Sunday, September 30, 2018

Accepting the unfathomable nature of grief

We didn’t want to go. We really didn’t. And there we were feeling like fish out of water, just looking at each other, when this gentleman approaches and introduces himself. The rest is history.
We were at a birthday celebration for a dear young woman. And though we felt out of place, having lost our little girl of the same age, there was a strange sense that we really had to be there. Even if we hardly felt comfortable. We were honouring our daughter’s memory.
We did not know what to expect. We tried as we entered to smile at others as they greeted us, but every time we looked at each other we frowned at our fakeness. And yet, we had this strange sense that we had to try. If we had to be there, we had to try. We must. For our daughter.
As we stood there, like silly stunned mullets, James approached. Of course, James is not his real name. We want to protect his identity. But he was a godsend. If God knew the unspoken, unconscious prayer of our heart, and He certainly does, our Lord knew precisely what we needed. And that was the kind of distraction that this man and his conversation was to us.
Do you know what we talked about?
… we talked about grief.
And it wasn’t hard or agonising or cliched. It wasn’t a trying experience, neither was a traumatic. Oh, how trying and traumatic and hard and agonising and cliched previous experiences of discussions on grief has been! We could have throttled some do-gooders!
We have grown so tired of having to explain ourselves and why we grieve the way we do or correct others as they traipse over our moral corpses. We have grown so tired of bearing our burden without support just so others are comfortable. We have just grown so tired!
And yet, there walks James, over toward us, a man with eternity in his eyes, a person who already seems to know our daughter, a spiritual being ready to roll his sleeves up and listen. He was so interested in us, and for all the right reasons. It was as if we were the only people in the room. How did he know what we needed? Well, our faith tells us that God knew, and we praise God for this man.
During a two-hour conversation, spending time sharing glimpses into each other’s losses, trusting each other more and more, and finding that God had already gone before us all, we left that party transformed and imbued with spiritual confidence. We are ready to trust God more!
We shared for some time about the myriad nuances in grief, about the parts of it we never want healed, about the presence of our loved ones in heaven waiting there for us, about the role of guilt and anger, and about all sorts of stories that emerged, amongst so much more.
Oh, how good are You, God, that as we walked in terrified about what the next few hours might require of us, You walked before us and prepared this man for us to chat to. Thank You, Lord, for the stories within his loss, for his gentle availability of brokenness, and his yieldedness to courageous vulnerability.
Thank You, Lord, that You showed us tonight that we are not alone, that there are many who suffer the loss of loved ones, who understand and ‘get it’ when we cannot explain how we feel, and who accept us and the mystery for what we are, and it is.
Thank You, Lord, that we could agree we cannot fix this grief; that we can only accept what our lives have become; that there is peace in that.
This is a story of true grief told from another person’s perspective through my pen.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

