Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Symptom and the Sign of Recovery

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash
INPUTS are symptoms and outputs are signs. Honesty is the input, against dissociation. Serving others is the output, against selfishness. Honesty is a symptom; only we, ourselves, can truly tell if we’re being honest. Serving others is a sign; others can very well see.
What’s my thesis for a heart actively engaged in recovery?
The person in genuine recovery sows honestly, and their heart reaps the desire to serve others.
Those with addiction problems frequently dissociate from themselves, and it leads to selfish and self-destructive behaviours. Indeed, all sin is dissociation; a turning away from ourselves and God. Addiction is sin absurdly out of control. The selfish cannot serve others, because their heart cannot imagine the beauty in trusting God for their needs to be met.
Those who engage in the abundant life know that a rigorous honesty ignites a heart for service.
The wisdom life, the heart after God, the abundant life, the narrow way of the road less travelled… all these are achieved in honesty within ourselves and through service outward of ourselves, both venerated on the sincerest wish to acknowledge our existence in God.
The person deep in their recovery journey has no satisfaction in compromise, complaint or comparison. They realise the urgency of their need of God, and their choice causes them to prosper through honest contemplation and the action of giving themselves away. Yet, they do not burn out, for they accept their limits and they don’t serve to their own detriment; they don’t crave to serve. Their honesty is primary. And their honesty creates in them an ability to see and negotiate, and at times accept, their weakness.
So, honesty, which is something between us and God, together with a heart to take responsibility to ensure others are served first, a service which is visible to others, are the symptom and sign of recovery.
An addict ceases to be an addict when they serve others consistently more often than they are served. They have abandoned their insistence on being served at the expense of others. Theirs is transformation from the prison of self to purpose in service.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Shadow in the way of God’s Light

Photo by Peyman Naderi on Unsplash

PRESENCE of Spirit, projection of light, blessedness of presence, Jesus in sight.
Living in the Presence of the Spirit, projected is light, the fruit of blessedness of presence, where all can see Jesus in sight.
That’s our Christian ideal. But it is an ideal. What gets in the way is a shadow.
A shadow is something that gets in the way of the light:
APPEARANCE of flesh, breach of shadow, cursedness of presence, sign of the foe.
One such shadow is a lack of patience bearing itself as anger, and we’re all prone to it, whether it is overt, passive-aggressiveness, or it’s bottled up. None of these responses is healthy. People are deceived to think it’s only overt anger that is harmful. Passive-aggressiveness gives its user the appearance of control, but at what cost? It deadens relationships. And to bottle-up anger is a caustic that burns slowly inside out.
The shadow gets in the way of the light. Anger gets in the way of patience. And it affects us all.
Anger is the predictive and premature response of the flesh.
The long game of discipleship is for the Spirit to show us how our flesh behaves. Obedience is the curiousness of inquiry in the presence of sin. Only when we understand how our shadow blocks our light can we put steps into place to move out of the way of the shadow, so our light shines unimpeded again.
Where do other shadows turn up covering the light in our lives; greed for generosity, fear and hate and indifference and cynicism for love, disappointment and despair for hope.
Our shadow is present in our life as a sign we need God to overcome so His light can be revealed in us.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

How long does transformation take?

DAY by day. That’s what my wife said when I asked her how long she think it took for her to come to terms with the things she disliked about me: day by day.
In other words, there was no countable timeframe.
There were things that she didn’t like about me, especially the things that came up for her in years two and three of our marriage (we’re in our eleventh year now). These things came up in my style of parenting, as a single parent, and particularly how I related to my daughters at times in ways that left her feeling she wasn’t my wife at all.
So, you can imagine how hard it would be, for a new wife to find ways to both challenge her husband, yet accept what’s left that cannot be changed.
How long does transformation take: day by day. Sometime later, paradoxically as we’ve somehow learned to accept that which once tormented us, we looked back and found that transformation was complete. Not that we’re perfectly satisfied, but we’re content, which is good enough.
The process of transformation was, after all, most certainly beyond us in and of ourselves, which is why we needed to drink in deeply the libation of God’s grace.
God is hard at work on each of us, and we make His work easier (and indeed easy) when we step out of the way. We understand this as the concept of surrender, which is harder (but simpler) than we realise.
We all want our goals achieved overnight, with the minimum of fuss, effortlessly, so we can experience the rewards. But life in the process of transformation cannot work that way. Life in the glory of its reality doesn’t depict the dream we desire it would. Life is a process and it requires us to be patient; steady enough to be satisfied with small, barely discernible, gains made day by day. Life demands faith.
Transformation isn’t about achieving perfection, it’s the process of sustaining change.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Escalate the Expectation of the Endurance Expected

