Thursday, June 26, 2014

Healing that Warm Wash of Shame

As shame washes over us, it leaves us innately fearful and vulnerable in some of the worst kind of ways. Shame means we are inherently disconnected and it leaves us feeling intrinsically unworthy, and whether those shameful feelings are even vindicated is beside the point. We may feel shamed when there is no reason at all to be ashamed. But much of the shame response comes from deep within and it is caused whenever we feel disconnected socially.
So, whenever we feel out of place socially – in any context, whether it is in our leisure, or at the workplace, or even at home – we are experiencing shame. That is, those feelings of deep unworthiness, which are inside all of us, because of our disconnection. When we are feeling such shame we cannot really add value the way we would like to; we are incapable of it; the faculties of confidence are shaken too far.
One of the keys of life, then, is to become aware when we feel disconnected and to be able to receive God’s empathy in that moment, for:
“Empathy is the antidote to shame.”
— Brené Brown
Brené Brown is a researcher in the area of vulnerability and shame, and she has empirical data that proves the principle: empathy can ameliorate shame.
Receiving the healing we need in the moment, having felt that heinous warm wash of shame all over us, having felt dirty because it, is achieved when we receive that empathy of God. Essentially, we need to connect with God in the moment, by hearing him say something positive and reassuring. This is where a vibrant and prayerful relationship with God is most beneficial.
Only having connected with God can we be healed of shame. But, of course, God often provides a wise guide, a counsellor, a mentor, or a therapist who can issue us the empathy we need. Such empathy is the acceptance of us, in and within ourselves, no matter what we have done or how lowly we see ourselves.
The simple empathic fact is we are all acceptable people. It doesn’t matter the shame we carry. In God’s sight we are white as snow because of our Saviour.
It’s helpful to understand that shame is a much broader emotional response than feeling ashamed. We feel guilt for the wrong we have done or the right we have not done, but we feel shame because of the unworthiness we feel; because of who we are. Shame is a direct attack on our personhood.
Shame is the emotional manifestation we experience for feeling relationally disconnected, which translates into feelings of unworthiness. But empathy is the antidote to shame. This is why the best therapists are known for their emotional safety, which translates into unconditional acceptance for their clients.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Honest Truth About Lying and What To Do About It

Lying is everywhere. It is so prevalent. We all lie. Even so-called ‘good people’ lie – it is in our fallen nature to lie.
So we can understand, as persons desiring morality, that lying is something we need to ward against, actively, every day, so that more and more we are people with integrity. That is, what we are really feeling and thinking aligns with our actions, which really means we work on our feeling and thinking so it is no longer pathological, as far as we can help it.
In determining the way to integrity the following truth is of great benefit to know:
“Lying is an attempt to bridge the gap of our wishes and fantasies, to connect our wishes and our fantasies about who we wish we were, how we wish we could be, with what we are really like.”
— Pamela Meyer
We lie most of all because there is a gap between our fantasies and the facts of our lives. If we can connect with those conscious and unconscious wishes and fantasies, we are most likely to be able to spot the liar in us. And when we go on such a journey with God – to acknowledge our moral weaknesses of identity – then we may also see where others might be tempted, but we will also empathise with them. They have the same problems we do. We are in this together.
Lie spotting has as its goal – from the virtuous point of view – the integrity of ourselves and of others. We want to protect everyone’s integrity as much as we can. We want to give the benefit of the doubt wherever we can. We want to ensure that we don’t expose people to temptations they have weaknesses for, if we know them, just like we want to stay away from temptations dangerous to us. And if they are doing this for us, everyone wins, because love is known in how we consider and protect one another where we can.
If we wish to live well we will seek to nurture integrity. Humility. Courage. Honesty. Sacrifice. And more. We will be honest about our inherent lack of honesty. We will enjoy the truth, which is not an enjoyable one. We will acknowledge those weaknesses of our wishes and desires, whether conscious or unconscious.
Once we acknowledge what our wishes and desires are, and we are honest about how we are tempted to tell a lie, we are well positioned to keep this information at the forefront of our thinking and acting.
When we live with our weakness at the forefront of our being, though not letting it shift our confidence, we have the truth, and that truth will set us free.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.
Acknowledgement: to Pamela Meyer.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Consolation in Grief’s Inconsolable Contrition

