Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Using The Serenity Prayer to Cure Resentment

There is one thing that experience teaches us that mere observation cannot. Experience teaches us through changing us, and most people who are changed arrive at a decision point: will this change me for the better or will I become bitter because of what has happened to me.
At such a fork in the road do we arrive, serially throughout life. Some experiences, however, we could not only have done without, they come to shape and then define us.
Actually, all experiences shape and define. We go one way or the other; toward health or disease.
It’s normal and natural to resent certain experiences; those that take us far outside the control we never would surrender. Enter the grief experience. It’s why our first cataclysmic grief experience teaches us so much.
The end of my first marriage was such a time. The end of my entire world came, and a lot of that initial time I was sure that being dead would have been a better option. But God always has a purpose in grief, not that I could see it at the time, other than to have faith in believing there was a purpose.
And we have to believe to get better. If we cannot believe we’re doomed into cynicism or resentment or denial, or some such tributary of hopeless self-condemnation. But we can believe. Believing there’s some purpose in the grief, even if we have no clue what that is (and we won’t know), is the way to arrive at an eventual hope, through faith, via continual expressions of hope.
It’s Not Too Late – It’s Never Too Late
Turning our lives around in the way of viewing that life-shattering grief experience differently is always as quick as starting at our choice.
It’s never too late to change our attitudes to things. Like the rudder on a massive ship changes its direction, our attitude changes the direction of our lives. And from a simple recommitment comes the power to create the change we desire. From a recommitment we enter the process, prepared to change in adapting to the change we resented.
We have much to gain and nothing to lose by challenging our resentment of every unpalatable experience.
Where the Serenity Prayer Fits In
The short version of The Serenity Prayer is commonly used in recovery, so in the present context it works well:
1. grant me the grace to accept the things I cannot change,
2. the courage to change the things I can,
3. and the wisdom to know the difference.
I numbered the lines for ease of working through them.
1.     The experience we resent happened. We didn’t want it to happen. But it did. It cannot be changed. It’s our history. All we can reasonably do is accept it, and we do get there if that’s our goal. So, don’t give up.
2.     We can change if we have the courage to change. And choosing to let something go that we hold a resentment about is something in the domain of the changeable.
3.     Wisdom empowers us to do the thing that leads us away from death by going the way of life. There’s wisdom in accepting experience so it’s not resented and having the courage to replace resentment with hope.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Making Work a Labour of Love

Brother Lawrence said in his Practicing the Presence of God, that “GOD… regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.” (Fourth Conversation)
We may know this is true in the awareness of our own experience of the practice of the Presence of God: that when we purge ambition, and focus instead on doing what small things we do with the grandeur of doing them for Him only, we do experience His veritable Presence.
And then we come back to the irrepressible reality: work is hard, much of it goes unappreciated, and the multipronged demands of the world push us clean into the busyness of despair too many times to honestly reflect. As Richard Ashcroft of The Verve says in their song, Bittersweet Symphony (1997), “… it’s a struggle. Life’s a struggle. And Monday morning may be a struggle for a lot of you in a job that you despise, working for a boss that you despise; a slave to money, then we die. God bless ya.”
Everyone, bar none, has the same living challenge to reconcile: to enjoy work. For life to go well we must work. We cannot escape it. And it’s not just paid work that causes us to lament our lives; it’s those family, community and volunteer roles we can’t get out of or that we overcommitted ourselves to. Somehow, we need to make these tasks feel like they’re labours of love, if we wish to do them well for others, and enjoy them ourselves.
Brother Lawrence’s quote helps. If we do every task with love as we perform them, God will fill us with His Presence more and more.
It takes courage to keep going when living the schedule of life seems murderous. If we break our moments down, live in the moment, enjoy it the best we can, remembering God’s there with us, then we make drudgery into joy.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