Photo by Kalen Emsley on Unsplash

YOU have a big goal, and the challenge will be more difficult than you expect. But this is good news if you escalate your expectation beforehand. What I mean is, if you anticipate this goal before you will be the hardest thing youll ever do, then you will face it with the force required to overcome it.
If, whatever it is, is the most important thing youve ever done, then you will succeed. You will succeed because it has your fullest attention and God blesses everything we give our all to.
There are two vitalising components to this fullest sense of attention required: depth and length. Depth, because you cannot afford to let your attention waver. Length, because unless you sustain the depth of attention required long enough to endure, you will be returned to the start, and that fact alone is the maddest frustration.
Raise the bar of your focus and keep it raised, and then you will succeed.
Falter upon your focus and you will fail. Even as you read these words aloud in your mind, steel yourself; you will succeed if this thing is important enough to you.
If it proves that this goal is only partly necessary, and you really dont need me to tell you, because you know through experience already, you will fail. Are you ready and willing to fail? No, of course not. But you are able to fail, and the knowledge you have of that ability you have, alone, should spur you.
So raise the bar! Higher, then it needs to be, for then it will be as high as it needs to be. Then you will succeed.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Rationalizing Anger and the Question that defuses it

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash
STRESS evokes anger when hope is lost in the moment. It is not usually one issue in isolation that turns us inside out in anger.
Most anger I suggest is a chaotic accumulation of issues, not one single issue that sends us over the edge into the abyss of ludicrousness. The issue that apparently breaches the cusp is the straw that breaks the proverbial camel’s back — the dromedary is already maximally burdened.
Angry outbursts must be about a profusion of issues conspiring against our peace.
We would be better to stop and ask the simple question, “What could this be?”
Is it that we are upset with our partner or our co-worker or our boss or our child or our mother or father? Or, is it that we’re frustrated because of the traffic, or being let down by others, or that we are tired, or disappointed that our favourite team lost? Could it be the weight of a conflict that can’t be reconciled, or perhaps there is a different weight we’re carrying, like a grief or a haunting disappointment? Maybe we are anxious or nervous for something ahead. Or, is it a combination of these? The latter is likelier, an amalgamation of concerns is bothering us.
The question is, could it be something else? Just the fact that that is a possibility makes the question pressing. Why would we upset someone else if we weren’t sure they were completely to blame? Yet, we upset others without even knowing what it is at core that is perplexing us. Could it be something else? Of course, it could be.
Simply to stop, to pause, and to think, “What could this be?” is empowering and protective. “What could be behind what I’m feeling here?” In these moments we realize the power of self-awareness.
It’s wise when anger rises to take a step back. The time we take to explore honestly and humbly what’s driving our anger is the time we can take to seize control of our emotions to protect ourselves and everyone else.

The most empowering thing we can do with our anger is to ask why. It always hides sadness or fear, fatigue or frustration. The soul seeks to be heard, and if we won’t pay attention to what our soul is saying, our soul will let everyone else know. And great harm can be done.

