Saturday, December 31, 2016

Don’t Feel Like You Can’t Have Another Go

New Year is themed with vision for the achievement of hopes and dreams otherwise cast off as unachievable from years past. A New Year, a new opportunity.
For myself, personally, I’ve failed more goals than I’ve accomplished over the last several years. I’m always setting goals, not just at New Year. It seems that there is a bigger picture to these failures; something more important to learn.
I’ve learned not to cruel myself for failing. Difficult things will occasionally prove too difficult or poorly timed or inadequately resourced. The key is in the learning. But if we’re still stuck in that land of disappointment, or we genuinely doubt we could pull it off, then there’s no hope. One go and we’re done. We may be missing something in giving up one effort too soon.
Two pieces of wisdom from Sir Winston Churchill that I’ve always loved:
“Success consists of going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.”
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
New Year is a natural time to reflect.
It’s a time to go back to the drawing board, and from our life’s context, design a blueprint of development. Such plans are not pipedreams as much as they are a purpose to live our lives for.
So, don’t feel you can’t have another go at it. Hoping in faith for a change we want to effect is 100 percent better than having no belief at all.
Achieving a life improvement goal is an unknowable journey with an unforeseen destination. Keep believing despite failure.
Failure is merely an activator for resilience. Resilient people persist beyond failure.
And by resilience we will achieve many things we thought we could not. That’s a purpose to live for.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Why Afflictions of Anxiety are not Faith’s Failure

“Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ.”
— C.S. Lewis (1898–1963)
C.S. Lewis is talking in context of Jesus’ Gethsemane.
The point he makes is that Jesus could not have known that the cup would pass from Himself and at the same time known it wouldn’t. Anxiety’s like that. Having a hope that isn’t a hope at all, like the stay of execution, doesn’t help at all, because though we might realise we have no hope, we cannot help but bargain — having hope when we really shouldn’t. They’re fleeting thoughts that break through into our experience when life is unpalatable. They tease, because they offer something unreal, until, that is, we consciously see the fallacy.
As Christians, as with many who may have another faith, as with anyone really, we do have mini Gethsemane moments all the time. None of us is routinely under the threat of death, like Jesus was, but none of us knows the time of our death. Jesus did. If we were at Gethsemane we might have an inkling that we were about to be arrested, but we wouldn’t know as Jesus did that we were on a collision course with death.
We live lives that are, by their nature, uncertain. As Lewis put it, to “live in a fully predictable world is not to be a man.”
Anxiety cannot be a sin as in a lack of faith. It is far too common to human experience to be relegated as such.
Besides, anxiety, like all mental trials and illness, is just so complex. We cannot even contemplate helping someone, not least ourselves, unless we know fully all the subtleties of the individual life. And doing that is no mean feat!
Further information: Lewis, C.S. Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (Harcourt Publishers, 1963, 1964), pp. 41-42.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Small Changes, Every Day, Real Change’s Only Days Away

The end of every year is a natural time to reflect on what’s gone and to ponder what’s coming. In reflection, there are things we can accept. In pondering, there are things we want to change.
I’m working on three things I want to do less, and three things I want to be more.
It has occurred to me recently that the signs are good I’m ready for change. I’ve made small changes that I didn’t even decide to make consciously. The thought entered my mind — that would be good — and I practiced it twice or three times, and the habit’s already in the shape of the making.
If we seek to change anything,
our habits spring to the forefront.
Change is about habit challenge and conquest. We cannot change if we don’t challenge our habits, and changing our habits necessitates a conquest. Change doesn’t occur unless we’re relentless.
Relentlessness is nothing if not a building force of enquiry and action in the direction of our goals. Small changes, made every day, prove that innovation energises confidence, and that confidence bolsters commitment.
As we plunge through the waves on the tempestuous ocean of life, journeying from distal and familiar lands on the past horizon, we get marooned on lands of unhelpful habit that are maintained in the present. We will need to embark on a fresh voyage away from familiar lands if we’re to install change into our lives.  
Commitment honours the intent of change, and confidence flourishes when commitment is solid. Small changes done every day show underlying commitment and are the way to build confidence.
Small changes that stick are better changes than large changes that don’t.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Stirrings of God In Lonely Contemplation