God will give you more than you can handle

Photo by Jametlene Reskp on Unsplash
“We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so we despaired of life itself…” These are very familiar words. They are, indeed, the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 1:8. Paul goes on to say that it felt like they had received a death sentence (verse 9).
Then we put that together with Paul’s words from 1 Corinthians 10:13 that says that “God will not let you be tested beyond your strength, that He will provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
The fact is, both are right. Both need to be held in tension with each other.
Life will not ultimately break us,
but we will be broken in the process.
Many people will read those words are not understand them. It will seem like folly. But those who have experienced this paradoxical true Gospel life will attest to the enigmatic truth this tension espouses.
Indeed, I would suggest that the authentic Christian experience is about learning to be broken.
Elsewhere in Paul he says that “we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Corinthians 4:8-9)
Suffering was so familiar to Paul it is difficult to imagine him reeling off the kind of cliché that says, “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” The fact is, his own experience, and his own words betray such a statement. When we hear “God won’t give you more than you can handle” there is more of our comfortable culture in those words than the reality that both Paul and we face existentially.
Our culture’s deepest wish is that
we would have control over our own lives,
but we need to remember our culture
is lost in scrambling for what it cannot control.
Why do we succumb to this weakness that must be strong?
The reality of life for the fortunate is that life will take us beyond our ability to bear. I say the fortunate, because we won’t know the temerity and zeal of God’s faithfulness until we are faced with that situation where we are broken beyond continuing.
It is only in this place where we have nothing left that we realise we need nothing to continue.
For, in this we carry about within us the death of Christ, which is the most bemusing paradox for abundant living.
When there is no strength left,
there is no barrier to surrender.
But there must be no strength left first.
When we are forced to rest we very well rest. Perhaps it is a hopelessness that attaches itself to us and we feel beleaguered. Maybe it is day after day, week after week, month after month, and the only reprieve we get are fleeting experiences of peace interspersed within the helplessness of it all.
Fortunate is the person who has experienced death to self — the Gospel imperative. We only die to self when we are made to die to self. Nobody volunteers to die to self because they think it is a good idea. It’s always an admirable idea, but we cannot do such a thing until we are forced into it.
The pride of self-sufficiency cannot procure death to self. Yet it is in a situation where God gives you more than you can handle that you finally learn to put yourself off and put on Christ.
God gives us more than we can handle in the moments of our lives. He does this often enough that we may learn something. For me, it took several months, up to a dozen and more, before I finally learned what was most necessary from the most valuable traineeship anyone can enrol in.
God uses the circumstances in our lives that break us to show us that, in Him, we will never be broken.
We may feel broken beyond repair so often, yet that sliver of a hope keeps us tantalisingly in the game.
We never enjoy being pushed beyond our limit,
but as we look back we do enjoy the fact we survived…
and grew!
And we marvel at the faithfulness of God
that carries us over the brink and over the abyss.

Monday, September 24, 2018

The man who always helped so much

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

This article is not what it seems nor is much of the world. There is a certain discernment required in life to see the deeper goodness and evil in it.