One Day’s Depression in a Deluge of Discouragement

Dark clouds descend like smoke over the highway of our day, bringing spiritual progress to a standstill. Purpose wanes mysteriously. Everything becomes an effort.
From where these clouds came from we have no idea. Yesterday seemed so easy in comparison, and it’s likely that tomorrow will seem like a sweet breeze. But then there’s today. Today; it’s horrid.
One day’s depression — a melancholy that shakes all confidence inwardly, though we remain functional for others — comes as a deluge of discouragement. And it’s not always easy to track why. The day before could’ve been a paroxysm of encouragement.
There is something deeply spiritual in the attack of one day’s depression. We know what goes through our minds, and it’s not good. We experience hearts that are unsteady and uncertain. Though we’re able to put up a good front, we’re insecure and anxious, and this is felt within the state of self-consciousness. As we’re honest in what we’re thinking and feeling we’re disconcerted.
Then, during such a day, where capacity is low, though few detect it, there is the reminder that power is accessible and present.
One day’s depression is a spiritual reality reminding us we’re in a spiritual fight in a war against a spiritual enemy. God blesses us most in the calm acceptance we’re weak this very day. He will save us up for a better, stronger day.
We venture into the Psalms, Job, Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah, or 2 Corinthians. And we’re encouraged! Our hope is revived that hope will soon return, and we’re patient in the waiting.
We survive one day’s depression best when we accept our vulnerability, knowing hope will soon return.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Speaking Out the Grief That Threatens to Remain Unspoken

Grief has taught me my emotional range, but just as much it has taught me a paradox; whilst words are inadequate, words are necessary, even as we attempt to make meaning of something that is unfathomable.
Recently we had a dinner for a peer group I’m part of. One of our number had shattering news to share. As she shared the story of her relative’s family ( page here), there was not much that could be said. Two of the three children, it has been discovered, have very short life expectancies. None of us could even begin to resolve what the parents and broader family are going through or how they will cope. We cry foul when anyone is taken prematurely, but when it comes to the lives of children we cannot reconcile it.
None of the following necessarily applies to this family. These are simply ponderings on the speechlessness of grief that requires expression.
Such situations of grief as these leave us flabbergasted, which is appropriate. What could be said? But there is the need to talk about it; to attempt to bring to the surface discoveries of self seeking meaning from what seems meaningless. And even in the event of dredging up unsatisfactory expressions, the mind is engaged, the heart is stretched, and the soul is open, so long as we don’t judge ourselves or others.
Grief that is expressed in safety, without fear for recrimination, is an anguish seeking discovery, for transformation toward healing. Such expression accepts the brokenness resident in loss and never expects communication to reach any halcyon height. And, in that, healing is possible.
Unspeakable grief that is spoken about, audaciously, without fear, is a grief that can be healed, even as it remains, a foe welcomed.
We must own all our emotions, preferring for them a safe harbour instead of stormy seas, and the only way we can do that is to talk about them, honestly, seriously, yet even occasionally with levity.
Our emotions require integrity with who we centrally are.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Depression – Bravery and Safe Exposure for Vulnerability

Mental ill-health is either bigger now than ever or it’s just being reported more — or both. Certainly, there’s less stigma, but the more aware we are of our mental health, the more we’ll feel its bite. Awareness works both for and against us. For instance, noticing the early warning signs of depression helps us respond quicker and more effectively so we recover better. But, equally, the more we think about depression, the more we may be prone to it.
When depression hits there is vulnerability everywhere. At a time when we least wish to be exposed, we find we are, and feeling especially self-conscious, without having the ability to protect ourselves appropriately, we’re easily crushed under the weight of a life that is far too big, at that moment, to manage. It’s like we’re in a chess game and every piece that could protect our king has been taken.
The trouble with this scenario is, because we feel so fragile, we’re likely to isolate and shut out important people in our lives — people who could help — just at a time when we need them most.
Finding safe expression of our vulnerabilities is the way out of depression; the way into healing. We need to problem solve for strategies. And that’s possible only as we speak with caring, compassionate others, who listen and place no time pressure on us to ‘get over it’.
When we’re feeling vulnerable we need a form of safe expression. Such expression must be safe, because when our defences are down we’re most given to self-loathing. Anyone we share with must cherish our openness respectfully. What needs to be appreciated is a person’s bravery to expose their vulnerability, especially when they least wish to be exposed.
In exposing their vulnerability to process their pain, a person afflicted with depression needs to find safe, respectful people to help them.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Enduring the Season of Unprecedented Pain

