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TRIBEWORK is about consuming the process of life, the journey, together.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

One sentence that transforms listening into understanding

Photo by Robbie Weaver on Unsplash
I think one of the most useful things we can meditate on as we listen to anyone, especially anyone suffering, is to hold this statement of fact front of mind:
I have no idea...
Ø     what it’s like to be them
Ø     what it’s like to live their life
Ø     what they in themselves are going through
Ø     how their fears manifest
Ø     how exactly they are driven
Ø     why they might be legitimately offended and what over
Ø     what are their barriers and solutions 
Ø     how they see God and why
Ø     when or how they might be relieved
This list runs on. No matter how close we are to the other person we ought to have the thought of our inherent ignorance at the very front of our minds. We cannot know them as we would wish to know them. And this is a thoroughly good and trustworthy thing.
We may feel that this might defeat our hope
of helping them,
but unless our hope of helping them is defeated
we cannot help them.
We must trust that God will use us by His Spirit to the extent that we crave no credit. We say we want all glory to go to God, but we must go a step further and relinquish ourselves.
When we enter a conversation with someone with the statement ‘I have no idea’:
Ø     we encounter them with the humility needed to be ready to be used by the Holy Spirit
Ø     we appear to them, and actually are, more interested, curious, concerned, and discerning
Ø     we offer them a kind of interaction they may rarely if ever have experienced — where they encounter a God-person who is able to provide for them a mirror through which to view their own soul
In our busy lives, hurried by the circumstances and stresses that impinge us, we may find we have less mental and emotional range to truly listen to people. Yet people need it. People crave engagement and for just one person to be interested enough to listen and understand. We can be that one person. Oh, and how God may intercede for us in that space!
Encountering a person with a mindset of ‘I have no idea’ is the best way of being so attentive that, even in a short time, deep trust and respect are transacted. They see respect and find us easy to trust. And we wouldn’t want to betray that trust, so we keep listening in the ‘I have no idea’ way. We see God working, living and active, in the listening.
When it comes to others, we think we know, but we don’t. The moment we believe we know, we’re most in danger of missing the moment completely. But when we don’t know, we’re on the path to understanding. There is such humble power in unknowing.

Assuming we don’t know is the only safe assumption to make. This way we listen with the motive of true otherness.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Why marriage can at times feel lonelier than being single

Photo by Dan Musat on Unsplash

FEELING alone is part of the human condition even though it’s a common desire to feel connected and safe. It can feel particularly troubling to feel alone in marriage, but it does happen. It’s normal.
Loneliness in marriage possibly feels worse that the loneliness of being single, because loneliness as a single is assumed, and there is nothing unexpected and shocking in it, though it can involve ambiguous grief if we crave a partner. Being single can be a sad reality, whereas loneliness in marriage has the concept of being cheated about it.
The counter advantage in being single is the blessing of spending time alone. There is nothing better than being able to enjoy one’s own company without needing others around. Not that marriages wouldn’t be blessed with individuals in the couple getting time alone. They would. And in the best marriages, partners welcome some time alone.
But partners can enter marriage never realising how lonely it can feel when each may desert the other either temporarily or semi-permanently. It can be devastating because when we married we felt as if we had resolved this issue — i.e. ‘no more loneliness now that I’m married.’
Times of loneliness in marriage can feel worse because we feel plunged into momentary singleness again, which takes away our choice, together with the fact that conflict has brought this situation into play — and if it’s not conflict for both partners, it’s a conflict for one; the lonely one.
We not only feel lonely, we can feel confused and angry too. It means we can easily fall into complicated loneliness, which is not unlike complicated grief. Complicated loneliness is irresolvable by nature. We aren’t just lonely; we’re lonely and we stay lonely, and there seems little hope of that loneliness abating.
None of this assumes loneliness is not a significant issue for singles. I’ve been there.
Allow me to pray for those who are lonely:
Lord God,
I adore the fact that You made us to crave connection and thank You for the times when we have achieved connection that meets those needs You created within us.
I acknowledge that it is the lack of connection with a soul mate that creates the grief of loneliness within.
My prayer is for the lonely person right now, certainly the one reading these words; that You would comfort them by Your Presence and build within them both the hope for better times ahead and the courage to create authentic connection with You now.
Disclaimer: thankfully, it has been many years since I felt lonely in marriage, but I have experienced it.

