Saturday, December 29, 2018

Life’s abundance acquired through accepting regret

Conclusion is not always about closure. Nor is peace always a natural consequence of leaving well enough alone.
At the end of a year, at the commencement of a new year, there is an incredible drive to reflect. If we don’t and we need to we deny the one thing, the truth, that could set us free.
At this time of year, as I reflect, one of the questions I ask myself is, do I have any regrets?
Not spending every spare second with my young son when I’ve been drawn to write. That’s one. I often wonder if writing is worth it; what it costs me. But it’s a bit of an obsession. I’m given so many ideas to write on. There are other regrets I have, but these are things I would have done differently over the past five years, like interactions and relationships I could’ve done better, not so much this year. Then there is the macro-regret of losing family I dearly did not want to lose that is my refrain of regret that plunges me into the space that Thoreau speaks of.
So much regret from so much grief. And yet, the paradox adorns wonder upon the soul.
There is an opportunity in regret that far too many of us evade because we’re worried it will cost us too much emotionally. We fear it will make us vulnerable. We suspect it will be a waste of time and send us down a sinkhole of depression we may not be able to get out of.
So, to entertain what is spoken of here is a risk. I get that. Yet, there are some that cannot but help go into regret simply because they cannot escape it. It cannot be denied because it cannot be avoided. If that is you, instead of lamenting that which you cannot escape from, avoid or deny, thank God that there is a kingdom compensation for you that most people never get to touch.
Heaven only touches us when, by grief of loss or regret, we touch it.
Heaven steps down from lofty mountain grandeur
to visit upon the broken. And those
blissfully unaware of such pain
never encounter the depth of blessing in it.
Jesus said that the truth will set us free and that he came to give us life and the capacity to live it abundantly. We probably never counted on the idea that Jesus could redeem our regrets and make them the actual reason we experience more of him. But that is, in actual fact, the spiritual reality.
What I continually write about is this fact of spirituality: out of the brokenness of ashes we may rise as a phoenix, interred as it were, not for death but for life.
We may find that we only experience resurrection having gone to our figurative cross.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Is there any ultimate benefit from Loss?

Photo by Jonat├ín Becerra on Unsplash

Even in the context of the losses you’ve experienced this year, and I’m aware of several people who have had the worst of years, I wonder if there is a redemptive quality in your processing of your darkest days.
My wondering comes from my own reflections. Having suffered my first life-changing loss fifteen years ago, it completely transformed my life and my outlook. Certainly, as I look back, that breaking of me was ultimately, even for that season, the making of me.
I had a sense of it even back then. It was all I could hold to; the very essence of my hope that my life would not end in loss — that such pain would birth the beginning of something new. I could not let go of such a hope.
Since then, whenever I’ve experienced loss, I’ve had that immediate sense that I had to hold on; that hope had called to me and that I would strain to stay in hearing distance of that thing that pulls me all the way through my living hell.
None of us ever ask for our lives to change irrevocably. And when such change does sweep in like a thief in the night, we cannot bargain God enough to want life back the way it was.
There is some music that communicates the grief of loss far better than words. Such music communicates the emotional peril we experience — the welling, indwelling, overflowing, riotous infinity of emotions.
And we’re left there, thinking what are we to do now? Life grasps our attention in loss and through grief it grips our composure, proving there is an end to that pretence of strength we imagined we had.
I wonder, and this is just a thought, for I might be wrong or only partially right, if the broader gain from loss is the wider perspective we glean in knowing love’s companion is something that will ruin us.
And yet when such ruin rains over us, we’re deepened in our capacity to feel, to know, to love, to experience the fullness of life.
Loss is the grand and calamitous invitation for the affected to enter the gravitas of life. It’s the reality that someone, somewhere has always experienced.
God reminds us of the power in love that we take for granted until we lose that love.
Perhaps the ultimate benefit of experiencing loss is that, in the months stuck there, and through the years as we reflect, an inescapable portion of the deepest reality is given to you.
Not that we glory in our sorrow. It’s more the fact that we cannot run from it. Like in Psalm 139, there is no place we can run from God. In loss, we learn we cannot outrun God. We learn that in life we’re bounded. We learn the lack of value in frivolity. Loss wakes us up and causes us to grow up.

There are a myriad of potential ultimate benefits in the experience of deepest loss. The most important of which, I say, is the hope that both gets our attention and ultimately gets us through.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

How on earth do you make life work?