Friday, December 15, 2017

How God uses Grief to Teach us Hope

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In grief there is unprecedented and unparalleled poverty of spirit. Sadness like no other. A place of soul where all is foreign. Where all anchors fail and where trust is tested and torn. Sight of hope has vanished; felt realities of hope are vanquished.
In grief, hope is a problem.
Journeying through the topography of loss is a journey of change. The only inevitable way through is via acceptance to acceptance. The journey is hazardous. The process is painful. But believe upon a purpose, because this journey is full of meaning. We only realise it on the other side looking back.
Thankfully we have hope.
True hope can only be birthed from traversing through a dark place. For, true hope cannot come from ourselves. We receive it as a gift in pain. It is given to us by a gracious God who reveals to us that He is real. Perhaps it was only when we plummeted that we were desperate enough to need God enough to experience Him.
And then we break through into a faith relatively few experience. It does not make us better than others, nor more enlightened. It makes us suppler to compassion and empathy. We covet less.
And still there is another journey to be taken — that is to empathise and be compassionate not only with those who are suffering as we have suffered, but to become patient with those who truly have no idea. This journey proves just as hard to navigate. But we take heart out of this fact: what we learn through grieving our losses, in the process of receiving God’s healing grace, through applying a learned ruthlessness in being courageously honest each step, is we can overcome anything.

Grief seems initially a sea of despair, but through the redemption of recovery, God docks us in a harbour called Hope.

Monday, December 11, 2017

10 things your Counsellor wants to say to you but can’t

ACTS of therapy require great courage — in both the giving and receiving of counsel. Going to counselling could be about as enjoyable as going to the dentist.
The point is made, however, that when either are needed only great detriment occurs when we put it off.
Here is a small list of possible things a counsellor might want to say a client, yet may struggle to:
1.          Don’t leave it until the damage is done to see me – counsellors want to say, be proactive. Take ownership of your mental and emotional health, marital conflicts, etc. The truth is some couples leave it too late, some individuals cause themselves deeper heartache by delaying action, and some children are harmed greatly because parents / guardians sat on the fence. Always escalate (overreact) as far as seeking help, then moderate back.
2.          Own your feelings, thoughts and actions – sometimes there are opportunities to coach clients, i.e. when they’re in a safe emotional place. Yet so many hear repeatedly the need to own one’s own feelings, thoughts and actions and never do anything about it. They could actually solve a lot of their issues sheerly from taking responsibility, and learning how to absorb hurts.
3.          Listen to me, listen to each other, listen to yourself – counsellors say this ad nauseam, but one thing they cannot say is why are you still not listening? It must be the rarest practiced relational skill. Listening alone could solve most of all our relational problems. Add accepting to that, and a great deal of mental, emotional and spiritual mastery is in our own hands.
4.          I’m not sure I can help you any further – some counsellors, when they get to this point, may struggle to say these words, because they don’t want to inflict despair. The truth is they’ve equipped the client with the information they need to apply techniques, and for some reason, occasionally the inability to learn or be honest, there is little more the counsellor can do but repeat themselves.
5.          You’re not as good as you think you are – it’s true. None of us are. Pride is the great ‘vindicator’ of the foolishness that refuses to see from another’s viewpoint. If others say you don’t listen well, or you talk over them, or you criticise and condemn, their perception is one important part of the overall truth.
6.          You’re not as bad as you think you are – again, it’s true. None of us are as bad as we often think we are. Guilt and shame make up for most of our maladjusted past. Be honest, yes, we could have done better. We have to accept we cannot redo our past. Thankfully counsellors can and do say this, but they may also have to deal with clients who mask feeling bad, like, “Oh, I really don’t have such a poor self-esteem” when they perhaps do.
7.          Don’t think or do that thing you always do and probably cannot stop doing – sometimes counsellors see something in a client that probably cannot be overcome. It usually isn’t anything fatal. Because they go gently, the counsellor accepts the limitations within the relationship. They have to. They take no risks where there is risk of harm.
8.          I strongly disagree with you – this depends on the effectiveness of the counselling relationship. This is about polarised views in the counsellor and client in terms of entrenched belief systems. The counsellor will most likely leave these types of issues in the too-hard-basket, accepting the diversity, and choose to work on other areas of influence. As the client it’s good to respect the fact they respect the differences between you.
9.          I think you’re dreaming – again, the counsellor will approach this sort of thing very gently, unless there is a great working rapport evident.
10.       You make me feel awkward / uncomfortable / unsafe – occasionally counsellors feel something in a counselling relationship that is less than ideal. Theirs is the task of bringing it into the conversation if it cannot be overcome. Sometimes counsellors must end relationships abruptly.
These ten points can be overcome in a counselling relationship, but many of these situations require great skill and care to negotiate.
The client can be very proactive in the counselling relationship simply by asking if there is anything the counsellor would like to say but feels they can’t. That takes great courage to ask, and a lot of humility to listen to. But the client can only prosper having asked and listened.

