Monday, January 30, 2017

Understanding the Nature of Habit in Recovery

“Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by anyone, but coaxed downstairs one step at a time.”
— Mark Twain (1835–1910)
The nature of habit is insidious and sticky. And although some habits adhere with unerring and unfortunate ease, we’re left with the same dilemma no matter the habit: how to get undogged.
Having recovered from chronic alcoholism (weekend binge-drinking) and cigarette smoking, and having dealt with numerous other recoveries, overeating one of them, I can speak in a way with which you will probably concur.
I tried numerous times to fling habits out the window. That is to overcome them, cold turkey, without a strategy, or with a strategy that was ill-fated. Almost every time I failed. Because I didn’t establish a solitary habit in countering a moment that always comes.
Something AA taught me was the importance of honesty. It’s on the turning away that we’re done in when on our attempt to recover. And there are moments when we’re tempted, where the decision to lapse comes through turning away.
We dissociate from ourselves in these moments, through a little lie believed, a pivotal denial, a dangerous compromise. Such a turning away renders the days, weeks, months, sometimes years, of hard work, vain.
The way recovery works is focus one day at a time, as Twain suggests, one step at a time. It’s not rocket science. But it is a commitment to not turning away, which is to stay truthful with ourselves, faithful to our cause.
Being honest, one day at a time, consistently and faithfully ever after, is the way to recover from every nasty habit.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Turning the Reins Over to God

If it were a song, the title Turning the Reins Over to God would need to be set to ‘play repeatedly’. None of us like relinquishing control. And especially when we have least control.
I can usually predict with the unerring accuracy of hindsight when turning the reins over to God will be required — when life’s been in one of those little easy patches. I get complacent and start to unconsciously believe that I have such a trusting faith, when, in all reality, there are many subtle things that knock me off course. Frustrating distractions, sometimes a close relationship I cannot control, too many competing priorities, too many things to do, not enough space to be, and, of course, spiritual attack.
Yet, God reminds us all through life that we don’t control it. Acceptance of that only comes through the action of surrender.
Which brings me to this:
Lord, get me past this paralysis,
Let me allow You take the reins,
Help me stop all this analysis,
That brings only myriad pains.
In a place in our minds and hearts where we’re shut in, we need to do something different to break out. Not get angrier, as if we had that sort of energy to waste. We have to find a way to surrender our control over a state of being out of control.
That’s an opportunity for today, and for any day we feel overwhelmed through causes from within us. We don’t have to wait around and continue to feel sorry for ourselves. We could do that, and God would allow it. But it serves no good. It prospers us nothing.
But if we turn the reins over to God, He will make our horse run like the night, when, for us, it’s been a stubborn mule.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Blessing In Loss for Having Responded Well In Grief

Given the situation of loss how can it be that we might be blessed? How can something so drastically dysfunctional turn out the best it possibly could, given the circumstances?
Before we experience loss, we may wonder how we might cope. It’s probably a subconscious thought.
The reality is there’s only one thing worse than loss. It’s the grief that has us responding the wrong way.
We could well be curious if we’ll pass life’s test of us. Kylie Jones, a wife whose husband Colin became Anne when he identified as a woman [story here], experienced that reality of wondering how she, when devastated, might respond:
“When it all happened, I discovered I was the person I hoped I would be, that I was supportive, that I was loving, and that I could help. I didn’t get angry. I tried to be the best support I could be, for Anne and my girls. And I think that’s all you can hope to do… be the best person you can be.”
Ms. Jones, in an untenable situation, having not only lost her husband, but reconciling a family situation where her three daughters needed her more than ever, had worked out the most important thing she could do — despite how she felt herself. She did get help. She didn’t deny what she was feeling. But she did have to put her own needs to the side in order to be there for her family — an inspirational and selfless (but still an imperfect) mother.
Ms. Jones’ grief was and is real. The following quote shows us something of the grief that resonates in all our stories, post-loss, a component of grief that we never quite adjust to:
“This is not the life I expected to have… I keep imagining what my life should have been.”
That’s how loss punctuates life. Grief in this way feels like the regret that is beyond any of our actions or responses. It feels like the loss have been done to us. But, still, when we’ve responded the best we possibly can, an abiding peace is the blessing we enjoy despite any pain we might endure.
The grace that responds well to the grief of loss gives us greater comfort than we think.
Our utmost prayer in facing life’s greatest challenge is to survive the test by struggling well in response. Nothing pleases God more, and He lets us know through the blessing we receive.
The reality regarding our godly response is God has given us to grace to respond that way. Sure, obedience is never easy, but without the wisdom of grace none of us would not respond well, ever.