When experience gets in the way of empathy

Photo by Justin Luebke on Unsplash

The conversation went a little like this: ‘Others (i.e. you) don’t really know what this is about…’ to which I said, ‘Yes, but I’ve been through the same sort of season in the past.’ There was tacit agreement.
The person had to agree. They knew my story, and they knew I understood. But their point was, ‘But you’re not there now.’
It was only later — 24-hours later — that God nudged me about this conversation.
It was as if the Holy Spirit were saying, ‘Your experience matters, and is a good asset to offer the person, but in this case, it got in the way of empathy.’ Sure, I was in a conversation of challenge. It wasn’t a conversation where neither of us felt comfortable, and it was a necessary conversation, but I was shown to have fallen short in this particular interchange.
Experience is good, except when it places us in the position where we’re above empathy.
Experience offers understanding but it can fall short of empathy.
Experience demonstrates understanding but only empathy shows an interest in the impact of what is being faced.
Experience compares whereas empathy seeks to get close, endeavouring to truly understand what could be still misunderstood.
Experience demonstrates understanding for what was experienced in the past, but it isn’t understanding for what is happening in the present — that’s empathy.
We may have experienced a trial in the past that helps the person before us, but that experience is useless to them unless there is empathy enough to imagine my experience is not the same as yours.
Your experience — no matter how similar sounding it is — is not the same as mine. It isn’t experienced in the same period, with the same people, in the same circumstances, or in the same place. Nearly all the elements are different.

Bring experience into the arena of interaction, but don’t leave understanding there. Take it all the way to empathy. Experience is the door through which we enter and explore. That exploration is empathy.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Reconciling the problem of ‘Sorry, Not Sorry’

Photo by Esther Wiegardt on Unsplash
Apology is tested not so much in the act of saying sorry, but later, when contrition makes way for contrariness.
But true apology remains. Sorry remains sorry. And it never takes its opportunity to explain why it was justified in wrongdoing.
Sorry remains sorry, and it doesn’t change its mind. It doesn’t, at some point when its probed, say, ‘Now you’re being unfair…’ (But the receiver of the apology better also be merciful).
As soon as someone who is apologising says, ‘if’ or ‘but’ or ‘maybe if you’ their sorry becomes null and void. They make excuses when the person receiving the apology has their senses piqued for a sorrowful heart. And such a heart cannot be faked.
As time goes on, as the apology is believed, as the person apologising is forgiven, their sorry needs to stay sorry. They cannot, having been through the full process to forgiveness, rescind that apology. The transaction is done, and they best keep moving forward. If they change the script, and that apology is retracted they’re a liar in this regard.
But more often than not it is the situation where the person apologising realises, ‘Hey, they require more from me than I’m prepared to own…’ that causes the most problems. For the issues we’re apologising for we need to be unequivocal. We therefore studiously avoid being drawn into extraneous matters that dilute the force of the sorry we’re saying.
More important than the actual apology is the heart behind it. When we go to say sorry, we had better take with us the heart that is sorry. Not ‘sorry for my bit, now what about you?’ Own your bit and stay there. Allow the other person there own reflection in their own time with no coercion.
The heart of apology beats strongest when we affirm and advocate for the person we wronged.

This article was inspired by the PeaceWise Seven ‘A’ Apology (Confession)

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Those precious moments missed are lost

Having made the choice to attend a work function and miss spending time with my five-year-old son it was easy to reconcile the matter — there are plenty of those times.
Trouble is, there are not plenty of those times. He is already five years old. In a reflective moment we’re given to the sadness that he is no longer two or three, or even a baby.
We miss far too much of our kids’ lives because of work or leisure or sport or habit or else.
Of course, from a Jesus follower’s perspective, we know life is much more than our kids. But from the same Jesus perspective He has given us our lives, our kids, and our time. Why would we waste any of it?
I only had five minutes with my son. I videoed him for 90-seconds of this period. It is a snapshot that will become a valuable memory. And even though there was only 300-seconds of contact in play this particular day, I’m motivated to make the most of our play tomorrow.
Even as I write I hear muttering and murmuring from his bedroom, which reminds me he is in deep sleep. Not too many of these sleeps away, just a few thousand, he will be sleeping away from us. Now is the time he will kick the football with his father. At some point he may lose interest.
Now’s the time.
Precious moments missed are lost forever, and we will grieve them now or in the future. If now, we make the most of the next moments and those to come. If in the future our grief is bent toward a regret we can only reconcile as something we cannot fix.
Now is the time to do what we can put off. Putting off what we can do now may mean we never do what only now we can.
In the average life, we’re given so many precious moments that we take them for granted only to regret it.