Contrition is a state of emotion where we are overtaken by a life-ending grief and it is possible that anyone may be plunged into it anytime. None of us can truly take life for granted (though we do), but equally none of us should get preoccupied by the possibility for such an event occurring, though it probably will at some point. We are best taking life as it is, each day a day at a time.
But, when we venture into what I call an inconsolable contrition – a sense for sorrowful remorse – for one of many myriad of reasons – we are bound to question everything and we are likely to find no satisfactory answers.
We are very likely to be polarised in our faith. We will either run to God or run from God, and only the former method finds any sort of respite.
In being vanquished in many ways, not least spiritually, the effects of inconsolable contrition can hardly be contemplated; they can only uniquely be described; but they can be survived. The truth is there are many situations and outcomes of life that can come in to squeeze us out. Those who read these words, and who have had such an experience, know exactly what I’m talking about. What we have experienced is nothing short of an abomination. We would quickly wonder how God could allow us to go through such pain. But to issue such a challenge to God is to miss the point by a hundred and eighty degrees.
God is the only hope for consolation in inconsolable contrition. And the way we get there, to receive consolation in our inconsolability, is to take nothing else in there with us. This means we need to survive the peril alone with God, with no other idols in sight. The moment we run to something worldly to help in our pain (alcohol, illicit drugs, food, pornography, etc) is the moment the Holy Spirit flees.
But when we can pour our hearts out as the libation for the reality we are suffering, we, in our honouring of the truth, draw toward God.
When we are in anguish we cannot hold back the emotions, so the emotions should be freely expressed, and the emotions should be true to how we truly feel. Part of the therapeutic value of tears, for instance, is highlighted:
There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.
— Washington Irving (1783–1859)
Given that true emotions have great power, why would we use coping mechanisms that flat out fail? There is no sense in choosing to remain strong when God is calling us, by our circumstance, to a true bearing-up of weakness. Our strength will be washed away and weakness will be our only choice.
Grief retains the essence of inconsolable contrition – the sorrowful remorse that life has changed irretrievably. Stark and polarising emotions become our inescapable reality. There is only one valid option: to be real each moment and pray for strength for each moment... It won’t always be bad.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, June 23, 2014

When the Truth is Spoken in Love

I had the most unusual encouragement recently. Part of my job, at the time, I was not doing so well in. When two people approached me, and had the courage and love to come and confront me about it (speaking the truth in love), I was brought face to face with a humiliating reality. They weren’t there to seek my help, for me to minister with them, as most people did. They were there to rebuke me.
And I was soon to learn that I deserved this rebuke.
The experience, within that moment itself, was horrible. I had this whole body hot flush that I had not experienced in some time. Yet, this was such a clean pain; a sort of pain I (ironically) encourage people to bear and to journey with. As a result of my admittance that I had let people down (there was no good hiding from it or getting angry) they offered to help me. But for a moment there I was staring my demise in the face, and I couldn’t even reconcile what possibly I had done wrong.
The courage and love that was shown to me was pure and God-led; a biblically obedient act – for which I am truly thankful. As I committed to learning much more in this area that they highlighted that I was deficient in I knew I would get the chance to work on making amends. God always makes those opportunities available to the willing recipient of his empowering grace.
The main point in receiving bad news well – and a rebuke is bad news so far as human beings experience it – is to hold the moment by resisting pride, which is about making excuses and finding scapegoats with which to handle the responsibility for outcomes we do not wish to own.
I don’t think anybody likes to hear what we call negative feedback. It sticks in our throat. It elicits a physical aversion, which is a powerful physiological reaction of flight, freeze, or fight. And that hot flush reaction!
I wanted to defend myself, because I was the last person who wanted to be found culpable. Yet when the truth is presented there is no need and nowhere to hide. One thing we must love about God’s truth is that once the light has shone upon the darkness that darkness cannot continue to exist as darkness.
The pain involved in bearing the moment of truth – a horrible revelation – that will force us into transformation if we surrender to it (and how could we not?) – is excruciating. But such excruciating pain does not kill us. On the contrary, what seems harsh is intended for good.
When truth is spoken in love, and loving light is shed upon the darkness, there is nowhere and no need to hide. Growth is on the cusp of experience. The truth reveals the way. And love makes palatable the journey.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Blindsided By Betrayal, Grappling Past Grief