Monday, January 23, 2017

How God Turns Loss Into Gain

“Mostly it is loss that teaches us about the worth of things.”
— Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860)
As we endure loss that rips life of its meaning and strips our being bare, we hope beyond hope that one day it could amount to something. That somehow loss might be worth the pain we endured.
If only there would be some recompense for the yardage we’ve put in.
At many early points, we cannot reconcile that we have to say goodbye to what was. But eventually we reach a place of acceptance, and somehow the pain of grief makes way for a reminiscent memorial that promises never to let go of the beauty imprinted immortally in the mind.
The heart is widened, broadened, and deepened simply because the heart had to grow to hold what life had become. Grief implodes our understanding. The heart adapted to what the mind, alone, was inharmonious about. The heart taught the rest of us how to survive, how to endure, and ultimately how to thrive. And, because we cannot explain just how God works in our heart, we know it is God who heals us there.
It’s all God’s wisdom operant through a surrendered individual, for we only get better through grief when we acknowledge it’s too big for us.
God turns our losses into gains, where the material temporary things lose their lustre, and spiritual things that are eternal take on priceless significance.
For the loss that cost us everything, we gain something that changes us completely for the good.
When finally we learn that the things of this world cannot be relied upon, we learn an immeasurable lesson. Only the things of God last. Our values are completely reordered. The truth prevails and finally we’re free. Nothing holds us in the way it did. Finally, we’re purposed as we were designed.
Somehow we learn to trust in faith that what was lost may soon be found in eternity. In such faith there’s peace.
There’s a hope for today, too. Having learned the truth the only way we can learn such a lesson, through loss, we recognise and now prefer the eternal things over the temporary things.
Loss is a catalyst for the receipt of a gift. God’s wisdom can only be learned at the depths.
Loss can prove to be the ending of ignorance, and the beginning of a curious journey in seeking God’s wisdom.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Your Depression as Proof of Your Being and Purpose

Love is Blindness by U2 is a song, for me at least, that proves a universal truth. Sad songs drip with truth. They speak to the spirit, opening the door to the soul.
Motion pictures piquing the emotions prove the mind was made to think, the heart evoked to feel. Somehow, we feel more alive when we’ve been taken on a journey.
Then there is that tyrant, Depression. I want to suggest a possibility to ponder.
Depression is a gate into a garden lush with shrubbery for pruning, which is impetus for being and purpose. Being gentle with ourselves, we clip each day the best we can.
I don’t believe there is any journey to being and purpose without conquest, and I believe there’s no conquest without challenge, involving trial, requiring endurance, punctuated by pain.
Pain’s opportunity is endurance,
the way through trial,
the only way to conquest.
Whether you’re depressed for a day or suffering from clinical depression, I pray you might be richly encouraged and convinced in your inner being. Your search for being has great purpose. Your pain has vast meaning. In your gleaning is gold, but the search is a testing one, as you well know.
Please, think about it this way:
Our world, C.G. Jung (1875–1961) would say, has forgotten the individual. Everything is about numbers and mass; organisations, programs, converts, return-on-investment — as if God designed greedy growth as the purpose of life. When we’re depressed we’re swallowed by the idea that we’re unimportant, insignificant, incapable. We believe the world’s lies.
Indigenous communities of the world knew their strength lay in dignifying the individual. These communities worked so well because they knew how much communing in unity relies on respecting the individual. They respected God’s creational norms, and they did so because they focused on cooperation, which elicits safety, and not on competition like today’s world does, which rips wellbeing apart. These indigenous values have all been as much as completely lost in this perverse age.
But don’t forget, God wrote the Book of Life, and He says your being and purpose matters as much as anyone else’s, ever — past, present or future. The truth is about to be revealed to you in eternity, but you don’t have to wait that long to discover it.
The world may have you believing your shreds of worth are insufficient for being and purpose, but that just isn’t true.
Your very passage through depression is poignant. Allow it not to kill you, but to refine you, as you reach feebly forward to God. Find His unconditional acceptance in your unconditional surrender; a profound sense of being and purpose for life.
To this manner of being, find your purpose centrally there. It’s there to be found by you.
The depth in your depression is proof of your search for being and purpose. When we believe such a search has a destination, we’re prepared to embark on that journey.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Forgiveness, the Barrier of Fear, and the Faith of Bravery