Death of a loved one is the most obvious loss we can encounter, but, of course, there are many losses that blindside us. Somehow we could not anticipate how gutted we would feel. Such losses bring about unprecedented pain. The pain of brokenness.
Brokenness is a concept that needs no explaining when, within a moment, life changes, and then into a season of soul-confounding reckoning we enter. By a season, I mean months, possibly longer, and certainly with many losses, there is something irrevocable from the moment of loss, onwards.
I recall a colleague of mine some years back losing a directorship in a major company because he was burning out. He couldn’t sustain what they demanded of him. Close to fifty at that point, this emotionally mature man, a respected health professional of over twenty years, had never experienced anxiety and depression beforehand. Suddenly he plunged into an abyss. He lost weight overnight, lost the motivation he usually took for granted, carried fear about with him, and was frequently in tears. He listed in a season of unprecedented pain. He was astonished, given his wealth of experience in corporate wellbeing and psychology!
Grief is a pain unequivocally unprecedented. A suffering that changes everything.
It reflects the cost of the loss. Losing someone we love, a relationship, our livelihood, or the capacity to function; all these and more leave us feeling absolutely wrecked 24/7, sleep (if we can) our only coherent respite.
Endurance, from a pragmatic viewpoint, is about surviving, when much of the time that’s all we can do. Endurance is made a little easier in reaching out, if we can resist the powerful instinct to isolate. Loneliness adds to an already crushing burden. Endurance also requires some recourse to hope. Being around caring others is vital for enduring such a calamitous season.
Be gentle with yourself as you sit, and go gently as you go. Endure the present calamity, for more reasoned days are coming. While you suffer pain you’ve never experienced before, add no burden to yourself. Hold out for hope, for hope never disappoints.

The Curious Thing About Resilience

Esperance, a small city on Western Australia’s south coast, suffered horrendous bushfires in November 2015. Four people died as a result, and several hundred-thousand hectares of land were burned. Asked if the people of the shire had grown in resilience because of the adversity they’d suffered, the shire president said, “No! We were already resilient.” Councillor Victoria Brown is right. Resilience is not primarily something that grows.
The curious thing about resilience is we do not develop it as much as we display it.
Resilience stands as its own testimony of the strength of faith we exemplified in facing an extraneous hardship.
Resilience is nothing without a test. But suddenly, in the presence of a test, it appears or it’s lacking. It all depends on our response at the time, and, if factors within the situation coalesce, an unpredicted strength comes to the fore. Therefore, we should never write anyone off when life turns against them; they may well rise to the occasion, making that rock bottom incident the catalyst for something incredibly inspiring.
Resilience is a gift given in the heat of the blaze itself. As much as God’s enemy cranks up the heat, God supplies strength through faith to endure it.
This ‘resilience’ is the gospel in play in a person’s life, whether they attribute it to Jesus’ resurrection power or not.
The amazing thing about faith is this: through the power of the Holy Spirit we no longer have to accept that our failed efforts for change are wasted. We can impact anything in our lives that we find unacceptable if we have sufficient belief; through accepting resilience’s offer — a self-imposed exile of sacrifice to display resilience — we can change.
Believe for resilience. When life turns upside down, you’re in prime position to show what you’re made of: resilience. But don’t be fooled that resilience is strength in you being strong; it’s simply a strength that continues to believe in the goodness of God when life is at its worst; a robust strength in unparalleled weakness.
Until a bushfire crisis sweeps through our lives we do not know what resilience we have; how that very event will burn off cowardice for courage amid change.
Only in the moment of challenge is the catalyst for change truly revealed.
One thing we can do when life turns south: trust God despite our instinct to run or repel.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Anxiety – Healing When You’re Living a Reality All Too Real