Hardly a day different in all your experience,
So normal it is you were actually bored,
Then they come in and blindside you,
And suddenly you’re shifted,
From where you’ve been moored.
You land in a grief so poignantly blue,
Where uncertainties of fact are so horribly true.
Grappling, groaning, weeping inside,
You cannot seem to find a way not to hide,
It seems to take an age to find your way through,
But don’t lose hope for God to make you new.
“You shouldn’t have to wake up day after day after that, trying to understand how in the world you didn’t know.”
— Frances (recently divorced), Under the Tuscan Sun (2003)
Recovering from divorce is a complex process. It is a grief all its own – betrayal, loss, confusion of identity, rejection, inferiority, and more, all rolled into one.
No wonder a person who has just lost not only their marriage, but their best friend and soul mate, and the father or mother of their children, all in one foul swoop.
When we have been blindsided by betrayal, there is a certain level of vulnerability that just becomes us. This vulnerability either exposes us in ways that makes us uncomfortable or we approach vulnerability like it’s a breath of fresh air – it liberates us.
Recovering from something as heinous as divorce is compromised only by the fear to tread. Somehow, as we stride through the day, some days worse than others, and some just horrendous, we are given ideas and strength for boldness. It is up to us.
But the confusion of those days where we are immobile is too much, and days for bed and sofa and the garden are what they are.
There is always a reframing that occurs when we have been so betrayed that we have found ourselves to stop believing in goodness and faithfulness.
In recovery we have hopefully found that recounting the reasons to trust was vital in getting back into the saddle. Somehow the cost of staying as we are is overcome by the benefit of taking that risk.
Recovery – grappling past grief – is indicated when there is an embracing of risk that is based in the fruit of the Spirit; joy, peace, goodness, love, etc.
Divorce can, and often does, break us. But being broken is not the end. It’s often the very beginning. Somehow, something emerges in us that is pliable and compassionate and kind. Sometimes the end beckons in a new beginning.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Conversation Versus Communication

Surprising as it seems, there is much more to communication than simply speaking – the transmission of the message. There’s the receipt of the message and the commensurate quota of accuracy, give or take, all to be taken into account. There are so many barriers to good communication.
There are two opportunities in communication: firstly, there is the opportunity to transmit, to receive, and to ensure there is understanding. Secondly, there is the opportunity for choice.
It seems that if we boil our communication down to these two goals – ensuring there is understanding and space for choice – and these two alone, we will have our communication rightly aligned, rightly motivated, and oriented for success. We will actually achieve the communication we set out to communicate.
But then it comes down to the format of the communication.
Conversation is always the superior way, though so many communications these days are done over email, phone, and social media.
It’s okay if the issues being communicated are transactional – merely sound bytes of data from one person to another, group to group, or other mix of entities.
But as soon as the communication needs to enter the transformational, and there are nuances and feelings and thoughts to be communicated, conversation (real conversation) has no equal.
When it comes to quality communication, there is no substitute for real conversation. It really becomes an imperative.
When conversation is entered into to the point that the opportunity for understanding is elucidated – where two minds become of one accord to the information discussed, though not necessarily do they agree – there is the second opportunity: to create choice, which is empowering.
When it comes to creating a shared understanding, transactional communication won’t get us all the way there; we will need a conversation, which takes us into the realm of picking up the nuances.
The conversation is a transformational encounter between two people, where one or both can grow. Indeed, through the transformational encounter understanding is likely and the choices are made clearer and more concise. Most human relationships are benefited by such raw commitment of two (or at least one) to actively connect.
Therapeutic conversation is the art form that requires one to facilitate meaning for the other. Once understanding is achieved there is the opportunity for choice. We cannot produce either understanding or consideration of the choices through communication, unless it’s via conversation.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.
Acknowledgement: to David Michie, counsellor and pastoral supervisor.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Forgiveness, the Antidote to the Poison of Bitterness

“Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”
Corrie ten Boom (1892–1983)
Withholding forgiveness, even to the point of a delay, to entertain bitterness on the patio of sullenness, is to take a poison of choice. That poison is anger. The antidote for anger is forgiveness.
Unforgiveness is the act of the will to engage in and journey with anger.
To hold to anger, notwithstanding how passive it is, is a bad and poisonous choice. We may know this by the adverse consequences that play out because of our anger. Anger is the choice to surrender control and to allow the possibilities for undesirable consequences. Anger tricks us into believing we have control when actually we don’t.
Anger is self-indulgence; it’s the choice taken to become self-righteous.
Utilising Old-Fashioned Transactional Analysis
Understanding the archetypal ego states of transactional analysis (child, adult, and parent) helps us resist anger – to know its limited usefulness in the mode of what would otherwise be loving, communicative relationships.
When we react emotionally in our child states and we parent the other person’s child and they parent our child and so on and so forth anger is propagated.
The only solution is to revert back to our adult state every single time, and this is done by simply doing it time after time, even when to respond in anger seems the only just response. If we believe by faith that anger only leads to evil, and that a patient response is a better bet, we have much better chances of getting our relational transactions right.
Resolving to Not Get Angry
If we are able to work on ourselves, in the mode of learning from our relational transactions with others, we will quickly deduce that resolving to not get angry is a wise character development investment.
If we have restrained our anger and we are able to reason with ourselves the paucity of good things that come from anger, we can see that everyone benefits – not least us, ourselves – when we keep our cool.
No matter how much we think anger is out of our control it is still a choice. When we commit to deal with our anger – both instinctive and latent anger – we are on a journey toward the most intrinsic blessing.
Unforgiveness is the act of the will to engage in and journey with anger. The antidote for anger is forgiveness. To forgive is to maximise our real control over our destiny.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Journey to Virtuous Leadership