I discovered this basically by accident, by the way of learning something in a way we learn all great things we learn. We cannot forgive unless we feel for the perpetrator who acted against us. We cannot let them off unless we see in ourselves the same propensity to afflict that pain. As they have done, we also are capable. We must see that.
We need to see that we’re the same as everyone else, and that we’re angriest when we face the sins that most afflict ourselves.
Of course, these are difficult things to explain and to understand.
That which I cannot change about me, which I hate about myself most, angers me most about others, because I, myself, am thwarted.
I cannot forgive what I see is unforgiveable in me. And that, too, I often cannot see.
I cannot forgive what I cannot see God forgiving in me.
I will not allow safe passage to anyone or anything when that safe passage is forbidden for me.
I cannot lead others in a thing I previously have not learned.
“I” is the limitation. But God wants us connected, brought face-to-face, with these parts we despise. In connecting with others we must first come into connection with ourselves.
The Role of Empathy
Empathy is connection, illumination, revelation. It’s the lightbulb moment. Empathy is the electricity of compassion energising love. Empathy is a miracle, for without it everything of virtue in this unreachable place seemed out of grasp. Empathy grounded reason in a language the self could understand. Empathy is the “AHA” moment.
It is sad that empathy, however, is often so fleeting. We feel its connectivity like the brewing of a sneeze, and within seconds at times it’s gone. It explains why forgiveness, like happiness, can be so elusive.
Forgiveness in certain unreconciled situations is the hardest thing we’ll ever do. Some circumstances we’re so resistant to empathy we cannot look forward for the habit of looking back.
If we can only see the folly in our enemy is a folly we hate in ourselves. Yet, if we ask God to make it plain to our sight, He will reveal it if it’s there. We must ask God to connect us to these truths, and the way to such connection points is through empathy.
The blessed connection of empathy is the maturity of acceptance; the wisdom of understanding.
Fear as a Hidden Barrier to Forgiveness
And here’s a reason why forgiveness is worth the conquest:
Forgiveness sets us free from a past that causes us fear in the present.
Fear is softened by the warmth of love. Love is a brave frontier forged by faith. Faith is the key to a future forgiveness. Faith lets go, allowing forgiveness.
Fear is the only barrier to our destiny. Forgiveness compels us in bravery to keep moving forward by faith.
Even if we’re still some distance from that forgiveness we believe we may at some time have, we have hope, and in faith one day we’ll come to enjoy our achieving it, by God’s grace.
Grace that believes is also a grace that empowers, meeting a divine grace that appears by night, making the impossible a reality in the morning.
Such is our faith, by God’s mysterious provision, able to connect ground with the stars.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Courage to be Content and Discontent

God calls us to two great and divergent poles to access the abundant life: to be content and discontent at the same time.
Being Content
Abundance as a spiritual concept is an outcome we arrive at through being content with what we have. With all we’ve been given, possessions and experiences, we’re to be content. We count our blessings. Doing this means we have the courage to let go of our covetousness — those things and events we’ll never have, and are not supposed to have. To do that we’ll need to change some things in our lives, like say no to people, and drop unhealthy ambitions.
Being content, because it necessitates change to embrace surrender, requires courage.
Being Discontented
Abundance is also a journey, a destination we never reach. We have glimpses of our contentedness, and these are good and to be enjoyed, but we can’t get stuck there, because before too long contentedness becomes discontentedness. We can, however, enlist the courage to agree to remain discontented with where we’re at. It’s the only way we will continue to grow. It takes courage to refuse to settle.
Connecting Contentedness and Discontent
These two divergent poles of demeanour seem on the surface not to complement one another, but together they’re a perfect accompaniment, because they’re a balance.
Being content is important, but staying content means we must be discontent with where we’re at. Staying content will require us to break camp from our ideas that staying in our own safe bubble is even achievable, as it isn’t. Life is always changing, and we have to remain mobile, which is the wisdom of humility that assumes nothing.
Life is in being content
with what we have
whilst being discontent
with staying as we are.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