See if you can read anything below that seems inappropriate:
There was once a man who was very proficient at everything he did. He was always helping others, especially those who were weak. He’d be the last person to say it, but those who knew him were actually lucky to have him. As onlookers to his life observed, he was quite inspirational. He always seemed to have the best in mind for other people. You would only need to ask him, and he would tell how much he thought they were trying. He, himself, seemed so much to be a model of humility, so self-effacing it made you take notice. This man was the epitome of charm. You felt it an honour to know him.
Let’s take some time interrogating what the description above could really be saying:
There was once a man who was very proficient at everything he did… Everything that you saw, for there is much you don’t and won’t see.
He was always helping others, especially those who were weak… yes, this man pictures most others as weak to protect his own elevated (false) identity; others need to be seen as weak and inferior to him, and if they show strength he is immediately threatened.
He’d be the last person to say it, but (he certainly thinks it!) those who knew him were actually lucky to have him… he genuinely thinks he is a blessing to everyone, and pity you if you have a different perception.
As onlookers to his life observed, he was quite inspirational… the onlookers never quite get close enough to see his double-sided life in full throe… if they did, they might get quite a shock. One who has an image to protect (hide) is scary when they’re truly discovered.
He always seemed to have the best in mind for other people… that’s his purpose and his life, to nurture an image as the knight in shining armour coming to your emotional rescue. It’s a pity that he can be an emotional villain.
You would only need to ask him, and he would tell how much he thought they were trying… yes, they try, but they fail, because they’re weak. This is how he thinks of you and I! This is how he thinks of his partner. Their forlorn efforts are their destiny in his eyes. They cannot succeed. Only he can.
He, himself, seemed so much to be a model of humility, so self-effacing it made you take notice… it’s his purpose and his life to be noticed. He loves to be noticed. He hates it when he’s inconspicuous. And the façade of humility is a veneer overlay covering pride. Remember, he’s learned his trade well. He’s mastered the skill — not the character — of humility. Ironically, he can never be characterised as humble. He doesn’t have any grasp on vulnerability. (But he is particularly cunning if he can be ‘vulnerable’ too!)
This man was the epitome of charm. You felt it an honour to know him… of course you feel it’s an honour to know him. It’s his charm that has won you over. It’s his charm that has everyone else won over when you have ‘access’ to the real him.
It is genuinely hard to detect the differences between an abuser and an authentically well-healed person. The trouble is the abuser has learned to put on the well-healed person — they’ve served their apprenticeship, through the abuse they suffered together with their study of how to manipulate their world to compensate for what they lack, and they learned their ‘trade’ well.
Perhaps one way of differentiating the authentic from the fraudster is their response if we challenged them with this. Ironically, the authentic sees themselves as a fraud, but the fraud cannot see themselves as anything but authentic. Can you now see how important it is for all of us to know and accept we’re sinners?
It is often better for us to match up with someone who is definitely not charmingly of brilliant character. It is better that they have visible chinks in their armour. We should thank God for the people in our midst who are WYSIWYG… what-you-see-is-what-you-get. Especially if they’re caring and respectful into the bargain.
Disclaimer: It is not always a ‘he’, but most of the time it is.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