Adolf Hitler was a great leader, and very effective and truly inspiring. It proves the point that not all leaders are good leaders; indeed, some are downright evil.
Everyone has the opportunity to rise to the challenge of leadership, because everyone provides leadership at some time or other. Bosses are leaders, but so too are mothers in the home, fathers, as well as students who are given responsibility. Indeed, any person with responsibility is a leader. We are leaders even as we lead ourselves diligently.
The key challenge, then, is to become a virtuous leader.
The Elements in Virtuous Leadership
Virtuous leadership is dependent on wholeness, integrity, and perseverance.
If there is one thing we want to move toward it is to become whole. Wholeness, as a vehicle for life, is experienced when we can give more than we take. Whole people no longer need to take. It is gratitude that brings people to wholeness.
Indeed, gratitude is the only thing that moves us toward wholeness.
The more we wish to give, the less needy we are.
A second goal is that of growing toward integrity. People with integrity can be trusted. We can leave them in the room by themselves to do the work assigned to them. They can work unsupervised. What brings people to integrity is humility. And humility is engendered through serving. We need to be able to ask ourselves, “What am I ‘too good’ to do?” Humble people aren’t too good to do anything; they cheerfully go about their work no matter what it is.
The third goal is that of growing in perseverance. People who are unable to persevere may be very sincere, so it isn’t insincerity that is the problem. What helps our perseverance is faithfulness – the ability to keep doing the right thing. This is the quality of reliability, and again, trustworthiness.
The outcomes of virtuous leadership are threefold.
Firstly, those with integrity are able to be courageous, as we acknowledge this truth: Courage isn’t the absence of fear; it is the absence of self. When we have integrity issues of compromise don’t get a look in. Fear is subjugated.
Secondly, those who have wholeness are generous people; they are generative, creative types. They are always constructing and building. They always want to give more than they take.
Thirdly, those who persevere end up becoming wise, and it is at this point that we need to acknowledge the growth away from foolishness. As perseverance has exceeded sincerity, wisdom also does what needs doing through the best of decisions, one after another.
When we hear God right, we hear that our greatest responsibility and privilege is to lead well, which is a virtuous leadership. Whether we are children or adults, students or teachers, employees or employers, parishioners or pastors matters little. They are all required to provide leadership. We all have the opportunity to be an example.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.
Acknowledgement: to Pastor Erwin McManus, teacher at Mosaic Church, teaching on Ethos.

Monday, June 16, 2014

The Worst Thought – The Best Outcome

Human limitations are found commonly rooted in the lack of agency to decide and do what must be done. There is one word that transforms all of life: surrender.
But it depends on how we surrender and what to. Wisdom is the difference.
Surrender, ordinarily, as far as the world can gauge, is the worst thought a human being can think. Why would we want to surrender our will when our will is the only thing we have control over? Yet, our will get us into more trouble than it’s often worth. Our will lacks diligence, it is undisciplined, and generally wants to take the short route every time.
Our will is selfish. But God’s will is holy; it’s absolutely supreme.
When we surrender our will, and not just in thought and action, but the very motive of control itself, we find ourselves in freedom – we are free from the constraint of needing to control what we think we control, but don’t actually, ever.
Surrender for the Only Freedom Available
The gospel paradox amounts to this: the only freedom available requires surrender.
The world cannot understand this, and far too many Christians are perplexed by what Christ actually requires: pick up your cross and follow me. They see only the requirement and not what God offers in return, which makes any surrender we offer pale into insignificance so far as personal cost is concerned.
The worst thought – to surrender our will and desire God’s – no matter what – brings the best outcome – genuine spiritual freedom.
Even by what we think and how we think, considering how insignificant many aspects of life really are, gives us perspective regarding the power experienced in a humble, nonchalant, willing surrender. We don’t need to wrangle with the world and have our own way, as if God requires us to fight for him. And God is not necessarily fighting for us every battle, either.
When we let the world be as it is, then we have the capacity to jump over the world, including every pathetic barrier put in our way.
The more we can learn to surrender, when we would normally cling on, the more we will experience this peace that transcends understanding.
When things in life become more important than what they really are we are advised to take a close look at ourselves. Are we surrendering our freedom because we refuse to surrender? We are making life harder than it needs to be.
The simpler our perspective the more dynamic we are, because petty things don’t bear an unworthy concern.
We surrender our freedom because we refuse to surrender. To surrender might be the worst thought, but it always leads to the best outcome: God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.