Like an itch in a cavern fathoms within, never able to find it let alone scratch it, the anxiety I faced for a short season never let go. A constant sense of vigilance, a gnawing of the mind, an aneurysm about to explode but one that never does. Anxiety.
There is an anxiety that interrupts social dynamics, one that makes relationships awkward. That’s not the kind of anxiety in view here. What’s in view here is the conscious kind that we carry about with us; that which we wish we could place in a dumpster.
It’s a loathing, a scourge, a brutalising of our mind, a dread, a heaviness that makes of living reality something all too real.
During seasons of change, of challenge, and of character test, there is a piquing of our conscious awareness, as if material normally stowed away from conscious thought bubbles up from the subconscious.
We’re ever conscious of the adversity, and awakening is the test; for those who can sleep, we would rather unconsciousness.
Living a reality that’s all too real is a serious challenge to conscious living. And still it’s a challenge to seek to overcome. And even if it cannot be overcome, our enquiring into it, to learn more about its source and amelioration is never a waste of time.
I’ve found that prayer helps. Taking moments to depart from conscious thinking is not simply relief, it breeds belief that we can shift mental emphases and feel less dogged. But departing from conscious thinking — surrendering thought for mental nothingness — is a discipline. God speaks and helps and heals in those nothing places.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Living the Loving Kindness of Encouragement

It was Ravi Zacharias who said there will always be the need of encouragement to meet suffering in the world, because suffering is ever present.
When we finally recognise that suffering is something we carry about in our being, we understand the need of empathy; of understanding the impact of stressors on people, and their aggressive responses. We understand their implicit need of encouragement. And that’s how we love people — through anticipating some could appreciate the kindness of our encouragement.
Encouragement is given as a gift of our presence through a kind word, gesture, body language or deed, or combination of these. Kindness is never a normal, human default action. Kindness is always creative, an act of giving up part of ourselves for the other person.
The blessings unfold in encouragement because we experience God’s life and power when we choose to give such kindnesses. It’s living like we’re loved so much that that love overflows into the lives of others as love at least some, at the time, will need.
Few need encouragement all the time, yet many need it regularly, and there are always some who need hope to survive.
Experiences of suffering can never be good, unless we regard God’s use of them as instruments that forge compassion.
Suffering generates weakness, which becomes brokenness, which breeds compassion, because if we experience brokenness our hearts are opened to the brokenness probable in others’ lives. That upswell of empathy becomes compassion the moment we agree to do something God’s Spirit leads us to do.
One sure way to love others all the time is to imagine the struggle in their lives is real.
Living the loving kindness of encouragement is love on target, loving people especially when they’re needy. Such love misses no mark.
Sometimes the kindness we give is needed, and it’s okay — great, even! — when it’s not needed. There should never be a moment, however, where kindness is needed and we refuse to deliver when we could.
There will always be a need of encouragement, and such kindness will never return to the giver void.
If you need encouragement today, and there are some who’ll read this who do, God appreciates your faith in Him, the fact that you’re choosing harder responses through the strength His Spirit provides. Well done, good and faithful servant. God is teaching you an empathic love in your struggle that is worthy of the compassion of His Son.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Your Best Response Is Best for You