#WhyIDidntReport – Why the Abused Under-report Being Abused

Photo by Bend Project on Unsplash

For 15 years my job was to encourage people to report incidents. All kinds of events. Especially those that flew under the radar. Not a day went past that I wouldn’t call employees to report matters that would help management forge a safe workplace culture.

So much of the time, however,
people would not report events.
For so many reasons they would not be honest
or felt they could not be honest.
There was a fear of repercussions, fear of gaining the wrong sort of attention, fear of conflict with peers, supervisors and others, and often a lack of trust in the system itself to offer even the most basic of protection. Very often those exposed to hazards would underplay the issues. Many employees did not want to be responsible for a negative result which reflected poorly on their team. The key performance indicators of the Lost Time Injury Frequency Rate or LTIFR and the Medical Treatment Injury Frequency Rate or MTIFR were the bane of my existence. Even I, in my position as a safety advisor, occasionally felt the pressure to manage statistics. Unfortunately, there were so many drivers that dissuaded people reporting. I learned over my decade and a half in industry that the default was underreporting, rather than commitment to the minimisation of realities faced by those exposed to the risks every organisation should be interested in mitigating or eliminating.
Underreporting of incidents and events is commonplace
in all but the best, most supportive cultures.
The departments I worked for put annual strategies together to increase reporting. But it was always an uphill struggle, because you’re fighting against prevailing ‘success’ psychology. (The church has a don’t-damage-the-church interest, which, in cases of abuse, runs counter to what glorifies God.)
See how much worse is it to juxtapose the reporting of abuse claims as opposed to safety incidents? See how the secrecy and shame are on entirely different levels? And can you see the parallels?
The #WhyIDidntReport campaign is important for the fact it highlights a common truth that underpins all of life. Nobody really wants to bring attention to themselves, no matter how much the issue they should report has cost them. It defies all manner of sense that many abuse victims may wait decades before they actually report issues (and many never do!), and for a multiplicity of reasons, among them, the belief they won’t be believed or advocated for.
In my own life there are issues that I have been reluctant to report because I know the hierarchies have not believed me in the past. Even as a person who believes staunchly in the value of reporting, and has even helped to establish reporting-friendly cultures, I recognise how much I do not want to be an advocate for myself.
Is there anything more damaging than reporting an issue and not being believed, not being defended, and being told it’s either not significant or, worse, it is your fault?
It is absolute insanity.
People who have been abused expect not to be believed!
And, disappointingly, their beliefs are so often confirmed.
It used to be my profession to advocate for those the system did not protect. It was my job to ensure the system worked most effectively and efficiently, for the outcome of safe production. I always believed that safe culture underpinned best production. I saw that espoused in some of the best management teams you could wish to work for. One of those teams won the Gold Australian Business Excellence Award in 2007. And yet driving a reporting culture was still incredibly challenging.
You only have to ask yourself, if you are implicated in some kind of issue, even if the implication is that you are not to blame, you still have the option of remaining silent. Is raising the issue, and reporting it to the authorities less pain than what you’re already dealing with? It’s the same driver in the person who undergoes domestic violence. To change their living situation can feel impossible. And then there’s the legal mine field a victim (survivor) faces. The very thought that they’ll be hauled through some legal process, that of itself is enough to induce further PTSD, is a strong deterring fear.
I’m not saying that there aren’t false reports made. We occasionally dealt with them. Usually these reports wouldn’t hold together. When you’re a skilled investigator, you know how chronologies work. You sense when inconsistencies arise. You know the body language. But you always begin by believing the varying perceptions no matter how much they clash. It’s amazing how all perceptions so often do come together, and are even reshaped, in creating a broadly accepted truth of what actually occurred. When it comes to abuse claims, the statistics are acceptably low, in the order of 5-7 percent of false claimants, which suggests that we can comfortably work with (i.e. start with believing) those who formalise claims.
What am I trying to achieve with this article?
I simply want to draw attention to the fact that if someone is abused, the last thing they want to do is to make their situation worse by reporting it.
What they can bear, as an individual, they choose to bravely do, rather than implicate or draw into conflict loved ones and people they must work with.
As soon as anyone makes a claim of abuse, their relational world changes in an instant. People polarise into one of two camps, and even those who believe us are affected, which makes us feel guilty that we drew them in and even got them involved. These issues have the power to destroy relationships. There is a high price to be paid in bringing truth to bear. And there is, most regrettably, more stress (and potentially abuse) to come for those who simply seek to bring the truth into public discourse. They know they won’t be appreciated. They fear the consequences, for, there are always consequences.
I am patiently aware that I have only scratched the surface here.
More needs to be done to influence people
who have never experienced abuse,
and especially those who have suffered
but ‘got over it’ on their own.
Many people have no idea how much damage they do to fellow human beings by not believing their accounts of the abuse they suffered. And it is not just the abuse that occurs that is the issue here. A potentially bigger issue is the institutional response, or lack thereof. We, ourselves, deplore the abuses that have occurred to us, but ever more harrowing is the fact that the persons we trusted, those in positions of authority, did not seem to believe us, or even ask the question, being open to what we might say, had they posed the question, ‘Are you okay?’
‘We’ll, no, we’re not.’
Which is perhaps why the abused are not asked.
I have seen it professionally, and we have experienced it personally, and having known the field of abuse as a trained and experienced equal opportunity contact officer, and having known intricately the law and guidance material in this arena, I am astounded that there is still indifference and ambivalence in the world. But I also realise and accept the limited impact I have. It’s limited, but I do have my voice.
I truly wonder if, in a ‘don’t-sweat-the-small-stuff’ society, all but the ‘worst’ cases of abuse are downplayed, and the worst cases are doubted as exaggerated or false unless there’s hard evidence.
Abuse is the elephant-in-the-room that nobody likes to talk about. But I’m thankful that the tide of silence seems to be drifting further out to sea.
And still we’re only tickling the very tip of the iceberg!

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What does it take to be a Man?