How Grief Can Be an Indispensable Life Experience

“Only people who are capable of loving strongly can also suffer great sorrow, but this same necessity of loving serves to counteract their grief and heals them.”
— Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910)
It is difficult, in the throes of acute loss, to reconcile how life that’s suddenly gone so bad could possibly end up so good again, but that is our hope. We may simply want things back as they were. For the pain to abate.
The experience of grief, which is a suffering we never imagined possible, makes us regret that we took for granted the ‘normal’ life. Our craving is to be back there.
In grief, we figure that we should hope for a return to a life of normalcy. Some days we cannot see our way there — it feels like the end of the road. Other days there are glimpses of healing and hope for not simply recovery but restoration. But, for an inordinate time, the doppelganger of anxiety and depression hangs like billows over us.
But afterwards, having traversed the murky elements, having lost vision of hope so many times, after we’ve felt recovered many times when we weren’t, we reach the conclusion that what broke our heart, love, was the key to the restoration of our heart. When we come to grief’s conclusion we understand more about ourselves, life, and God.
When grief casts us, outbound of loss,
Into a life consumed by chaotic dross,
We find God’s help becomes present from above,
Shown in us through faith so we’re returned to His love.
Grief forces us to confront truth, and, having been set free by what broke us, we become bigger, not smaller, persons.
Grief forces us to choose between faith and a combination of denial, anger, and bargaining.
Then we learn an indispensable lesson:
When faith is chosen in adversity, resilience becomes the path back to wellbeing.
In the final analysis, love’s heart that was once broken by loss is restored to love again by the heart compelled to love.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Consider it Pure Joy When You… Doubt

Whenever I hear the words, “Consider it pure joy…” I’m reminded of James 1:2-4. That sentence continues to read, “… when you face trials of many kinds.”
Sounds absurd. When life is going against us? Count it as joy? Well, it is ridiculous, unless we understand James’ context. What he continues to say is the testing of our faith produces endurance, and if we endure we grow in maturity, ending up complete.
James isn’t interested in getting bogged down in his pain, because he understands his pain is a prerequisite and a bridge to something better. If he bears it well.
Most of us hate pain, but James’ principle proves that not only can we endure it, we can also see God’s purpose in responding well, which is motivation, possibly inspiration. It’s the stuff of the true gospel.
Pain causes us to doubt. It makes us reassess our faith. Particularly if we’re subscribers to the ‘name it, claim it’ doctrines. And when we doubt we can feel wretched. We can feel guilty like we’re failing God. And we can feel weak, with a bad faith, and of no use to God. Then, feeling worse, we doubt more.
Doubt is the bridge to the proof of faith, for without doubting faith is not tested as faith needs to be to be truly real. Doubt ensures we tussle with faith, for faith must be a conquest. Of course, when we doubt that then is faith’s opportunity to overcome doubting, but faith isn’t faith until we’re tested enough to doubt and therefore show faith.
Feeling ‘weak’ is so often misread. Feeling weak is necessary to experience God’s strength. Feeling weak is a key to depending on God, for we don’t rely on God when we’re feeling strong.
If we know we’re doing the right thing, faith vindicates us, no matter how much doubt we experience. Therefore, when we know we’re doing the right thing we ought to keep going. After all, we’re doing the right thing and that’s all that matters.
Consider it pure joy when you doubt in tough circumstances, for in doubting faith is tested, and maturity comes when endurance is proved. Maturity is the point of life, the destiny of those who understand God.
We cannot mature unless we’re tested. Endurance isn’t real unless we face trials. Faith isn’t true unless we doubt.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Fulfillment of Life’s Search for Meaning and Purpose