For the person brazed in confusion, overwhelmed with despair, shattered by a moment all too true, here is something for you…
Regret is the common experience of everyone. It’s life’s design for motivation. Nothing motivates like regret. And even if your grief has no feature of regret about it for guilt, you especially will need some way of accepting what you cannot hope to change.
There is no sense for remaining in a state of regret
and to refuse to see its purpose.
Nothing motivates
like the redemptive power for change
nested in regret.
As for love and forgiveness, let’s see how these two majesties work.
Love with everything that is in you. That’s a pleasant place to start. You may not have much love to give. Let’s not presume you’re a past master in the praxis of loving. Watch who love and appreciate and adore you. Return them that love in your own way. You’re probably thinking of that person or people right now.
Stay there.
Keep them in mind.
Keep that loved one or dear friend
foremost in your prayer.
Then listen for what you’re told to do — for the act of kindness only you can do at that time. It may not come straight away, so stay aware and keep listening. By listening I really mean thinking. Bear them continually on your mind and in your heart.
Then there is forgiveness for those who don’t treat us nicely. They’re usually the unapologetic ones. Know the power in this bizarre reciprocation; love them with a love that utterly confuses and throws them. Don’t look for any other satisfaction than their bewilderment. Such a state of perplexity gets some people thinking. Your loving them in their loathing of you is the charity of invitation. Such a thing is operant forgiveness — it teaches you both something.
By applying a faith that you have no guarantee of working, you operate in the hope that has no promise of realisation. Doesn’t sound compelling does it? Yet, that is true faith and hope. No true hope and faith is guaranteed success. Hope and faith require risk. They require investment with no promise of gain.
So, we ply our forgiveness in the hope and faith that it may work, knowing that where it does work, both of us will be taught something.
But there is more. Even overtures of hope and faith, for the purpose of love and forgiveness, provide a reward. More so, much more so, when they go unrewarded. There is great power gleaned in loving without need of reward.
Suddenly, our forgiveness of a person is no longer contingent on how they respond. How they respond begins to matter less. If the person we’re forgiving attains any joy from your being upset, that power is removed from them when you cannot be upset.
Everything happens for a reason, yet that, at certain times in our lives, comes across like a wet fish across our face. Do we actually know if everything happens for a reason? We cannot know this. But what we can know is this: a philosophical attitude of accepting the things you cannot change always improves things.
Given the fact life is so incredibly unpredictable, we should be open to chance, and when chance takes us, and we have no choice in going with it or not, we should embrace the passage of chance the best we can. As Helen Keller said, life is a daring adventure or nothing at all. Do any of want to die before we’ve experienced true adventure?
The only life that is worth anything
is the life that lives by faith.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Hearts of kindness are with the grieving at Christmas

Photo by Jacob Postuma on Unsplash

Christmas Eve, and the lead up to Christmas, this year has had a different taste about it as compared with previous years. I must confess I’ve been touched by a family who lost their son, brother, grandson, nephew less than one month ago. He was so young; just two years old. Two weeks ago, today, was his funeral.
This time a month ago, he was alive. That thought, for me, let alone the family, is beyond belief.
I know that the family will be doing their best to have a good Christmas this year, but I understand that that will be a bridge too far. There may be moments of joy, but much sorrow won’t be far away. There is no compensation for their experience of life right now. No comfort that comforts them satisfactorily. Their courage to bear their inimitable reality is sheer temerity of spirit. And yet they have no choice!
I have found the impression of Ecclesiastes chapter 7, especially verse 3, bearing down upon my spirit:
Sorrow is better than laughter,
for by sadness of countenance the heart is made glad.
Such a profound verse of scripture. Profound because it surely doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. How can the heart be made glad by sadness of countenance?
For those of the world, and for those who haven’t gone there, such a concept is utter rubbish. It has to be. There is no logic in it. But many spiritual concepts defy logic.
I have to say, that having experienced grief at Christmas I now simply have no interest in experiencing empty (foolish) joy. So many of the ‘joys’ of this life are empty, truly vacuous.
Having said above that there is no compensation for this family, they may soon find there is something of a worthwhile compensation available for them; just not now. That ‘soon’ is relative to hindsight having looked back from the experience of such compensation, just not beforehand.
Somehow sorrow at the time of celebration enriches the experience, but we never reap such a reward for many years. Such seed takes years to grow and bear fruit.
For those of us in seasons of normality, Christmas takes on familiar dimensions of experience. We may forget just how hard it is or was to endure the season of jolliness when we felt like death ourselves. A heart of kindness is the Christmas spirit of the Christ who came, emptied of his glory, to redeem us through his own heart of kindness.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