Far too much of the time we’re too busy to fall into loneliness, and in busyness we’re further from God than ever, for God is in the silence of loneliness. That is the beginning…
“This is the work of the soul which most pleases God…
Do not let up then, but labour at it until you feel longing. For the first time you do you find only darkness and, as it were, a cloud of unknowing.”
— Cloud of Unknowing (Anonymous)
Of course, finding God may begin there, but enjoying God’s Presence doesn’t end there.
We must be ready to arrive in the lonely place — the cloud of unknowing — which is not a hard place for many to arrive at. There, in that place, where the soul feels dark and all alone, supplant emptiness with love. Not by knowledge or memory or any other external thing. Allow the emptiness you feel to be replaced with the warmth that can only come through a meeting with God’s Spirit. Feel warmth. Feel aglow.
Simply feel it.
It’s simpler than you think. Without adding anything, right in that lonely spot of being, feel horridly alone, with such a great longing that cannot be healed, feel it.
Feel love. Feel loved. Feel loving.
These are the stirrings of God’s Presence that are so simple we miss them unless we keep it simple. Complication is the enemy of experiencing God.
Christmas can be the loneliest place on earth. Yet the loneliest are closest to experiencing God’s Presence, for love’s longing craves what only God can give.
In seconds of loneliness, the moment of hollow anguish, be warmed at the fire of love.
Don’t be afraid if you cry or feel overwhelmed. It’s God’s felt Presence that creates that integrity in us. We no longer need to act differently to how we feel. And as feeling emerges, in being moved, transition from emptiness into warmth.
In being moved by love’s warmth you’re experiencing God coming close inside you.
Rest in that.
Despite feeling overwhelmed, rest.
Once you’ve found it, you may return anytime, so cherish your loneliness.
No amount of knowledge about God can compare with the smallest experience of God.
Postscript: I have found closeness with God most paradoxically when I should have felt farthest away. When life was nothing like it should have been, and when it was everything I hated, there, in the midst of that pain, was God. At my surrender.
So, surrender. All your brokenness. Then, once inspired of God, go and do His loving will.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

You Need Rest, So What’s Stopping You?

For many, the title alone is imposing, because so many of us have experienced the need of rest alongside its impossibility. Finding the time or opportunity — we’ve tried and tried, but so often we’ve been thwarted. Or sometimes we’ve actually made the space to rest, but our mind wouldn’t switch off.
The burdens of the past or future continued to toll a bell that rang so loudly in our present we found resting futile.
Don’t give up so easily.
Rest is a fickle thing, or at least it seems that way. Closer to the truth, rest is a habit. It’s like how God taught me how to nap for alertness — it was all in the relaxation routine I could put my eye lids through. It took me a year to learn how to lose consciousness in a minute. Rest is something we have to actually learn. We have to be willing to press in and engage in it. God will teach us if we’re willing to make the room to learn.
We have to persist in learning how to quiet the mind. We’re blessed when we’re in touch with the physiological act of slowing our heart rate through focused mindfulness.
If we struggle to engage in rest, beyond excuses (which are all too easy to find and vocalise), we need to ask ourselves if we believe in it; in its benefits; in having the capacity to achieve it; in making the efforts required to give rest a chance. Belief could be our challenge.
But rest is easy to believe in. We all know it works. But it’s only as we truly journey with rest, over the years, that God teaches us the multiplicity of creative and recuperative blessing in it. Through rest is more of the fruit of the Spirit: peace, joy, gentleness, self-control certainly.
Tomorrow morning, real early, I’m going to the beach. Only for a few hours. But it’ll be enough for God to reconnect me with my spirit and my soul. God’s Presence will prove real in some surprising way. Something new will happen, and the smaller that thing, the better for my soul. I’ll sit there on my little sand-level chair, with a snack and a beverage, a pen and some paper. And, there, get lost.
Rest is a rewarding activity, spiritually, which helps us emotionally and mentally.
So come again to the question: what’s stopping you? Depart. Disappear.
Disappear for a few moments and you learn the world works just fine without you.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

When All You Should Do Is Be Gentle With Yourself

I am doing the best I can with what I have
in this moment and that is all I can expect
of anyone including me.
Reflect over those words. They are words of high wisdom in several circumstances of life. Situations like the moments and days after sudden news, at times of imminent loss, when the unanticipated moment is cast forth, breaking-in to our experience. On whole days when, we may feel we should be over the grief, but it assails us as painfully as ever. At times when we’re overwhelmed for some reason, whether that reason can be explained or not.
At times like that:
I am doing the best I can… we only have the present moment and the attributions of our best perception with which to adapt to. We’ve made an assessment of everything we have and we give it all the best we can. We’re all doing the best we can given who we are.
… with what I have in this moment… the resources we have at any time can often be improved as we draw on any energy reserves we have. But when those energy reserves are already maxed out, where we have what we have and nothing more, it’s time to back off the pressure and be gentle with ourselves.
… that is all I can expect of anyone including me. It is. We cannot expect ourselves or anyone else to ‘snap out of it’ just because it makes us feel more comfortable. Sure, a person might respond to that sort of pressure out of fear, but it’s nowhere near the best way to deal with emotions that cannot bear reality.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Wisdom Between ‘Truth’ and Suspicion

