out of acknowledgement – such a feeling is the elicitation of joy and joy is a fruit of the Spirit.
When we acknowledge the truths of our lives, even the sad truths, not judging or condemning these truths by complaint, we stand to realise the blessing God has destined our way from the beginning.
Guilt for the experience of happiness is unwarranted. As if we should ever preside over God in such a way. Such a thing is an abomination, but by feeling guilty, and by learning how inappropriate it is, we don’t want to elicit guilt because we feel guilty when we know we shouldn’t be feeling guilty! That just makes something simple very complex – it’s not God’s will.
God wants us to be happy, but not at his expense. And that’s crucial. Happiness finds its basis and purpose in God. Happiness is to be received, as a gift from God, not out of guilt, but out of acknowledgement – such a feeling is the elicitation of joy and joy is a fruit of the Spirit.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Prayer for Healing to Resolve Bitterness

There are issues of hurt that strike us all; whether it is people’s intention to hurt us or not; whether our expectations, alone, are to blame or not. Often it is a blend of the two.
It doesn’t really matter what has caused our bitterness, apart from acknowledging the fact that bitterness – whatever the cause, and whether we are vindicated or not – has seen us turn from God.
Bitterness has seen us turn from God
Bitterness always requires repentance. It seems hard to say this, because it lacks compassion, perhaps; the important fact is not that we have been ill-considered, but that we have turned from God as evident by our attitude.
Repentance, therefore, like forgiveness, is not really about the other party at all; it’s about us and how we are relating with God, because bitterness and a close relationship with God are concepts that cannot coexist.
When we venture within our bitterness for any length of time we experience what is detrimental, and not just to ourselves. Others are always impacted by our bitterness. But we have an opportunity...
What Such a Prayer of Repentance (for Bitterness) Looks Like
Recently I needed to pray a prayer, something like this:
Dear Heavenly Father,
In acknowledging your Sovereignty over all creation and even over my own mind, heart, and soul, I bring before you an offering of my bitterness in order that you might heal me. This is a simple prayer, Lord, where I recognise I have turned from you and have journeyed within my own hurt – to my and others’ detriment.
Thank you that you have shown me the trick of the enemy in having perceived these slights against me. Thank you that because of you I can see the spiritual attack, which calls me, afresh, to go after you with more passion and commitment. I recommit to you, now.
I beseech you, Lord, in the name of Jesus Christ, for your healing in cleansing me of my hurt. I pray that you would redirect my thoughts, having healed me of my bitterness, such that you would consume my focus.
I pray this in my Lord Jesus’ wonderful name, AMEN.
Bitterness will be the end of us, spiritually, if we do not arrest the slide. When we submit our bitterness to God, repenting of it, turning back to him, we can be healed in having been made right in him, again. Bitterness is not about the other party; it’s all about our relationship with God. It’s not about them; it’s about us and God.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, November 25, 2013

When Loneliness Is Utterly Good

RESPECTFULLY yours, in the service of you, the reader, I submit my little thesis – God is the lord of the brokenhearted.
But that truth is only the start of it.
Loneliness can be an utterly good thing for the corners it forces us into; corners that compel us to break out into the world; corners that will convict us to draw ever closer to the God of our salvation; corners that teach us of the important things of life – those that seem beyond our awareness when life if easier.
But it wouldn’t be fair to go any further without climbing into the bubble of loneliness to demonstrate how much I get it.
A Personal Experience of Loneliness
Where is a good place to start? Grief is kin of loneliness, that I’m sure. Having had a life ripped from my grasp, and having been forced to adapt to a new life without either warning or choice; that was my reality. One life ended on September 22, 2003 and another one started on September 23, 2003. Neither life appeared even similar to the other. Fractured, overnight, was my failing character. I was broken and I needed to be – a truth I gradually became more comfortable with.
Many a night or Saturday morning I wept tears of bitter loneliness. I had a loving Para-church community around me, but there was a limit as to how much I could burden myself with them. Sometimes even loneliness is preferable.
Is there a more destructive antecedent to loneliness than rejection; I think not.
Yet, because I was a searcher – and faith was a necessity for me – I kept seeking God in my loneliest of troughs. I would search and seek and draw near, only to keel over when fatigue would finally overwhelm me. Many a night there was a sodden pillow trapped between my ear and the mattress.
Now enters the victorious irony of the starkest loneliness: it compelled me out of my door to face the world – out of desperation, to seek a solution of healing. It compelled me to draw nearer, ever, to God, my only hope. Pain, it is said by C.S. Lewis, is a megaphone getting our attention. Such a thing that deafens us makes us never more aware. To come close to the truth is a learning opportunity; let’s not begrudge God that.
Loneliness compelled me out of my door to face the world – out of my desperation I had to seek a solution of healing. If not for the grief in my loneliness I would have lazily left life as it was – unsatisfied and unfulfilled.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Blessed Irony of Darkness

