Monday, December 29, 2014

What is Peace and Joy? (40 Possibilities)

Joy and Peace. What of them? How do we define them? How do we access them? What are we to do to ensure they are ours? And if they are some way off, how do we patiently work our way there? This is simply a small list of possibilities. Anyone can think up ways to joy and peace. It’s a great spiritual exercise.
What is peace and joy?
1. Clarity of thought. 

2. Mastery of mind. 
3. The capacity to feel. 
4. The sheer thrill of nature observed. 
5. Holding possibilities in tension. 
6. Being free of bitterness and resentment.
7. Knowing the love of God.
8. Having reconciled the past.
9. Not anxious for the future.
10. Breathing, feeling the lungs.
11. Sensing and perceiving.
12. Prospects for growth.
13. Having options.
14. Acknowledgement of blessing.
15. Counting spiritual riches.
16. Ageing with grace, knowing the best is yet to come.
17. Tracing all the good memories to their source.
18. Having won the race at conception.
19. Seeing the miracle of sight out of the eye.
20. Knowing the wonder of science is from the hand of God.
21. Letting life be.
22. Watching the wonder in a child’s play.
23. Life without comparison.
24. Gardening without time pressure.
25. Following the wheel go around.
26. Appreciating the marvel of motion.
27. Valuing split-second reflexes.
28. Forging sweet alliances.
29. Joy for joy’s sake.
30. Peace, because it can be created.
31. Joy because of peace. 
32. Peace because of joy.
33. Flights of fancy because we can.
34. Hope’s paradox: despair places us at the pivot of hope.
35. Failure: success is meaningless without it.
36. Perfect created order: science commanding the praise of God.
37. Ice cream. So many sensual experiences are good.
38. When vanity is our only concern.
39. Beauty everywhere. Seeing it.
40. Love. Winning a soul to love is peace and joy.
Peace and joy, of course, are supremely connected; we have one and we generally have the other. And not just that. Wait, there’s more. Hope underpins them both. And how did we get to hope but an expressed faith? With love we have power to achieve all these. What we have here is the circle of virtue!
But peace and joy are wonderful in their time. Once we possess them, finding our way to reproduce them almost at will, we go there, keep them, and retain them.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Sailing Out of a Situational Depression

Lulls of life there are in many forms. They so often creep up and emerge upon us before we realise what’s happened. Soon we are looking back from a depressive standpoint, glancing enviously at a recent past that was every bit gorgeous in comparison. What a horrible set-up that is – to be found loathing what our lives have become.
But, what we don’t realise is a short period of depression is not abnormal. Indeed, many people are cast for months into a time of anxious doubting.
There is a big difference between having a season of being depressed; days merging into weeks, and being depressed for six months or more. The psychologists in America classify depressive disorders as something that may be a constant or recurrent issue, but, importantly, anyone can recover if they’re honest and sincerely seek a way forward, and they have support.
Support is critical. That’s where the church fits in. The church should be what the world can’t be – a place to go deeper into the truth of life’s struggles. The struggles are similar for everyone. Nobody in a church environment should be pretending they have it all together. Isn’t the church a hospital? It’s no social club.
The problem of depression accepted, we are now in a place where we might plan forward of a place and time where joy more often becomes us.
Importantly, it’s about pacing ourselves. Some days we’re ahead and some we’re behind. Accepting both is about knowing when to open the curtains and embrace the sunshine and when to rug up inside and rest and cry or sleep.
There’s nothing to feel guilty or ashamed about in going by our instincts to take the day off. What we need to do, however, is strive quietly to see what can be done – and this is such a fine balance. Only we, alone, can decide what that balance is. Thankfully we are able to gain experience and subsequent depressions can be helped by what worked beforehand.
Actually sailing out of the situational depression is something that can’t be forced and shouldn’t be rushed, but, through effective support (mentors, friends, sponsors), we can expect that the voyage has already begun.
The way we think is impacted by the things we do and vice versa.
With courage, we explore the world, embrace what’s new, and speak positively to ourselves in our doubts. We determine to be grateful. Finding the little things of life that we are to be thankful for, we forget about the extent of our losses. The truth we do not deny, but we can afford an excursion if it’s good for us.

© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Awkward, Arduous Journey to and of Compassion

Compassion is no fait accompli. It is not easily accomplished:
“Compassion asks us to go where it hurts, to enter into the places of pain, to share in brokenness, fear, confusion, and anguish. Compassion challenges us to cry out with those in misery, to mourn with those who are lonely, to weep with those in tears. Compassion requires us to be weak with the weak, vulnerable with the vulnerable, and powerless with the powerless. Compassion means full immersion in the condition of being human.”
 Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932 – 1996)
Who would want to journey into the darkness, with intention, with their hope, even in the midst of those who still experience the darkness? The wounded healer does, that’s who.
When we have gone to that lonely place – day upon day, month upon month – with not so much as a glimmer of reprieve, we learn something about life, if we go there and journey there with God.
In that place, that lonely destination of nothingness of soul, where the null remains and patience seems ridiculous, the paradoxical occurs.
We are shown something that can only be seen in the midst of an abyss. Only as life strangles us for life, and we enter a time of death, not wanting to wake from our slumber, can we appreciate this thing called compassion. It makes no sense until we are desperate for it; then we can see everyone’s need of it.
Suddenly, as the eyes of our hearts are opened, as our hearing tunes into all the depth of need all around us, we wish to go with the hurting, the weak, and the vulnerable. Now there isn’t the time or motive to relax with those coasting through life. There is the call of God on the life of the one who has been refined by that incineration of the Lord.
With the capacity to see the need of compassion, and, importantly, the willingness to do what needs to be done, there is the addition of passion: it cannot not be done.
So many needs for compassion arise in this world, and few are the servants willing to go where only the compassionate will go. But the right ones do go, and we pray that the ones who might be extrinsically motivated might think twice.
Compassion can be a harsh taskmaster. It requires an indefatigable commitment, which is importantly inner-wired.  
The journey to and with compassion is awkward and arduous. The only person who should go with the weak, the hurting, and the vulnerable is the person who has endured these things; who has found the way through.
Compassion is no glamorous road. It’s dusty and dirty and it can be drudgery. But praise God that compassion is the only way a wounded healer can go.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Sneaking Up On Anger Before It Sneaks Up On Us

Anger is often a sneaky thing; we aren’t aware of it until it springs up within a presenting injustice. But the trouble is anger may take us over the top and our argument is quickly shot down in an abuse of the other person.
Somehow we have to become aware of the issues generating feelings of frustration, annoyance, betrayal and disappointment before anger becomes manifest.
Anger can be thought of as a response to us lying to ourselves.
If we try to pretend life is all okay when it isn’t, that sadness within will insist on being heard some way. We need to be honest.
Only when we are honest – as we take honesty into our devotional time each day – on the train, bus, or in the car, if need be – will we have enough awareness to think on a solution.
We can only manage our anger if we are being proactive in thinking on a solution. As we think more and more consciously, our unconscious thinking is engaged more and more. When we have our unconscious (or subconscious) minds working on something, we have more of a chance of developing a creative solution to innovate.
The truth is there are many, many possibilities for solutions. We just haven’t thought them up yet.
Sneaking up on something that normally is doing the sneaking up is not as tricky as it sounds. If it’s anger that sneaks up on us, it’s anger we begin to watch for; the mounting sense of frustration, the complaints uttered under the breath, the repose of gratitude, or a sneaking sense of boredom or loneliness, etc.
Being mindful, we take up the habit of watching for ourselves any signs of attitude that precede anger. If our thinking starts to stink (“stinking thinking”) we know what to do. We have to take a proactive step.
With frustration we remind ourselves of the need of patience and we create the opportunity of space.
With complaint we remind ourselves of the great many blessings we have.
With disappointment we remind ourselves that there is a silver lining to every cloud.
With betrayal we remind ourselves that we, too, have betrayed people.
The moment immediately before anger is the last opportunity to arrest the slide. Only a good thinking stratagem will help; one that involves a creative action.
Anger is a justice issue. Think deeply about understanding the injustice and anger will have a solution.
The basic solution to anger is honesty. Honesty dispels anger.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A ‘Thank You’ to Seven Key Mentors

At the end of a big year (and what year isn’t ‘big’?) there are always people to thank – for being there for you, by your side, to journey with you, to listen, to advise, and to help you not give up when you feel you want to. Over the past two years there have been seven significant mentors I want to thank and acknowledge, but I will not mention them by name. Four of the mentors were male, three female. All of them are older than me.
Mentor 1 played a regular role in listening and asking the sorts of probing questions I hadn’t asked myself. This person also had a way of affirming the right things; those things I should focus on that I was already doing well at. This mentor was also very real about human frailty in her personal experience.
Mentor 2 I saw every three months. He’s known me from the beginning of my faith journey, but we only reconnected last year. He’s got a fantastic pastoral heart. His experience on forgiveness, grace, church life, and discernment he shares liberally – making him a classic mentor. He always seems to use his experience to inform me regarding the problems I have pastorally.
Mentor 3 is a person you get the impression can see through you. We all need one of these people in our lives, especially for the times we are tempted not to be real. She has a quiet and an inquisitive way. She is a pastoral supervisor too. This person has crafted the skill to move into the role of the moment and to be faithful to the role.
Mentor 4, like all the others, has huge ministry experience, and he is incredibly relational and humble. He’s also quite a passionate person (a bit like me) and loves extravagantly without losing his realness. He’s not been afraid of telling me what I need to hear, but he’s got a very respectful approach (which is something that really helps me).
Mentor 5 I’ve known very closely for the past eight years. He’s been able to see more of me in the flesh than any of the others. He knows the real me better than the others too. With over three decades in ministry, he’s been around the block enough times to have an instinct for when things are right and wrong. I can ‘vent’ with this mentor, which I find incredibly valuable.
Mentor 6 is the ‘journey with’ mentor who is never officially a mentor, but as you look back was there at all the right points, just doing little things to affirm and encourage and empower. She is versatile in ministry, with over two decades experience, very generous by nature, wise and compassionate. She is a very real person who invites those around her into their own realness.
Mentor 7 is a CEO-type, an innovator, and a person I can learn from regarding people strategies and networking. Somehow there is gold on his tongue every time we meet, which isn’t regular.
Mentors are there for you, by your side, to journey with you, to listen, to advise through the sharing of their experience.
Mentors don’t tell us what to do, but they do journey with us as if they were wearing our very shoes.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Doctor, Do You Hear Me?