Image: The Telegraph, UK.
With fake news littering social media, legitimate news is a currency in high demand for those who care for genuine truth.
Many millions of likes, comments, and shares have driven unnewsworthy material (literally, stories) into every social media users’ newsfeed. This has caused every user to confuse fake news for real news, and vice versa, often with the added insult that sensational stories (the more untruthful, the more sensational, as general rule) have dominated the available space, gaining maximal coverage. And because social media algorithms favour popular stories, fake news has proliferated unimaginably.
The issue of fake news has caused some to become increasingly suspicious, and especially cynical, but the opposite is also true.
Fake news is written and propagated to favour our biases, so ‘the system’ knows how to pique our interest to rally us or to rile us; to generate an emotional response from us. From this context, what a torturously despicable playground social media has become!
The object of this short piece is to explore the wisdom that lies between the perception of truth and the temptation toward an attitude of distrusting suspicion, granting that there’s a role for appropriate suspicion, which is a type of wisdom I’m exploring.
An overweening desire for too much truth can lead us to be too suspicious. We may discredit truth because we don’t like what it’s saying. It doesn’t agree with our partialities. That’s the opportunity to hold ourselves to short account, but that can be a bar too high at times.
The opposite is also true. Too often we’ll be tempted to elevate material that agrees with our biases to the halcyon position of ‘truth’. Sometimes our prejudices are so strong, our thinking is deceived, and our secret predispositions are allowed to emerge, because we love the overall message of the ‘truth’ we believe and, therefore, espouse.
In this post-postmodern era, the strength of bias is very strong. The way the world couches information nowadays, it’s sometimes impossible to discern the difference between truth and a lie. Truths are exaggerated making them false. Falsities are sprinkled with truths to make them influential. Discernment is the task of wisdom; the object of truth.

A key task of life is to find the wisdom that is true to life. That wisdom seeks truth by balancing instinctual suspicion with a fair open-mindedness. That wisdom also discerns when suspicion bends into bias, when, through humility, thinking can be corrected.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Why Faith Makes So Much Sense

Wisdom vindicates faith, which means that, only from the aspect of hindsight can anyone see that, by their faith, the best behavioural responses were worth it.
Only as we look back with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight do we see the wisdom in the action of faith; just like we’d see the folly in the fearful, false and unloving action of unbelief.
Faith makes so much sense when we look back with hindsight. We trusted in good things to occur. We believed enough to do the right thing. We decided that even if things wouldn’t turn out one hundred percent of the time — and rarely do they turn out with such unerring reliability — that it was worth the pitch. Faith, it was decided, was worth the risk. And, much of the time it isn’t a risk, as it is vindicated by wisdom.
It was worth it to forgive, because the person reciprocated to our grace.
It was worth it to forgive, because, though they haven’t responded yet, one day they might, and besides, God is pleased. That’s enough. That’s wisdom. That’s faith moving forward in the present with the audacity of wisdom to be experienced in a future present.
Faith makes so much sense for the simple reason that what is done in faith works out well more of the time.
Have you noticed the interplay between faith and wisdom on a continuum?
The more faith we invest in the present, the more wisdom vindicates the action in a future present. Faith moves in the faith that a present action will redeem a positive result in a future present.
Faith is worth it because it is the foresight of wisdom.
The more faith sown, the more wisdom reaped.

Monday, December 12, 2016

If It’s Part of My Story, It’s Part of My Story

The Day we laid Nathanael to Rest.
If it’s part of my story, it’s part of my story. However unfamiliar it is, it is part of my story. No matter how uncomfortable I am about it being part of my story, it is my story. I may hate it, but what it is, is true, no matter how hard I find it.
Being that I’m the only one who can live my story, and that this part of the story is real, must mean it’s mine; and, that it was always meant to be mine. And, though that’s tough to swallow, I know that if I experience anything, it is therefore mine. The experience is mine. It can be no one else’s. What was never theirs, is never theirs. What was can be made no different.
If it’s part of my story, it must mean something. It must have some significance in the building of me. It must have relevance in my meta-story.
It must have some purpose, because if there was no purpose, what has happened to me would be meaningless, and because life has no point where life is meaningless, I choose to believe there is meaning in what I’ve experienced. There is a consequence for the choice I’ve taken — life, and life abundant. Should I choose to believe in meaninglessness, I would have no hope of living a life I could otherwise live. So, I choose meaningfulness from what I’ve experienced, because that is good for me and everyone connected with me, and because it honours God, because it is the best.
As I contemplate concepts of experience as reality, I enjoy the choice of acceptance.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Losses of Depression – When You Can No Longer Feel