May you encounter Christ’s inclusive Church

Photo by Ethan Sykes on Unsplash

In this article I’m responding to another article which speaks eloquently about a struggle Christians in increasing number are resonating with. Yet, it has been and is (emphasise, present tense) a very real struggle for so many of us.
Still, none of us are beyond learning. And God is granting us a fresh grace in this age to wrestle with others who themselves are wrestling.
Not many of us are gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender or intersex or another affiliation of sexual expression. Not many of us that I know, but the statistics tell me that my reality isn’t a true representation.
There are, therefore, many out there who are living a closeted experience, and, in present context, I’m not talking about those with secret addictions — the functional addicts in all strata of society. There are so many within the myriad forms of addiction that steal peace, kill joy and destroy hope.
And I have to say this… it isn’t just the addict who struggles. Just about every person has struggles. And when I discuss ‘struggle’ I mean a significant daily struggle — with nothing easy about it.
But the article I have linked above is written by a gay man desperate for the church to stand up to help people like him, who — like us all — needs to find his way to God and inclusion within the people of God.
Would any of us get in God’s way?
This young man might refer us to these words of Jesus out of the gospel of Luke, chapter 5:
30 The Pharisees and their scribes were complaining to his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” 31 Jesus answered, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; 32 I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.”
Verse 32, that’s all of us, anyone clothed in skin. Let’s not call out the LGBTI+ crowd as particularly sinful, and thereby call ourselves out as being Pharisaical. That’s what Pharisees did: highlighted everybody else’s sin, ignoring their own. Our task as Christians is to live real before God: our personal struggle (and each of us has one) is a cosmic challenge that only God can overcome. How helpless are we? Jesus calls the sinner to repentance — a personal activity, for each one of us, facilitated by an almighty and gracious God.
Verse 31, Jesus grants the Pharisees and scribes their truth (for it is not God’s truth) — ‘believe as you wish’ Jesus might say — for the sick are those who know they’re sick — Jesus cannot help the person ‘well’ in their blind stubbornness; the self-righteousness that threatens to reign in us all. And this is no comment on the vagaries of sickness — just that all are sick. All! It’s why all ought to be included.
Blessed is the one who knows they’re sick, who know they need the Physician, who seek the hospital.
And our job — mine in my case — is to simply be a guide for a person who hasn’t met God and who is seeking to meet God. They don’t need my unqualified opinions on the way there. We can give them resources as we listen, but just as we stand before God, we will all be held to account. Our responsibility is to not inhibit anyone’s passage to the Christ.
Therefore, we listen. We feel into their anguish — a reality, up to now and into the foreseeable future, of being estranged to God-felt compassion from the vast copse of humanity.
Ours is the challenge to stand up, as the young man says. It will cause us conflict, for that there is no doubt. But our lives are no longer about us; they are about the Lord’s business.
And the Lord would never condemn them like our fears and preconceptions might.
I want to say, as the article cited suggests, “If you are LGBTQI+ and need somebody to speak to, I just want to offer you a listening ear.”