Photo by Quinten de Graaf on Unsplash

Men live in a confusing time and have done for decades. Just as it is hard to be a woman, it is hard to be a man. If you’re a man you may well relate with my frustration. If you’re a woman with a son, you may well relate too.
What is it to be a man?
How is a man to know that they are a man?
How would such a man approach the younger man and encourage and urge him to become who he ought to become?
Let’s take this as a conversation, man-to-man, father to son:
Son, it’s time to be a man. It’s time to be real. No more fantasy for you. It’s time to be real about your emotions. It’s time to stop being soft by pretending you are hard. You know those emotions, son, where you experience feelings that you don’t want. Well, son, embrace them! Who are you without them? If you negate and deny your emotions, you won’t be any good to anyone.
It’s time you behaved like a man, my boy. I want you to be able to be honest. Yes, that’s right, even with your mates and all those men you are tempted to impress through your false self. You need to toughen up, son, and stop being soft by buttering these weak men up. If they don’t accept you as you are, they are not worth the friendship.
Let’s talk about being weak, son. You know I hate it. Yes, like you, I hate being weak, but that’s precisely the point. We need to learn to accept it, for only in being willingly weak when we are weak can we be truly strong. Do you know how much courage it takes to be willingly weak? Do you realise how much guts it takes to sit in the bog? It’s only when you’re weak, my son, that you’ll ever learn anything about the strength that lies in weakness.
Let’s also talk about your anger, my boy. I know it’s there, because it’s there in me. We need to stop being soft on ourselves when it comes to the effects of our anger. You need to be true about those things that irritate you, and understand the drives within you that cause you to demand things your way. You will get next to nothing by trying to control things. Don’t control, just surrender. The more you let go, the more command you will have over your anger.
The last thing I want, son, is for you to buckle to temptation to control the women in your life — that’s just soft! Men that abuse women are soft. Actually, I don’t want you to control anyone. Period. The moment you begin to demand others kowtow to you is the moment you’ve stopped being a man, my son. It’s also the moment you lose your decency. Be a man and control nobody. Be a real man and be an advocate for women, for all true men are threatened by nobody, for they’re honest about their fears.
Oh, yes, almost forgot that one… your fear. You’re male, so you have your fear to contend with. Women usually get scared in entirely different ways than we do. Own the fact that you’re shaken by failure — that fear’s driven deep in not matching up to some silly lofty standard you dreamt up through fantasies you saw. Own up to the fact that your fears won’t normally drive you into a lather of tears, but into irritation, frustration, contempt and rage. Own it. That’s right, son. Be fearful. Be honest about your fear. And transform it with the truth.
Note: I acknowledge all this is a generalisation, but hopefully the point is well made. Real men are tough — they’re real and raw with their emotions, performance, vulnerabilities, fear, weakness, anger, which all spring from their capacity to be honest, their courage, and their ability to be humble.

Monday, September 17, 2018

A gentle touch of the Spirit’s kindness – Henri Nouwen and I

Photo by Jasper van der Meij on Unsplash

From the Henri J.M. Nouwen (1932 – 1996) quotes I gathered below; some comfortably safe maxims with which to reflect on. Of course, his many books take us deeper into the vestiges of his immense pastoral wisdom, but partake of now, as time allows:
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
— Henri J.M. Nouwen
Care is profoundly simple. It involves putting off ourselves and putting on another person; as if we wear this other person in our presence; we try them on as if they were a garment; not actually, but metaphorically. Our desire is to step inside their experience. When we can be all about them, they have a living advocate not unlike the Advocate. In this, we must be all virtue. For me, that is care.
“Forgiveness is the name of love practiced among people who love poorly. The hard truth is that all people love poorly. We need to forgive and be forgiven every day, every hour increasingly. That is the great work of love among the fellowship of the weak that is the human family.”
— Henri J.M. Nouwen
We are poor in comparison to the Spirit of Christ, which we may ask to come and fill us. The more He fills us, the poorer we realise we actually are, and this is a vitalising truth to let inhabit us. As much as we can be poor of spirit, He can be a rich source of wisdom we draw upon in order to become humbler, and hence more capable of forgiveness. As we are weak in ourselves, we are strong in God. The less we are, the more He is. The less we grapple, the more freedom comes. The great work of love, then, is to be capably vulnerable, and weak beyond fear.
“A waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us.”
— Henri J.M. Nouwen
The very manifestation of contentment and faith; certainly a contented faith that covets nothing except God’s Presence in the lived-out moment. Patience must be the exhibition of peace. It is the way out of anxiety and into the fuller bloom of the gorgeousness of the moment. When we accept that the moment is what it is, the moment begins to feel at peace to us, for us, within us.
“We need to be angels for each other, to give each other strength and consolation. Because only when we fully realize that the cup of life is not only a cup of sorrow but also a cup of joy will we be able to drink it.”
— Henri J.M. Nouwen