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars,
The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
― Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881)
HOW DO WE truly know God? Well, for all the God-fearers on this planet, over all its centuries, from all the cultures and creeds of humanity, there might be a million and more answers to that question.
I have my own answer. To know God is to be decomposed, then reconstructed.
I believe it to be biblically true. We look to Job and his life featured decomposition and reconstruction, from the base of his character up. He was built up in God, but only after he had been crushed.
Having been crushed by life – not by God – because God does not crush us – we know the difference is like night and day. The old life is the night. We could barely see a thing. But as the dawn broke, through the calamity of a hellish circumstance, that very dawn carried us to God by its light. Suddenly we were unable to look back; we could only seek for, see, and yearn for God.
At the dawn – the dawning of us as true persons of unique and characterised personage of Christ – when we were reborn – we experienced something that can only be described as an invasion.
Life invaded us, but so, in turn, did God!
Life came at us with a terrible circumstance, but God neither left us nor forsook us. Life sought to destroy us, but God came in to save us.
The deeper this grief – though it is a blasphemy to speak glibly – the truer our experience of the true and living God.
God came in, and, though we may not have previously invited him, we could not live without him now.
Darkness is its own blessing – not in and of itself – for it is evil – but God contorts the wiles of the enemy into the very material of salvation. In this is the victory, that the further we are stretched – so long as we surrender to the incoming will of God – the more we may be saved, and the closer we may be made to the God of our salvation.
Life came at us with a terrible circumstance, but God neither left us nor forsook us. Life sought to destroy us, but God came in to save us. The dark of night ushered in the truth of the morning – God never closer as we sought him!
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.


Friday, November 22, 2013

When They, Whom We Loved, Are Gone

“... losses rarely announce themselves, they sneak up to prematurely and permanently snatch away a piece of life!”
― Jill Birt
WHAT CAN be said about loss that makes any sense or makes any difference: nothing or lots? Both are true, but both are also tenuously attached. We tread into the area of loss warily, knowing that we tempt fate (so to speak) by simply venturing toward a place we have no idea about – until we have experienced something of its identity purging and regurgitating nature.
The quote by Jill Birt, it is respectful to say, was as a commentary on Ambiguous Grief. If life-ending grief of one kind is exacerbated at all it’s confounded by ambiguous loss.
Losing someone or something (a marriage, for instance) is so devastating that the only chance we have at life from then on is through the re-evaluation and reconstruction of a suddenly decomposed identity.
In Christian circles, we major on having an identity rooted and established in Christ. But it is flippant at best and blasphemy at worst when we say to someone whose identity has been smashed on the rocks of life’s circumstances, “Cheer up, set your mind and heart on Jesus.” Such words are not godly words – there is no compassion, warmth or empathy there!
Cutting to the Chase – The Very Worst Circumstance of Life
We always want to look past the negative things of life to stride into the joyous virtue of the positive. It’s our human nature.
But, when the very worst conceivable thing has happened, our soulmate has died, left us, or gone missing in some irrevocable way, the positive things are no longer relevant. They are also an indictment on the swarming realities of cruelty we must now endure.
When the very worst outcome of life has come to bear – like nothing compares to this sense of loss – life becomes a veritable hell. We see things we’ve never seen before. We hate this new seeing. We want life back the way it was. The missing is unbearable, because the missing is acknowledgement that things can never return to the way they were. The only choice is to adjust.
There’s nothing worse than having to adjust when we detest the thought. We may even find such a thought of adjusting so foreign to our reason and abilities we face attacks of anxiety never before experienced.
There’s nothing worse than having to adjust when we detest the thought. The person who’s gone we want back. We want things back as they were. Such desperation is confounding, because we know our hope is impossible to realize. Our only hope is the reshaping of identity, and that, early on, is a despicable thought.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Tolerance for Today, Trust for Tomorrow