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

When both people are right, strap in for a fight

Photo by Krista Mangulsone on Unsplash

It shouldn’t bedazzle us that people turn against those who were once friends. A spirit of rightness rises in both. I know that spirit of rightness is alive in me also.
But the spirit of rightness gets us nowhere in a life where we’re not only dependent on God for success, but others too. It is a harmful ignorance that says, ‘damn them’, for we’re dependent not only on God, but on ‘them’ too for peace.
This spirit of rightness is a spirit of wrongness draped like sheep’s clothing around a wolf’s frame. We all have not only the capacity for it, but tragically, the tendency toward doing it.
The spirit of wrongness is inherent in the spirit of any wrong person concealing that wrong in their person — being dishonest — and we’re all wrong persons. What hope do we have but God? The spirit of wrongness prevails in a person pretending to be right, which is rightness that can only exist in their own mind or in the minds of those on their side. Ask the other side what is right, and the spirit of wrongness is exposed. But ask this other side for their view and they, too, will vouch for how right they are.
Where both people are right, strap yourself in for a fight.
Nothing is moving.
No frustrations are eased.
Both are confounded.
Nobody can find peace.
And the enemy wins…
One or both are hurt, obviously. Each feel misunderstood, betrayed, assaulted. Can it all be true? It feels true. But is there something each party can own as wrongdoing they can be remorseful for?
Reserve the right to be wrong, and be wrong, for only then are we truly being honest. Nobody can think they’re right in a relational conflict and hope for peace, as if the other person is going to do the moving. That’s the height of fantasy.
Where parties in conflict both see their own wrong,
where their desire is matched in seeking to set it straight,
reconciliation has a hope that is strong,
and God’s will can be seen done in a fashion not too late.
Central to our belief in Jesus is knowing we’re sinners, that we do wrong; knowing and admitting the wrong we do every day, including the relational impasses where we, ourselves, are offenders.
The moment we see our offense and stop focusing on theirs is the moment where hope rises for reconciliation.
Forgiveness enfolds God’s hope for a relational miracle, yet forgiveness isn’t possible unless we shift the focus off the other person’s fault. For us, it’s not about what they did wrong; it’s about us and what we could’ve done better or shouldn’t have done.
Forgiveness is possible only when there is admission and acceptance of wrongdoing, where one is contrite and the other understands and is merciful. It is beautiful when forgiveness is sought and given.

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Just where would an avalanche of tears be welcome?

Photo by Cristian Newman on Unsplash

Have you ever been at church and, with painted smile on, greeted someone and the joy exuded been utterly inappropriate? Almost the moment I opened my mouth I realised I’d completely missed the gravity of the situation.
Ever been there? Where that very moment you pray you can listen with all you have in you so as to comprehend the other person’s pain — to meet them there. Of course, we cannot feel what they feel, but the desire to go there is a godly one.
Tears flowed, and they continued, the dam breached. The face puffed, the chin uncontrollably quivering. A person broken by the news of a tragedy that has changed the direction of their life — in an instant. As the story broke forth from her lips, there were nuances of pain freshly experienced — a mother and a brother who had also been blindsided with the shock of this loss.
There are many layers of pain to loss.
Grief is often overwhelmingly complicated.
Of course, I felt inept. But I quickly realised (for the umpteenth time) that it wasn’t about me. Thank God pastoral care in grieving situations accommodates the faux pas; that it’s such an imperfect science.
I realised, again, that my simply being there,
that my simple interest in her welfare, was enough.
I comprehended that care is always enough,
even if it doesn’t feel enough.
At one point she said, ‘I just cannot stop crying… it’s so silly.’ I have heard that so much in people like her, in a state of disbelief for the grief that smothers all normality like an avalanche, just one of sorrow.
It is another thing that I had no answer for, except, ‘You loved him so much and he’s gone; there’s a lifetime of sadness in that.’ As the words teemed out of my mouth I felt fear for harming her, but I shouldn’t have been worried. She seemed understood, most of my words, the depth of their meaning, washing over her; the bodily care superintending, even overpowering, the words. Good!
The conversation then centred on how inconvenient tears were. I wanted to say that tears were welcome here, but I sensed the lack of practicability in my words even as I was about to usher them into existence. Something important was agreed between us that moment that didn’t need to be communicated in words.
I had to recognise that nobody wants to melt all over the floor,
especially in a public place, even if it is in a church.
Later I discovered that she had been encountered by two others who listened to her at depth — we, the church, had done as much as we could, and probably exactly what we could and should.
We’re forgiven for wanting to rescue people from the sorrow of their grief, to make it okay, to aid in their healing. But grief is far too big to do that; it is an experiential reality nobody can be saved from.
For the most part, those who are grieving understand we cannot ‘fix’ them. They may want fixing, but they also know, and many times accept, that is beyond one human being in one moment.
The realities of grief cannot be avoided as if there was a way to do that which would address the problem. Of all people who I sense know this it’s those who are on their own grief journey, even very early on.
The grieving person doesn’t need or want
to be told what to do. Doing that is jarring.
We should see that in their response,
for which we ought to be truly sensitive to.
They simply need to know that we’re willing to spend time with them doing whatever they think might help. They’re not generally overly needy at these times, and in fact are usually enamoured of our needs.
It leaves us in the question we started with: just where would that avalanche of tears be welcome? In many ways, that is the moment’s answer, for none of us knows when that moment will sneak up and insist on being felt. We would pray for a safe and secluded place, with a dear friend or confidant attending. But life is so often not that convenient.
Certainly, the church should endeavour to be safe enough to be that place. And so often it is.