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
and My ways are not your ways.”
This is the Lord’s declaration.
— Isaiah 55:8 (HCSB)
Many of us, probably most of us, perhaps all of us at different times, all ask, what is the meaning and purpose of life. What am I here for? What did God make me to do? How do I feel significant in this life that seems so far beyond my personal control?
Funnily enough, the more we search for meaning and purpose in life the further we run from it. Not that it isn’t an admirable activity. Not that it isn’t beneficial, because the search for meaning and purpose is a virtuous practice.
But, in the end, the search is futile if that’s all there is. If the search doesn’t lead us to the end of ourselves, to our smallness in the world, then we haven’t found what God has for us.
Our search should reveal to us two polar-opposed ideas that work together.
We are small. We seem insignificant. We feel we’re at the whim of life. We’ve found that our imaginations plan different realities compared with how the realities work out.
These understandings crucially lead us to God — to His call to stop trying, coercing, manipulating, bargaining, dreaming without end. These understandings lead us to realism, which corrects our predilection for optimism or pessimism. These understandings compel us to stop the search — or at least replace the search with a healthy curiosity for life.
There is a way to peace and understanding that is also beyond understanding, and that place is acceptance, which is true peace.
We are many things we cannot change. We cannot change many things about life. Wisdom leads us to acceptance, which opens our eyes to life’s simple wonders. It’s then that God really begins to speak and to teach us by His Spirit.
The search for meaning takes most our lives to discover. In the end we arrive back in the beginning. We stop searching and start living.
In the end, we realise that God thinks and acts differently to us, His thoughts and ways are beyond us, and that’s okay.
Then, finally, having stopped searching, we begin living in simplicity of wonder.
Living has this advantage over searching. We let life be life.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Welcome Your Weaknesses or Shrink Your Strengths

Strength and weakness go hand-in-hand,
all along life’s long length,
We have to acknowledge our weakness,
before we can embrace our strength.
If anything clutches us in the dim shame of life it’s our weaknesses, which we’d prefer to keep hidden. Whether it’s secrets of our family-of-origin, a hideous predilection, or just the stock-standard litany of personal limitations, it doesn’t matter. We do with all our conscious power that which our unconscious minds wants dealt with.
Beyond the issue of religious or spiritual belief, God has designed within life a wisdom that’s irrefutable. If anyone would deny their weakness, their strength will forever be limited and ultimately shrivel. That’s how much God cares for truth. None of us can escape this rule of life.
If our weaknesses hold no fear for us,
imagine how useable we are in our strengths.
If we have the gumption to admit our weaknesses, God blesses us with more of our fuller potential of strength — whether we believe in God or not, because we honour the eternality of truth.
Where we see our reality, whether it’s weakness or strength or a mix of each, God makes us more capable.
Being real about our weaknesses does, however, require great humility, meaning courage, faith, and trust. Many times, weaknesses are noted by others, which tests our humility. We’re all a little vulnerable to the feedback of others. And just occasionally we have a weakness — a secret weakness — exposed. This situation is not the end, but the beginning. What seems like the end in humiliation is actually the beginning, as it’s only when the truth is exposed that we can be set free to live the truth and make amends.
Whatever weakness it is, it is always better acknowledged and exposed so work can begin. Once the work begins, strength grows, and with it, peace.
Embark on the journey of truth, admitting your weaknesses with bold candour, and ultimately unequivocal strength will be yours.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Opposite of Gratitude is… Entitlement