The fuller experience of life is the gift given of our boldness to live it well into riskiness. That is, to live life to the full emotionally, mentally, spiritually, socially, without constraints on our time or limits on our willingness to let go. As much as we wish to live into the reality of life, God will open up to us. The more we want and are willing to enter into, the more He will give us. Life is about holiness within social discovery.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Gallantly entering, with soul silence, The Wound

Photo by Sean Pierce on Unsplash

I cannot tell you how I came across the inspiration for this article other than to say it was two brave men who inspired me.
They sat there, with me, as we sat silently, letting the words we had just spoken rest there… for what seemed like a minute or so.
We sat there silently. Immediately something like the Presence of God descended. It was palpable.
Resignation, but not hopelessness. Surrender, but not forlornness.
Truth ushered into experience what these men had never quite ever known, yet now did know. Wow, it is that simple? Entering my pain takes me to Jesus? Entering my wound takes me to Him?
The penny dropped. Words were superfluous. A calamitous truth. A crushing reality.
But, with it, a lasting peace. And such a peace is the revelation we always sensed was available, but never quite experienced before. Such a peace we quickly come to understand was a capacity promised to us from eternity old. And now it is our sweet possession — for the cost of an accepting silence of soul that frees us from the shackles of our own bitter torment.
Gallantly entering the wound is the life abundant. There, in the sorrow that realises the pain cannot be fixed, we arrive at Jesus, and He fixes us even as we cannot be fixed.
As we accept the things we cannot change,
we come to accept that we can change.
As we surrender our demands,
acknowledging the strength of our desires,
we acknowledge that surrender makes no demand.
There is a ‘deeper magic’, as C.S. Lewis put it, in this gospel of being in the heart of God’s conquest for us, through the reality of our deepest dejection. That’s where God shows up; at the end of the road, and at the end of ourselves, right where there is nothing else.

These men did in a few minutes what God is inviting us to practice in our moments of despair — to enter them unto brokenness, with the full realisation that life is meant to break us in order that we would come to reach for God. That, in reaching for God we accept life on life’s terms. That, in the unpalatable, in coming to terms with what we would prefer to deny, God makes Himself known by a mysterious spiritual grace in such encounters with reality. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Your voice matters

Photo by Tess Nebula on Unsplash

No matter what you think, your voice matters.
If you’ve been silenced, or you feel you need to be silent, please know, find safety, for your voice matters.
If you feel like you need to speak, and you cannot utter a word, because you have no words, or because you feel like you would not be heard, please know, your voice matters.
If you’re a person who regularly speaks, but feels they are never heard, your voice matters. Keep speaking your truth gently. Trust in it. People need to hear it.
If you are sick and tired of using your voice, of risking the truth for what others think and say, your voice still matters. This is a new day. Keep speaking. And pray beforehand for God’s discernment and diligence. But keep speaking.
If you’re in a season of life where you command the attentions of many, and yet there are still many voices in the past that deplore something you’ve said, regain and retain your confidence, because your voice matters. People are relying on it.
If you feel voiceless, festooned into the farthest reaches of oblivion, shut-in within your own experience, know this by plain knowledge, your voice matters.
If your yesterday is a thing to be forgotten, because you still cannot believe what happened, and as you scratch your head and implore God for understanding, and still get no response, come back to the knowledge, life is a mystery, and your voice matters.
If you’re positioned to inspire faith and belief, and it seems to be working, and life and breath and goodness come from your words, rest in the knowledge, your voice matters.
If you’re a tiny child, or a person with special needs, or of a culture your culture doesn’t seem to like, remember who made you, and remember He made you with a voice; your voice matters.
If you don’t understand why life is the way it is, and you battle to accept life on life’s terms, I hope it makes a difference for you to know, your voice matters.
If you’re a parent, and your children seem to ignore you, or disobey you, or disdain you, your voice matters. Keep using and refining your voice. Keep nurturing and nuancing your relationships. Keep your heart soft, because your voice matters. They need your wisdom. Speak wisely.
If you feel you have done your dash, and you have exhausted all opportunities of redemption, know somehow that you’re in good company, and that strangely enough, your voice still matters. It really does. More than you may ever realise.
If you are anxious and frightened about what you need to say, and the person before you is scary beyond belief, and everything in front of you looks daunting, come back to this knowledge, your voice matters.
If you’re a faithful partner, and though you are imperfect you have remained faithful, in staying faithful, know that your voice matters.
If you have something to say, and you do feel it is from God, trust the God who gave it to you to say, because your voice matters. No matter the resistance you get, what you have to say is important.
If you are burdened beyond what you can take, and you’ve been here before, and you may arrive here again, hold fast to the faith that brought you here, because no matter what, your voice matters.
If you believe in eternity, and you realise your time is now, no matter the forces against it, time is for you, and your voice matters, at the right time.