Friday, December 8, 2017

What is the purpose of this grief that sneaks up to confront and shock me?

EYEOPENERS in life come in pleasant and painful extremes. And grief is an eyeopener of the most painful variety. A nemesis that seems to sneak up from nowhere at times, to take away our peace, our joy, our hope, our mind, to rob our heart of the security we so desperately rely on.
Grief can leave us floorless, baseless, sinking as if our world were bottomless. And all over a tiny nuance, a reminder, a word, an event, a colour, any connection that prompts us of our newfound dysfunction.
Grief says, “You’re alone.” It points out the kind of information that is only blatantly obvious when we’re weak. It pinpoints our weakness as if we didn’t even know we were weak. Grief sees weakness and then says, “Strike!” Grief causes us to feel that we’re ever vulnerable to weakness.
It does seem so unfair.
Being caught out of control with such astonishing regularity means our trust for reality diminishes. What has changed is that we have begun to second guess moments, as fear grips us in a new way. What we fear is that curtain of security can be ripped open at any time.
We’re exposed to this shocking sequence of moments we cannot control, for what? And yet, there is a thing that God is doing despite the horrifying reality of grief.
We get it wrong if we say God caused this grief to occur. No, we live in a deeply fallen and broken world where grief is inevitable. Everyone in time will be confronted with grief. Grief spares nobody.
What we can get right is that God can compensate us, and does, ultimately, as we seek Him. God’s compensation out of the events of loss are a new foundation of awareness and a building capacity for peace within the storms of life. God’s compensation is a patient teaching (which we can think takes too long) and we slowly but surely learn to cope. God is teaching us ultimately that there is no fear in anything besides fear in Him, alone — a godly fear which is holy esteem and holy respect. A right orienting for life.
Let’s not forget that God works through weakness, not strength. His power is perfected through our weakness (2 Corinthians 12:8-10). Our task is to discover how this works in our life. Our quest is to learn a thing where surrender becomes a key word.
God is bringing us through to a place where hope abides in any and all situations — especially where hope has been vanquished (see, for example, Philippians 4:12; suffering taught Paul much that he would otherwise been completely clueless about).
Is grief good. No, not in and of itself. But if we look at what lies beyond it as we trust God, even though the journey is messy and sorrowful and many levels of pain harder than we thought life could ever be, we do get through and experience teaches us deeper empathy, compassion, warmth, kindness, and patience.
For the love we lost, through a season of nakedness, grief clothes us in time in richer colours of love.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

An inextinguishable Hope

Photo by Olivier Fahrni on Unsplash
DESPAIR is such an unenviable condition, having been there, none of us want to return. Yet, life experience attests to a fact; if we fell to the pit of an abyss once, it won’t be the only time.
That’s said not as a pessimistic take on an otherwise brighter life. If we take the fact seriously — the threat that despair is a routine offender — then we have an opportunity.
Without the presence of despair in our lives there would be little need to tussle for hope.
I think hope only becomes a real possession when we’re desperate to acquire it. Otherwise it is easily taken for granted. There may be no such thing as an ambivalent hope. Hope seems to be something we need to fight for.
And that’s not all.
I wonder if there is a genuine gift of an inextinguishable hope on the other side of fainting, groaning, wilting despair, especially over the longer journey.
I sense that rather than being burned out by the serial pest that despair is, we may be established by it and fashioned positively by the realities of this confusing and fleeting and difficult life. Then we might realise that hope is the opportunity within despair.
But this understanding does not come easily, nor does it make immediate sense.
When I’ve struggled with my mental health, I can still discern the possibility of an inextinguishable hope, though the fact it’s out of my grasp. But, at my healthiest I know I can practice it with consistency, especially as it pertains to serving others. This is why pastors and counsellors must ensure they cater for the needs of their own self-care, simply to stay healthy. But, it’s something anyone can employ — and we should want to partake of the benefits of life experience.
The kindling of an inextinguishable hope is one of God’s greatest promises. When despair has schooled us in how to fight fiercely for hope, where the quest for health prevails, God does not disappoint. Ultimately, the quest for seasons of inextinguishable hope are realised.
God’s hope is an eternal flame enjoyed with no effort on our behalf when we’re spiritually healthy.