40 little thoughts on Peace this Christmas

Photo by Sunyu on Unsplash
1.                 Peace is completion amid complexity.
2.                 Peace gives patience amid confusion.
3.                 Peace garners gallantry amid fear.
4.                 Peace generates the will to be still.
5.                 Peace is our possession in bravery.
6.                 Peace is wind beneath wings of faith.
7.                 Peace gives freely what can only be free.
8.                 Peace is a ring; a circle of love.
9.                 Peace builds simplicity from complexity.
10.              Peace is friend to all, believing in good.
11.              Peace is completion; forgiveness; redemption.
12.              Peace is a smile emboldening despair.
13.              Peace quickens resolve giving hope.
14.              Peace overcomes evil by acts of love.
15.              Peace produces kindness by instinct.
16.              Peace is compassion through suffering.
17.              Peace is time and space and freedom.
18.              Peace is forgiveness without regret.
19.              Peace is leaving travail behind.
20.              Peace is the fullness of joy.
21.              Peace is diligent prayer in the fullness of trust.
22.              Peace is the embodiment of grace in the Lord.
23.              Peace is the witness of a miracle.
24.              Peace balances perspectives.
25.              Peace grants access to the higher mind.
26.              Peace establishes the orders upon which good things may be built.
27.              Peace stabilises that which was otherwise unreliable and unsteady.
28.              Peace is [often] an outcome of an abuser’s repentance.
29.              Peace is family in fullest bloom.
30.              Peace is the pleasantry of laughter of good cheer.
31.              Peace achieves more for progress than anything.
32.              Peace places itself at the foot of others.
33.              Peace is the abundance of resource to serve with integrity.
34.              Peace spends what it has as a continual overflow.
35.              Peace is the paradigm of the ages.
36.              Peace practices what it preaches.
37.              Peace is consistent goodwill.
38.              Peace braces bravely in hard times, enduring with valour.
39.              Peace has light regard for what it has and covets not what it does not have.
40.              Peace is God. God is peace.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Planning for New Year already?

Photo by Andre Benz on Unsplash

If you’re secretly hatching plans for New Year already you’re not alone. Those in the Northern Hemisphere might start their planning for New Year as early as September.
The truth is the end of the working year, as we break for Christmas, makes perfect sense to start planning for a better coming year. Even if we’ve had a great year, nobody wants to settle for more-of-the-same the following year. Certainly nobody considers receding.
At the end of a working year you’re probably exhausted and at least somewhat jaded. Your body and mind are telling you what you already know. You need a break.
Motivation, therefore, is situationally sourced. I know some of you have had horrible years. For some, the worst. (Mine was two years ago.) Others of you have had a so-so year. And others again have had breakthrough years.
We’re always looking at New Year
either for consolidation or growth.
Whichever way it is, we desire a springboard. We each want to make an impact. The irrepressible goal beckons. It’s the insatiable thirst that drives you out of bed in the morning. Whatever it is. We know when we’re in the grips of depression — that drive to do, know, grow and become has gone A.W.O.L. Maybe next year holds the welcome challenge to climb out of the pit of despair.
Motivation is also piqued when you have thoughts in mind of certain relationships that spur you to prove someone wrong; you are better than they think you are. And though you know you’ve nothing to prove, you get some sense of glee out of seeing people change their minds about you.
Perhaps you’ve failed time and again in achieving a goal that won’t let go of you. Praise God for that! If you don’t give up, ultimately you will get there. Isn’t it amazing that even though we trip up and give up our goal twenty times, the opportunity for the 21st time inevitably comes around? There are more prospects to come.
Maybe you enjoy planning because it’s a subtle escape into that dreamland of promise, a precinct of your imagination where anything you design goes. No great goal achievement occurs without conscientious effort, but much of the passion that drives us up to and beyond our goals is nurtured in this time of visioning.
I rejoice with you that, if you are planning already, you are innately interested in the life that God has given to you.
From the safety of imagination
breakthrough risks are free to behold.
Dreams ignite belief,
for building what lasts.
Dreams inspire vision,
for putting paid to wasted pasts.
Dreams fuel passion,
for working for the increase.
Dreams drive motivation,
because achievement is perfect peace.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Mary Poppins Syndrome

I conducted a funeral recently for a person who was ‘afflicted’ with Mary Poppins Syndrome, as I learned from one of his carers. The man was very special. Mary Poppins Syndrome (not a known biological condition) is a designation given to anyone who is practically perfect in every way. It was said of this gentleman, who lived just short of 85 years, that he was exceptional, given that it is practically impossible for a man (women’s humour) to suffer from Mary Poppins Syndrome.
Do you know anyone who is so special that they have eccentricities beyond your comprehension?
A person so kind as to never even think a bad thought about anyone let alone behave in an unkind way.
Someone who, when they’re gone, gives you the distinct feeling they were an angel even before they left this earth.
While it might be unlikely anyone can measure up to the practically-perfect-in-every-way tag, there are so many people in our sphere of concern who might qualify enough. It’s Christmastime. It’s that time of year to give. Not that we need a season or reason or excuse to give.
But here’s my question: is there someone in your life who is practically perfect in every way; a real person who is anything but perfect, but who always tries to bring their best? Who is always about other people. Who never gives up serving others.
Is there something we can give to a person who fills that bill? Not just a material gift, but an acknowledgement or encouragement. It could be something they might give to another person. Is there something you think they honestly deserve? Perhaps it’s someone, possibly a family member or parent, you still incredibly miss. Not to make you sad, this reflection is intended to cause thankfulness.
It’s at funerals where I see a kind of look in people’s faces that I rarely see. It’s when they’re suddenly stopped in their tracks by the solemnity of the encounter, and are forced into the mode of reflection, when they face the temporal nature of life amid death, even if only for a moment.
Such a moment invariably evokes some kind of emotional response. It’s in these moments that we suddenly realise the pockets of Mary Poppins Syndrome that envelop so many mere mortals who walk this earth — those who loved us the best they could and left their legacy of love upon us.
Nostalgia brightens good memories and, untainted by time, they remain an eternal possession.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Church, how on Earth are we getting Heaven wrong?