Monday, September 10, 2018

For you, from me, for those in a time of trial

Photo by Michael Dam on Unsplash

So many times, I despair,
And at times I no longer care,
You might think I’m strong,
But so often you’d be wrong.
There are times, often enough, when I seriously wonder why I bother. Times tossed back and forth on the waves of self-loathing and self-recrimination. Times when my inner world implodes for an hour or so or more. Times when a discouraging straw breaks the camel’s back.
Somehow, I’m called to a life that I cannot not live, when I would willingly say to God ‘I’m not enough for this… use somebody else…’ and He seems to respond, ‘You, I want you, and I’m not taking no for an answer.’
A big part of me, is, of course, relieved.
I need to be wanted.
Yet I hate being misunderstood.
I would serve You, God, for nothing, for the ‘pleasure’ of it, but the constant wrestle that occasionally utterly castigates my spirit? Does it have to be so hard at times?
And yet You constantly resurrect me. After every subsequent death! I first died about 15 years ago. And yet I’ve died a thousand deaths since. (If you worry about me now, you’re over a decade late, so don’t be concerned, I’m just being honest here. I will be okay. I will be okay because there are so many times I’ve not been okay and have survived.)
Every time I think I’ve breathed my last spiritual breath, You, Lord, come and revive me. I still don’t know why.
And I know this is a death sentence for the aspirations of a pastor, counsellor, mentor, and any other helping role. How can I help people and be so screwed up myself? I don’t understand. There are so many things I just do not understand. How is it that God uses people like me when I feel — and I am not saying this is a truth — everyone in positions of authority thinks I’m so inadequate. See how unreasonable I think and feel at times?
At one point I wonder why.
At another point I’m thankful I didn’t die.
It is exhausting…
So discouraged from what I sow that never seems to grow, yet I look at some things and stand amazed at what God has done. Things that should never grow, do. If you despair, and often, you’re not the only one.
But I do hope what I write here serves some use. It’s all I feel I am sometimes. To be ‘of use’. Of course, I’m more. I know that. Like you (I hope I’m not the only one) I need to remind myself.
So how do I finish this properly. I’m unable to leave it like it is.
Sometimes when we’re tried to our limit and are pushed from pillar to post we must ask God to help.
We may hear His still, small whisper. I imagine His words…
Child, be My child, you are My child, do not fret. Here for today, and though it seems long it really isn’t long at all, and yet you cannot bear that your eventual passing will mean leaving those you love here, without you. I’m here with you, second by second. Know it even if you cannot feel Me. I placed you here and you are safe where you are. I can assure you, there is purpose in what you’re doing, even when it feels purposeless, and beyond what you’re doing, there is solemn purpose in the pleasure I get from your being here. Wait for My encouragement. You know it will come. I always send it. Don’t leave before it arrives. I love you, I believe in you, and I know you can get through. My grace is sufficient for you. You are so much better for My Kingdom when you’re weak, for in that you redeem My strength. Don’t despise these deaths you die. These deaths are life for you, and for others. You know you can trust the consistency in all this. I can see you’re doing your faithful best, though you’re flawed. Be patient. I am coming.