“The manner in which a message is conveyed makes a massive difference to whether it is heard or accepted.”
 — Sarah Wickham
It appears that some people have it and some don’t. Some professionals have it. Some don’t. Some shops do, and some don’t. Some get the idea of ‘customer service’ – including the heart of the matter – and some don’t. Even when people do the things required of good customer service, we can tell whether they mean what they say or do or not.
At a routine post-birth check-up yesterday, we were met by a consultant who was ‘cool’ and detached from our reality. He listened to us, but we knew he wasn’t interested. He listened to us but he did not hear us. He did not have a motive to understand.
This encounter reminded us of other key interactions that have impacted us negatively.
It’s horrible when people pretend they are interested and actually they aren’t.
We waste our time and vocal energy at best. We feel betrayed at worst. And the more influence a person has to either help us or hinder us increases the impact.
People who engage in such antipathy – pretending they hear, understand and care – only shoot themselves in the foot. They use their influence negatively and are, in the end, thwarted. There is no enduring power for good, and so God simply won’t bless them, though they may appear ‘blessed’ in the short term. The worst is yet to come for them.
On Hearing, Understanding and Caring
The gifts of shepherding, mercy, pastoral care, encouragement, etc, should be employed by all, simply because they increase the favour experienced in our total orbit; ours and others’.
Why should we? If we are committed to the truth we will not deal deceptively. We will endeavour to not lead people to think we are hearing when we aren’t. We won’t waste their time or trample their dignity.
Hearing people is a blessing to them and us. People generally reciprocate the care we give them. To understand someone is to learn something; it is to be enriched.
Why would we not care when, with just a little more effort, we can hear them, seek to understand them, and care?
It is blessed to hear, to understand, to care. Everyone is blessed.
To listen, to hear, to understand, to care; these are the spiritual privileges of life.
If we hold any influence in life – and we all do! – our best opportunity is to discharge that influence with responsibility and care.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Wallowing Unapologetically In Grief

The hardest part of life is grief involved in loss. Suddenly life is irrevocably changed and there’s nothing we can do about it. We would do anything to have life back the way it was. How can it be that such a comparatively small component of life that is lost can totally overwhelm us? We’ve lost one person and we have many other loved ones, perhaps, but this one loss consumes us.
Grief is illogical until we realise how final loss is. We have loved and lost. What is lost may never be returned to us. It’s final. The only option is to adjust to the new reality; to accept what, for a time, is totally unacceptable.
It may seem a cruel irony but we are well advised to wallow unapologetically in our grief. If it’s necessary that all our emotions be attended to, and it is, we are best advised to let the avalanche of anguish make its full roll over us. We will feel smothered in sorrow; contorted in anger; driven to bargain; confused, upset, and given to divert our attention onto less healthy pursuits.
What is most important is attending to the truth. It hurts. It’s agony. It’s crucial, therefore, to have our times alone and our times with others where we sob uncontrollably.
To lose ourselves to our emotions for hours or days is no sin; on the contrary, it’s liberating for our souls to be true to themselves.
If we wish to partake in our healing, to allow God’s Spirit to do what only the Lord in us can do, because we have surrendered our pride, we need to be courageous enough to let go.
We find that safe place at home on a Friday or Saturday night. We take a bath. We curl up in front of the fire. We lay in bed. We spend time with a friend – one who’ll really listen if we wish to talk. Whatever we choose to do we give ourselves to the process of feeling all the pain we can, enrolling the fullest surrender and release into the adhering to our anguish.
Critically, we take God in there with us. As we sob and bawl we pray. We communicate with God in whatever way feels comfortable, knowing no mood or words are offensive to the Lord who knows our pain.
Scared of expressing the fullness of our grief, we limit the work of God’s grace to heal us. Better to wallow unapologetically, fully, with courage, honouring the truth of our loss.
© 2014 S. J. Wickham.