Photo by Greyson Joralemon on Unsplash
Hypocrisy. The world is full of it. Yet, so indivisible from the world is the church that the church fights moral wars on political issues with partiality and that is unworthy of the kingdom of God. I speak here of individuals of the church, but also of the church as whole entities.
On some issues should we care? Of course, but it’s how we fight that matters.
If there is anything we learn from the four gospels it’s that the disciples were thick, daft, slow on the uptake, morally forlorn, wretched to the heart; used in the biblical narrative to reveal to us the horridness of the human condition. Never did they ‘get’ Jesus’ agenda, not even after three years with him.
The twelve reveal to us our very own nature.
The single point I want to make is this: the church and Christians more ought to be asking God, ‘How on earth are we getting heaven wrong?’ asking on the assumption that we are getting heaven wrong. But instead we’re acting as if we’re right all the time. We are not!
The one duty of the Christian is to live for God’s glory. The one prayer a Christian can make in striving to live out this ideal is to pray in humility — “Lord, what am I not seeing?” (There are things I’m not seeing even in writing this article — God, have mercy on me.)
Jesus said, “… first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to take the speck out of your neighbour’s eye.”[1] When we live the truth of removing logs from our own eye, we see that what the other person is dealing with is a speck as far as it’s relevant to us. We more ought to understand just how much focus we ought to be giving to living humbly amid our own sin.
As we act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with our God,[2] we pray as if God knew how far we personally fall short of his glory. And he does know. I just don’t understand how mature Christians live as if they’re not in God’s constant view. I just don’t understand how someone can think of themselves as ardent devotee of Jesus and not live a continually repentant life. It’s beyond me. A repentant life is the sign of regeneration in Jesus.
When we live in the light of the darkness that enshrouds us, we accept our brokenness and predilection to sin, and we use the humility that Christ gives us to serve others, living in the knowledge of our brokenness, amid the knowledge of the grace that saves us.
Knowing we fall far short of the glory of God means we grant ourselves the capacity of error.
We give ourselves permission to be less-than-God.
It’s agreeing with God that God’s ways and thoughts are higher than our ways and thoughts.
It’s claiming the low moral ground instead of the moral high ground when, especially in this day of revelations of church abuse, our shadow is showing. The world cannot stomach hypocrisy from the church, yet the world has so polarised the church to the stain of hypocrisy, that it is old news now. And the weird thing is the church is still sleeping in some trance that it has influence in society. Nobody cares what the church thinks anymore. You, Christian leader, who think people care about your ethical wisdom; your soapbox in the public square rotted away some time ago. Use your influence to serve God, not to push your one-sided agendas that you think is God’s own prerogative. How ridiculous that you think you’ve got the market cornered regarding God’s wisdom.
How can the church cherry-pick its ethical issues? How is religious liberty any more important than responding to historical sex abuse in the church? How can abortion be a higher issue than children detained in refugee camps or climate change? How is it that people of other faiths are treated like second-class citizens by many Christians? Why isn’t the church at war with the pornography industry, family and domestic violence, abuse within its own ranks, modern slavery and human trafficking, gendered and racial injustices, poverty and inequity between the rich and the poor, and the tranche of unchristian leadership and discipleship pedalled within the church by-and-large these days?
We too often think our thinking aligns with God’s will. How conceited is that?
How on earth can we conceive that we’re on God’s side when there are portions of the other side of the debate that can veritably hold the same line. It’s just like marriage counselling — three ‘truths’ abide: his truth, her truth, the truth! His perception of the truth is not 100 percent truth, nor is hers. It’s only the truth that is 100 percent truth.
Could it just be that in fighting for an ethical position we are on earth and getting heaven wrong; that we are tying or loosing on earth what was and never is in heaven?
Could it be that we might be fighting the right fight but fighting it in the wrong way? Nuances are important. Pride, for one heinous instance, blurs a good message and makes it gross.
We only ever fight ‘for God’ when it’s the right issue, fought in the right way, at the right time, for the right reason, and in every aspect in a way that gives God glory. Anything that falls short is sin.

[1] See Matthew 7:1-6.
[2] See Micah 6:8.