Depression is a wakeup call to get better as soon as possible. But getting better is no longer as simple as we’d like it to be. There’s a process ahead, requiring more strength than we can contemplate. We’ll need help. Counsel. Support. Pharmaceuticals possibly. Self-help strategies. Faith. And any other strategies and assistance that come helpfully into our orbit.
One of the greatest challenges in the battle for mental health is the weakness we experience because we can no longer feel. What a dreadful satire life is when we plummet to this influx point.
Yes, an influx. The dam barrier of our personal sanctity is breached and privation ensues.
What replaces the ability to think is an influx of thoughts that constitute a fog. Awash with noise near and far the mind knows not how to direct the heart to feel, and the heart, like an orphan, loses confidence, and our soul loses touch with hope. Soon feeling is a foreign entity that used to represent who we were. The identity is mislaid. Connection to what we valued, but we feel irrefutably disconnected.
Good mental health occurs when the mind is strong enough to think logically, yet supple enough to engage in vulnerability, allowing the heart to feel all the varietals of reality. The mind nurtures the heart, and the heart, via instinct, informs the mind of truths the mind may not discern.
Working in unison, the mind and heart, our thoughts and feelings, are designed to govern our being; the operating system for representing our soul. But in mental ill-health the mind is weakened, the heart is directionless, and the soul is in crisis.
But recognising you can no longer feel is an important realisation. It explains so much. Because we’ve lost the capacity to feel we’re not only unable to feel our sadness, we’ve lost access to feeling, even seeing, the joys of life. Even in depression we want to feel connected to our feelings, unless it means being overwhelmed by them.
Knowing what’s missing is a key to the steps to be taken ahead.
Part of the way forward is to begin feeling again. It sounds so simple. It’s not. If we overextend we find we’re flooded in a deluge of feelings we cannot regulate with our mind.
Revelation is what we need. We need God to break through into our minds and instil us with belief and, from that, confidence. Faith can help a great deal in becoming curious enough to search for ways to feel.
There are many losses we experience in depression. Recovery is about reclamation and reinvention. Learning to feel again without being overwhelmed is part of that recovery.
DISCLAIMER: it would be irresponsible to suggest that the general nature of this article is a solve-it-all for all depressive conditions, especially the depressive disorders. My motive for writing is simply to generate awareness, bringing the discussion into being, and, of course, assist the afflicted, of which I’ve been.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Let Suffering Convert to Compassion

Without having been deprived of compassion we don’t really understand compassion’s importance; its basis as the meaning of life, providing purpose which drives us along in our living the abundant life of loving others.
We don’t see the point to suffering until we find that something is being added to us that we would not have if we weren’t otherwise deprived. If not for pain there are degrees of depth we would never know.
God’s purpose in suffering is to teach us what everyone needs though being deprived of it. Everyone needs compassion. But many can only receive it, for it’s necessary that we receive it when we need it. And when we need it, and then receive it, God teaches us that our need mirrors others’ needs, so we’re then able to see their need, and at the same time we’re equipped to give it.
But not everyone who suffers receives the gift of compassion. Some push it away. Others never quite understand that it’s in weakness that we’re blessed with another’s strength; that it’s in the experience the vulnerability that we receive God’s love through the love of others. Some turn out cynical and the hope is spoiled out of them. Others miss out and their hope dies, until at a later time, possibly, it is rekindled by a kind soul or souls who love them extraordinarily.
Compassion comes naturally, without pain, to few people. These are especially blessed, but they’re enigmas. Most of us need to be taught through the pains of injustice.
Don’t resent the lesson for the lesson has a purpose. Don’t deny what’s occurred. Be hurt, but don’t stay hurt. Don’t delay God’s purpose by refusing to learn through insight. Sure, it’s tough! But it won’t always be like this. Be determined to learn, and avoid cynicism at all costs. Stay soft of soul.
Pain turns to learning which turns to purpose as we grow in compassion. Learning compassion is one purpose of enduring pain.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Tears of Beauty Beyond the Ashes of Pain

“The moment we cry in a film is not when things are sad but when they turn out to be more beautiful than we expected them to be.”
 Alain de Botton
Liken de Botton’s quote with the story of your life, if you’ve risen from the ashes.
That season of brokenness we endured, in the faith that something better was imminent, ultimately, even as endurance was tested dozens of times, proves the above truth right every time.
As we reminisce we cry because God has made that cause of our brokenness the very catapult that has restored us. The foundation of this was our salvation experience; that God proved Himself reliable to be trusted, because we trusted. And because we trusted, He showed us the effectiveness of our faith. That faith of ours, cooperating with His power, made a way for us to be resurrected from the ashes of our circumstances.
We cry tears of grateful joy because what was a miracle — a series of miracles, attesting not to some random magic, but to the reality of the repeatable God — came to be true in our experience. Our faith is sure never to be rocked again.
We have no reason to doubt our faith when faith is the purpose of life, for without it is to deny who we actually are.
There is great hope in the reality of brokenness as God convinces us that what was the worst thing could not have reconciled anything better. The worst thing — the end of one life’s hopes — came to be the best thing — the beginning of a new life’s hope!