I write a lot on loss and the grief that comes out of it. I write about my responses, yet hopefully never in ways in which to say, “this-or-that is right and this-or-that is wrong.”
The truth of matters is that your response to your situation is best for you as it is discerned by you, and given the information you have at hand, anyone else would make the same response if they were in your situation.
Your response to loss is as viable as anyone’s. Though you, yourself, may consider it leaves something to be desired, which causes you to seek feedback, and therefore you’re able to improve your response. The point is that you, yourself, are best placed to make an honest self-assessment. But that’s where, as individuals, we can fall short. We make judgments of comparison all the time, when all God requires of us is self-assessment and self-management; to deal with our stuff, not someone else’s.
It needs to be said, however, that there are many responses that are perfectly adequate for the varying situations that these responses warrant. One method works for one person better than that same method will work for another.
Your best response is good enough to get the ball of recovery and restoration rolling.
So, improve if you can, but accept that God has granted you a mind for getting good results from being a little bit different from the next person.
When we finally accept our path to forgiveness or grief or resilience is as viable for us as others’ paths are for them, we feel less pressure to conform to one set way of doing things, and we sense God’s freedom. And that freedom bleeds the blood of love. God has made a plethora of viable ways to reconcile matters.
Love has no pressure for the way of things. It accepts there are thousands of viable ways to do a thing.
Whether it’s forgiveness, grief or resilience, nobody wants your issue reconciled more that you do. You have the best vested interest, so believe in your best method for recovery and give it all you’ve got. Most of all, don’t compare. Keep believing in the recovery of reconciliation.
So, may you be blessed in knowing God is with you, encouraging you to continue going your way. He will never leave you, nor forsake you. And if there is a challenge to your modus operandi, God will challenge you in believing the new method is possible and worth every effort you’ll need to make.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

5 Anxiety Reducing Strategies for Everyday Life

Anxiety is an enigmatic stressor, that generalises fear, creating no path back to its source. And because it’s so pervasive in many of our lives it wreaks compound havoc.
If there is a mental ill more prevalent than depression it must be anxiety. None of us is out of anxiety’s reach, and once we’ve experienced a panic attack, despite learning coping measures to prevent and control them, we’re shocked by both their ever-present immanence and debilitating power.
Additionally, for Christians at least, anxiety is one chief way the enemy, Satan, can disrupt our lives at source.
But here are five ways of intentionality that can help. By intentionality I mean, through awareness and decision all anxiety can be reduced.
1.     Humour – nothing disarms or diffuses anxiety better than humour. Is there any coincidence that some of our best comedians have been racked with mental illness that needed some absurd outlet? Humour helps them and us cope. It lightens the load, whereas seriousness bogs us down in convolutions of fatigue.
2.     Joy – finding something to be thankful for, gratitude breeds joy, and anxiety is brought to null within cognitions that instant. The emotions may lag, but thoughts are given flight for hope. Intentional joy is something that can be practiced. Joy is possible within many circumstances we find opposing. God shows us He is present when we experience the joys of choice when our circumstances are despairing. Why? Because we can. It is possible.
3.     Calm – perhaps the hardest thing ever to do when we’re extremely anxious is to be calm, but our efforts are rewarded in the learning, by applying a deliberate slowdown in our mental, emotional and spiritual energies to reduce their proclivities and sensitivities. Calmness comes with a cost, however, and what we need to be prepared to sacrifice is achievement.
4.     Perspective – reminding ourselves of our due position, from the viewpoint of objective others, can assist. Ours is not the best life, just as it’s not the worst. Life is life, and anxiety isn’t the end of it.
5.     Rest – when all else fails, we look forward to our rest, and there’s no better rest than sleep. This doesn’t account for insomnia, which is something many are thwarted by. But if we can plan to fall asleep exhausted, if that’s possible in the timing, rest is an appropriate escape from the trials of anxiety. Again, rest must become the intention.
All these strategies, as I’ve mentioned, need to be considered with great intentionality.
These strategies are not unconditional winners, for anxiety is enshrined in the human condition, and much anxiety is inescapable.
Anxiety. Makes us doubt, and pushes, our sanity. Sufferers ought to be accepted and understood and forgiven for the states that anxiety reduces them to. It is a darkness descending that hovers as a cloud over the hopes of the day.
Anxiety, like all mental illness, however, calls for a response of intention; to try something different in the coping.