Tolerance for today is exhibiting a patient restraint,
Knowing when to rest and how not to grow faint,
Trust for tomorrow is staying contentedly in today,
Despite the gathering clouds, those dark and mottled grey.
TRADITION dictates the line: “Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow... Great Is Thy Faithfulness, Lord unto me.”
Tolerance is an inner strength – a type of wisdom strength – underpinned by an operant faith. Trust is something we can only employ today, but, by the design of our ever-forward-moving lives, it has its heart set on tomorrow. Trust, therefore, is juxtaposed between to two realms: the day and the morrow. Add to these complexities, our capacities and willingness to trust God for the incoming circumstances is influenced heavily by the past.
Tolerance for today... trust for tomorrow.
Past, Present, and Future
Our entire functional lives stand upon these three precipices: past, present, and future. Each of these three – the Trinity of Existential Being, if you will – plays a key role in both tolerance and trust.
Tolerance is the poise we need in the moment of pressure, which is a very observable manifestation of trust – trust working through the entire mental, emotional, and spiritual continuum.
But the past impacts on our ability or otherwise to be tolerant – of the diversity of people, and of the varying circumstances and differing situations we may find ourselves in. That sort of impact affects how we ply tolerance, how much, or even whether we can or not. Sometimes we just don’t have what it takes to trust to the extent we are required to – yet, with God, there is a safety net.
If we are able to stay the moment, restraining ourselves when dark and mottled grey clouds are looming, we obviously borrow upon the deeds of trust.
Surviving, even thriving, in the present is about borrowing trust from the future. Because the present, by its ever-forward-moving nature, is more about the future coming at us, whether the perception of time is fast, slow or normal, the present elicits fear. What is coming is almost certainly coming. Fate is in God’s hands, so to speak. So, the present is more a combination of the present moment that is forwardly dynamic; the present cannot be stopped. It’s an inconvenient truth, a difficult fact, to deal with.
The ultimate expression of trust, of course, is placing our futures in God’s hands. If the present is scary (informed by a scary past) the future will seem indomitable. The key is to simply believe God at his promises, and to keep believing, by continually coming back to them.
Tolerance for today helps us have trust for tomorrow. Trust supplies tolerance. Tolerance and trust, therefore, work hand in hand as complementary and tangible features of faith and hope.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

The Beauty Residing IN the Midst of Pain

“The pain is still there. It bothers me so little now that I feel my soul is served by it.”
― Teresa of Avila (1515–1582)
THERE IS READING we all search for. Sometimes it’s for personal reasons. Other times it’s for the reasons of explanation – and for use in ministry. This article (click here) is the latter for me, but my hope is it fits for the former purpose for you.
I am so captivated by the secret essences of truth ushered forth by the Spirit of God in testimonies of beauty-out-of-pain. They align with my own experience. Great hope is gleaned from these. Let’s now explore such a hope.
There is the warrant of something eternal, something inviting, and something unchanging in a mode of living that judges not the circumstance we ever find ourselves in.
There is the possibility for us all to reside, psychologically, by the agency of deep connection with our own souls, in a place where pain is the very reason of our availing joy: to choose to see the bliss in life, regardless of whatever else there is.
Getting Beyond Feelings of Disgust
There is something potentially distasteful in the doctrine above; something potentially heartless, ignorant, and glib. So, I’m not saying any of this lightly. Trust me if you can.
When I went through a period of life, a decade ago now, where I felt I had lost everything that ever mattered to me, I ironically felt never more potent, because I had flung myself into the arms of God and into caring fellowship with other men. Nothing in my external environment that used to cause me problems even bothered me anymore.
It simply existed without judgment.
Because I had embraced my soul, my struggle, and my sense of separation from what I had lost – because I chose to turn toward my cross and embrace it, as Jesus did – I am sure the door to acceptance was opened to me.
Nothing can defeat us when we choose to embrace our brokenness.
Indeed, that place of loving who we have become – the very cracks for what they are – is the very place of momentary healing. Once we access such a healing once, we then have the wherewithal to do it again and again.
If pain or trial or broken dreams cannot crush us, what will? There is a safe invincibility of spirit available for those who embrace their brokenness, to call it truthfully what it is: the very manifestation of God’s glory in them – to look at it and to accept it without judgment; to just love it.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wisdom for Listening and Ignoring