I’d like to acknowledge Ian Hill and Dr Jennifer Turner (from Ian) as people who inspired some of the thinking herein, especially the words I attribute as from God.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Safe versus Unsafe Emotions

Photo by Yaoqi LAI on Unsplash

Emotions belong in two worlds or in two domains. They are either healthy or unhealthy, productive or unproductive, primary or secondary, direct or indirect.
We may come to think of emotions as purely relevant to only ourselves, but we only need to ask those who are close to us — those in our families and those we work with — and we quickly discover that our emotional worlds are interconnected.
If we are healthy and productive emotionally, dealing with our emotions truthfully, and we can experience primary emotions, we deal directly with ourselves, through being honest. This is always a blessing for others, and it is usually manifest in the ability and practice of getting the log out of our own eye. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 7:1-5.
An example of this is instead of diverging into anger, we go directly into our sorrow. There are so many things that make us feel sad in life. Sadness is not the enemy. Sadness is an invitation into healing.
Our emotional worlds are interconnected.
If we acknowledge our hurt,
experiencing God’s understanding,
our compassion is available to all.
But if we are unhealthy, and therefore unproductive, emotionally, we can cost those who are close to us, which is always costly to us. We accost them with our unkempt emotions. We spew over them all sorts of vitriol, because instead of looking at our own junk, we prefer to notice what our eye doesn’t see very well — that little speck in them, as far as we’re concerned — God wants us focused on how we can love better, not on how they might be missing the mark.
We take what makes us sad, and instead of looking intently at our sadness, which is pain, and instead of staying in that place, we flee from pain. And the only way we can reconcile it is to blame someone else. We go from the core, primary emotion of sadness, which is justified and true, however painful, and instead of going deep into it to be liberated in the practice of acceptance, we take a shortcut and rationalise the pain as not only unbearable and unthinkable and unpalatable, but also as unreasonable and unfair and unwarranted. Somebody must pay! And how convinced we become. It’s a trick played on our vision. We are seeing the wrong things.
Our emotional worlds are interconnected.
If we’re hurt, and we remain unaware, we hurt others.
We all have one of two ways to go in dealing with our emotions. We go the right way or the wrong way. We have all had a taste of going the wrong way. We have all responded out of the wrong kinds of emotions. We have all taken our anger too far, not to mention having gone the route of anger when more correctly it could and should have been prolonged sadness to the destination of acceptance.
Few of us enjoy going to painful places. And I know I am not one of the few who seems to enjoy pain. Yet I do enjoy, at a deeper level, the therapy of God, as He interacts with me when I am honest enough to experience my sorrow.
The actual practice involves coming
to a place of complete defeat.
Christians call it surrender.
If that sounds defeatist, you need to understand that it isn’t. It is the most beautiful thing to accept what we cannot change. When I admit defeat and give over those desires of mine that have become demands, it’s as if God says, ‘Finally, I have something to work with in you. Finally, you are weak enough to listen. Finally, you are weak enough to embrace My strength. Finally, you accept that it is best for you and for all concerned for you to do My will.’
Honesty is the open door to reconciling
our emotions and our relationships.
Coming to this place, which is a sense of despair in oneself, is precisely the point of the Christian walk.
The despair comes first, then it’s life as God scoops us up in our spirit.
In our pride, which prioritises our secondary emotions like anger that refuses to acknowledge the truth, we are struck out before we take the first step toward first base.
But as soon as our pride is dealt with, and we realise that these primary emotions are nothing to fear, because the pain is bearable even if it feels unbearable for a time, we enter the safe sanctity of God and His deeper therapy for us.
The benefit of this is not just ours, but it is to everyone’s benefit within our orbit of influence.