Friday, April 6, 2018

The frustration of repetition in the grief journey

Photo by Ian Froome on Unsplash

I have heard so many people in their grief journey repeat the same stories time and again. I’m patient because I’ve been there. Even as I surveyed my old journals of 2003 and 2004 I was reminded of this important and crucial facet of the grief process.
Grief has been described as a love process without outlet; except that is for sadness, tears, and tired stories. It’s so true. And this has to be given increased profile and trajectory in our time, for grief is a part of each of our lives for a determinate and appointed time(s).
I recall being so tired of reeling out the same stories so repetitively with my parents, I would go and repeat variations of the same stories of loss to any who would listen. Little doubt I had many mentors in those heady days. I thank God for their patience.
I would often wonder, ‘why are these people so patient with me when I’m so impatient with myself…?’ My impatience stemmed from the pain I would feel in recounting these depressing stories. But strangely that is how God was healing me. He was giving me the avenue of purging. And the pain I felt was simply love not being met, and yet I was met in those loving, listening ears of my mentors of the time.
The greatest gift we can give the grieving is the gift of our listening without judgment, opinion or advice. This listening takes place in the awkward fissures of faith, the exact place none of us likes going. But God is in the listening. He meets us there, if we’re there focused on the person in our midst.
So, if you’re grieving and you find such frustration in the repetition of the season, go gently this time.
God has a purpose in this repetition. It is His way for us to access the expression we need. These repetitive processes are necessary for our healing, even if they do make us mad at the time. They always seem to take too long, but that is the nature of adjusting to loss.
Be kind and generous to yourself at this time. What we do for healing doesn’t always make sense to us at the time. And that is faith; to journey forward trusting in what can seem bizarre. Allow yourself the freedom of expressing your grief repetitively. God will help you know when you no longer need to do it.
The season of grief is long, too long, outrageous in its length. Sounding like a broken record is part of the journey. It’s normal. Give yourself that freedom when an angel in skin willingly listens to you.

Anger is a typical repetitive response in grief. It isn’t wrong if it is safely expressed. In grief, be gentle with yourself and others.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Okay, so how am I to challenge someone who hates being criticised?

Photo by Matthew Henry on Unsplash

For someone who hates being criticised, God had a sense of humour when a while back someone asked me as pastor the above question.
I’ve had to learn a lot about accepting criticism over the years, especially the last several. Just when I’ve thought ‘I’m good at this’ God has brought a new lesson front-and-centre to show me just how insecure I can be.
No matter how unfair criticism is, I’ve had to learn there’s always some truth in there to be gleaned.
So, with that background I’m taking the role of suggesting ways to approach someone like me.
I cannot overstate it enough that the person we’re approaching to challenge must feel safe at all times.
Even as we plan to meet with them, we ought to pray about anticipating and allaying their fears. This is whether we’re above them or below them in the pecking order of things. I love the wisdom in the book Crucial Conversations around keeping it safe when the stakes are high. By keeping it safe I mean that whatever we bring as far as negative feedback is concerned is weighed and conveyed compassionately, communicated with patience, devoid of anger or frustration, but chock-full with empathy. It could be very hard to receive, so help them receive it well. Take heed of Romans 12:18: “As much as it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live peaceably with everyone.” Imagine if roles were reversed. I don’t know anyone who thrives on criticism.
Before you even plan to meet with the other person, get the log out of your own eye. Why? Because Jesus taught it. If you’re Christian, this isn’t optional. It’s optimal.
Having dealt with our biases and baggage we start to see how important it is for the other person to feel safe; we see that while they have their part to play, we too have ours. We need to be prepared to accept what we did wrong or could do better next time. Perhaps there’s nothing. Still, ask God to reveal it. Even if there is nothing for you to do, God may cause you to be reminded that you’re flawed too. A contrite heart is always a good backdrop for challenging people, because humility disarms pride barriers in the other.
Ensure, also, that you have prayed through a redemptive frame beforehand, during and after the exchanges. God works through the redemptive pathway of restoring individuals, relationships, and communities. Anything that isn’t redemptive in intent doesn’t reflect the gospel.
And finally, if we find we got it wrong in any way — as so often happens — we ought to be prepared to model care for the relationship and apologise with sincerity and thoroughness.

Acknowledgement to the PeaceWise ministry courses and resources.