So a pal brings a charge against you,
Best listen and best comply,
With everything that is true,
With everything you cannot deny.
But the charge that hangs against you,
That from one who’s taken a side,
That’s the one you may quietly rebuke,
That charge may be denied.
People may say we have done this and we have done that, but LORD, “show us their bias.” If there is none, the person’s to be trusted. We listen to them and we weigh what they have to say. We pour contempt on our pride. But why would we expose ourselves to them who have a dark motive (whether they are aware of it or not). Yet, we can still pay them the undeserved favour (grace) of listening to them. Just go into the dialogue under much prayer.
Let’s break this down...
Some people we can trust; some we can’t. It’s not just about competence. Sometimes people don’t know we shouldn’t trust them. They may not even see the bias.
Sometimes people think their advice is godly, and perhaps it is, but it lacks important areas of verification, and it would only be good advice if they took this into account.
Sometimes people do have our best interests at heart, but they don’t have all the facts at their disposal. Their bias against us may not be harshly intentioned – yet, their advice still isn’t to be trusted.
Advice we can trust comes out of a neutral base. There is no partiality in it. It isn’t actually given as advice most times. It may be framed as questions, where we may find ourselves answering our own need of wisdom. Or, answers just emerge, where the person mentored comes to their own conclusion, through simple journeying with the mentor. Trusted mentors have a way of asking the right questions, and they reflect back their own experience and sight – how things look to them; what they experienced. There is no ulterior motive. It is a badly chosen mentor who has any sense of motivation for or against us – apart from our overall good.
Wisdom helps us to know when to listen (like, listening for advice) and when to ignore (when we will pretend to listen out of courtesy and respect).
We need much wisdom and restraint at times.
Good counsel is crucial. Proverbs 11:14 and 24:6 say, “... in an abundance of counselors there is... safety... and victory.” But we need mentors we can trust, who are wise, impartial, and who weigh and discern our true best interest. If the person we listen to has already taken a side – whether for us or against us – perhaps that mentor is limited in their effectiveness.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Smashing the Mental Health Stigma

Breaking past the stigma that mental illness has,
It’s time to break through that unjust normalcy of life,
For, every person is dogged with a sense of struggle,
Everyone at some stage has their share of strife.
Mental illness, when contrasted with physical illness, is seen for what it is: a normal phenomenon, with hope for prospective healing and pain management. Some physical afflictions last all our lives, so do some mental afflictions. They are managed. The more we can accept that mental health and illness are similar if not the same as physical health and illness, the more we break down these silly stigmas.
As a former safety and health professional, I know it is acknowledged in the secular world: mental health, mental wellbeing, and mental illness are all dynamic themes in all our lives.
When Christians dispel mental illness they twist the biblical mandate and play right into the devil’s hands – of course, Satan wants those who are struggling with their mental health to be further isolated, undermined, and compromised.
When secular world entities disparage the rites of mental illness they deny the deafening science behind a plethora of decades if not centuries of data and findings.
At the core of a sufferer’s hopes of recovery from an episode of mental ill-health is, first, the wider recognition – the validation – of the truth of matters. Recovery and resurrection out of bad states of being is stifled when there is an avoidance of the truth. Fear has no place in these matters, yet it’s often given a place because its motives are not questioned.
There is great empirical support for the equivalencies of physical, psychological, biological, and physiological health and ill-health. Similar cause-and-effect patterns are known, though the antecedents to injury and illness may be markedly different.
Injury and illness – regardless of whether it’s physical or non-physical in nature – represent harm done. Harm done can have a knock-on effect whenever initial treatment is left for wanting. The visible injury or illness gets treatment – we can see it. But how often do we shame someone for seeking treatment for an invisible injury or illness? Can’t people trust what their ears hear – the need of help? No, this speaks to scared people; they don’t want to admit the possibilities that someone is affected by what has been either done to them, or what can’t be readily explained.
Mental health, mental wellbeing, and mental illness are all dynamic themes in all our lives. We bring glory to God by supporting those with mental illness, by destigmatising them, and by loving them into health as much as we can. Let us pay tribute to anyone who struggles with their mental health more than we do.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Where Does the Anger Burn From?

ANGER, the unrighteous kind – when it emerges from out of the birth canal, unrepentantly, into existence before a primed recipient – seems the outermost manifestation of an inner problem, unrecognised and unreconciled. Innermost problems have their genesis way back when, and certainly the makings are made in our developmental years, but the key issue always seems to be how anger is expressed.
It always seems our prime concern is for negating that which has already been conceived; we want to repress the inevitable. Why is that?
It’s probably because we have to live with who we are and what we have become.
But most people – if they only know their lack – truly wish to come to a place of having transcended it. Though it requires work, most people are willing to put the work in for the prospect of a reward for their diligence. Perhaps the greatest motive is not simply about having the poise to resist strangling somebody (figuratively speaking), but having the ability to control our own behaviour to such an extent that we might never embarrass ourselves.
If we are to work on something that’s inculcated from our past long ago, however, we need to understand the limits to our recall of things. It may be more worthwhile exploring – in a truly honest sense – what we know about ourselves up until now, and what others can honestly share.
Being Super Honest
Unrighteous anger does us no good and it can even lead us to doing a major crime or committing an act of violence against someone. This is not to mention the inner damage it does to us in those unspoken areas of life.
Anger, if we wish to resolve it, requires a super honesty. Being super honest means we will no longer seek to shift the blame. We won’t seek any distraction from what God truly has for us to understand – for everybody has things to learn from their blindside.
Being super honest is about having the courage to face our vulnerabilities; to face them with real abandon as a pledge of trust in God to not leave us nor forsake us.
Anger is the outermost manifestation of an inner problem, unrecognised and unreconciled. What has vast potential to hurt others and to leave them damaged may be rendered harmless by being super honest. Asking God to bring to light that which threatens is a wisdom prayer.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Right Way to Give Up