It can be dangerous to write on gratitude I’ve found, because it’s normal for me to forget what I wrote the very next day. And one particular day gratitude could have saved me a great deal of heartache. Instead, my mind in freefall, chose something else.
Gratitude, of course, is a mind job, where the heart is placated by a sound mind content with what it has.
This article is about the opposite of gratitude: entitlement. An attitude of entitlement leads us away from gratitude down a slippery slope called immaturity, which expects what it doesn’t have and resents what it has. Entitlement is, in basic terms, the short way to madness.
Entitlement begins the downhill passage into something more sinister and potentially destructive. Like with gratitude, entitlement kick-starts a process.
Entitlement creates frustration. Frustration turns to exasperation, which turns into anger, and then to tears, when anger gets us nowhere — because never does it get us anywhere, anger.
Tears are the surrender that should have come earlier, if we had have nipped the frustration in the bud. Of course, some people just get angrier and angrier, and don’t surrender at all to the bitter sadness deep within them. And many women, and possibly some men, may bypass the anger stage altogether and enter tearfully into their sadness — which is far more desirable than diverting to a secondary emotion like anger.
During a recent bout of frustration which turned to exasperation, which turned into anger, that ended in tears, I got to that cherished place I call ‘the-end-of-me’, or I could also call it, ‘the-end-of-my-entitlement’.
There is peace after tears. Something like an inner resolve returns and it can be likened to acceptance. It’s when contentment arrives even in a lamentable situation. But there’s still the lamentable situation.
The opposite of gratitude is entitlement, which is an attitude that makes us frustrated. But gratitude only improves our joy.
The trouble with entitlement is it robs us of joy. With gratitude, however, joy is double.
The trouble with entitlement is it leads to frustration, but with gratitude there’s only peace.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Peace Available Only in Loneliness

“The person who fears to be alone will never be anything but lonely, no matter how much they may surround themselves with people. But the person who learns, in solitude and recollection, to be at peace with their own loneliness, and to prefer its reality to the illusion of merely natural companionship, comes to know the invisible companionship of God.”
 Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island
There is Presence in peace and Presence only in loneliness. The pathway to God is necessarily through loneliness, for God may not be experienced devoid of His Presence, and His Presence is only apparent when all else is stripped away.
Sure, we may read His Word and pray eloquent prayers, but the Presence of God is something to be experienced in His fullness. The Word helps, so does prayer, but so does the context of the history of our lives, in the midst of the pain we endure, through observances of nature, and of contemplating creation, through thought of our relationships, and what this could all mean.
It’s only when we become the loneliness we existentially feel that we learn we’re able to transcend it.
Rather than running from our loneliness, a key cue of which is boredom, we’re to embrace the nothingness that otherwise feels so despicably foreign.
In feeling empty, and in staying in that place, we invite the Presence of God. Taken into that void we experience the reality of God. All the better with pain. Bleeding and lonely, God comes out, if we’ve been genuinely seeking Him to find Him (Jeremiah 29:13-14).
So, there you have it. Pain is good. So is loneliness. Both, together, are key to experiencing God, Who, by faith, will make Himself known by His Presence.
God makes Himself known to us through His Presence, through pain and loneliness, by faith big enough to pray. And knowing God is peace.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Changing a Habit and Challenged Already?

You wouldn’t be the first person ever to choose a New Year’s resolution and struggle in the first few days. For what seemed days or weeks before New Year’s Eve there was a passion building for a fresh assault on a crucial goal. Now it feels hard and foreign.
You seriously wonder if you have the strength to sustain the changes you’ve made.
I’ve found that the first four days are the hardest in the change-of-habit process. But then there are temptations after this period, until about the forty-day mark. If change can be sustained until then, there’s a great chance of the new practice becoming habit. But still there are temptations. There always are, until sufficient months have passed that mean we know we can easily get through the temptations. In fact, that which used to tempt us no longer has any power.
It was always months that I needed whenever I gave up smoking. It was the same when I gave up drinking. I probably didn’t get entirely comfortable, though, until the year mark or more. With diets, vigilance was needed for only a short time until the brain knew what the routine was. But, importantly for weight-loss diets, I’ve found that creep is the biggest hidden temptation — to get soft on standards, by eating a little more or by allowing forbidden foods, until eventually the healthy diet is non-existent.
Some change-of-habit regimens seem so easy compared with previous efforts. It’s important not to get complacent. Some change-of-habit routines are hard from the get-go. Every day is arduous. But there is a rich reward ahead if we continue…
One Day At A Time
Once the challenge is set, we hold in our minds vision of what success looks and feels like. The more we do this, the more we make failure unattractive. And, focus on the process. Process focus cuts failure out of the equation.
Whatever you set yourself to do, you can do,
if you just keep doing it.
A positive challenge requires courage which fills life with passion and purpose. To have made a resolution is a great thing! To stick to it through some days of pain, is to be filled with an inevitable joy because of the success we ultimately taste.