An inextinguishable hope, then, comes when we’re spiritually vitalised.

Monday, December 4, 2017

You know you’re growing when you…

Photo by Will Oey on Unsplash

DEVELOPMENT through the lifespan is important for the disciple. They accept they’ve been saved by grace alone through faith alone, but that very fact compels them to live for Christ. They translate that as spiritual growth.
You know you’re growing when you:
ü get embarrassed by certain actions you did a year or so ago that you wouldn’t do now – there is always some sense for the cringe factor when there is something you see you did but wouldn’t do again. Yet, grace gives you the instant understanding you’re both perfectly loved yet not there yet;
ü experience less pain than you would have or did some time ago – this is a key indicator of growth – to deal with something better than how it was dealt with in the past;
ü experience more pain because God has made you more sensitive and compassionate to the suffering in the world – this ‘more’ pain is not a pain that emanates from personal loss, but for others when they experience loss;
ü can calmly advocate for something or someone when you previously wouldn’t have been able and/or when you hear and obey the Holy Spirit say, ‘don’t speak now, just listen’ when you would have simply spoken up beforehand;
ü can simply enjoy the present moment, especially when your prayers for yourself are not be answered as you’d like them to be, yet you still have a hope you cannot explain;
ü can be honest about your shortcomings, easy on others, hard on yourself, and don’t feel resentful when others don’t accept their responsibility in faith that God will sort them out… eventually;
ü in seeing evidence of growth, believe even for future growth because God has convinced you that is the fruit borne of the life of faith;
ü [insert yours into one of the comments fields wherever this gets posted]
This would have to be an inexhaustible list.

Spiritual growth is less about what we do; it’s more about growing into who we are in Christ, reflected in how we go about what we do.

Friday, December 1, 2017

Writhing through the pain of hurt

Photo by Ian Espinosa on Unsplash

THIS cannot be an article about hope — where hurts sting through tear-swollen eyes, a mind agonizing, a heart defeated — at least not a flippant hope.
It’s okay. It’s not okay that your heart is hurting. But it is okay that you cannot hope right now. It is okay that you cannot face thought of present, let alone the future.
It is okay to feel defeated when all is not okay.
It is okay to not feel guilty when you feel numb.
It is okay to feel guilty that you don’t feel guilty.
It is okay not to know where to turn, what to do, even how to breathe. It’s not okay, but it is okay.
As we wrestle with pain that torments the moment in myriads of ways, as we search ourselves over and over, only to keep finding nothing, as we are faced with reminders of our helpless reality, we are forgiven for wanting to give up.
Yes, forgiven. God understands. He who lives with you, in you, and knows you even as you know yourself, knows you even when you don’t know yourself. He knows your possibilities, even as He knows your purposes and plans. It is easy for God to hope for you. But it is not easy for you to know. It is something we can only, and are best to, accept.
The only way we can agree with God regarding the possibilities He has for us — those possibilities we cannot possibly know — is to live hopefully, in faith, trusting Him that He is good. There is no other way than faith.
And yet, in hurt our pride can take a while to succumb to the needs of reality. It’s okay to feel hurt, we just cannot remain there. The time comes to resolve again in faith that we will venture forward, however hard that seems right now, with fresh courage.
It takes humility to make that jump. It takes honesty to emerge from death to hope for life.

Yet just one step forward is blessed to be the hardest of all. Once it is made subsequent steps are easier.