“How does one become a butterfly? You must want to fly so much that you are willing to give up being a caterpillar.”
– Trina Paulus
THERE is a thing to persist with and a thing to give up; a season for sustaining and a season for surrendering. There is a time.
There is a time for all things to have their time, and then to pass away. And there is also the thing that must die so that we might live. Living is about giving and some giving is about giving up.
The right way to give up fits with the right thing to give up – at the right time. Some things should never be started, but then, that’s life. We all enjoy a little folly. Unfortunately, folly clings as matters of misfortunate habit.
The right way to give up is the product of the right thing and the right time – and that time is now.
We cannot be who we hope to become if we remain as we are – unless these two images are precisely the same. We have to ask, seriously, are they?
We may all aspire for a different version of us to emerge. Being human suggests metamorphosing is part of the process. If we are led to change and we resist changing for whatever reason we may die as unfulfilled caterpillars.
Becoming the Butterfly
Receiving orders for the metamorphosis is one thing. Taking those orders, without delay, and printing them as executes is another thing entirely.
We don’t like change, especially when it means we must endure the perception of loss before we can experience the perception of gain.
No metamorphosis is without its own transition, and these transitions involve the meandering continuum of sorrow at the one end and joy at the other.
But enduring the transition is about enduring the shifting sands of perception – and not all perceptions are to be trusted as wise.
Becoming the butterfly is not rejecting the significance of the caterpillar. The organism is simply acknowledging the journey value of each. One manifestation of being takes us so far.
We must let go of some things in order to be able to grasp others. It is hard to take secure hold of two things simultaneously. It appears we have a grip and then it is loosed from us.
We must endure the perception of loss before we can experience the perception of gain. That involves faith in sustaining ourselves in transition. Losing is always part of gaining as gaining has to also be about losing.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.
Photo © Ralph Clevenger/Corbis

Blessings Stored for the Hardships Endured

“You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your record?”
— Psalm 56:8 (NRSV)
We may wonder what is truly of personal value in the eternal realm. We may wonder if what we value in this life lines up with what God values in the next life. And if we are given to many tears, we may ask, legitimately so, what may become of them; what legacy for our anguish?
How might there be reward for suffering? Our faith holds us steadier when we imagine God crowning us in glory with rewards of abundance so glorious we cannot fathom them either here or there.
We may wonder, as God saves up our ‘tears in a bottle’ what that receptacle might look like. Is it like a parent keeping a collage of a child’s artwork on the refrigerator door, before they carefully scrapbook it for a prosperity? Or perhaps God is collecting these tears, all our notes of surrender, and all our meek overtures of submission of spirit, so his Spirit would have its way.
Maybe each emotion, and each resonance of distress, has its own DNA, and together God is making a grand potion for our eternal healing. Could it be that God has written this scroll containing all our deeds and misdeeds, all our ecstasies and pains, and is saving it for that day when we make our approach and enter the gates of Zion?
The Purpose of Such a Hope
God is a thoroughly good God.
For this reason, needing no other reason, we have faith in a Blessed Hope: Jesus. Our Lord, Saviour and King is making for us our eternal home, even if that destination is eternal and unchangeable. Having such a hope gratifies our nature toward the living of life here and now.
With such a hope we have reason to endure the hardships, trials, sorrows, and persecutions; we endure them with regal ardour.
Such a hope will never disappoint us, though some would laugh at us for such a hope. But these people would not laugh if they saw what hope does; what it truly does. It is the elixir for life.
Every grating pain, every silent tear, and every groaning whimper; God has a record of every one of these notations of faithfulness that caused us to bear up whilst not giving up.
We store up our blessings by the hardships we endure. By these torments we bear we have meaning and purpose for life because of the strength in God to sustain us. Even when life can seem so sadistically cruel we can have faith sufficient to keep going. Such faith can never be wrong. God is with us.
© 2013 S. J. Wickham.